Thursday, 12 April 2018

Shopping in Hitchin in bygone years.

I recently found this photograph of a basket full of goodies bought in Hitchin many years ago. No plastic in those days.

It made me want to have a little look through some of my old photos and postcards of  shops and the way people used Hitchin town in years gone by. I also came across this little booklet with the prices for Perk's Lavender. Inside it told me that Prize Medal Lavender Water can be bought as cheaply as 1shilling and 1penny - which is about 51/2 pence in today's money.  And Lavender Bloom Bath Power (in boxes) were 1 shilling - which is about 5p.

Perk's Lavender Distillery - High Street, Hitchin just after it closed.

I've always loved this picture from the 1960s which shows not much has changed along Bancroft, apart from the fashions and the cars. The little white car was my dad's. :-)

A great deal of change has happened with the post office. This is John Beaver (postmaster) and staff in 1880, when the post office was situated in The Market Place. Beaver was a grocer who is said to have a good sense of humour. One story about him relates to him standing outside his office listening to the Salvation Army Band, appealing for pennies on the drum and urging 'only 2 pennies more to make a shilling' He would wait until the shilling target was reached, and would then throw a couple of coppers on, as the process started again.

Vegetables are on display outside Nicholls' shop in the High Street in 1922. They were a high class fruiterer and florist. East variety of fruit would rest on a napkin in a separate basket, shown off to its best advantage and lit by gas in the winter evenings.

A great photo of The Market Place 

Just to add my novel 'Her Last Lie' - a psychological thriller that features Hitchin and Letchworth, and published by HarperCollins is OUT NOW. All my royalties are going to Cancer Research UK.  You can purchase a copy HERE

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Hitchin & Letchworth Settings in 'Her Last Lie' a psychological thriller with a twist.

It was great fun including places I’ve been to, and the area where I’ve lived all my life, in my debut psychological thriller. I  enjoy conjuring up fictional settings, but to describe places I know so well, was a real treat.

My main character, Isla, travels by train into Letchworth Garden City Station at the start of the novel.

Her apartment and a restaurant are fictional, but she does take a walk along the very real Greenway, and the park is based on Howard Park.

There's a scene where Isla visits Hitchin Market, and sits by St. Mary’s Church and the River Hiz. (Something I’ve done many, many times.)

The church in the scene set in Baldock, is based on St. Mary the Virgin Church.

There is also a scene set in Hunstanton, a place I visited often as a child, and somewhere I’ve taken my own children.

Me in Narvik

Further afield for Isla, she travels to The Blue Mountains in Australia, Abisko in Sweden, Narvik in Norway, and there are various scenes set in Canada.

Her Last Lie can be downloaded on ibook or ebook, with all royalties going to Cancer Research UK

Amazon: HERE
iBook: HERE 

Monday, 29 January 2018

Hitchin in Hertfordshire 1268-1800

My late aunt and I made a diary of things that have happened in Hitchin through the years, from 1268-1988. I thought it would be nice to publish it online.  So here goes with the first instalment 1268-1800.

1268: Hitchin Market property of John D’ Baliol worth 10 marks

1450: 33/34 Bucklesbury erected (later The George)

1450: The Angel Vaults built (Demolished 1956)

1460: ‘Tylehousestret’ first mention by name in The Court of Rolls formed South-West boundary of medieval Hitchin

1475: Coopers Arms built on site of even older house

1490: Red Hart built, probably as an Inn

1541: Archery Butts set up – Butts Close

1559: George Chapman (translator of Homer) born

1563: Census shows 245 families living in Hitchin

1568: First lavender grown in Hitchin

1618: The modern name ‘Hitchin’ first appears in a document called ‘Hertfordshire Feet of Fines’ although still subject to variation afterwards.

1630: Red Lion Inn in Market Place

1630: Straw Plaiting first seen in Hitchin

1637: Grammar School Founded (Free School)

1650: 2000 people living in Hitchin

1665: Plague raged in every part of Hitchin

1680: First fire engine in Hitchin

1709: Lucas brewery founded

1730: Smallpox raged 158 people died. 1580 people in Hitchin

1738: Last marriage performed at Minsden Chapel

1774: Violent storm did great damage to Sun Inn

1795: Very bad flooding in Bridge Street and Sun Street

1797: Prince of Wales passed through Hitchin

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Her Last Lie by Amanda Brittany

Her Last Lie is my debut psychological thriller, which is being published by HQ Digital/HarperCollins on January 9th 2018.

