Wednesday 22 May 2013

More Memories of Sopwell Project officially launched!

The official launch of our community project took place last Saturday, 18th May in St Julian's Church, Abbots Avenue, St Albans. We combined the launch with a memories gathering exercise as well as celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Sopwell Residents Association.

There must have been about a hundred people who attended over the three hours it lasted. For us, it was a success to have been able to attract that many, and the church was equally pleased.

Our goal was to reach out to all members of the community to persuade them to share their memories and join in the fun and we certainly achieved that. There were several older residents willing to tell their stories, some of whom we have already interviewed before. However, we were pleased to see the younger generations, including children, coming forward to join in.

Video booth with willing volunteer
As well as a "Memory Wall" on which to leave a memory, we borrowed a video booth from the University of Hertfordshire so that those wishing to share a memory could be recorded. If their memories appeared interesting or relevant, they were encouraged to agree to a follow up interview at a later date. This proved to be very popular with everyone, including children. It is nice to see and hear a child saying spontaneously how lovely it is living in Sopwell because it has wonderful historic places to visit. The message is really getting through!

Continuing with the theme of children, the SRA held a children's painting competition for three age groups. We asked all three local primary schools to get involved which they did very enthusiastically. The theme of the painting was Sopwell as we wanted to encourage the children to become aware of their local area and hopefully show their appreciation in art form.

We had about 80-90 entries quite a few of which were of the same subject. The teachers must have suggested that the ruins in the Nunnery Open Space would be a good subject as the majority of the entries were of the ruins. Another favourite was the river, the paintings suspiciously all looking the same until we realised that they were copying a photograph.

Mayor looking at portraits
However there were also some other interesting subjects to judge. One enterprising class decided to paint portraits of the Mayor. Although this may appear to have been irrelevant, it wasn't as the present Mayor is a Sopwell Councillor and a governor of the school in question.  The judges spent several hours judging the entries and came up with some worthy winners. We gave prizes to the three winners and runners up. However, because the Mayor's portraits were so amusing, we decided to award prizes for this category. These were judged by the Mayor on the day.

Discussing the banner
We had several tables of displays of old photographs and maps, rolling displays on computers and our two splendid banners to trigger memories and discussions.

Artifacts table
We also had a table display of memorabilia: artefacts dug up in gardens and allotments or found near the ruins or old buildings such as old coins, milk bottles and other small bottles, roof tiles and tesserae, oyster shells, and clay pipes. The eagerly expected mammoth bone turned out to be a fossilised mammoth's tooth which was no less splendid.

Another highlight was to hear the Mandeville school choir sing three beautiful songs which brought tears to many eyes. There was a really clever magician, Tony Middleton, also a local, who entertained  the smaller children for the last hour. After the formal launch, the Mayor of St Albans, Councillor Eileen Harris and myself cut the wonderful chocolate cake made by a 16 year old, another local, Jed Armstrong.

Mandeville Children's Choir
Magician Tony
Cutting the cake
The event was filmed, including a number of video interviews, so, eventually, we will have a real digital record of what everyone said was a wonderful community occasion.

Video interview
You can see more photos in our album about the launch event on Facebook.

Sandy Norman

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Tea party and family fun this Saturday afternoon!

All Sopwell residents and friends are invited to take part in a double celebration this Saturday, 18th May, 2-5pm at St Julian's Church on Abbots Avenue

What are we celebrating?

1. The formal launch of the "More Memories of Sopwell" project
2. The 10th anniversary of the Sopwell Residents Association (SRA)

Programme of events

14.00  Displays and stands, video booth, etc. open to the public
14.30  Mandeville school choir
15.00  A bit of ceremony:
  • Mayor and local Councillor for Sopwell, Eileen Harris, formally launches the "More Memories of Sopwell" project
  • Winners of the children’s painting competition announced and prizes awarded
  • Cutting of the 10th anniversary cake (home-made by 16 year old local resident, Jed Armstrong)
15.30  Sopwell resident magician and illusionist, Tony Middleton, will be putting on
           a "Magic Workshop" for the children, which will keep them enthralled 
           and amused (see
17.00  End

All Sopwell residents and friends welcome - no charge.

Do come along to join in the fun, learn a bit about Sopwell's rich history and hopefully share some of your own memories with us.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Calling Sopwell kids – Painting/drawing competition

As part of the celebrations for the launch of the Sopwell Memories project and the 10th anniversary of the Sopwell Residents Association, we are delighted to announce a painting competition for children living in Sopwell.

The theme of the competition is very wide – anything to do with the history or a landmark in Sopwell.

To give you an idea, it could be something to do with the old Nunnery, or the Holy Well, or a painting of the river, an ancient tree, a famous Sopwell person, your street... You choose! And if your parents have a copy of our book "Sopwell: a history and collection of memories", this will give you lots of interesting ideas.

Rules of entry

Picturing anything to do with the history or a landmark in Sopwell
For children living in Sopwell - there are three age groups: 5–7, 8–10, and 11–13.
The size of your painting or drawing should be no more than A3 (30 x 42cm).

There will be a prize for each of the three age groups, which will presented at the launch party on 18th May.

If you would like to enter, bring along your painting to St Julian’s Church, Abbots Avenue between 10am and 12noon on the day of the party, Saturday, 18th May.

Some of the local schools are making their own arrangements to collect entries, so please check with your school.

The competition is part of the celebrations on Saturday, 18th May, 2-5pm, at St Julian's, when prizes will be awarded. For more information, including the programme of events, click here.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Word is getting around

We have had some publicity in the local press at last!

The St Albans Review published a letter written by Jennifer Taylor about the project and the launch - see photo (click on it to see a bigger version).

We have already had a couple of people who live outside the area contact me to share their memories: one was a postman in Sopwell during the war and the other was a milkman. We should get some really good stories from them.

Also, I have been giving several talks to various groups in St Albans about the project and at every talk there is always someone who has lived in Sopwell and has fond memories.

So I am gathering lots of snippets of information and making a list of names of people we need to interview in depth. Collecting names from the immigrant communities is not that straightforward, however, but then I never thought it would be. We are hoping to identify quite a few at the launch - which is just over a week away! That reminds me: I must send the press release off.

Talking of which, amongst all the other million or so things we are having to think about, we are printing a programme of events and hoping to get a few adverts from local businesses to pay for the printing. The programme, although ephemeral, will hopefully be of interest to later historians, not just because of the event, but also to see the advertisements: who was doing what and where. There is a lot of information to be gained from such detail. I remember seeing an interesting advert for Ryder's seeds in a Coronation event organised by Mandeville school in 1953. Samuel Ryder started his "penny a packet" seed business in St Albans and became a national figure when he gave the Ryder Cup to the nation. You never know, today's small concern may have local significance in years to come.

Don't forget to come to the launch on Saturday 18th May, 2 to 5pm, at St Julian's Church, Abbots Avenue, even if you only stay for half an hour or so. We need your memories!

Sandy Norman