St Albans' Own East End

Alban Way

 

Before 1850 travelling from St Albans to Hatfield inevitably meant walking (yes, it did happen) or using a vehicle along Hatfield Road, a tolled turnpike.

When the Great Northern Railway (GNR) arrived a station was opened at Hatfield.  To encourage passengers from a wider area a horsebus service ran between High Street and Hatfield Station.

In 1958 the London & Northwestern Railway opened a branch connection from St Albans (Abbey) to Watford for Euston.  This encouraged the GNR to take an interest in the Hatfield & St Albans Railway (H&SAR) in 1865 as an alternative route to the capital via Hatfield to Kings Cross.  By 1868 the Midland Railway had opened St Albans Midland (now City) Station, which, for the first time gave St Albans' people a direct rail connection with London at St Pancras.

The number of passengers on the branches, especially via Hatfield, fell as a consequence.  In fact, the H&SAR gained more revenue from freight than from the carriage of passengers.

The St Albans terminus was originally at London Road, now occupied by a children's nursery. But very quickly the line was extended to St Albans (Abbey) which provided passengers with connections to Watford.

The only other station was about halfway along its length; originally called Springfield after a nearby field, it was later changed to Smallford (and some say Smallford for Colney Heath, but this has not been verified).

At the time Smallford was a little group of houses at the southern end of Colney Heath Lane where the lane crossed the stream as it flowed towards the river Colne.  The place we know as Smallford today hardly existed in the mid 19th century.  It nevertheless was given the name taken from the public house, Three Horseshoes.  There were nearby cottages, three forges and a turnpike toll house and that was all.

At Smallford crossroads the south-eastern arm was called Smallford Lane, but the section of that road between the crossroads and the railway bridge was renamed Station Road after the railway had opened.

Freight at Smallford Station included agricultural produce from the surrounding district, and horse manure and coal from London.

The railway was vital in three other respects.  During the Second World War the central London markets, which were vulnerable to air attack, were relocated to surrounding towns.  The wholesale meat market came to the area we now know as the Butterwick industrial estate, partly because of the railway and because the land was easily acquired from the local authority.  A siding was laid to take trains off the line to the newly constructed building, adapted later for the ripening of bananas.

The second was the contruction, from 1896, of Hill End asylum.  Millions of bricks were delivered to the siding at Hill End from the brickfields in Leicestershire.  At the same location trains were used for military arrivals, injured men having been returned home for treatment at Hill End.  So, from 1899, with the opening of Hill End hospital, the platform was constructed here for staff, patients and visitors.

Walkers and cyclists using the leisure route today will wonder about the platform at Nast Hyde as, even today, there hardly seems sufficient homes nearby to justify the outlay.  In 1911 land from Great Nast Hyde House estate was sold for development.  A start was made on a number of, mainly detached houses.  Facilities, including a golf course and a railway halt, were included to attract more wealthy residents.  However, the development halted at the outbreak of the First World War and did not recommence.  Those houses completed along St Albans Road West (north side) were later demolished as de Havilland Aircraft Company expanded.  Few of the homes remain today, but a later development, Selwyn estate, took over in the 1930s and was completed after WW2.

A large increase in passengers occured during WW2 as de Havilland's took on thousands of employees for its DH198 Mosquito production and other developments.  So a new station at Lemsford Road, Hatfield, was provided, although, for security reasons, no reference was made to it in the railway timetables.

Today we ponder over why a station was not provided at Fleetville.  Well, there was a siding for the delivery of coal, laid once factories and homes arrived, but until 1897 Fleetville was rural, so no people, no homes and no shops and factories.  By the time it was a thriving community there was also the beginnings of a bus service along Hatfield Road, especially to reach the Midland Station and the city centre.  So the largest community along the railway never did get a railway station.

Station Road bridge at Smallford.  It was wide enough for two tracks but only one was laid.

Sutton Road with the very low bridge still in place.  Gated access to the siding on the right.

Smallford Station

London Road Station; photo taken from the second platform.

Geesinknorba factory building in Acrewood Way, part of Butterwick Wood industrial area.

Salvation Army Printing Works, later renamed Campfield Press in Campfield Road.

Front page of War Cry printed weekly at the works.

COURTESY

ST ALBANS MUSEUMS

The only picture known of Lemsford Road station open for business.

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Alban Way, formerly Hatfield & St Albans Railway

There was one more station; it was, however, a halt provided for the staffs of two firms, their visitors and their products.

Next to Camp Road is the remains of a platform today waymarked Salvation Army.  From here passengers left the train and walked to either the Salvation Army Printing Works or its musical instrument factory next door, in Campfield Road.  Or to Sander's Orchid Nurseries.  The former occupied all of the land now occupied by warehouses on the Alban Way side of the road; the latter has been replaced by Ss Alban & Stephen Junior School.

It was a busy spot, each firm with its own siding; orchids being imported and dispatched to wealthy clients in the UK and abroad; while  plain paper, card and inks arrived for printing. Huge quantities of finished books, music, pamphlets and Bibles, the latter in many languages, were distributed from the siding.  The best known products were its weekly papers, War Cry and Junior Soldier, produced by hundreds of thousands each week.

At no time in its history did the number of trains per weekday exceed eight, so not a busy passenger railway.

Following WW2 the infrastructure, including the trains, was in poor condition.  The railway had probably never made a profit and with restructuring for nationalisation decisions had to be made.  Passenger services ceased in 1951 and the line was progressively closed as freight contracts ended.  The route was finally closed in 1968 and shortly afterwards those bridges which had become inconvenient for road traffic were removed, especially those at Sutton Road and Camp Road.

After lying neglected for some years part of the route was cleared and opened as a leisure route under the name Smallford Trail.  It then became a SUSTRANS cycle route and the full distance from Hatfield to Abbey stations was opened as a walking and cycling path under a new name: Alban Way.

The route is undergoing improvement works to the trees, shrubs and undergrowth at the St Albans end.  To mark its heritage status platforms are being repaired, waymarking is arriving on the platforms, on signs and on the path itself; and interpretation panels are being progressively installed to tell today's users the story of a route between Hatfield and St Albans, through St Albans' Own East End.

St Albans' Own East End

The WW2 wholesale meat store near Alban Park on the Butterwick Wood industry area.

The first interpretation panel to be installed at Cottonmill Lane bridge.