Tuesday 1 September 2020

Mine's a pint!

My topic in this post is about milk which used to be delivered in fat glass milk bottles from years ago. You know the ones with the cardboard tops? What prompted me to write was an email I had from Roger Miles who wanted to let us know about one of these milk bottles that he found on Bernards Heath which he thinks had been unearthed by a fox or maybe a badger. He says that the old claypits were used to dispose of St Albans' rubbish at one time.

Etched on the bottle, as you can see, is Sopwell Home Farm, W.G. Brown and on the base it has E. WIGG moulded on it. Well I knew about Sopwell Home Farm. It used to be attached to Sopwell House. W. G. Brown was the farmer. Ten years ago, I interviewed the lovely 90 year old Betty Terry for the Sopwell Project who told me that her father was the cowman on Brown's Farm in the 1920s - 1930s. Her family lived in Sopwell Gate Lodge but because of a dispute between her parents and Mr Brown over working in the dairy, they were kicked out: Sometime after we’d been there, Mr Brown wanted my mother to do the milk, sterilise it or whatever they do with it. The room was cold and damp and he wanted her to stay there and work and she had three young children to get ready for school in the morning so she just could not cope so they had a row, my Dad and Mr Brown, over it and he got the sack. Cos the house went with the job so we were homeless really. Mr Brown doesn’t sound very friendly.

I have seen bottles like this before. When I was doing my research for the Sopwell Project I visited Sopwell Mill Farm off Cottonmill Lane where the tenants showed me some of their milk bottle finds on the property. I was fascinated to learn that the bottles came from the three different dairy farms in Sopwell: Sopwell Mill Farm, Sopwell Home Farm and St Julian’s Farm. The farmer at Sopwell Mill Farm was Frederick Coaker who residents recall delivering the milk on his horse and cart. Apparently he wasn’t a very nice man either. He was described as a bit crotchety. The Muirs ran St Julian's Farm – the farmer was Archibald Muir and they also delivered their own milk. So all three farmers delivered their own milk. They must have shared each other’s bottles too.

Has anybody else found any of these bottles and does anyone know anything about E. Wigg from Watford? Google didn’t. Please share if you do by writing a comment. 


Tuesday 28 April 2020

Brick walls – they go up, they come down

It’s been rather too long a time since I have written anything for the Sopwell blog. All I can say is many apologies. It’s not as though there has been nothing to report. There has, but I have not been able to get down to writing anything. Now, being in lockdown from the dreaded virus, I have made an effort to get going.

Sopwell’s landscape has changed over the last few years. Betty Entwistle House has been pulled down and a larger more functional dwelling for the elderly has been built in its place, called Eywood House. Also our only pub for years – until the Hare and Hounds became part of Sopwell – the King Offa, has also been demolished. As yet, nothing has been built on its footprint but it looks like it will be replaced with housing. For years the SRA had hopes that Sopwell might get a community centre out of it. Not so, although, it looks like the Marlborough Pavilion will be given this role thanks to the sterling work undertaken by the Cottonmill and Sopwell Hub (CASH) team to raise awareness and money to make this happen. And out of the gasworks site, we will have an Aldi and other retail outlets.

The most exciting thing to report is that some of us have become involved in another research project: St Julian’s.

Now some of you will say that St Julian’s is part of Sopwell. True, but St Julian’s boundaries start outside of Sopwell. Much of it is on the other side of Watling Street in Verulam ward and stretches as far as Greenwood Park in Chiswell Green.

If you recall Abbot Geoffrey, who was the Abbot of St Albans, founded a leper hospital c.1130 and dedicated it to St Julian (or St Gillian as it given on the 1666 map). The hospital was described as being built by the side of Watling Street and near the wood called Eye Wood. We know that it was situated almost opposite the entrance to Vesta Avenue in Watling Street.

After the dissolution of the monasteries, the land was granted to Sir Richard Lee and remained with his descendants until 1649. Then it was taken over by John Ellis who demolished what remained of the hospital and built himself a house, also called St Julian’s. This house had a walled garden and it was part of this wall that kicked off our research, as part of it still exists today as the boundary wall to some of the properties in Gillian Avenue on the Tithe Barn Estate.

A team of researchers from SAHAAS (St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society) has been investigating all of the St Julian’s area. This includes, the leper hospital, St Julian’s Mansion and St Julian’s farm, St Stephen’s Church and surrounding lands etc. It’s very exciting. We are discovering lots of new information. One of the tenants of St Julian’s Mansion was a lady called Mrs Ashurst who stayed there for 50 years. She kept an account book in two volumes of all her purchases of goods and food from 1738 – 1785 until she died. All the pages have been photographed and we are kept very busy transcribing all the data. So far we have found out that she seemed to consume an awful lot of meat and was always buying mops!

The outcome of the project will be a publication, so watch this space.

Sandy Norman