Memories of Swan Lodge, Bell Bar
By Nikki Greenleaf
My grandfather, Mr W.E.C. (Eustace) Greenleaf, owned and lived in Swan Lodge, Bell Bar for many years - probably around 30 or more. He, and then my father (Donald), owned Brookmans Park Motors on the Great North Road, as well as in Bradmore Green (some people may remember Gordon Simmons who ran the one in Brookmans Park), and the Old Coach Station in Bell Bar. My father also lived at the Swan, and later bought Bremners' Garage and established the Hatfield and District Caravan Company on the A1.
They were passionate about vehicles of every type. My grandfather used to successfully race motocycles, and Rileys from London to Land's End, and Edinburgh, and as a child my father would take me off to train museums, the Bluebell Line, to see the Flying Scotsman, or to see his old buses that were being restored (at the time I liked ballet dancing).
I also have a box of his medals which he won racing motorcycles and Rileys in the early '30s.
M.C.C "London - Edinburgh" Whitsun 1931 MIDDLE TONGUE
We had an old speed boat with wonderful white leather upholstery that looked as though it should have been in a James Bond movie, a 1920s or '30s burgundy Austin 7, bright red Sunbeam Alpine, and a collection of other vehicles, such as a khaki green Mini Moke that came out for Village Day, and even a Silver Shadow Rolls.
I had my own set of wheels (see picture below with the 'new' bungalow that was the old forge behind), which my cousins and I used to race out of the gate, past the house, in the back gate, round the house, through the narrow corner, round to the side and out again. It had a squeaky pedal, and we loved it.
My own set of wheels
The Sunbeam Alpine was super fun but I had to double declutch. After Bell Bar we moved to Much Hadham and I used to take it through the ford in trepidation, trying to keep up the revs before the water came over the door in the deepest part. My father must have been very trusting to let me loose in it with my friends as I can't have passed my test very much earlier (those chairs in the picture above were re-upholstered and are in my mother's bedroom).
The Austin 7 outside Swan Lodge circa 1969
Gordon drove my sister to the church on her wedding day in the Austin 7. My mother gave it to Gordon after he retired, and in his final years he sold it to the Walducks (Imperial hotels). Mr Walduck was delighted as he remembered it belonging to "Greenie" - my grandfather.
My grandfathers on both sides, and my mother, all drove Jaguars that smelt of leather and made me feel sick. The best thing was when the tank would start to run out and we had to switch to the other one. After years of driving these, where Grandpa had to sit up high to see over the dashboard, he still kept that position when he was elderly and drove a little Austin 1100 - we used to drive to Brookmans Park every day and my mother would suddenly say "here comes Grandpa" which would send us into fits of giggles.
My grandfather bought the garage and bungalow behind it in Bell Bar the day World War II broke out. Swan Lodge was a night club at the time. My mother remembers being taken there by Trevor Muddiman (who lived at the top of the Avenue) some time later. When my grandfather purchased the Swan and installed an old railway carriage in the garden, it was on the site of stables where Miss Paley had a riding school in the 1930s and where my mother had riding lessons. Apparently my father did too, which I find hard to imagine.
My grandfather filled the railway carriage at Swan Lodge with classic cars where we used to play hide and seek. It also had a scary well, Victorian greenhouses, and according to my father, a ghost. One night my father heard a burglar so he grabbed a pop gun and was amused to see the interloper running down the garden holding his backside where miraculously the pellet had landed.
The garden was bigger then, but my grandfather sold off some of the land where houses now stand. The garden was large, very beautiful and packed with flowers. My friend Susan Gibbs and I used to pick the daffodils to display for Easter at St Mark's Church, Wildhill. I remember Gordon Simmons telling me that he was reading a lesson at St Mark's, when it was announced that war had been declared. He lived up at Wildhill nor far from Sir Geoffrey Church's at Woodside Place - a beautiful house with a green in front.
I know the church was sold. After my father died, my mother, Gordon and I went there and met some Greek Orthodox people who made us very welcome. My father and grandfather, and our friend Dorothy (Dexie to us) Warner from Bell Bar are all buried there. Dexie, my friend Susan and I used to sing in the choir every Sunday morning, except once a month when it was Evensong, and I'd see Grandpa in the congregation sitting near the back. The rector's handshake was so firm we had to remove our rings first.
My grandfather was a councillor and I believe he was instrumental in having the station car park built in Brookmans Park, as well as the swimming pool in Hatfield. We used to swim there, and I'd be very proud to see his name on the board. He was also Mayor of Hertford at some point and we have a formidable photo of him wearing the chain.
