Saturday 24 August 2013

Making progress

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to have been invited to the Eid festival organised by the newly formed Sopwell Community Trust.

Eid is a Muslim festival which marks the end of the month of Ramadan. There was lots going on which was very interesting if rather noisy at times. A lot of community spirit was present which was refreshing. I was hoping to make contact with the Asian community and try to persuade them to take part in sharing their memories.

I met lots of interesting people but only one guy agreed to be interviewed. I have since listened to his stories which were really interesting. His family once owned the first Indian restaurant in Hertfordshire, the Koh-I-Noor in George Street, St Albans.

In my last post, I suggested that we might have the oldest cedar of Lebanon tree in England, but, apparently, there is one planted in 1646 by a Dr Edward Pocock in the grounds of his rectory near Wantage in Oxfordshire, which claims this title. We are not giving up. Maybe they don’t know about ours.

Two of us decided to measure the girth of our cedar tree in St Stephen’s Field to see how much it had grown in 100 years. The measurements in 1914 were in Imperial but we had to do it in metric as our tape was in metric. It didn't help that the tape we had borrowed was very rusty and broke off at 10cm! However we managed.

As in 1914, we took three readings: one at approximately 1ft (0.30480m); one at approximately 3ft (0.91440m); and the last one at approximately 6ft (1.82880m) from the ground. The results were not very conclusive because, apart from the first measurement (1ft up), the tree did not appear to have grown! We think this may have been because a hundred years ago there were some branches lower down and their tape, or whatever they used to measure, must have included them. We also measured the spread of the branches and that did not appear to have changed much either.

The next stage is to write to Kew gardens with our results and ask them for advice. I wonder if they still have the letter about our cedar written by the vicar of St Stephen’s back in 1914.

Part of the Memories Project grant includes some money to produce leaflets describing walks around Sopwell. We have chosen five routes which cover the green spaces and the history of the area. The aim is to encourage walkers to learn about the history of Sopwell as well as to enjoy the environment. (Of course we will also be encouraging them to buy the book!)

I thought that producing these leaflets would be a simple task – not so! There is a lot of work involved which is progressing slowly as we want to make sure the directions are clear. We are drawing our own maps and we have a couple of guinea pigs, who are unfamiliar with the area, lined up to test the routes. When we are happy with the routes and the text, and we are sure people won’t get lost, we will be approaching our designer.

While we were out testing one of the walks, we crossed the field and walked towards the North Orbital to look at Flint Cottages. I knew of them but had never seen them. There are two cottages which were once used by workers on Hedges farm. Some time ago, I received a letter from someone whose grandparents, Jack and Sara Stratton, lived there. Jack was head cattleman for over twenty years. He and his family lived at No. 1 Flint Cottages from the 1920s through to his retirement in the early 1940s.

Sara Stratton, 1 Flint Cottages (early 1920s)
Sara Stratton, 1 Flint Cottages (early 1920s)
We are very pleased with the video of the launch of the Sopwell Memories Project which is ready at last and is now on our YouTube channel. It includes some good stories about the Sopwell area.

We are still collecting lots of new and interesting stories from residents and are in the process of transcribing and selecting the best bits to include on the website. I have been given some training on editing these audio files using Audacity software. It is so comforting to be able to take out the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and irrelevant bits – usually me talking – and to listen to the stories without interruption. I must get practising.

Sandy Norman