A Schoolboy's Impressions of Mill Green and Hatfield For the years 1938 - 1943
By Reg Colman
From the archives of the Hatfield Library
I was first introduced to Hatfield in the 1930s when our family was living in Fulham, London. My uncle Tom Burrell worked for Noad ’s Farm and lived at No.2 Woodhall Farm Cottages, Mill Green. Many a happy holiday was spent at that house; I can’t remember it ever raining and we spent days playing amongst the corn stooks or swimming in the River Lea that runs through the fields.
Sometimes in the afternoon we would take tea up to the men working in the fields by the railway track, then sit and watch the new streamlined silver painted railway engines roar by. Then, engines had exciting names Silver Jubilee, Silver Fox, and Silver Link. At night, from the bedroom window, I had a distant view of passing trains, their engine cabs lit by the glow from their fire boxes.
Not only did it never rain in those days but it seemed that the moon never shone around Mill Green either. Being a ‘Townie’, I wasn’t used to the dark and hated the late night walks back home along the unlit lane from the ‘Beehive’ at Hatfield Hyde I couldn’t see a thing. One joy that came from the blackness though was to see the flash of sparks as the steel studs in the men’s boots scraped the road surfaces.
The ‘local’ of my relatives and their neighbours was the ‘Green Man’ at Mill Green. It was crisps and lemonade for us children in the open— fronted porch, with dozens of daddy-longlegs and moths flying around the light bulb. The bar on the left was filled with smoke from the men’s pipes as they played dominoes on the wooden table. I thought it a great atmosphere. From the other bar I heard for the first time a local, in good voice, rendering the much requested “That’s my brother Sylvest”
The Woodhall Farm cottages were lit by oil lamps and the outside wooden shed lavatories not connected to the mains. The buckets had to be frequently emptied into a communal cesspool. Periodically, the ‘Lavender Cart’ would arrive to empty the cesspool and we would all disappear indoors and close the windows until the cart had departed.
In those pre-war days campers would cycle from North London and pitch their tents in the fields by Noads Farm. The campers, and us kids, drank from the stream which rises in the small wood (now cut through by Chequers Road), and runs through the fields and into the Lea.
For tea at No.2 we often had fresh watercress from the River, but the exact location of the source of supply my Uncle would never reveal. Crayfish could easily be found in the river by the Mill.
Soon after War was declared on 3rd September, 1939, our school in London, having been evacuated to ‘somewhere in the country’, my elder sister and I were evacuated to No.2 Woodhall Farm Cottages. My Uncle and his neighbours had made a large communal air-raid shelter in the field by the cottages. The shelter was formed by digging a long six feet deep hole and covering it -with stout wooden beams and earth, with an entrance at one end and an emergency exit hole at the other. Both entrance and exit were covered with blackout blankets, which we understood could be wetted to keep the much dreaded and expected gas. Beds were also installed but I think the shelter was used more for playing than sleeping.
Sometimes after dark, my sister, cousin and I would walk up the long drive past the Farm and under the railway to a site near Stanborough Road to see the searchlight unit and watch its beams crisscross the sky.
I continued my education at St.Audrey ’s School in School Lane, Hatfield, which meant walking each way along footpaths through fields where the Ryde Estate now stands. Before breakfast, the boy next door and I used to wash under the tap in the yard outside, I think we thought it tough and healthy. My sister remembers a pump being there before the tap. An alternative place for outdoor ablutions was on the table by the side of a large rain water butt (so it must have rained sometimes). The water from the butt was scooped into a bowl on the table and felt very ‘soft’. I can still picture the insect larva swimming in that butt perhaps we boiled the water first.
After a few weeks, as the threatened air raids hadn’t started, we returned to Fulham. I was back at Mill Green again on 6th September, 1940, for a holiday. My 1940 diary tells me that on the 7th September I went to the Public Hall to see a show called “Go to it” performed by soldiers and women no doubt they gave an unforgettable performance, but I can’t remember a thing about it Perhaps some of the ‘Lady Volunteers’ are still around. On the 17th September I ” Went to the Sawmills to see bomb craters. ”
The air raids on London had started, so my family decided to move permanently to Hatfield. It was back to Fulham for me for a couple of days to help pack; then on the 27th September we moved in to No.6 Chapmans Terrace in Old Hatfield. (The third house from the end in the picture on page 24 of The Book of Hatfield, issue 1). No.6 was a two up two down double fronted terraced house with gas lighting, an outside flush lavatory and the bath hanging on the outside wall. This was much less of a des-res. than our previous home but we were glad to get out of London.
