Upstream from Batford Ford
The ford at Batford Mill, with its beach-like gravel sloping to the water, making it an ideal playground, was always an attraction for children. Hopefully you would not have to wait too long before a motorist would try and drive his car through the ford.
Those not in the know took the direct route and went straight into deep water, from where they had to wade out and go and find a local farmer to bring his tractor and tow them out, by which time quite a crowd would have gathered to watch.
Beside the ford stood the Blacksmiths, always a place of interest with red hot metal being forged and sparks flying. Benjamin Barnes was there from 1922-1946, when the Ward family took over until 1989 when it closed.
The thatched cottage on the corner was originally three cottages, including the home of Shepherd Arnold, but, having been empty some time they were completely gutted in March 1958, when all but the timber frame was demolished, and even that was altered to meet the new requirements. New foundations were put in and new brickwork provided and then re-thatched, all for the owner’s daughter who was to be married. It now has a preservation order on it.
Batford Mill, originally a corn mill, was latterly used by Willis Brothers for grinding bones into fertilizer. They closed down and the derelict outbuildings were demolished in August 1954, when it was discovered that every piece of wood had woodworm and was covered in dust. Everything except the main mill building was demolished. This still stands, less the water wheel. New buildings were erected and occupied by Cole Plastics who stayed until January 1979 when they moved to Milton Keynes and the site became an industrial area, with a number of tenants.
On the other side of the mill were the millponds, on both sides of the path from Marquis Lane to Batford Road. Their end came in October 1952 when road widening started through Batford and soil removed from the works was dumped in the ponds, giving the greens we have today.
When the mill closed, the river was blocked off with soil and all the water diverted round the former overflow river instead of through the mill, the course of which is now built over. The sluice gate was later made into the weir of today and the former waterfall for overflow water made into a sluice gate.
Lower Luton Road
Road widening in the 1950s saw the end of the hedge along the river side and a retaining wall was built by the river near the garage. Gardens cut back to give better alignment had new walls built using large lumps of concrete from the roads of the Prisoner of War Camp when these were demolished in 1958. Lower Luton Road from Batford Corner to Bowers Heath Lane had been improved before WWII, and from there to East Hyde the verges were dug out for road widening in the 1950s. However the plans failed when Bedfordshire County Council would not do their part of the work over the border – and the narrow, busy road continues through high hedges on that stretch.
At the bottom of Batford Road was a lay-by for the bus stop beside which stood a gas light and behind that, with its branches overhanging, was a very large elm tree. From there a hedge ran alongside the road through which you could see the water in the millpond.
As the local playing field was on the other side of the river by Marquis Lane, this meant using the footbridge over the river, and as Batford had no Post office, this was also the way to Bingham’s shop on the corner of Marquis Lane. The bridge had been rebuilt in July 1938 after high water damaged it following a storm and it was again rebuilt in 1948 and replanted in 1953.
The Gibraltar public house dates back at least to 1799 and during alterations in 1968 a bread oven was found.
Right behind, on the higher ground, stood Gibraltar Lodge with its high gable end and clock looking out over the valley, but this was demolished about 1968 and Salisbury Road and Batford Road were linked by a road called Gibraltar Lodge. The footpath, known as Bruton’s Path, that ran up to Holcroft Road was blocked off – the Council maintained it did not exist!
Beside the Gibraltar was a plot of land criss-crossed by footpaths and in the middle stood a wooden garage, where Mr Frederick Charles Lawrence of 7 Salisbury Road kept his lorry when not collecting coal from Harpenden East station for the Almagam Works. It was demolished in December 1958 and became a car park for the pub.
Beside this area Cummings the builders set up a yard in 1946. It was run by Websters Builders from about 1956 until replaced by two pairs of neo-Edwardian houses in 2013.
The Methodist Chapel was opened on 11 January 1905 and a new Sunday School room built in 1922. On the night of Sunday 12 May 1941 a German plane dropped a load of incendiary bombs over Batford, falling on several houses without damage, but one fell on the Chapel and the roof was burnt out. This let to a temporary roof being put on. An extension was completed in 1952 to meet the needs of a now fast growing area.
The Malta public house was originally further towards Luton and known as the Crown and Anchor from 1799-1899, between what are now Pickford and Porters Hill Roads. When it transferred to its new building at the bottom of Southview Road in September 1899, its former premises became Crown House, occupied by Jonathan Hardy in the 1950s.
On the opposite corner of Southview Road to the Malta were two picturesque cottages with traditional cottage gardens but they were condemned and demolished, giving us today’s eyesore of a car park and garages.
Major growth began when the Council started building council houses in Pickford Hill in June 1946. As they extended up the hill into Noke Shot and Roundfield Avenue, Southview Road was made up in 1953. In order to connect to Roundfield Avenue, the former wooded area at the top of the road was removed, along with the stile across the pathway.
Constrtuction continued with Milford Hill being built in 1957. Several holes were found in the chalk, giving rise to many theories. In fact they were former chalk workings to provide lime for the fields. One large hole had to be concreted in before the house was built over it.
Tallents Crescent was built in 1959 over what had been the Prisoner of War Camp. This had been built during 1943, fronting Common Lane and consisting of prefabricated huts. The last PoW had gone by 1950 and the camp was taken over by the Council to provide temporary housing, with one hut being converted into a community hut. Demolition finally started in 1958 when the large water tower at the top of the site was demolished along with the huts, and new houses were built on the site. It was from here that the concrete removed from the former camp roads was taken to provide walling alongside the river in Lower Luton Road when the road was widened.
The river bridge at Batford Corner, known as Sharps Bridge after Sharps Meadow beside it, was rebuilt in reinforced concrete in 1921, but the tubular footbridge beside it meant that the ditch had to be filled in and a path provided to the new bridge which was erected on 16 November 1955 and was to be only temporary with a 20 year life as the road bridge was going to be rebuilt again! (Rebuilt August 1966.)
