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A Modern History of Brookmans Park
1700-1950

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 5
People's War and People's Peace 1939-1950

Like everywhere else, the flourishing, new village of Brookmans Park, did not escape the effects of war. It was both a reception area for evacuees from London and a place where some bombs fell.

It is not known how many evacuees came there. In the whole parish there were 278 evacuee children in February 1940. Some of these, probably a minority, were in Brookmans Park. They came early. Five days after the outbreak of war on 3 September, 1939, they were in the Brookmans Park Hotel, courtesy of Fremlins. A week later they were occupying rooms at the golf club-house, but soon moved to Moffats School. Moffats House, part of which was taken by the Roman Catholic Servite School, was approved by the Ministry of Health as a hostel for one sex, preferably girls, in August 1941. The house was apparently used partly as a school, partly as an evacuees hostel and partly as a children’s canteen, until late in the war. Improbably, Folly Lodge was also considered. The council, in fact, requisitioned it for evacuees, a limited number presumably, but gave it up when it was found to require expenditure of £100 to make fit to live in.

Brookmans Park does not seem to have been overburdened by evacuation. In general, during the war, "the poor housed the poor", according to A. J. P. Taylor. A billeting survey by the council in July 1942 revealed that 65% of the houses in North Mymms had surplus accommodation, and concluded that "a very substantial number of people can still be accommodated".

Bomb Damage

Considered safe enough from bombs to receive evacuees, though nearness to De Havillands might suggest the opposite, the estate was not unscathed. The London blitz of 1940 left marks. On the night of 7 November, 1940, a bomb fell six feet from a pair of semi detached houses in Swanley Bar Lane. One house was in a dangerous condition; it must also have been crowded for it housed five evacuee children as well as its resident family of husband, wife and four children. They were all put into a house which had been requisitioned. Nine days later unexploded bombs fell in Georges Wood Road and Moffats Lane. The residents were evacuated to the golf Club-house Numbers 6 and 8 in Georges Wood Road were damaged beyond repair and were officially demolished in 1941. Young Ted Marlborough and his grandfather, members of a family which had lived in the parish since the 17th century, had a miraculous escape. One of a stick of dud bombs fell just outside the door of Bradmore Cottage, which they occupied, the grandfather being a ganger on the line between Hawkshead and Marshmoor. Another fell on what is now Gobions Open Space, then a field of Moffats Farm. That was all for the time being but there was a renewal towards the end of the war. Flying bombs hit Bell Bar in June 1944 and the farm buildings of what had now become the Al Dairies and cottages there suffered damage, as did a house in Bradmore Way.

One of the results of the evacuation and bombing was homeless persons. Half way through 1944 there was still some long standing cases in the parish for whom the council had requisitioned property in Bell Bar and the north lodge; some of the rooms in Moffats which were not used for education may have been filled in this way.

Defence against the danger from the sky occupied the energy and leisure of the residents as air raid precaution wardens, first aiders and auxiliary firemen. The estate was not wholly unprepared. Even before Munich volunteers had attended classes in A.R.P. at Moffats school and had passed their examinations. By the end of 1939 a wardens’ and a first aid post, with Dr. J. J. Dwyer in charge, had been set up, first at the Brookmans Park hotel and then in a shop on Bradmore Green where an A.F.S. station was also situated. There were ambulances at the golf club where Mrs. Burton, wife of the club secretary, and Miss Moore of Mymms Drive were the drivers. Next year there were wardens posts in Mymms Drive and Georges Wood Road, a first aid group at the golf club, provided with garages for three vehicles by the district council. The council also built a public shelter on Bradmore Green.

Home Guard

Changes took place in 1941. The considerable number of people engaged during the blitz was slimmed down. The first aid post at the golf club was replaced by a mobile unit where ambulance drivers were on duty each night. A volunteer fire guard party was assembled. How busy everyone was kept is not on record but the air raid wardens, at least, were in need of diversion for they put in a request for a shove halfpenny board, a skittle board and some new darts. Last, but not least, the Home Guard based on the North Lodge, Bell Bar, mustered with its medical officer, Dr. Dwyer, ready to defend the BBC station to the last man and to keep Brookmans Park free from Nazi intruders, and in Britain’s hour of danger the parish invasion committee made its preparations.

The war brought about social change, perhaps more than ever before. Social life often expanded under the stresses of wartime; people had fresh thoughts and began new activities, and old organisations became more lively. On the estate Frank and Evelyn Aldridge in The Grove started a branch of the Workers’ Educational Association which has continued ever since. At the same time a feeling of isolation arising from difficulties of transport prompted Evelyn to cycle to county hall and the county librarian agreed to a branch library in Brookmans Park provided the Aldridges would have the books in their home. They and others continued to run it as volunteers until after the library moved to Bradmore Green in 1947.

