In the last two newsletters, we have explored the fire of Gaddesden Place and the accounts of the men working to save the building. Since then, we have looked through the Gazette to find out how funds were raised for a new steam engine to help improve the work of the volunteers of Hemel Hempstead Fire Brigade.
It was clear that the fire had an impact on the people of the town. An article the week after the fire addressed the ‘fire brigade efficiency’, and included a rather poetic call for action:
It was noted at the time that unlike St Albans and Watford, Hemel Hempstead had not been invited to take part in any of the various competitions for local fire brigades. This seemed like a great knock to the town’s pride, as it was felt that this was not due to the ‘lack of zeal’ of the firemen themselves but the antiquated engine and poor equipment that they possessed.
The money and the site for the new fire station were very quickly found, after the fire of Gaddesden Place. We can read in the Gazette that the designs and builders were soon employed before the full amount needed to build was even raised. The total cost of the new building was about £500 and in today’s money this was close to £40,000.
After many discussions about the location for the new building, land was donated on either side of its original site. The land was donated by two well-known names in Hemel Hempstead. The first was Mr Walter Grover, who was in residence at The Bury, the old registry office which overlooks Gadebridge Park. The second donor was Lt.-Col. Lionel Paston-Cooper, who also went by the name Lt.-Col. Lionel Hervey-Bathurst. Lt.-Col. Paston-Cooper was married to Mary Ethel Paston-Cooper, the daughter of the famous surgeon Sir Astley Paston-Cooper.
The site for the new building meant that the fire brigade could keep their central location and made good use of the frontage to the main road. The Boxmoor Trust donated all the funds needed for the building from their surplus taken from inhabitant householders of the parish of Hemel Hempstead. During their annual surplus distribution meeting, we learn from the minutes that Mr Hodgson presented a statement in connection with the new fire station building account:
Hemel Hempstead Fire Station in Queens Street, opposite the junction with Marlowes. Image attributed to ‘Culverhouse, Hemel Hempstead’.
The foundation stone laying ceremony took place on 18 April 1906, and, in addition to the official stones, a set of bricks destined for the lower part of the wall was arranged for interested people to lay with their name. The initials of those who laid them were carved to show on the inside wall of the station at the cost of 5 s, with all proceeds going to the building fund. The old slanting engine house at the foot of the high street in the old town was replaced with what was described as a ‘modern structure befitting the importance of the town’. It was a two-storeyed structure in the Elizabethan style of architecture so that it would be in harmony with the shops and offices which adorned the approach to the high street, known as The Broadway.
In just two months, in June 1906, a little over a year after the Gaddesden Place fire, the new fire station for Hemel Hempstead was opened by Alderman Balderson, the senior trustee of The Boxmoor Trust.
The first item on the programme was the presentation of a silver key, suitably inscribed, by the Mayor to Alderman Balderson on behalf of the Council, and the worthy ex-Mayor lost no time in fitting the key to the lock in the doors of the new station. As he turned it and threw the doors open, amidst applause, Alderman Balderson said:
Mr Kimich, who owned a clock and watch makers shop in the old town, made and supplied the clock at his own expense. The Mayoress, by pulling the cord, then uncovered the clock on the building. In her speech she joked that the clock would be of much benefit to a very large number of people, especially to ‘those who were in the habit of getting to church late on Sundays’, which apparently went down very well with the crowds. Tea was provided afterwards in the new fire station, followed by a series of dry and wet drills performed in excellent times, by the Hemel Hempstead Brigade in the Bury Meadow.
Soon after the opening of the new fire station, work commenced to raise the £400 (approx. £30,000 in today’s money) needed for a new steam engine. In November 1906, we can see that the committee used the fireworks celebrations to persuade the public to subscribe and boost the funds for a new steam engine. At that point, only half of the money needed had been raised and, in the Gazette, they pleaded:
Even ‘small villa residents’, were encouraged to donate as little as 5 s, or £20 in today’s money, for the much-needed engine.
By the end of 1906 the committee had enough money to finally purchase a steam fire engine and they accepted the tender of Messrs. Shand, Mason and Co., for the supply of one of their latest models of engines to be delivered next Easter. On 3 April 1907, the new steam fire engine for Hemel Hempstead arrived and was handed over to the Mayor on behalf of the town and a christening ceremony took place on the Market Square, High Street. Afterwards a demonstration was given in the Bury meadow and the annual dinner in connection with the brigade took place in the evening at the Town Hall.
We know that the new steam engine was affectionately called Mabel, but this is not reported in the christening ceremony. The only time we can see the reference to this name is in a letter written into the Gazette. In this letter, dated 13 June 1908, the reader asks where is Mabel? ‘I understand it is nearly three months ago since the last practice took place. Surely, sir, it is not doing the machinery any good, lying dormant at the Brigade station’. This letter was quickly followed up, the next week, with two letters in defence of the volunteer fire brigade, the first acknowledging their hard work and pointing out that the men had been recently awarded their certificates in first aid. The second letter was written by Captain Hancock and he states that Mabel was in fact moved at least two or three times a week and that steam fire engine practices cost money. He goes on to invite them to the next practice, so ‘that he may come and observe ‘Mabel’ for himself and also bring a donation to help pay expenses.’