I was born in the Old Bakery in Bell Bar in 1960, and brought up there until I went away to school and then university. When my parents moved in in the late '50s, Ernie Boulter the baker had just died but his two sisters Nan and Emily were still living there, in a room festooned with cobwebs which later became our dining room. There was a grain store upstairs with a shute that went down to the back yard. Nan smoked like a chimney, her hair was grey at the front and yellow at the back from the smoke. When I was a few months old she kept wanting to see me but my mother wasn't too keen. My father took them out for a drive - they'd never been in a motor car or seen street lights before which terrified them.
The Boulters ran the village stores which we took over, and I remember sitting there on a three-legged stool with a lady called Peggy who worked in the shop and kept chickens that produced warm eggs. I absolutely loved the shop buzzing with people, and especially on Good Fridays when my father would appear in yet another strange vehicle with trays of hot cross buns to be delivered. It was such fun. One hilarious day, our cleaner fell through the ceiling of the house and landed in one of the large fridges. Someone came running through shouting "she's landed in the Anchor butter". Life at home was always unpredictable.
My sister was born in 1966 and my parents must have closed the shop shortly after that when the supermarkets arrived. I think the cinema in Darkes Lane, Potters Bar, where I saw my first film, Mary Poppins became a supermarket. Everyone was very excited by its arrival but not me, even then - so large and impersonal.
Opposite the Old Bakery was the chapel where we parked the cars - their registrations were often CAR 880something. Once my father came home in a Citroen DS, and either he forgot to apply the hand brake, or it wasn't working well, as when I opened the curtains in the morning, the car had slid backwards down the slope, across the road and knocked down the front wall under my window.
Me on my mother's horse. You can see the chapel behind
Behind the chapel was our pony field and either side of the Cock o' The North. I remember walking to the post box opposite the Swan with my father who bought some red tulips for my mother from Hans from the Dutch Nursery who was then renting land (possibly from Grandpa) on the corner of Bell Lane and the Great North Road before they had the house built that is now the Dutch Nursery. My grandmother said he should have bought ones in bud which made me sad as I thought it was a lovely thing to do and they were such a fabulous colour.
My grandfather also owned a Georgian house opposite where the Titmusses lived, and which previously had been a forge. I don't remember it, but presumably it was in worse repair than the Old Bakery (which was bad enough with nine buckets, or was it 11, catching the water from the leaking roof) or I might have been born there instead? I do still have a chair in my house now that came from the Titmusses' house which sadly I think is about the only thing that survived. The Adams bought the house in around 1962, pulled it down and had a bungalow built in its place. The Salvadori's (who were members of the Brookmans Park Golf Club) bought it in the early/mid '60s and we thought it was really state-of-the-art with an inset tropical fish tank, a bar in the marble-floored open plan sitting/dining room, and a steep drive perfect for roller skating. It was later replaced by a house - again.
My mother still owns the old coach station in Bell Bar. My father kept a couple of vintage buses there which he thought were fabulous but which I didn't have much interest in. On a Monday he'd use one to take disabled children to somewhere in Essendon, and I vaguely remember the Hari Krishners using it (?). The smallest 29-seater was definitely hired out for filming at Borehamwood film studios, and my mother thinks it was hired out more than once. I remember there being two coaches, she remembers at least three. One of them was used in the film 'Village of the Damned' and also 'Clash by Night'. Much later one of the caravans was used in a film with Sophia Loren in London near the Thames, and again on another occasion with Joan Collins. Bizarrely I don't remember this at all.
Gordon Simmons worked for the Greenleafs for 43 years running Brookmans Park Motors. Prior to that he trained in graphics and was a signwriter. He used to tell me he did the signwriting for all the vehicles. I am almost certain that the signwriting would have been his hand. My mother has since confirmed that yes, it was definitely Gordon who did this, as well as the Green Leaf insignia with BPM on it on the side of the coach. And she still has the template that was used.
For those in Brookmans Park who might be young enough to still remember Gordon, this may strike a chord: when Gordon's father died, my grandfather brought him up almost as his own son. He was just three days younger than my father and they were firm friends. He was dutiful, organised, precise, and very supportive. Everything ran like clockwork and the clock above the door at Brookmans Park Motors was correct to the minute - neighbours relied on it to the second when running to catch the train. My father on the other hand was naughty, and always playing jokes, especially on my grandfather, who used to sit with his head in his hands saying "I don't know what I'm going to do with him Gordon" and then Gordon would say "would you like a cup of tea Mr Greenleaf?" which seemed to placate him.
