It’s my own fault of course. If I hadn’t taken an interest in the Sandridge 900 celebrations in 2014, involving a month long exhibition in the Museum of St Albans, I might not have got hooked. As it was I opted to cover a modest portion of the parish’s past, (pre-history to the start of the 19th century; a quiet time), and as a consequence met up with the museum team.
They were about to knock the Hatfield Road museum down and start work on converting the Old Town Hall into the showpiece Museum + Gallery we have today. That meant not only putting everything from the museum into store but knowing what was where and, where possible, making a photographic record. Having a camera and some spare time I now had a purpose. I was allowed to record small green pieces of broken glass, with the lure they were more likely to be Roman than Tesco.
One thing led, as it does, and I then found myself involved with Objects on Demand. A group of us hangers-on were allowed to choose items we would like included in an exhibition of artefacts. A catalogue was drawn up and the museum staff converted the ex-coffee bar at the Old Town Hall into a self-service wonderland of intriguing objects with us as mugged-up ‘experts’.
That had to be short term as the inside of the building was about to be re-built. So, to keep us amused and engaged, extra activities were devised, the first being a travelling exhibition of ancient items mixed in with modern interpretations (A Curious Conversation). You might well have seen it at the hospital, St. Paul’s or Sopwell.
The next super wheeze was to get us to pick a building in St Albans, research its history and write it down. Then record the result so it could be played back at the crank of a handle in the hoarding surrounding the Old Town Hall. My chosen edifice was the un-edifying but interesting St. Peter’s Workhouse in which were incarcerated the poor and needy of that parish during the 19th century.
You would think by this time that the museum staff would have run out of ideas or got fed-up with us acolytes, but no! Resourceful as they are, another engaging project was thought up - one that would lead the way into the first exhibition when the new St Albans Museum + Gallery opened its doors; the printing industry in St Albans. And as the history of printing here goes back to 1486 there was wide scope. My own choice was Smiths’ Printing Agency, a short lived (1899 to 1920) but impressive undertaking that monopolised what is now the Morrison’s supermarket site and employed upwards of 240 staff. You will know all about that from the exhibition of course, but I wonder if you have visited the next one? Hand Drawn – Action Packed. Interestingly it contained a bit about Sandridge as well. Did you know about our ‘Y’ Station?