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

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 

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.          

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A. Nicholls. No. 22 High Street, Hitchin

Hitchin.Nicholls’ shop in the High Street Hitchin 1922

As you can see from the photograph,  A. Nicholls claimed to be a ‘High Class Fruiterer and Florist’.   The fact that each variety of fruit rested on a napkin in a separate basket, shows it probably was. The shop was lit by gas in the winter evenings.

The Nicholls’ family had several shops in the town, all greengrocers: James Jesse began in Queen Street in 1853, had a branch in Sun Street in 1890, while Charles began in Bucklersbury in 1867. By 1906, Albert was running the Bucklersbury, Churchyard and High Street shops.

T.W. Latchmore took this photograph, shortly before this shop closed down.   In 1933 the now grade II listed building became a dentist, and later, between 1959-1966 it was Wright & Mills optician, and later still Boots Opticians.

The Maypole Dairy Company, The Market Place, Hitchin

The Maypole Dairy Company shop was on the north side of The Market Place in Hitchin, in the 1920s.  This photograph shows Archie Barber, William White, George Stallabrass and Ernest Wright, the grocers there, at a time when butter and tea were still two shillings a pound.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


The original Hitchin Woolworth store was built in 1930 at No. 7 High Street (Now Boots).  It was built on land that originally formed part of The Cock public house, which had been there since 1563, and was demolished to make room for its arrival. The rest of The Cock still stands at No. 8 High Street and is a grade II listed building.

F. W. Woolworth's first building in Hitchin. Pat Gadd

F. W. Woolworth was moved to No. 9 High Street (originally No. 7 and 8 High Street – which is a bit confusing) in 1965.

F. W. Woolworth and Co Ltd 1978 Pat Gadd

The history of the later Woolworth site is an interesting one.   From 1823-1961 it was the site of PERKS & LLEWELLYN – the lavender growers (originally Perks.)  They took up the premises in 1823 when the road now known as High Street was known as Cock Street.

Perks and Llewellyn. Pat Gadd

Some original lavender labels.
In 1790 Harry Perks established a pharmacy in Hitchin, but it was his son Edward a chemist, who, in 1823, laid the foundations for the future industry of planting lavender.
Edward Perks with his wife, Sarah, started their small perfumery business.  The business passed to his son Samuel in the 1940s.  In 1876, Samuel Perks went into partnership with Charles Llewellyn.  The shop was acquired by Richard Lewis by 1907. Eventually he was followed in the business by his daughter Miss Violet Lewis, who was a rained pharmacist.  She ran the business from 1930 to its closure in 1961, and demolition in 1964.

The shop’s interior was saved by Violet Lewis and she housed it in an annex in her house in Lucas Lane – and schools and groups would visit.  By 1990 the chemist shop was moved to Hitchin Museum and was officially opened in May of that year.  Following the closure of Hitchin Museum the shop will be erected at North Hertfordshire Museum in Brand Street when it opens later this year (2016).   Remaining objects, not put on display at the museum, will find a home at  Hitchin Lavender.

In Victorian times Perks & Llewellyn lavender products were used for all manner of things: 2 drops of pure lavender oil would have been taken on a lump of sugar to relieve symptoms of wind. Lavender Water would be put into ladies’ baths and gentlemen would shave with Perks Lavender Bloom Shaving and Toilet Soaps.

Behind the High Street shop, women and children would remove the stalks so that the flowers were ready for the still.  The accumulated smell of lavender was sometimes unbearable.
Boys were employed to climb in a still of lavender and trample it down, as it was being loaded for distillation.  Bees, drunk on the smell, would make the lives of the boys miserable, and it was common for the lads to get numerous stings.

The final of Violet Lewis’s lavender fields at the top of Lucas Lane was dug over and replaced with a cabbage field.  But the Lavender Farm is a great reminder of how important lavender was and still is to Hitchin.

In 1964 the old shop was demolished, and the new Woolworth was built on the site.

When F. W. WOOLWORTH opened in 1965, ghost stories followed.  Many members of staff and the public reported a very strong smell of lavender in the store.  There were also reports of a women dressed in Victorian clothes mounting a non-existent staircase diagonally across the store.  It is believed that there had been a staircase in the same place in Perk's & Llewellyn store.   Some named the spirit ‘The Lavender Lady’.   It was also alleged that two ladies in old fashioned clothes were seen to walk around the shop while the public did their shopping.
A manager of the store had a strange experience.  She was the last to leave and locked up and empty store.  Later her phone rang. When she answered there was nobody on the line, but she discovered the call was from the Hitchin shop.  On returning there was nobody there.

I don’t recall ever seeing a ghost, but I remember the original store clearly.   There was a restaurant at the back on the far right with tall stools, where you could sit along the serving counter.  At the front you could buy sweets. It was easy for children to stick their hands in and pinch a few (not that I ever did).  The shop assistants would stand in the middle of the counters, surrounded from each side.   Later, Woolworths was the place to buy records. I recall the record counter being at the front and the back of the store, at different times. 

An old employee was telling me the other day, that she had to take a test to work there.  She worked on the make-up counter, and said you needed to be able to add up the items people bought in your head.

In December 2008 the Hitchin store closed along with all the Woolworth stores nationwide, and in May 2011 the former F. W Woolworth’s was split into two stores.