It can be pre-ordered from Amazon HERE, for 0.99p, with all my royalties for downloads going to Cancer Research UK, in memory of my sister.

So why am I mentioning it on my Hitchin site?

Well, I’m a born and bred Hitchin author, and I couldn’t resist setting some of my novel in Hitchin. I do hope local headers will enjoy spotting Hitchin Market, The River Hiz and St. Mary’s Church.

Amanda X

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The George, Bucklersbury, Hitchin

The building which is now ‘The George’ in Bucklersbury was built in 1450, and is believed to be one of the oldest buildings in Hitchin. Long before it was a public house, it was a house owned by a rich merchant.

It wasn't until  1676 that it opened as a pub called ‘Le Faulcon’ or ‘The Falcon Inn’

It is not clear when ‘The Falcon’ closed its doors, or when numbers 33 and 34 Bucklersbury became separate establishments.

Later the pub became known as ‘The Beehive’ and John Steed of Baldock was the brewer.  The Beehive thrived for several decades. In 1851 Mrs Sarah Parker was the publican. 

Later Charles Hide became the tenant, and was often in trouble with the law for allowing fighting and bad behaviour. In 1869 a serious complaint was made against ‘The Beehive’, and the police constable told the magistrates that Charles Hide kept a bad house, worse than a beer house, allowing bad girls and men to assemble using disgusting language. Hide lost his licence. 

A new tenant, Mr Joseph Moulden, took over in December 1869 –  but in August of the following year he was cautioned about noisy behaviour – his excuse was that he was out when some recruits called and played music and sang. He  promised not to let it happen again.

In 1870  the pub became The George, after George Washington, and had been relocated from The High Street (then Cock Street).
Courtyard of The George Inn 1900. A drawing by Frederick Griggs

The pub has thrived through the years – in the late seventies I remember going there,  and how the courtyard would heave with youngsters. I would imagine every generation has a similar tale to tell.

The George is believed to be haunted. Heavy footsteps have been heard at night, glasses have been thrown across the room by invisible hands, and it's said that animals and landlords alike have occasionally refused to go down the cellar.  My aunt, who was a landlady for a while, said she saw someone sitting in a chair, who wasn’t there.   The Hitchin TV team have investigated the strange happenings at The George  HERE

The George website can be found HERE

My best selling ebook Her Last Lie is available HERE  All ebook royalties go to Cancer Research UK in memory of my amazing sister. Her Last Lie is a psychological thriller, with a  chapter devoted to Hitchin, and the main character lives in Letchworth.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Factory Playhouse, Hitchin: Les Misérables

I feel compelled to blog about this amazing venue, after seeing Les Mis last night.

I’d previously seen Les Mis in London, and the film, so I’m not going to lie, the students at the Emil Dale Academy had a tough act to follow, but boy did they step up last night and equal anything I’d seen before. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they superseded it. 

I adore The Factory Playhouse in Hitchin, previously seeing ‘Grease’ and ‘Night and the Musicals’, so I knew I was in for a treat with Les Mis.  

The scene was set almost immediately, with the smiling faces of students directing us to the car park – and a Prosecco marquee with a great atmosphere, playing just the right kind of music and serving cheeseboards and drinks.

Once we were settled in one of 184 seats in the once disused factory in Wilbury Way, we were spellbound from the off. Sam Hull’s performance as Jean Valjean was breathtaking. It was hard to believe he wasn’t performing on the West End stage. When he sang ‘Bring him home’ I’m not ashamed to say tears rolled down my face…as they did with several other songs too.