Gordon was in the amateur dramatics in North Mymns and would keep us entertained for hours with stories about my father growing up, and in the army. He'd call in on the way home every evening with the day's takings and we'd beg him to tell us one or other of the tales we loved. On Wednesdays it was half day closing and one Wednesday my grandfather and Gordon were joining us for lunch. My mother asked them to clear the table, but they continued to count out the floats for the various premises. Suddenly, she lost her patience just as Gordon arrived to see cash tills and their contents flying out of the window. I remember running down the garden picking up 10 shilling and £5 notes. It was hilarious looking back but scary at the time as no-one dared speak.
My mother is now in her '80s. Her mother Zoe Smalley (my grandmother on the other side) was the honorary ladies captain at the golf club for what seemed like an eternity and lived in the Bothy (sandwiched between the clubhouse and the car park). We used to see her every day, she'd walk down through the farmyard that was A1 Dairies, and we'd take her home turning into the 'bumpy road' at the Clark's who lived in the lodge on the corner with a large train track in the garden, and past the farm to reach the Golf Club. I even remember Chancellor's School being built along there and then the bumpy road was tarred from Bell Lane through to Pine Grove and it was never the same. My mother grew up in Moffats Lane, and I went to Mrs Robertson's kindergarten which I can still remember - especially playing with trays of sand - and the smell of the sand.
Between us all, the three generations of Greenleafs, Gordon at the garage, and my grandmother at the golf club, it seemed we knew most people in Brookmans Park then, especially in Brookmans Avenue, Moffats Lane, George's Wood Drive, Mymm's Drive, and even Kentish Lane. My grandmother used to go to cocktail parties and play bridge. She didn't drive so we used to take her, and over the years she went to a great deal of houses, the Atkins, Duvals, Betty Denton, the Geeks, Dr Dwyer and Jean Dwyer etc. etc.
I can remember every shop in Brookmans Park which also had two banks and a post office. A furniture shop was sandwiched between the butchers with the post office/newsagent to the left, and the toy shop, where we spent many hours, to the right. There were two butchers and one always used to ask me which was the best - I could never remember the names and he'd tease me if I said the other one! Tycons was on the corner where we bought our 'sticky back plastic'. Regent Fruit Stores was on the other corner. I remember the opening of McCourts the bakers by the library, then to the right, Todd the jeweller, the wet fish shop, and Coombs the chemist. The sweet shop, Bradmore Iluminations, another greengrocer's, Candy's, and the 'new' parade.
Brookmans Park was a friendly place. I remember my friend and I used to dress up in nurses' costume and one day we walked to the village bumping into Dr Dwyer in the Avenue who asked us the time so we could use our 'upside-down' watches. The highlight of the year however was Village Day - I wonder just how many goldfish we managed to catch. But then we'd see the 'mini Moke' and I do wonder how many of those fish made it home after that.
Old photographs shared in the forum
Seeing the photos (in the community forum discussion thread) the following springs to mind:
I haven't said much about the golf club, but my grandmother Zoe Smalley and her son Peter (my mother's brother) I understand were quite a formidable twosome - he had the drive (held the record of a hole in one at - the difficult hole, can't remember the no.9th??), and she was good at putting.
Uncle Peter married Anne Thomas whose parents lived in the Close off Brookmans Avenue. They moved to Barkway, near Royston when they married, about 60 years ago now, he died sadly but she's still in the same house, I went to see her recently.
Like me, my mother wasn't very interested in vehicles so she took up breeding ponies and bred the winner of the House of the Year Show before retiring. Her stud was aptly named Bradmore. She started out with my aunt Anne Smalley who is still continuing with my cousin Claire to this day with many of their ponies qualifying for HOYS.
Buses, trains, cars, boats and motorbikes, I wasn't really into horses either - but I do miss that Sunbeam Alpine.
My mother's best friend, Julia Bowles (daughter of commander Bowles), lived in the Avenue, they owned the Lady magazine, and were related to the Mitford sisters.
My father and Gordon Simmons went to an auction and bought a brougham for a club which was kept in Swan Lodge yard, and which was used for fundraising - my mother has a photo.
Some random contributions from my mother:
A circus moved into Lower Farm just after the war and used it as winter quarters with all the animals in the outbuildings.
Mrs Mack and Dan Hobden lived in Lower Farm, and the blacksmith was in their yard (previously or as well as in the Titmusses' forge as marked on one of your maps).
Nikki Greenleaf - November 2017
Please note: The images with captions added to them are from Mike Allen's collection of Images Of North Mymms. Those with captions below, or no captions, are from Nikki Greenleaf's collection.
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