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Bygone Harpenden

An Exhibition in 1924

Cover page of the Exhibition catalogue. The building shown is Polly Nott’s cottage. Credit: LHS archives – BF 9.4A

In 1924 an “Exhibition of Bygone Harpenden“ was held at the scout headquarters Wheathampstead (now Southdown) Road – this was in the former rifle range, on land belonging to Mr Leslie Walton of Welcombe.

Photographs, sketches and paintings of The Common, Bowling Alley, Chapel Row, Rothamsted, the Village, the Church and other buildings, as well as maps, books, documents, agricultural implements and various artifacts were displayed. The majority of the items had been loaned by Mr Victor Hodgson, as at a previous Bygone Harpenden Exhibition in 1904, of which we have not found any record. There were also exhibits from Rothamsted Allotment Club and Rothamsted Experimental Station.

All of the exhibits were listed in a 16 page catalogue. The cover page showed Polly Nott’s Cottage and shop, in the 1880s. She sold groceries and sweets from the cottage’s front room. The building was demolished c1895 to make way for Vaughan Rd, with Pellants on the corner and the London & County (later NatWest) Bank alongside. Note exhibit numbers 117, 118 and 132 listed in the catalogue refer to Polly Nott’s cottage.

Charles Victor Tylston Hodgson

Mr Victor Tylston Hodgson. Credit: LHS archives

Victor Hodgson was the son of Henry Tylston Hodgson who gifted many buildings to the people of Harpenden. Victor had left Harpenden to live in Scotland by 1919, but lent his collection of paintings and artifacts to the 1924 Exhibition, which we think he had entrusted to the care of Denis Wilson (who had just built his home “20” in Park Avenue). After this time they remained in Harpenden as Mr Hodgson had expressed a wish for them to remain “to form the nucleus of a future local museum”. During the 1930s Denis Wilson urged Harpenden Urban District Council to take care of the ‘Harpenden Collection’.

Edwin Grey with a Boneshaker

Mr Edwin Grey with an old “boneshaker” which used to be let out on hire at 3d per hour. Credit: LHS archives

A photograph in the LHS archives shows Edwin Grey, the well-known Harpenden resident, raconteur, and later author of Cottage Life in a Hertfordshire Village (1934), with a Boneshaker bicycle. On the reverse is an inscription by Edwin, which reads:

“This press snap was taken on the occasion of an Exhibition of what was named “Bygone Harpenden”, held in the hut of the headquarters of the Harpenden Scouts, Oct 9-11 1924.

“This old Boneshaker was on exhibit & was the one I used to hire out for a ride. I happened to be demonstrating the various points of the bike to a number of people gathered in front of me (out of the snap) when the Press Photographer came along and took the snap. E. Grey

“P.S. The piece of iron one sees in the snap jutting out from the side of the bike was just put there to keep the bike in position, but was nothing to do with the bike itself.”

Note: The Boneshaker was at this time the property of “Reid Bro” (Reads) the Motor Garage people, High St. Maybe they still have it. E. Grey“.

Harpenden Scouts

“The hut of the headquarters of the Harpenden Scouts” to which Edwin referred was a timber building in Southdown Road, opposite the Dell ponds, which had been used as a rifle shooting range during the 1914-18 war. Henry Hodgson, President of Harpenden Boy Scouts, had donated it along with several other buildings to the people of Harpenden.


The Boneshaker was invented in the 1860s as the first type of true bicycle with pedals. The name refers to the uncomfortable ride due to the stiff wrought iron frame and wooden wheels with tyres made of iron.

Exhibit numbers 223 and 224 in the Exhibition Catalogue refer to bicycles. However, neither of these appears to be the one in the photograph with Edwin. Perhaps the Boneshaker was a late addition to the Exhibition?

Edwin Grey

Edwin Grey (1860-1955) worked at Rothamsted Experimental Station for around 50 years, joining the staff at age 13 as a laboratory boy, and working his way to the post of Farm Superintendent. Station Director, Sir E. John Russell, encouraged him to write about the life of the agricultural labourer in the late 1860s and 70s

Edwin Grey with Sir E. John Russell. Credit: LHS archives

This work was published in 1934, entitled “Cottage Life in a Hertfordshire Village” – reprinted by Harpenden Local History Society in 1980 – second hand copies are available through

Cover from “Cottage Life in a Hertfordshire Village” book by Edwin Grey – second hand copies available from LHS publications through

Sample pages from the catalogue


First page of the catalogue. Credit: LHS archives – BF 9.4A

Some pages from the catalogue. Note entries 117, 118, 132 refer to Polly Nott’s cottage. Credit: LHS archives – BF 9.4A

Two pages from the catalogue. Note entries 223 and 224 refer to bicycles, but the Boneshaker is not listed. Credit: LHS archives – BF 9.4A

Inscription on reverse of photo. Credit: LHS archives

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