St Albans Road
Memories of the road
By Michael Browne
The St. Albans Road – A414
Back in the 1950s the St. Albans Road was the major East/West route through the centre of Hatfield. From 1948 until 1959 I cycled nearly the whole length of this every day to and from School (St Audrey’s) or work at the Council Offices at North Place on the Great North Road. . Today it’s but a remnant of its old self, chopped up into bits, and some replaced by other roads along a different alignment…
From the town’s boundary in the west, near Nast Hyde lodge, to the Comet Hotel it has not changed its route and is little changed except for the roundabout at Ellenbrook Lane and loss of the large houses and gardens on the north side, now replaced by the University Buildings and some new houses on the opposite side, as one approaches the new junctions by the Comet Hotel. From here on though the changes are dramatic. The name St Albans Road West was introduced along this section of road around 1950 when the road frontage was being developed between Selwyn Avenue and Ellenbrook Lane so street numbering could be introduced as prior to that only house names existed.
The Comet Way has been constructed along the line of what was known as The Barnet Bypass. This was constructed in the 1930s and ran along the line of part of the old St. Albans Road from the Comet to the Stonehouse Hotel. It was a wide two way road but the houses were still numbered in St. Albans Road. That two way road has now been replaced with the two lane dual carriageway and the houses and their gardens on the east side were removed to build the Hatfield Tunnel and replaced by the Galleria, Cinema, Restaurants and Car Parks.
It was a give way junction at the Comet with the large and imposing Harefield House set back on the opposite side of the junction. Turning left along the Bypass Road, all the housing was mainly bungalows on the right behind a wide verge and pavement. First the summer-time café run by the Dickens family, their daughter Greta had the same birthday as me. A little further along was the Mileham’s Garage, with their house at the rear of the workshop with twins Jack and Gillian both school friends. Further on was the café and shop run by Mrs McWhirter and always open even on Sundays in “those” days. Harpsfield Parade on the left was just as it is today, but here the old road continued by turning right and across front of the Stonehouse Hotel with its imposing front, the area now taken up with the Carpark opposite MacDonald’s and the Cinema.
The Bracey family lived in the first house on the left (son Ted was a fellow pupil and scouting friend of mine) and next was the unmade track which led through to Lemsford Road and the permanent Gipsy site on the land behind. There were bungalows from McWhirters shop all the round the bend on the right hand side and up to the Railway Bridge now gone but where footpath crosses near the entrance to De Havilland Close. A track just before the bridge led to the Air Force Cadet building around the back of the bungalows now replaced with the Comet Close housing. Down the dip under the bridge which used to flood in heavy rain causing chaos with the bus services and to the crossroad with the New Fiddle Inn (now called the Cat and the Fiddle) and Roe Green Lane on the right and a garage workshop and Fiddle Bridge Lane on the left.
The road went slightly uphill from here. The first houses of the Hatfield New Town were built on the right in 1951 and one of the houses was used as a show house. Opposite was Day’s Field where a number of fetes took place each year and was otherwise used for grazing horses. Mr Day the owner and a high ranking member of the Boy Scouts owned the field and used to live in the bungalow overlooking it. This rising length is now partly a footpath, and there was a large house and tall trees close to the road on the right just before the junction of Lemsford Road on the left and the original start of Briars Lane on the right.
From here to the St. Luke’s Church at the other end of the Town centre everything has changed.
With roads diverted or pedestrianised and the Supermarket complex built across the original line of the road. The pedestrian street beyond runs on the line of the original road
After Lemsford Road the block od buildings immediately on the left were as now but the Bingo Hall was our local very well attended Odeon Cinema with Victoria Wine and Gees the Men’s Outfitters on one side and a sweet shop and a cafe on the other. The next buildings were a Hill and Simmons bakers shop and then Dollimore’s the Greengrocers both were individual buildings with unpaved access roads to properties at the rear between them. Opposite all these from Briars Lane to the next houses was a large area of allotments stretching all the way back to the Dellfield Road houses. Now all Car parking
On the left after Dollimore’s there were a number of large houses until one came to the Robin Hood PH set back from the road with a forecourt and it’s hanging sign on the post at the back of the footpath. You alighted the bus here for the shops and Dellfield School. Opposite was a long row of back to back blocks of smart terrace housing known as Gracemead and Railway Cottages oit was a shame they had to go.. They ended with the wide roadway which not only led to Kennel Lane, the service road to the back of the Main Shopping street, but also to the afore said allotments and the footpath to Dellfield Road and the Dellfield Junior School.
Tingey’s grocers shop stood imposingly on the corner and started the very one sided shopping street with its very wide pavement, with sub branches of the banks of Westminster and Midland, Rumbelow’s the electrical shop, Timothy Whites, a chemists shop and the Eastern Electricity showrooms. Some of the original buildings still remain on the pedestrian way although now altered except for the Electricity showroom building which still looks as it did back then.
I never knew why there was an open plot alongside the Electrical Showrooms but that did give the planners chance to put in the shopping walkway through to the new Market Square with the redevelopment of the town centre.
Opposite to the shops were mainly cottage type properties with a number of gravelled and cindered lanes between the buildings leading to other properties behind, and with just the odd commercial property. There was a small bake house where in the 40s one could buy a lovely hot and crispy penny roll on the way to school; this was later replaced by a café delightfully called the “Wander Inn”.
Half way along there was the modern flat roofed looking White Horse Inn, also with is hanging sign, a name retained by the town centre square.
The next parade of shops on the right were as they are more or less today and started with Macfisheries fish shop, A greengrocers and newsagent and tobacconist’s and ended with Tingeys Ironmongery shop on the corner to, and Tingeys Furniture shop on the opposite side of the start of French Horn Lane.
The junction of Wellfield Road and French Horn Lane has been diverted now to the new roundabout but used to meet here at a crossroads with more allotments on the Wellfield side which ran up to the St. Johns Hut just before St. Luke’s Church and the cemetery. On the right, was the original site of the Memorial Hall with its large frontage gravelled carpark now the site of the roundabout.
The Roadway of St Albans Road from here to the Great North Road was much as it is today, and some properties have changed some additional houses have been built; the original Hatfield Rural District Council offices have been extended. The Police Station has moved across the road with a new building next to the Magistrates Court and their old building backing onto School Lane has been replaced. The Court complex was built I believe while I was on National Service and I cannot remember what it replaced.
The shops and flats buildings before and after Ground Lane are still the same except for their occupants. Hill and Simmons originally had one small cramped shop at the end of the parade this has now spread to Simmons large frontage of shop and café complex. I suspect the bakery premises at the rear have also changed since the days when I swept and washed up in their bake house here every day after school from 1950 to 52 for one shilling an hour and as many returned cakes I wished eat. I wonder what the pay rate would be today? I bet there have been some changes inside those premises over the past 60 years.
The original Bus garage was just opposite Hill and Simmons shop although replaced with a new garage building while I was still in the town it has now also gone replaced with Hayford Way buildings The original bus garage and surrounding properties up to the railway bridge have all been replaced with new.
Once over the bridge one came to the Great North Road; the A1, There has always been traffic lights here but the road to Hertford did not go straight across as it does today but one turned to the right, went past the Red Lion Hotel and then immediately turned left onto the Hertford Road
This was the main north to south road through the original Old Town but the access north of St. Albans Road stopped when the road bridge over the railway a few hundred yards further on collapsed and was not replaced except with a footbridge. The road was downgraded as it had in fact already been replaced by the straighter Barnet Bypass (Comet Way) for traffic from London to and from the North.