During those uncertain years religious spirit grew stronger and more united. Before the war the growth of the estate had brought some change in the congregation at St. Mary’s church. An estate resident filled the influential position of vicar’s churchwarden. The church had had its Sunday schools on the estate and at Bell Bar. In May 1944 co-operation between the established church and the Congregational church brought about an open air service in Brookmans Park to mark Salute the Soldier Week. The vicar regarded this as a good augury for the future and he organised subsequent services "with our nonconformist friends". His successor shortly afterwards, who came from the army, was anxious to draw the incomers to St. Mary’s church. After he had tried, and failed, to run a coach to the church, residents in The Close and Mymms Drive organised car transport which became well used. A new organist and choirmaster also came from the estate, as did a manager of the church schools. An attempt was made to "reopen a Church Sunday School in Brookmans Park", though without success for the time being.

"Our nonconformist friends" had come to the fore, after over one hundred years’ quiescence in the parish. In March 1941 the first step was taken when George Hey and his wife started a Congregational Sunday school, initially in a hut at Moffats and later in the old squash court, which had been a barn of Moffats Farm, and which subsequently became the Church of England’s chapel of ease. Thirty children were on the books. Help and advice came from the Potters Bar church. As the children increased the next step was to convert a shop on Bradmore Green as both Sunday school and church where services began to be held in 1942. Next year the efforts of a handful of people, the twenty one founder members, were rewarded by the foundation of the Brookmans Park Congregational Church. By the end of the war the church had grown to thirty six members and the children at Sunday school to eighty four. Another new wartime activity for youngsters was the Scouts who formed the 1st Brookmans Park Troup in 1943. Long established bodies such as the Red Cross became popular among the women of the estate; "competitions" at the hotel brought in funds to the Red Cross Society.

Such were some of the social benefits of war time. There was another one, of importance for all and particularly perhaps for women. In 1938 the North Mymms Nursing Association had made an appeal:

"The committee understand that many friends in the parish wish that Nurse Sadler could have a small car to enable her to encompass the work of her large and growing area more expeditiously ... Will all friends, particularly those in outlying district, such as Brookmans Park, and who would like to see Nurse relieved of her long bicycle rides, please send donations to the hon. treasurer."

Perhaps because war conditions made it necessary and possible the nurse did at last have a car and petrol for it soon after the outbreak of war. She continued her invaluable service as many in Brookmans Park can testify. In contrast, the spread of bricks and mortar came to a halt. During the whole period of the war only one plan for a house was submitted to the district council What was left of the building industry took on smaller jobs.

There were numerous projects for garages. Folly Arch lodge was to have a kitchen and bathroom, 35 Bradmore Green was allowed an additional lavatory, the garage at Bell Bar could be extended, that was about all. On the other hand John White continued to sell land to many optimists, 12½ acres for £12,643.16.3 during those war years.

If the fields were spared a little longer, the trees were not. In 1941 the Bluebridge Estate had permission to fell five oak trees, provided it replanted. Timber was scarce. Folly Avenue, as it was called in 1943, disappeared. The council’s intention to schedule the lime trees for preservation was frustrated when it found that they were being felled. It therefore accepted the owner’s explanation "that he had bought the land for ploughing but found it impossible with dead and useless trees scattered all over the place", and accepted also, unwisely as it turned out, his expression of sympathy for the idea of replanting. Meantime nearby Boltons Park Farm went ahead with increasing accommodation for cows and workers. Government policy encouraged cattle keeping as well as subsidising the ploughing up of land.

Town and country planning

Government planning was not only the means of increasing production but also the harbinger of new attitudes to the use of land. In 1943 the new Ministry of Town and Country Planning appeared and in the same year a new Planning Act. Professor Abercrombie was working on the Greater London Plan, which embraced Hertfordshire. In its submission to the Plan the district council put the existing population of Brookmans Park at 2,300, but its ultimate one at 7,500. This was ambitious, and even more so was its recommendation that "a substantial part" of North Mymms Park should eventually be acquired as a public open space.

When the Plan appeared it not only limited the population to 2,500 but condemned the whole place outright:

"The development here consists of an entirely unfinished dormitory estate based upon the railway station, with a small shopping centre at the station. Development is confined to the east side of the line. That any growth whatsoever should have occurred here is to be most strongly deplored. What has begun to occur is the establishment of yet one more residential unit in the centre of the Green Belt between the two old established and fast growing communities of Hatfield and Potters Bar. The houses that have been erected should have been built at Potters Bar itself where they could have been welded and blended into the existing town life. Further expansion at Brookmans Park should be most rigidly controlled."

