Monday 23 August 2021

Looking back in time

While researching for the St Julian's Project, I have been looking into correspondence in the 1920s and 1930s between the Gorhambury Estate, land agents, solicitors and building developers concerning the purchase of land for building houses in our area. 

Lord Verulam owned most of the land in Sopwell and St Julian's. H.C. Janes from Luton was the developer. Janes built the Mentmore Estate. He also wanted to develop the Cottonmill Lane area and  St Julian's and went into lengthy negotiation to purchase what was mainly farmland. However the Council also wanted the land to build Council houses so there was a lot of compulsory land acquisition. 

It is fascinating stuff and I am trying to get my head round where all these parcels of land were because of course, most of the roads weren't there then. 

So I decided to orientate myself by having another look at the "Britain from Above" website. Their selection from the Aerofilms collection is so fascinating! It really is looking back in time. When I was working on the Sopwell project I interviewed several people who described what it was like when the estates were built and in these photos I can see what they are talking about. 

For instance, I remember Mrs Brown, John Buckingham and others talking about how Cottonmill Lane was reshaped after the war: "They built the road from rubble from London and built it up high, then cut the road across the field. At the back of these houses [from Boleyn Drive] there was a field that went right through to Priory Walk as it is now and then the road came along Priory Walk". In one of the photos I could see the bank in Priory Walk where it had been built up. And I remember Lil Day telling me how money was collected to pay for a new church in Abbots Avenue as all they had to worship in was a Nissen Hut - and the original Nissen hut can be seen in one of the photos! 

Also in the Gorhambury correspondence, I discovered that there was a proposal to build a secondary school in Sopwell. This was in 1936. At first it was going to be near the gasworks, with access to Doggetts Way, but that was proved unworkable so they were considering another 10 acre site in St Julian's. Looking at all the clues, it must have been near the elevated railway bridge by Little Sopwell Farm at the end of Butterfield Lane. The farm's boundaries were given as the St Albans-Watford railway and Watling Street from where it meets Park Street to the bottom of what is now Doggetts Way by the gasworks. I found this hard to imagine but the farm must have been quite large. I think the problem with this site had something to do with the lack of a sewer as a school was not built here either. The council must have looked elsewhere for a suitable plot. St Julian's was not built until the mid fifties.

Sandy Norman