The first time we can see the fire engine being used is in the reporting of a major fire in Leverstock Green on 21 July 1911. This fire took place at a barn and stabling adjoining The Three Horseshoes. The article in the Gazette reports that ‘a message was wired to the Hemel Hempstead fire station, and the Brigade under Captain Hancock, turned out smartly and was quickly on the scene with the steamer’.
We hope you have enjoyed reading about our research into the Gaddesden Place Fire and the subsequent improvements made to the brigade in Hemel Hempstead. We thank the volunteers who have worked through old copies of the Gazette to help us report on this episode from Hemel Hempstead’s past.
This scrapbook within our museum's collection celebrates the golden jubilee of the Women’s Institute (WI) in the UK. It is an intimate and vivid portrait of the year 1965 and unfolds from the perspective of a community undergoing huge change.
Leverstock Green, once a quiet rural village surrounded by country lanes and open fields, found itself amid an inexorable transformation. The M1 had recently circled its boundary, disturbing the village’s relationship with the surrounding countryside. New housing estates had taken root and further development was initiated during the book’s twelve-month span.
The book contains a diverse and eclectic set of materials, including newspaper cuttings, personal observations, photographs, postcards, leaflets, programmes and even textile samples, assembled by the jubilee committee of the local WI. Change is the recurring theme and is documented microscopically. In addition, seasonal and permanent changes are recorded through monthly diaries of life in different village locations (such as Pancake Lane, Greenacres, Westwick Row and The Horseshoe), providing the varied content with a continuous thread, giving structure and much added interest.
Familiar buildings, hedgerows, trees and fields are documented for the last time but not all changes are regretted. While the book offers many poignant moments, the women of the WI are hopeful for the future and the book celebrates growing families, improvements around the village, and social activities revolving around the church. One such example being the clock face re-gilding to celebrate their jubilee year.
We learn that the year began with snow on the ground, but that didn’t stop the ‘youngsters’ gathering at Westwick Farm for their riding lessons. The farmer’s daughter complains, ‘it has been increasingly difficult to find places to ride with them, with the new building going on and M1 cutting off access to open country’. Later that night, the first new Leverstock Green resident of the year arrives – Jonathan David Short on 2 January 1965, who misses being a New Year’s baby by just one hour.
Minor domestic dramas are recorded. In January, in Pancake Lane, Mrs Hildersley’s cat, the aptly named Snowy, goes missing during the bitterly cold spell. Mrs Fry of the Swedish Cottages on Westwick Row is distraught – also missing is her dog, Suzy. There is speculation that she could have been run over by a car, taken by a fox or even by the rumoured puma that has reportedly been seen in the area.
The ending of another era was marked by the death of Winston Churchill on 24 January, which was duly commemorated with prayers in the church, the funeral watched by most of the village on television. Happily, after ten days, Snowy returns, ‘much thinner but otherwise alright’. There is no further word on Suzy’s fate.
The book’s pages continue to unfold through 1965, offering a vivid picture of a community in transition but one in which social bonds are strong. The book contains many wry observations of local events and people. That summer, rumours of a visit by the Russian Ambassador to Leverstock Green prove to be just that. Disappointed residents are instead entertained by watching Lord Arran eat an ice cream ‘in his shirtsleeves’ at the cricket match. Perhaps, a sign of the slow relaxation of social standards.
An unexploded anti-aircraft rocket is found by the Farrow brothers in the old orchard opposite Malmes Croft. Upon inspection, the Bomb Disposal Squad confirm it is live but by then the village policeman had already removed the device to his own garden. There it is made safe, leaving a crater three and a half feet deep and six feet wide.
The book closes with a valedictory. It notes that Leverstock Green is no longer a village and that it has lost its feeling of intimacy; the nightingales have gone and there is tipping of rubbish in nearby lanes. However, ‘newcomers are friendly and co-operative and join in with Church affairs and other social activities’. It had already been noted that the newcomers had bolstered membership of the WI and Scouts, and, it adds, ‘we look forward to the new village hall being eventually completed to accommodate all the social activities’. The final line is a plea that, ‘good youth-leaders will arise and install into the young, a sense of pride and responsibility, so necessary for the well-being of a community and that the older inhabitants will be understanding, co-operative and charitable’.
The book contains many references to, and photos of, individuals, families and homes which will be of interest to anyone with a connection to Leverstock Green, but the collection also has a much wider appeal as a record of the expansion of Hemel Hempstead and of twentieth-century English social history. It is a unique and valuable time capsule of which Dacorum Heritage is proud custodian.
