The early September Sunday afternoon was a great success, with many demonstrations and experts discussing their specialist subjects and plenty of things to try your hand at too Under the expert tutelage of Sue Elvidge, we learnt the art of calligraphy, which was both fascinating and incredibly difficult to master. Mick Tutton was there and happily talked us through the dairy as it was and reminisced about how things have changed in all the decades he has been working in Fishpool Street. He drove his float into the barn, out of the afternoon's torrential rain, and into the place it always used to be kept when the barn was leased to Express Dairies. We also participated in plaiting straw, which St Albans and surrounding areas were renowned for in the 1800's. These intricate braids would then have been coiled and stitched to create hats such as bonnets and boaters. This is also the reason behind the colloquial name for Luton Football club being called the Hatters. Gail Payne
‘'Over one and under two, pull it tight and that will do'' so chanted the young 7 year olds in the 19th Century plait schools and again it was heard on Sunday when ‘Made in St.Michael’s opened its doors to members. Veronica Main inspired us by her stories of the Straw Plaiters of Herts & Beds and before we knew it, we were well under way working our first plait. Much of the splitting and plaiting of straw was carried out as a home industry, with all the family playing their part. 15 yards of plait was 'one piece', the average working day was 12/13 hours in which a plaiter could hope to make 10 pieces for which, in the late 1860's, he/she would be paid the equivalent of 25p. Earlier in the century there were complaints "of women who plaited all day and neglected their domestic duties and husbands’ clothes. And who (horror) were not able to make a (meat) pudding fit to eat"
A lesson in straw plaiting from Veronica Main
In 1861 Horace Slade employed over 400 workers in and out of his hat factory in Victoria Street. Later he would purchase the Kingsbury Brewery Paddock on which Kingsbury Ave and the four houses in Verulam Road (up to Kingsbury Knoll) were built. During the French Wars the English hat industry was given a boost, it was even thought a good occupation for prisoners in Bedford Gaol. It was very popular, but instead of making hats, they made ropes and escaped. It is so good to know there are people like Veronica keeping alive these crafts which were so much the life blood of St. Albans.
Simon West from Verulamium Museum and his assistant Nicki Metcalf, displayed a stunning table full of very varied locally made pottery, ranging from a large funeral urn to a delightful small container, a little like an oil lamp, but was thought to be used as a feeder for babies or perhaps the elderly too as they were found in burial sites. They shared their knowledge of all the finds with everyone who came to view them. Liz Holliday
Local geologist Haydon Bailey provided a fascinating exhibit on the composition of the ground beneath our feet in St.Michaels and the surrounding area. He displayed a detailed geological map of our part of Hertfordshire, and a large number of locally-sourced rock samples. He has also kindly prepared a geological walking trail of the village, further copies of which will available at the AGM.
During the afternoon he fielded questions on a wide range of topics, including 'Why is my garden so difficult to dig?', and 'How is flint made?' Residents interested in the answers to these and other similar questions might take a look at the recently published book 'Hertfordshire Geology and Landscape', which is available from the Hertfordshire Natural History Society.
Perhaps the most surprising piece of information that Haydon shared is that St.Albans stands next to the original course of the river Thames. The proto-Thames roughly followed the route of the M25, and explains why so many gravel pits are worked on the boundary of the motorway. David North
Food production was once central to the life of the village. The 16th century watermill, now restored and operating as the Waffle House, was an essential producer of flour for the village and used, no doubt, by the local bakery, Sally-Ann in St Michael's.On display were an old seed sower, and a large winnowing basket which was used to separate the grain from the husks, and also a beautiful old wooden butter churn. All these were kindly loaned by the Waffle House.Visitors were invited to sample traditional wholegrain biscuits, along with ginger beer or lemonade. Jane Sherry
The Kingsbury Brewery on Verulam Road operated from around 1827 until the end of the nineteenth century when it was bought by Benskins and beer production was moved to Watford. Most of the original buildings remain, now used as small business units, with the entrance on the mini-roundabout by the Total garage. On display during the afternoon was a wide range of documents and photographs relating to the Brewery, including a detailed report of the 1889 auction when the Brewery, the surrounding houses, and the pubs were sold. One mystery about the Brewery has at last been solved. It is known that the Kingsbury Brewery was in Fishpool Street until Verulam Road was constructed, but its exact location had not been identified. Local archaeologist Chris Saunders has now discovered an 1818 map in the Abbey records which shows a brewery adjacent to the building that used to be the Crow pub, the site now occupied by 11 Fishpool Street. The map shows the owner of this as Francis Searancke, who built the Brewery in Verulam Road a few years later. Malcolm Holliday