It was clear that the estate should never have been. The district council’s reaction to this view was predictably hostile; the Plan’s proposed increase in population was quite arbitrary, it declared. It was quite possible to expand further, with the existing facilities, while at the same time "preserving the golf course and the other open spaces which had been negotiated before the war". At that time, 1945, there were three different views of the ultimate population: 2,500, 4,000 and 7,500. Thirty six years later, in the 1981 census, there would be about 5,000 souls. So much for planning.

The problems of clearing up after the upheaval of war were not serious. Damaged property had to be repaired — Elm Tree Cottages, the bailiff’s house and the farmhouse at Bell Bar; homeless families persisted and property was still under requisition for them; the future of Moffats had to be decided. This ancient house "with 20 rooms, 4 bathrooms and a large kitchen requiring much structural repair and redecoration" now had a purchaser who would make alterations to accommodate "English families returning from Hong Kong". The district council was not prepared to contribute anything to that change but it would pay £10 to the golf club for redecoration and a new carpet made necessary by civil defence use. And it would demolish the A.R.P. shelter on Bradmore Green.

With peace, people took fresh bearings. The general election of 1945 showed that they wanted a radical change of direction. In the North Mymms election of 1946 only two members of the old parish council were re-elected. The new councillors, particularly the two from Brookmans Park, revived the old concern to preserve and improve amenities. One of these was Great Wood. During the war the army had used it for training dogs, under protest from the parish council. Now it had to be restored. On the estate, shops on Bradmore Green which had been taken for light workshops and offices were to revert to their original use, one of them to become a photographic studio. Westland Drive was much inconvenienced by not yet having its houses numbered.

Rather more ambitious was a request for playing fields. Various suggestions were debated; land near the top of Brookmans Avenue, but this was to be used for a school; two acres backing onto the railway near Bradmore bridge, but the price of £3,500 was too high and in any case it was zoned for business purposes. Opinion on the subject was not unanimous. The Ratepayers’ Association considered that a playground was unnecessary, and the matter was dropped.

More important was the question of education. In October 1946 one of the new councillors urged the parish council to press for adequate provision particularly on the estate. The encouraging response from the county council was that a site for "a Junior and Infants School" was being negotiated and that temporary buildings would be erected until the school building programme could start in January 1947. Again, however, the residents were not all of one mind since some were enjoying private education for their children.

In the meantime the controversial expansion of the village got under way. In spite of the depletion of the building industry and the Government’s emphasis on council housing builders saw profitable openings on the estate. In the same month as V. J. Day on 2 September, 1945, they submitted plans for eight pairs of houses on the Bluebridge estate, five chalets in Westland Drive, two pairs of semis in The Grove, a bungalow in Bell Lane and two agricultural cottages in Swanley Bar Lane, a total of twenty eight in one month. This was not all in that month. Under a new Government scheme of building licences for small dwellings costing not more than £1,200, the council approved four in The Gardens, two in Westland Drive and one in Bell Lane. These were only a third of the number applied for but the council was under constraints from the Ministry. The flow continued, though its advance was somewhat stemmed by Ministry control. During the rest of that year plans for seven more larger houses and twenty three "smaller dwellings" were approved. Next year, 1946, the flow became a flood. The numbers rose to over 150 and over 50 respectively, most of the smaller dwellings being destined for Westland Drive and Peplins Way.

Building controls

All this occurred in spite of the Government’s policy of strict control of building arising from the enormous building and repair work required and the scarcity of labour and materials to carry it out. The administration of that policy was hampered by the time honoured dispute between the advocates of council and of private enterprise housing which was sometimes expressed in conflict between Ministry and local authority. That may have been the case in the district council. In 1946 regulations under the ‘Control of Civil Building’ appeared and the Minister (Aneurin Bevan already preoccupied with starting the National Health Service) stated that in view of the shortages he would not issue licences for houses for sale except in special circumstances. On the estate twenty nine applicants for licences in Oaklands and Westland Drives were told that they would have to make a case for special treatment; a few cases were sent to the Ministry. On the other hand a proposed conversion of Moffats into three houses and an extension to the garage at Bell Bar met with no difficulty.

Government control operated in other ways. Development plans, which had been sanctioned earlier on, could be cancelled since planning legislation had now been given some teeth. The layout of the Bluebridge Estate approved in 1938 was revoked in 1946 because of infringement on the Green Belt. The council considered that the latest forecast of a population of 7,460 on 373 acres could well be achieved without it. As though to confirm this view, a layout for Calder Avenue met with rejection because the proposed density of 12 houses per acre was double what it should be. Another conflict arose when the council authorised a factory on the estate, true a small specialist one. A factory for scientific instruments, with a few skilled workers, was to go on land zoned for business purposes between the railway and the hotel. The Ratepayers’ Association objected strongly and the council obtained Ministry approval to revoke its permission; cost to the council £157. The Association also made itself felt on less contentious issues; demanding a minimum frontage to houses, expressing its support for the Abercrombie Plan, approving of a development in Peplins Way with sixty houses on seven acres, a density considered suitable for that place, though not for the site up the hill in Calder Avenue. Proper distinctions were maintained.

