It may have enabled Sir John Blundell Maple and his fellow cricketers to play their favourite game on a far more superior ground than at Bernards Heath, but he had no intention of keeping the facility to his team. Sufficient land was laid out and given to the people of the city for their enjoyment, and we have been doing so since 1894.
Before the Midland Railway arrived in the 1860s the western-most boundary of St Peter's Farm was behind the properties now on the west wide of Lemsford Road. It is likely that access to the field nearest to Hatfield Road would have been near to the Lemsford Road junction. This access would have been critical as the field was occasionally used for public events, courtesy of the land owner; giving rise to its sobriquet The Fete Field.
When the railway was carved through, a stub of the farm to the west of the new railway was sold for development by the owning Cotton family and became the Lemsford Road estate. There was also a significant change in elevation along Hatfield Road to enable road traffic to cross over the new bridge. Hence the lengthy embanked gradient on both sides. This is still visible from the adjacent park.
The railway building contract would have required that the existing access to the field should be replaced, and the first opportunity to do so would have been immediately to the east of the bridge. This is still the Hatfield Road entrance to the park and the reason for the access being a winding walkway and steps; the park is, after all, part of the original field. The original materials used included, of course, wooden railway sleepers.
Ownership of St Peter's farm was transferred to John Poyntz, Earl Spencer in the 1870s; continuing to be a serviceable beef and mixed farm, while occasional public events continued to be held on The Fete Field, which also had an alternative common name: Chain Bar Meadow, because of its proximity to the turnpike toll chain where the red posting box still stands at the Crown PH junction.
Sir John Blundell Maple, who lived at Childwickbury, was a member of St Albans Cricket Club, but it was a rather inferior home ground on which the team played, Bernards Heath. Influential Sir John negotiated with Earl Spencer to purchase part of a field between the Fete Field and the then footpath, but now York Road. This would provide sufficient space for a small park with a cricket ground at its heart, but with space in its 16 acres for other sporting activities. The former Fete Field would become a municipal pleasure ground of nine acres. The scheme was a collaboration between Maple and the Council, and was opened to the public in 1894.
The responsibility for the layout of both sections of the park was the city's Surveyor, G Ford, and he may also have have designed the two main buildings along the main access road, which formerly had been a track from the nearby farmyard. The Park Superintendent's Lodge was on one side of the path, opening onto the recreation ground; the cricket pavilion at the head of the access road opened onto the cricket ground. This was also used as changing accommodation for the football club until it was supplied with its own facilities.
Large numbers of trees and shrubs, including many specimen examples, were purchased by Sir JBM and their locations agreed with him.
The cricket outfield was surrounded by a cinder cycle track and running track, although this was removed later when popularity waned.
The football area also served as tennis courts during summer months until benefactor Samuel Ryder paid for permanent grass courts on part of the cricket outfield, which accounts for the current asymmetrical layout within the surround path.
The Bowls Club facilities were added in 1911. It is a condition of use that the park's sport facilities must be available for public use even though leased to a private club.
Once the St Albans City Football Club was founded in 1908 and began to attract crowds to watch their matches at the park, an arrangement was made for the payment of entry fees for defraying club expenses.
At that early period the playing surface was simply another section of the park, which was, like all other areas of the ground, freely available to the public.
Each park gate was therefore equipped with a pay kiosk and entry to the park and therefore the match was charged from 30 minutes before the start until the end of the game. This effectively denied entry to the park during that period unless the charge was paid, even if visitors had no intention of watching the match.
This much-derided arrangement continued until the football ground was fenced off and turnstiles installed in the 1950s.
At the same time the gate opposite Granville Road was closed permanently. The Granville gate was considered a useful point of entry for the residents of the Clarence Park villas, Stanhope and Granville roads. As usage fell the Granville gate was considered one entry too many at locking up time.
Major events were organised, especially in the days before Verulamium Park in 1930. Apart from special sporting occasions, an Entente Cordiale event took place in front of the cricket pavilion in 1904 to celebrate a series of political agreements between the UK and France.
Early scout rallies took place; groups from across the county gathered, again on the cricket field.
A series of scout-organised Searchlight and Toy Soldier Floodlit Tattoos took place on the football ground. At these and other events Brock's Firework Company from Hemel Hempstead took the opportunity to showcase their Crystal Palace firework displays.
Billy Graham, the American evangelist, held rallies on the football field.
Many fund-raising fetes were held in the park for the benefit of hospital and nursing charities before they enjoyed the greater open space of Verulamium. St Albans Co-operative Society held its annual Co-operator family carnival days in the park right through to the 1950s.
A distinctive men's urinal, painted green and the park's first, was located behind the cricket pavilion. It has long since been removed.
No longer in use, but this former turnstile can still be spotted – if you look carefully.
One of two remaining pay booths, this one at the Clarence Road entrance.
One of many vistas across the lawns of the recreation section of the park, and especially colourful in autumn.
© 2021 St Albans' Own East End Mike Neighbour