1. Humble Beginnings
As Chair of Smallford Residents’ Association, I was well-aware of the old station still standing on the Alban Way: however, we were totally unaware of what kind of state it was in.
In February 2012, with the permission of the owners, O’Shea’s, we arranged our first visit – together with a couple of representatives from SADC. For the very first time we saw the back and inside of the station and were amazed to see what a very good condition it was in, especially that it was water-tight!
Following that visit, the SRA Committee agreed to explore the possibility of setting up a Heritage Project around the station. I started contacting various individuals and organisations – eg U3A, various societies, etc. One important contact turned out to be University of Hertfordshire Heritage Hub; a meeting on 17th April 2012 turned out to be a Key Event. There was I talking with 5 UH Staff(!) – and one of their team had previously worked for The Heritage Lottery Fund! Thus I was encouraged to think about applying for a grant to support this germinating idea of a project.
Putting together that bid turned out to be a challenging assignment with huge associated responsibilities – so much so, that I had to deliver the Application by hand to ensure it was received – on the last possible day – 29th July 2012. A few months later, at the end of October, we were informed that our bid had been successful, we’d been granted £9,900!
We currently have around 50 people on our circulation list but, like most voluntary groups, are reliant on a small number of truly active members – this varies between 6 and 10 of us. We also have links with several other associations/organisations – those based around history and heritage, walking and cycling, amateur film makers…
2. What we’ve been up to
We established the ‘Bringing the History Smallford Station to Life’ Project in January 2013 and arranged our first visit to the station in February.
Included in our small party were –
- Roger Taylor, co-author of the Hatfield-St Albans Railway: he gave us access to and use of the whole of his archive.
- Tony Lincoln: his aunt was the Station Clerk during the war until the station closed to passenger traffic in 1951.
During the following year-and-a-half a small group of enthusiasts got together and enjoyed some fascinating research –
- Visiting a range of places – National Railway Museum, National Archives, Salvation Army Archives, British Film Institute, Hertfordshire History and Local Studies Centre
- Contacting and videoing a range of people who recalled memories of the old line
- Setting up our Website – smallford.org
- We began to collect artefacts associated with our interests
- We arranged some workshops to help us develop our own skills and capabilities
Spreading the Word: Presentations: Exhibitions: Guided Walks
We began to receive requests for information from various local groups, so put together an Exhibition and a Presentation on our work. We enjoy the opportunity to ‘spread the word’ but, in all honesty, most of this relies on 2 or 3 people – two of whom also lead our Guided Walks together with another member – our ‘history interpreter and re-enactor’!
150th Anniversary Celebrations
October 2015 was the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the Hatfield-St Albans Railway Line so, in February of that year, we began to put together a celebration, involving groups and communities along the Alban Way, and with some support from SADC. We successfully ‘begged’ for financial support – from County Councillors, local businesses, and received a Grant from UH Heritage Hub. We had a truly wonderful weekend with:
- On the Friday –
- A Guided Walk along the Alban Way – with a lift home on an old London Bus
- An Exhibition and Presentation in the evening @ UH – over 70 people attended
- On the Sunday –
- Celebration at 4 points along Alban Way – we think we attracted around 1000 visitors!
2nd February 2016 was the 150th Anniversary of the opening of Smallford Station (originally named Springfield) and a small group of enthusiasts gathered there to celebrate and drink a toast!
We also acted as host to the launch of the Herts ‘Clean for the Queen’ anniversary celebrations! Yes, we’ve begun ‘mixing’ with all sorts of people!
3. Our original project developed into three
- ‘Bringing the History Smallford Station to Life’
Our original and continuing heritage research project
- ‘Bringing Alban Way to Life’
By chance(?) two of our members met with Ellie Beach, from HCC Countryside Management Service, when she was at the early stages of leading a Project on behalf of SADC to improve the Alban Way. This GAP Project is now well underway and will include a great deal of work on the natural environment, restoring some of the platforms and associated areas and providing new Interpretation Panels and platform signs which will act as way markers to the hundreds of walkers and cyclists using The Way each day. We’ve been in the very fortunate positions of making a major contribution to the content (eg history) featured and some of the design factors.
- ‘Bringing Smallford Station to Life’
This is probably our ‘ultimate’ dream – to take ownership of the old station ticket office, renovate and restore it and make it available to the public! When and how it will happen remains to be seen – watch this space!
4. Our Website (smallford.org) and funding
We have a website where we have much of our collection available to view. Members of the public can also download free copies of our –
- Alban Way Guided Walk
- Project Information Sheet
- A brochure of our Exhibition
At this point of time, we don’t have any funding sources but we are fortunate to have an unexpected pot of savings from collections made at our 150th anniversary celebrations.
5. Latest Update
We currently have two major focuses –
- Cataloguing and Archiving our Collection
For the past year we’ve been exploring the possibility of cataloguing and archiving our collection – a lengthy and, at times, a painful process: we all want to ‘do it right’ but none of us really knows what ‘doing it right’ means or demands – apart from wanting to create a legacy that will live beyond the possible life of our Project – eg which could end up in a Museum. Following months of discussion, we are currently ‘beta-testing’ an archiving website – EHIVE’ – and have begun the process of cataloguing and inputting data. If we continue with EHIVE, it’s likely to take several years to complete the task!
- ‘Smallford Station and Alban Way Heritage Society’
We’ve grown beyond our ‘humble beginnings’, have been planning our separation from Smallford Residents’ Association and will be establishing a new organisation – ‘Smallford Station and Alban Way Heritage Society’. Our inaugural meeting takes place on Monday 10th April. The Society will have a slightly broader brief and will require redesigning much of our materials, website, presentations, exhibitions……….
Included in our current plans are –
- Creating a second Guided Walk illustrating the Natural History of Alban Way – possibly in collaboration with the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust
- Creating an ‘I Spy along Alban Way’ Booklet – with a particular focus on young people and families.
Throughout or work we have been faithfully supported by staff from UH Heritage Hub, in particular Sarah Lloyd and Julie Moore and we are eternally grateful for their personal and professional on-going support and encouragement – especially when ‘the going gets tough!’