Heritage: Back to the future: Society looking to breathe new life into its rich history

Hemel Hempstead High Street and Corn Exchange in circa 1905 and the Old High Street and Cranstone Fountain in the late 19th century (below)
Hemel Hempstead High Street and Corn Exchange in circa 1905 and the Old High Street and Cranstone Fountain in the late 19th century (below)

The Hemel Hempstead Local History & Museum Society wants to start attracting younger people to continue its important work.

The society operates as one of many such societies in West Herts.

However, like most others it is seeking to increase its membership, with the emphasis being to take the Society to younger.

Back in 1950 under the auspices of the National Register of Archives, the Society was instrumental in determining to trace the location and quantity of archive information in the local area.

Once the impact the New Town plans were going to make, the working group changed its emphasis to being that of a local history society. Hence the Society, as it is today, was born and continues to flourish, although it should be remembered that word was only added to the name of the organisation in 1994.

The current society was formed in 1956 under the chairmanship of Mr William Crook, who would become president in 1969, when the chairman was one Mr V. J. Wrigley MA, head of Longdean School; the honorary secretary was Mr Clifford Owen.

Clifford Owen became chairman in 1973, and then president in 1981. He was succeeded as president by Mr Peter Ward, who remains in the position to this day.

The position of chairman was taken up by Mr Michael Stanyon, who also remains today an active member and vice president of the Society.

Other vice presidents in the early days were the late councillor Mrs A.M.Barling, Mr P.A. Clayton FLS, FSA, FRNS, Mr N. Halsey TD, FRICS, the late Alderman Mrs M. King and, prior to his chairmanship, Mr Peter Ward.

Peter was followed by Elizabeth Buteux MA AISTD who gave 18 years devoted service to the Society. The current chairman is once again Michael Stanyon, who is enjoying his second stint at the helm.

The position of honorary secretary was held by Mrs Eve Davis from 1991 until her resignation in 1999.

The position was then held by Mrs Margaret Stanyon until 2001, when it was filled by Mr John Buteux, Mayor of Dacorum in 1992, until his very untimely passing in 2002, when the current Honorary Secretary Roy Wood accepted the position.

Today, the Society continues to flourish with the following Committee:

The Society meets every fourth Wednesday at The Carey Baptist Church, Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead and costs £1 for members and £2 for non-members. All are welcome.

Past members of the Society, such as Gwennah Robinson BA, Arthur L. Wood and others compiled and prepared the book The History of Hemel Hempstead, which was eventually edited by Sue Yaxley, and published in 1973.

The book remains today, lauded as the foremost reference book on the history of our town. Many other books on various subjects, by various authors, have followed.

The Society currently enjoys 10 meetings a year, including its AGM. The chairman also provides yearly programmes of varied and interesting talks.

Trips out have seen the society visit places like Waddesdon Manor, Ashridge House, Abbot’s Hill School, Lockers Park School, the Church of St John the Baptist in Little Gaddesden, Redbournbury Mill, Chenies Manor House, the De Havilland Aircraft Museum and The Leighton Buzzard Railway.

The society is also blessed with a substantial Library (almost 200 items) run by Mr Richard Ford, where members have a huge choice of books for information, reference or just reading for enjoyment.

The committee noticed at one stage that the average age of the membership was rising quite quickly. Therefore it put in place a ‘Through the eyes of youth’ initiative, which is co-ordinated by Mrs Joan Hands and has involved Hemel Hempstead School pupils.

The pupils also undertook to look at various aspects of the First and Second World Wars, the results of which can be seen online at www.hemelatwar.org

The society also gets involved in local issues.

A spokesman said: “Of course there are always other challenges, and we took up the fight to have the Cranstone Fountain outside Boxmoor Hall renovated to return it to its original glory.

“This all arose as one of the schools we contacted above came back to us to see if we could work together, and the result was a working party from South Hill School and Boxmoor Hall, together with DHT and our Society.

“We all worked extremely hard to achieve this, with the essential aid of grants from The Lottery Heritage Fund and Dacorum Borough Council.

“As is the case with most societies, we have a number of people who are willing to give talks on their own specialised subjects, details of which can be gained on application.”

If you have an interest in local history, get involved and help spread the word.

The spokesman added: “Come along and give us a chance – we think you will be surprised.

“We have a number of projects, both current and pending, that you can get involved in and have a whale of a time, while discovering more about your town!”

The society’s Annual General Meeting takes place at 8pm on February 25 at Carey Baptist Church, Marlowes.

Details of the programme until 2016 will be available on the night.

For more information contact honorary secretary Roy Wood on 01442 398285, email roy.wood3@
ntlworld.com or visit www.historysochemel.