One down stairs room contained a coal fired kitchen range for cooking and a round stone boiler for the washing, and a sink with cold water tap. Despite the cramped space, we used this as our living room and, as in London, called the other downstairs room the front room, to be used only on Sundays and special occasions. Yes, we did have an aspidistra in the window. Later we had a Morrison shelter fitted in the living room but used it only as a table and soon got rid of it as it took up too much space.
At the front of the house was a very small garden arid a footpath separated, by a fence, from the large rear gardens of Fore Street. At the back was a path no garden and a wall beyond which was the graveyard of the long gone Park Street Chapel.
Our area of London had suffered little damage before we left yet within a few days of us seeking sanctuary in Hatfield, de-havilland’s was bombed. We wondered if we had made the right move.
The 7th October, 1940 saw me back at St.Audreys School. On the same day my sister started work at Holliers Dairy shop on the corner of Crawford Road and Birchwood Avenue.
There were a number of shops in Park Street but it was the time of rationing and the black out trading was restricted, and the streets dark at night. At one time the shop at the bottom of Arm & Sword Yard housed a sausage-making machine which could be seen turning out yard upon yard of sausages. All other buildings between the Public Hall and the still existing buildings at the Park Street end of Arm & Sword Yard had long been demolished so the empty slope was good for rolling down old car tyres. Tyres that passed through the narrow gap and into Park Street scored extra points, and the odd passing pedestrian! My favorite shop was of course Daisy Gray ’s which sold sensible things like toys. Opposite, on the corner of Batterdale, Daisy Gray had another shop which didn’t sell anything but had in the window a notice which read “From Daisy Gray’s across the way you buy your goods of this display.”
Our ‘wireless’ at No.6 was powered by a large battery and an accumulator which only stayed charged for about 4 days. We needed 2 accumulators one in use and one at Waters Garage being recharged.
My feeling about St.Audreys was that although the atmosphere was generally good, there was not enough carrot and too much fear of the stick; which only encouraged one to do no more than was necessary. It was a time of shortage of resources. We tried to learn music without any musical instruments and I could ‘see no possible use for algebra. Nevertheless, my diary for 1942 records ‘December tests Algebra 95%’. Most of us enjoyed Miss Godfrey’s art classes and I still have some examples of my attempts at painting from those days. I have a vivid memory of going to look at the old school a few days after the flying bomb had destroyed it, and seeing there on a remaining wall, some pupils paintings including a tulip by me, still hanging by one drawing pin. (That was two years after I had left school.) A few years ago I saw Miss Godfrey at a Mill Green Museum event. Probably I hadn’t spoken to her since my school days 45 years earlier and not seen her for almost as long, but I introduced myself as an ex pupil. Miss Godfrey said yes she remembered me and when I said “Coleman”, she immediately said “Reg”. What a memory!
My recollections of football at St.Audreys are of a freezing cold changing hut and half the studs missing from mud encrusted boots, the stiff leather of which only yielded after being worn for about half an hour. The 440 yards, or one and a half times round the sports field, was my forte; only a tall lad named Watts and big George Christmas could beat me. About once a week, Mr.Cliver the headmaster, would line up the whole school at one end of the playing field and, on his command, we would slowly walk to the other end picking up stones which had worked their way to the surface. During my last year at school I was entrusted with the Monday morning job of visiting each class and collecting the ‘Sports Money’. This ‘Sports Money’ was all in 1d and 2d coins which I then counted and took to Tingeys the grocers, near the bus garage, to change to coins of a larger value. On completion of this task, Mr.Oliver usually gave me six pence for myself. Can anyone remember exactly what this “Sports Money” was for?