This Stokes mortar bomb was made at John Dickinson's Apsley paper mill during the First World War when part of the mill changed production to help the war effort.
The Ministry of Munitions took over and used the mill to make trench mortar bombs and small shells. Many women worked in the factories and the manager at Nash Mills noted that they did the preparatory work ‘just as efficiently as men’.
A second painting by Lefevre Cranstone in the collection is this oil on canvas of Hemel Hempstead market. It includes members of the Cranstone family.
The Cranstone family were iron mongers and first came to live in Hemel Hempstead in 1798. Lefevre’s father set up an iron foundry on their Market Street premises, known as the Phoenix Works. You can still see many ironworks in the town such as The Grade II listed ‘fountain’ and gas lamp standard.
The Cranstones were also prominent members of the Quaker church, attending the nearby Meeting House on St Mary’s Road.
Lefevre James Cranstone was born in Hemel Hempstead in 1822. He developed an interest in art from an early age and was enrolled at Henry Sass’s School of Art in 1838 before entering the Royal Academy School as a probationer in 1840.
During his artistic career, he exhibited several paintings at the Royal Academy and at the Society of British Artists, yet he never achieved national recognition from his Victorian audience.
Lefevre is perhaps best known abroad, particularly in the USA. He visited America in 1859 producing over 300 sketches. Today, many of his works are in notable American institutions, including the art collection at The White House and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This gas mask case was unofficially made in the card department of John Dickinson's Apsley paper mill where the owner's husband was working.
Cardboard boxes for gas masks were just one type or item that Dickinson's switched to making during the Second World War, along with blackout paper, bombers made of paper and even fuel pumps for aircraft.
During the war, Dacorum was recognised as a safer location than London and became a reception area for evacuees. Children were temporarily rehomed in many Dacorum towns and villages for the duration of the war.
Dickinson's accommodated employees' children from their Tottenham branch at Shendish Manor, the company's sports and social club.
This key belonged to William Hemmings, who served as Sir John Evans’s butler in the 1800s. The key would have been used to open the wine cellar.
Evans was a famous archaeologist, philosopher and scientist. At the age of 17, he began working at John Dickinson's Apsley paper mill. Dickinson was Evans’s uncle and later became his father-in-law.
Hemmings was described as a well-loved and respected man who had gained for himself the reputation of the perfect butler. Originally from Piccotts End, he was the eldest son of a large, well-known family. His father was a gardener to the Gadebridge Estate for many years.
One of four line and half tone printing blocks made at John Dickinson's Apsley paper mill to print items for St Mary's Church, Apsley.
John Dickinson patented a method of papermaking in June 1809. In 1850, the company started mechanical envelope manufacturing, with gummed envelopes. The production of fine rag paper on electrically driven machines was a successful innovation at Nash Mill. The company pioneered the production of window envelopes in 1929.
This is a ginger beer flagon with a metal handle, screw top and bottom pouring orifice but no tap. Used to advertise H. Lee and Sons’ Soda water, this piece is a notable example of brewery advertising history for a well-known local Berkhamsted firm.
H. Lee and Sons were a mineral water supplier who also made dry ginger ale, cordials, and ginger wine in the late 1880s and early1900s.
Henry Lee was born in 1855 in Potten End. He bought a well-established mineral water business and then purchased and converted stables in Berkhamsted High Street into his offices. The building still stands on the corner of Three Close Lane, just off Berkhamsted High Street.
In the late 1800s, soda water was flavoured artificial mineral water i.e. water with a purposeful addition of various compounds and / or flavouring and, of course, carbonation.
This is a Stanhope viewer. They were invented by Rene Dagron in 1857 to enable viewing of microphotographs.
Microphotos are about 3mm squared and were developed as a novelty but you might know microphotography in the form of microfiche or film. It has also been used in cases of espionage.
Dagron modified a Stanhope lens and attached the microphotographs at the end, bypassing the need for a microscope. The lens was small enough to be mounted in jewellery and all sorts of miniature objects.
The Stanhope viewer in Dacorum Heritage’s collection is in the form of a pipe and has a view of St Mary's Church, Hemel Hempstead.
Kodak launched their model 1 Brownie in 1952. This was one of the most popular cameras. Two other Brownie 127 models, which have subtle differences, were manufactured a few years later. Kodak cameras began being manufactured in the UK after the Eastman Photographic Materials Company purchased a seven-acre site in Harrow in 1890.
By the 1950s the search was on for another site for processing facilities. The new town of Hemel Hempstead was eventually chosen owing to its work force, communications and its plentiful supply of water. In early 1957 Kodak took over the lease of the Rolls Razor Company’s premises on Maylands Avenue.
By 1960 the Kodachrome film processing unit, and the reversing print service, Kodak Colour Prints, had moved from Harrow to Maylands Avenue. By then the Division had supporting services such as engineering, accounts, stores, personnel and a canteen. Kodak also opened distribution and printing facilities in Swallowdale Lane.