David Adams (1935-2010)
A journey to Walkern, by David Adams
An article that first appeared in the January 2005 issue of the Walkern Journal.
1951: The removal van drove south into Stevenage High Street and turned left where the signpost indicated Walkern 4 miles. Leaving the built up area it moved into a narrow country lane, up a steep hill flanked on both sides by high grassy banks. Passing the Three Horseshoes public house on the right, over the brow and down the winding lanes and out into real country. Nothing in sight but fields, fields and more fields. Now up a short rise around yet another bend passing a sizeable pond. Onwards down a short straight and a farm on the left standing way back from the road. A turn to the right and immediately left past a narrow lane on the right. Onward over a rise and down the other side, the road winding first to the left and then to the right. Will this journey never end?
More bends now the van is travelling beside a wooded area, a sharp right hand bend with a lonely house on the left hand corner. A short straight stretch cumulating in a sharp left hand turn, down a long winding hill up a short rise and round a tight bend and there, low and behold! My first glimpse of Walkern. Four miles? It seemed like forty.
Down into the village, council houses to my left and fields on my right, a feeling of utter despair came over me. Had we really come to live in this remote place? Living as we had been in a thriving town of some 80,000 inhabitants, with its youth clubs, cinemas, dance halls, football team in the national league, public swimming pool. At the tender age of 16 what was I going to do?
The van turned left, up what I was to discover was the High Street, houses now on both sides of the road, passing a lane on the left, Froghall Lane! What a peculiar name. Another lane to the right, Totts Lane? Where do these names come from?
Two pubs, The Robin Hood and the Yew Tree are on my right and the van draws up outside our new home, The Laurels. I looked at the house in wonderment, were we really going to live in this ancient pile with its eerie cellar, uneven floors and very long garden?
There was the school, doctor’s surgery, main C of E church, an RC church and a chapel in Froghall Lane plus a further chapel at the top end of the High Street. Also to my recall there were four farms based in the village. I soon realised that this village that I thought of as remote with nothing going for it was very self-sufficient.
Over the coming days and weeks I discovered that the only entertainment apart from the aforementioned pubs plus two others, the White Lion and the Red Lion, was a weekly youth club run by the Reverend Pearce. This was held in the church hall at the far end of Church Lane. Red Lion publican Billy Winfield allowed us to use his private snooker room once or twice a week for which we were eternally grateful. I also discovered that to get into Stevenage to visit either of the two cinemas and see a complete evening performance was virtually impossible, as the last bus to Walkern left Stevenage White Lion at the impractical time of 9.40pm.
As time passed I began to realise that Walkern had more to it than I at first thought. It had a football team, of which I became a playing member. There was Wrights brewery with it’s renowned Hertfordshire cider, There were two builders, Canning’s builders with a very interesting sawmill just along from the White Lion pub and Tim Carter builder, opposite. Sworder’s Coaches, two butchers shops, Shepherd’s and Ingarfill’s, two bakers, Spearman’s and Mead’s, Richardson’s post office and stores on the corner of Froghall Lane, on the other corner lived Roger Green the local undertaker.
Reed’s newsagents, Dearman’s concrete works, Fred Savage coal merchant, Mr Pidcock the watch and clock repairer, Clark’s garage. Then there was Saunder’s greengrocers which also sold fish and chips once a week. Mrs Green who had her greengrocery business, a grocery shop at the top of the High Street with Cannon’s shoe shop opposite. Mr Mackintyre’s tomato growing nursery in Winters Lane where he and his wife lived in a converted double decker bus. Next to the Robin Hood was Mr Taylor’s sweet shop, whilst I was always fascinated to watch Mr Robinson the blacksmith at work in his forge in Totts Lane. Between the Yew Tree and Mr Robinson’s, the much frequented cycle shop of Mr Tom Boorman, cycles being the main mode of transport for the village youth. For the older generation, George Young’s taxi service in Totts Lane was an alternative to the infrequent public transport.
I became friendly with the local lads, most of whom had interesting nicknames, there was Gudger, Ginger, Brunger and some too rude to mention. Our favourite meeting places being on the bridge over the river ford by the church or the bridge over the river by the then ford at the bottom of Tucker’s hill.
My family moved again two years later, by now I had become so attached to Walkern I no longer wished to leave this place that I had dreaded living in two years previously. I left home and took lodgings in the village.
I had joined the youth club in my first weeks in Walkern and this was where this Walkern journey really began for me. There I met my wife to be and I knew that Walkern had become part of my destiny. Now 53 years, four children and nine grandchildren later, and thanks to the grace of God the journey continues. Walkern has changed dramatically in those years, apart from the bus service.
No longer are we a remote village 4 miles from anywhere. In that time Stevenage New town which was non existent all those years ago, is remorselessly edging towards this lovely village. When it does eventually reach us, the journey will sadly have come to an end.
David Adams, 2004