When the air raid warning sirens sounded, our class would take shelter beneath the stage in the Hall. The headroom was too low for chairs so we sat on mattresses, singing, reading or playing cards.
I was never aware of any reserve towards us newcomers and I soon made friends with the local lads. During the school holidays, Hatfield Park was our playground. In those days, apart from the house and garden, we had access to almost all of that wonderland from Millards Park to the whole of the Broadwater, our expeditions bounded only by the vitality of our legs. ‘Green Hill’, which seems much narrower today, was a favourite slope for tobogganing, while the adjacent slope into ‘Elephant Dell’ was far more reckless. The present hollow bulbous shape of ‘Elephant Oak’ was surely the same 46 years ago. Carrying on from ‘Green Hill’ across a large open space could be reached “Rabbit Wood”, an area of mostly elderberry trees and the home for dozens of rabbits. The straight thin branches of the elder tree made good rapiers for young d’Artagnon. The stalks of fern leaves stripped of side shoots, made accurate javelins. On one occasion, I turned just as a friend threw one of these javelins and I caught it straight in the eye. I hurried half-blind to Dr.Holmes front door and received emergency treatment. Fortunately, I began to see clearly again after a couple of days.
There used to be a stream constantly flowing from the lake in the garden of Hatfield House, past ‘Elephant Dell’, through a tunnel under the road and then along by the side of Park Street, eventually entering the Lea at Mill Green. This stream was perfect for twig races and building dams and waterfalls.
Once or twice, Hatfield Park received salvos of incendiary bombs, one of which we kids found unexploded, levered it from the ground and handed it in to a rather ungrateful Sergeant at the Police Station.
What was the ancient purpose of the three feet high brick tunnel, running in the direction of Hatfield House, which was revealed when a split trench was dug somewhere near to what is now the entrance to the ‘ Elephant Dell’play area?
A recent discovery I have made is that the wall on the left-hand side of the old Post Office near the entrance to the Park, still shows where the aperture was for a Home Guard gun emplacement. Even more surprising is that behind the wall, half buried, is the round concrete base for mounting the weapon which was called something like a ‘Spigot Blacket Bombarder’. At a Home Guard display once in the Park, this fearsome weapon was demonstrated to the public. The Bombarder was pointed up Green Hill, but on the one occasion that it was successfully fired, the missile shot off at an angle into the bracken.
In the field at the front of Hatfield House were strategically placed several old stage coaches and carts, intended to prevent any attempt to land German troop carrying gliders. I hope these magnificent vehicles didn ’t slowly rot away.
Our evenings in the dark black-out were spent playing cards or board games including the newly-introduced Monopoly when we were not at ‘the pictures’. My diaries of the early forties contain little of general interest but do remind me that my friends and I visited the cinema two or three times a week. Showing at the Hatfield Cinema on the l4th November 1942, was “Gert. & Daisy Clean Ups”. Sometimes we ventured out into the dark to knock off dustbin lids and other such games. Were we hooligans! There was little wanton damage and no malice towards the victims, and if caught, a clip around the ear was accepted as justified.
The Public Hall also put on film shows produced by the Ministry of Information. These were mostly propaganda and moral boosters but were usually interesting and often exciting action films.
During the war we were all encouraged to save to lend money for the war effort. Certain weeks were nominated for the purpose of raising, through the purchase of Savings Certificates, a set sum for a particular item of equipment. The 6th March, 1942, was the beginning of Warship Week and the Hatfield District was set a target of £120,000 to pay for a Corvette. In May, 1943, the target was set at £140,000 for Wings for Victory Week, to purchase seven Mosquito aircraft. In fact, according to my diary, the thrifty patriots in Hatfield and district saved a total of £290,000.
As the end of 1942 approached, so did the end of my schooldays. I was offered the opportunity to work at the de-havilland Hatfield factory for a couple of years, with a view to being considered for a 5 year Indentured apprenticeship when I reached sixteen. So on 29th December, 1942, at the age of 14, I started work on the production line installing hydraulic pipes in the gun bays of Mosquito aircraft. For a standard 48hr week, including Saturday mornings, I worked hard for the War Effort, and for 4.15 old pence per hour.