By the corner stood Pickford Mill, at one time a paper mill, but in latter days used by the Electric Hose and Rubber Company and called Almagam Works. They made high pressure hoses and couplings mainly for the coal industry, and extended their premises along Lower Luton Road. The end came in June 1971 when the business was moved to Watford.
Guy Warwick, son of the owner, was a flying enthusiast and wanted to enter the Kings Air Race in July 1934. His family were against it and forbade him to work on his plane. However he did enter and was killed in that race. He used Batford Common (Pickford Common) to fly from and would gather local boys to push his plane home again. There was a gate into the field opposite Station Road and one of the gateposts was hinged, so it could be let down to give access for his plane.
Coal for the works was bought in from Harpenden East station by Stan Lawrence on his lorry. It was a full time job for him, by the time he unloaded it from the wagons and delivered it. Today the site has been divided into industrial units.
Beyond the Almagam works was Ox Farm, the outbuildings of which stood until recently, when the new Scout Hut was erected. There was a double fronted house here called Rosedale, but it was built on soft soil and had subsidence problems. By 1938 it was abandoned and finally demolished in 1946.
Opposite, where Willow Way was built in 1965, someone had dug the foundations for two houses before the War but without planning permission, so the remaining ups and downs of the trenches gave a good playground to run around in. Beside what is now Porters Hill, two fetes were held, the first in September 1945 and another in 1948, to try and raise money for a community centre, but it was 1961 before Batford Community Hall came into being. The fete gave a lot of pleasure with games, a balloon race and a fruit and vegetable show.
Shops beside the Lea
The two small shops beside the river opposite the Gibraltar Public House were built in 1931. The first one was Emery’s sweet shop but was later incorporated into the ladies’ hairdressers which had been next door since 1940, and in the 1950s run by Jean Firmin. It became the headquarters of the Upper Lea Valley Group in 1974.
Next door to that was the fish and chip shop; before the war, bathing in the river was organised at the back of the shop and picnic tables provided, but this stopped when Luton Sewer Works opened at the beginning of the War and the water became polluted, with froth and foam building up at the waterfall and bends in the river.
The chip shop was owned by Eric Edwards from 1948 to 1960. In his early days, the vats were heated by coke and this was probably the only chippie where chips were weighed out. Mr Marsh took over in 1960 and carried on until a fire in May 1970 that put the shop out of use and it became a Chinese Takeaway.
The building on the end was a transport café from 1948-1954 when it became a bicycle store and repairers.
Batford Corner and other corner shops
The garage was built by Stan Lawrence in 1934 and had three hand pumps for petrol. He left for Australia in 1955, after which it had several owners, having been rebuilt twice, the last time in 1991 (and subsequently by Tesco). There was a compound beside it where Lawrence Coaches were kept, and after he left Hillside Coaches took it over as a base for their coaches for several years.
The newspaper shop was also run by Eric Edwards from 1931, whilst next door Fred Ackroyd ran the grocery and bread shop, this being in the family name from 1906-1965. It is now a florists. The baking was done on the premises and a stable was built in the back garden about 1938. For a while after 1965 was used as a garden centre.
The corner shop was an ironmongers owned by Claridge and Hall and in 1950 part of it was let to George Murphy for a gents’ hairdressers. He came from Borehamwood Film Studios to set up on his own and took over the rest of the shop in 1961 when he opened a ladies’ salon, which it still is.
Batford Road had its own little corner shop at No.1 – at the junction with the link road to Lower Luton Road, run by Mrs Brown from 1910 until WWII, then by Mrs Trim until the mid 1950s and then by Mrs A Odell until about 1965, but it was still known as Browns. In 1966 it was taken over by Mrs L G Brewer.
Shopping wise, the biggest change came in June 1957 when Luton Co-op opened a store at the bottom of Pickford Hill and a greengrocer opened next door, but did not stay in business long as the Co-op also sold fruit and vegetables. This became a car accessory shop – and now a fish and chip shop.
Milk and other mobile shops
Milk was delivered by Herts Farms using horses and carts, the bottle caps having the picture of the Baa Lamb Trees on Harpenden Common as their trademark. On one occasion the horse bolted in Southview Road and tangled in the fence round Hillside Coaches compound in Lower Luton Road.
The Luton Co-op was more modern and had a lorry to deliver milk, the only problem being in winter – if the weather was bad they did not arrive.
St Albans Co-op used a mobile shop from 1951 and called at Batford on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 1957. Then there were the Ice cream vans plying the area, playing their raucous tunes until the Council stepped in and brought some order.
The school – and transport
Primary Education was provided at Manland Junior School, until a new junior school was built at the top of Pickford Hill. It opened on 11 September 1950 as Batford Primary school (now renamed Sauncey Wood School). Senior children went to Manland Secondary school – now known as Sir John Lawes School.
Billy Kershaw of Southview Road ran a coach firm, County Coaches, from 1955. He bought one new coach but the others were old ones, and these took us to Clacton and Walton-on-the-Naze on Sunday School trips. Often he had spent the previous night to get one of the old buses going, being ready just a few minutes before departure. He also ran a hire car for a few years and also delivered lorry chassis for Bedford Trucks. These would be stored up Southview Road prior to delivery to the docks. After this, he ran a regular coach service to Clacton and Jaywick in the summer, and in July 1960 claimed to have carried 174,306 passengers without accident.
Public transport was provided by bus from Harpenden and another from Luton that ran to St Albans via Wheathampstead. Or there was the train from the former Great Northern station in Station Road to Luton or Welwyn Garden City, but of course that was the other side of the river.