• 27Feb

    Recently I searched for old photographs of Hemel Hempstead on the Internet and came across this site which bought back so many memories of growing up there in the 70’s. It is worth a look if you too remember how it used to be, some classic shots amongst them.hemel1961small.JPG

    On a trip back last year I was amazed how much Hemel has changed but then I can think back quite a way and guess most towns change a LOT in 30 odd years. It was a new town in the green belt in the 1960’s (this photo was taken by Dad in 1961) and the aspirations were clear and quite quaint when you look back now. A couple of my friends have continued to live in the area and probably don’t notice the changes the way I do… although I did get favourable comments that there is now a decent department store in the form of a new Debenhams!

    Here are some of the shops I remember which won’t interest you if you don’t know Hemel or don’t like shopping!! The shops I most remember in the Marlowes are Peacocks which was a decorating store selling wallpaper and general DIY goods. The purple peacock logo caught my eye above the window and there was many a trip there on Saturdays with my parents. That was near the magic roundabout end and on that corner was a large WHSmiths (Blockbusters video shop when I last saw it). Beyond was the green and wall where we’d wait for the bus. The Seafarer Restaurant nearby was great with it’s bright orange seats and canteen-like service. We’d go there for fish & chips during school holidays. I most remember the walls which had large bronze effect wall murals of what I took to be either Bodica and her chariots with horses galloping in front or something to do with “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”. They were stunning when I was at that impressionable age and I can still picture them so clearly – perhaps they were actually cheap plastic things, who knows.

    Further up on the same side, Garlands was full of exciting ornaments and gadgets. That was the first place I saw those big clocks with ball bearings moving around to tell the time. Then was Taylor & McKenna (light blue & white logo), a toy and model shop. Dad used to go upstairs as there was a great choice of those small enamel paint pots with coloured lids he liked to use, they had a very recognisable smell. He also bought clay for modelling, diecast figures and model plane kits. Next to that shop was an open bit, slightly recessed, with a pond and fountain. I think there were some mosaic murals round the side of fishes. There was a ramp going round the back which we walked up to get to the Wimpy Burger Bar. Ahh, Wimpy, home of many holiday treats. I always wanted, but could never finish, the Knickerbocker Glory!! Then there were some more shops I can’t remember, a big open area, then Boots and Sainsburys. This open area had seats around and was a popular place to stop for a rest. Boots was where my Auntie worked for a while and I remember seeing her on the front tills in her uniform but not wanting to disturb her! She must have loved that kind of job as she enjoyed chatting with people so much. Before that she worked in the old Co-Op building near the multistorey car park. Boots is where I first remember being let loose around town with a friend. The first single I bought was in there, of all things “It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To” by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, perhaps I shouldn’t admit to that 😮 We’d also spend ages around the make-up counter.

    Memories of Sainsburys revolve around their old sturdy brown paper bags with the orange logo on and several favourite things to buy – twiglets in the old Peak Frean packaging and toffee apples hiding amongst the boring fruit and crisps. I had a mishap in Sainsburys when very small. Mum sat me in the front of the trolley and went further down the isle to buy something. I decided to lean out to pick something off a shelf and tipped the whole trolley over!! It must have made quite a crash and shocked Mum no end… although upset, I walked away unscathed.

    Then came the “high pavement” bit, not a lot up there but I did have my ears pierced in the hairdressers. Crossing over from Sainsburys there was a downstairs sweet shop, possibly Maynards, with a restaurant upstairs that we went into regularly for toasted teacakes and coffee (now a pizza restaurant?). Up a bit further was the open air market. I enjoyed wandering round there many Saturdays and bought several fashion statements of the time including a maroon leather jacket, those clear blue plastic macs (very fetching) and teabag shoes. I distinctly recall all the two tone clothes hanging up and hearing Fat Larry’s Band playing “Zoom” so I guess that was early 80’s. Woolworths is the only shop still further down I think. It used to be a much better shop and the photo booth was always a pull – the photos to prove it are somewhere in my scrapbooks ready to embarrass various friends. Was The Living Room nightclub next door? I never did go there as I left Hemel before I was at that age but it was popular with Longdean’s sixth form.

    Craftsmith was the best ever arts and crafts shop on one side of Bank Court. It had an upstairs that went part way over the centre of the court and I’d often buy things in there. On the other side of the court was Raynes, an (even then) old fashioned women’s clothes shop. There was a display window on the corner in front of the doorway where I used to play hide and seek every time we passed when very young! The only other shop I really remember was the fishmongers near the end. It always had weird things in the window like big prawns and pink Taramoslata, loved the name so memorised that before I knew what it was. Inside they had fish tanks around the walls high up so I liked watching those enough to put up with the smell when we went in. At the end on that side stood the Wagon & Horses pub, perhaps the Co Op building was after that. Then who can forget the big multi storey car park in Moor End Road with the famous orange and yellow ball revolving on the top.