As the first year of peace closed, the vicar could express his pleasure at the building of both permanent and pre-fabricated homes, and the parochial church council decided it was time to acquire a site for a church in Brookmans Park. It was soon found. A plan to convert Moffats squash court into a dwelling having fallen through, the church bought the building early in 1948 for conversion into a chapel of ease, and got planning permission. Thus at last the intention of the pre-war years came to fruition. Eleven years earlier a site had been available at a reasonable price, but when, after a meeting at the golf club the residents were circularised for their views only ninety were in favour, and the matter was dropped. The nonconformists, for their part, received permission in January 1948 to build a temporary Congregational church in Oaklands Avenue. Their shop premises had had its drawbacks; the mice downstairs and the humans upstairs had disturbed the services. The change in both churches by 1948 is a measure of the growth of the estate.

Brookmans Park School

The residents at this time numbered, in fact, approximately 2,260, according to the District Council’s Development Plan of 1947. There was some way to go to reach the latest official figure of 4,000 for maximum population, a figure which the council accepted "at this stage", i.e. provisionally. The increase was to be accommodated in Bradmore Way, Pine Grove, Brookmans Avenue, Calder Avenue, Mymms Drive, Moffats Lane, Bluebridge Avenue and Bluebridge estate, at a density of six houses per acre in the Bluebridge area but only four in the other places. To accompany this expansion, schemes for schools went ahead; the preliminary plan for the J.M.I. school in Peplins Way appeared in February 1950. At first the site for the primary school was to be where Chancellor’s School now stands but on second thoughts the more central one in Bradmore Way was chosen and bought from Messrs. Dearmans and from John White, the latter by compulsory purchase. Construction was delayed for a year because of shortage of labour in the area. A house to house survey had shown that of the 316 children in Brookmans Park 150 would attend the school in 1951. Construction started in 1950 and in the autumn of 1951 the first children, 110 of them, began their education there. For a secondary school, which was to come later, the designated site at this stage was not the present one, but in Bluebridge Road.

In the late 1940s permission to build went ahead and with it refusal of undesirable development. Planning and control were the watchwords for the place that according to the Abercrombie Report should never have been. During the two years ending May 1950 well over 100 house projects were approved. By far the largest number was in Peplins Way, Westland Drive, Oaklands Avenue and the Bluebridge area. A few were, indeed, rejected, two in Brookmans Avenue because the elevations were unsuitable. That was all according to plan. Other projects outside the plan, or infringing on the Green Belt, met a dusty answer. John White’s ideas for development were repeatedly rejected in 1948 and 1949; schemes to continue Uplands Drive, to provide a new access to it from the Great North Road, to develop a road from Brookmans Avenue to the golf club. Frustrated in this way, he appealed against the district council’s figure of 4,000 for projected population, only to be defeated again.

At that time, 1949, while the county council was drawing up its own development plan, population figures of 2,500, 3,000, 4,000 and 4,500 for the estate were still being quoted. Whichever was agreed the district council was clear that more shops were wanted; the block at Bradmore Green should be completed and also "a few shops at the east end of the Estate should be considered".

Churches

By the early 1950s as the estate filled up rapidly, so grew the influence of the churches in it. The temporary Congregational church had been completed, dedicated and opened for worship in April 1949, and its membership was growing. A few years later a manse would be built and a minister would be living there. The Church of England also advanced. From St. Mary’s church a new vicar’s warden, a new transport secretary and the treasurer all lived on the estate. "Bishop’s Messengers" covered the drives and avenues where the young wives met. In Moffats Lane a place of worship began at last to materialise. After an appeal for £1,500 in 1949 to convert the Moffats squash court to a chapel, to be called St. Michael and All Angels, money came in from, among many sources, the North Mymms Dramatic Society and a fete in the Park. The licence was received from the St. Albans Diocesan Board of Finance, conversion began in 1950, and the chapel was consecrated in the following year. St. Mary’s now embraced Brookmans Park. The church which, fifty years earlier, maintained missions to the labourers of Bell Bar and Roestock, now had its outpost for the commuters and their families.

Times had changed, and with them the ownership of Brookmans Park from one person to several thousands. The two great houses, Brookmans and Gobions, the one destroyed by accident, the other by design, with their parklands, meadows and fields, their society of landowners, farmers, labourers and servants, had given way to a pleasant, residential village.

Peter Kingsford - 1983


Index - A Modern History of Brookmans Park
Historical Notes - to help understand these chapters
Photographs - from the book

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