Other amazing performances were by Iverson Yabut, who was an incredible Javert, and Cameron Rhodes and Holly Masters gave hilarious performances as Madame Thenardier and Mr Thenardier. Lizzie Wood as Fantine,  Emily McCormick as Cosette, Joe Churms as Marius, Esme Allen-Quarmby as Eponine, Alfie French as Enjolras, Amelia Burrows as Young Eponine and Rosie Hostler as Young Cosette were all amazing.  And last but by no means least, Nicholas Witham-Mueller played Gavroche (the little cockney French boy) to perfection.  Add in the amazing performances by the rest of the cast, and what’s not to love? Oh, and if that wasn’t enough – Les Misérables – and all shows at The Factory Playhouse – are accompanied by an amazing live 12-piece West End orchestra. 

The next performance there is ‘Hairspray’ from 10th-21st  May 2017.
I’ve had my tickets for ages, and can’t wait! But I think they may still have some available.  So, if you love musicals, what are you waiting for? Go book.  I know you’ll love The Factory Playhouse.

Their website can be found HERE 

My best selling ebook Her Last Lie is available HERE  All ebook royalties go to Cancer Research UK in memory of my amazing sister. Her Last Lie is a psychological thriller, with a  chapter devoted to Hitchin, and the main character lives in Letchworth.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Nature Club - Wilshere-Dacre School, Hitchin

Does anyone recall The Nature Club, in the quad at Wilshere-Dacre School? I remember it with great fondness. Although I can't quite believe I craddled a Chinese rat on my small knees.   They'd arrived in the mid-sixties, and were a creamy yellow colour, with very long tails.
The story of the club can be traced back to around 1960, when Mr T. Morris, (staff 1948-1987) started the club at Mr Moles' request.  The club was especially for 3rd and 4th year pupils to get them used to handling and caring for animals.  Originally the pets resided in the east quadrangle, the senior end of the school at that time, but when Mr H. Edwards (staff 1952-1967/1972-1977) gave the school some budgies, which subsequently bred, it was time for an aviary to be built.  The aviary was built in 1965 by Mr Morris from the wire frames which had previously covered the school windows during the war.  It was housed in the east quad, while some of the animals were then transferred to the west quad.  The birds remained in the east quad, and, in 1974, a new aviary replaced the hand-built one.  Apart from budgies other birds were kept, including, in the mid 1970s, two zebra finches.  In 1979 the aviary was the residence of some baby chicks, which the club had bred.

During the nature club's run, children had a fair amount of responsibility caring for the pets.  Feeding (the school canteen supplied peelings), cleaning and generally looking after the animals was all part of being a club member.  A rota system was used for children to care for the animals at weekends and during the holidays.  Children often took sick animals to the Grove Road vet.  Lindsay Taylor (pupil 1961-1965) remembers:  'I fed baby guinea pigs with an eye dropper when their mother was dropped and died.  I kept them in my airing  cupboard at home.'  Miranda Summers (pupil 1974-1978) remembers regularly taking home a tortoise named Speedy which ended up becoming a permanent resident at her house.  Such responsibility, however, could be hazardous as the late Pat Hewett recalled:

'My son, who was a pupil at the school in the 1970s, brought home a hamster; the creature was very noisy during the night so I covered the cage with my son's anorak.  The next morning there was nothing left of the inside of the anorak, the hamster had completely devoured it.  I worried the animal had eaten it and feared for its life - but it was fine.'

The Nature Club had some unusual animals over the years.  One pupil recalls some ferrets being kept and, of course, there were the Chinese rats.

Mr Morris ran the nature club for many years, with the assistance of other teachers, including Mr Parker. He handed over the reins to Mrs Maggie Bell  (staff 1974-1983) in 1974, continuing as the club's treasurer until its closure.

 The Nature Club organised its own activities and annual outings to Whipsnade and London Zoo.  

Pet shows took place over the years.  In the sixties children would receive certificates for their pets from the R.S.P.C.A.  The 1975 show was particularly memorable, with over 100 children of the Nature Club taking part and animals great and small were entered for the events.
The Nature Club closed its doors in 1981.  In 1993 the quads were completely re-furbished.

By the late 1990s the quads are quiet areas, quite a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Nature Club. The west quad had a fountain, a pond with fish and tables and chairs.  And by then the east quad had a small fountain, a statue of  St Christopher and four benches. 

Hats off to the Past, Coats off to the Future by Amanda Brittany.