    The water gardens were lovely, we mostly parked at that end where there were trees between each row of cars. We crossed a bridge over the river and I often took our stale bread to feed the ducks and swans there. There were a few shops in Waterhouse Street, one had a working model of a railway in the window which always fascinated me. I mustn’t forget to include the Dacorum Pavillion, home of many local Ideal Home Shows which I loved even at that age! I guess there was a goodie bag and a few stalls which appealed to me. It was always bustly with lots to see, people demonstrating new things you hadn’t seen before. We went at other times but can I remember what for now. The last event I saw there was Leo Sayer in concert, the building brought back so many memories with the different levels and open areas in between the entrances to the main hall and stage. I picture the decoration as being lots of burgundy velvet curtain and gold details.

    hemelodeon.jpgWe also went to the Odeon cinema frequently, alas no longer there, and had dinner in Seapride next door afterwards. This photo was taken from a website, alas not by me!

    In summer holidays Mum and I would often walk along the footpath through the water gardens beside the River Gade to an area further up where there was a large pond. I’d take my fishing net and bucket and catch tiny fishes… which I put back of course (just found the pic below which brings back some happy memories). There was also a playground with fantastic castle walls to climb on, it even had ramparts which were tricky to walk along. There is a picture of this area on the website mentioned above but surely it was much much bigger than that!!

    Further up was the large playground on the other side of Warners End Road and behind the Registry Office. fishingsmall.JPGA great place in the summer as there was an open swimming pool, climbing frame, swings, seesaw, and the infamous rocking horse I fell over the front off when very small. There was a tunnel through the hillside, a big round concrete hole leading through to the main part of Gadebridge park, very exciting to run through or over at that age. The park itself was lovely, home to the fun fair in the hols and a bowling club area. St Mary’s Church, still lovely, sits to one side with its walled gardens.

    The Old Town I loved even before doing Local Studies in the 1st year of Longdean. At that time we took rubbings of the pastoral plates beside the doorways, learnt about the origins of the name Hemel Hempstead and who invented the Quern made out of Hertfordshire Pudding Stone. Some memories never fade! There was a great Wagons art shop up there but the best shop was the pet shop, or was it purely a tropical fish shop? I always stood in front of the fish tanks fascinated by the red and blue Japanese Fighting fish who couldn’t be in the same tank as each other and the scary Scorpion fish who’s tentacles could kill. I could watch them for hours so guess I love fish!!

    When Steve visited recently he reminded me about how the water gardens used to extend further towards the Dacorum. Apparently they ruined the site over 20 years ago ready for development, that never happened and the grounds were left in a mess and all barricaded up. Now the whole area has been redeveloped and they have reintroduced something very similar – better late than never. There was a pond up that end as well and now I remember an underpass and the fact that you walked through it all on the way to the sports centre.

    That’s about all for the town centre itself. When I had a rabbit we’d visit Piccotts End Mill, a little further out of town. You turned off the road, crossed the River Gade, into a large open space where usually a sheepdog or two would be waiting. The old mill was to the left and to the right was a large barn. We mainly went for straw, hay and dog biscuits but I used to look at the horsey stuff when I went through the “Mum I want a pony” stage!! The river had bullrushes and watercress growing at the edges, a very pretty place reminiscent of older times.

    At the other end of town in Station Road was the Art Centre where I went during half term a couple of times. A lovely old building with rickety floors. Always children’s crafts in the window. I did some painting and can’t for the life of me remember what else or who I went with. Next to that is a pub, still there, called “Ye Old Projectionist” which has lots of cinema related things. Nearby is the Dacorum Sports Centre where I used to go swimming often. I haven’t seen it since the big refurbishment. At one time I went to classes and we went with the school as well. There was an outside pool which great fun in summer and always very busy. If anyone wants to set me straight on any mis-rememberings or has more to add, please put your comments below.

202 Responses

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  • Richard Bunker Says:

    i used to be the fabric buyer for Craftsmith and the Hemel Hempstead branch was the first of a few dotted all over the country. i used to walk from the station to the shop and took a short cut across a meadow full of cows hahahah happy days indeed.

  • sue Says:

    How lovely Richard! Craftsmith inspired my early creativity, it was a fantastic shop. I seem to remember a quirky bit of floor space being a walkway across the Bank Court entrance?

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