New skyline in Hertford

One of my regular on-line contacts emailed me yesterday to let me know that the George Robey pub in Finsbury Park has been demolished; gone.

You may not know but George Robey was a star of the music hall and it is quite something to have a pub named after you. I mentioned George Robey in my article on The Old Bedford Music Hall which once stood in Camden High Street. All the big names appeared there such as Marie Lloyd and my mum and dad were two of many who flocked there to see performers such as these. Of course Music Hall is dead now and the splendid architecture of the variety halls with it.

The pub was a welcome sight as you left Finsbury Park station. It was once a popular venue for punk music in the 1980’s. More here. Across the road was the Astoria. It had one of the most amazing auditoriums I have been in. You left the box office, walked down the red carpet past a huge fountain and into the stalls. The screen was set into a Saharan desert fort surrounded by palm trees and when the lights went out you could really imagine being somewhere in North Africa.

Of course the final days of the cinema also came to pass. It was turned into a rock venue called The Rainbow. I saw Ike and Tina Turner there supporting the Rolling Stones. Then it too went into almost terminal decay and is now the home of a religious group.

My mates and I used to get a bus here and then walk the hundred yards or so to Highbury to watch Arsenal; me to support the other side.

The road takes you over what used to be the Finsbury Park Empire, now also gone.

I saw Lonnie Donnegan here playing pantomime, then doing a half hour performance and us kids up in the gods watching.

You may well be asking what has all this got to do with Hertford.

We went shopping the other day to Tesco (a rare event) and walked through Bluecoats Yard. As Mrs B and me stood waiting at the crossing we looked over at Hertford East Railway Station. This is a Grade II listed building, built in 1888 of orange-red brick.

Hertford East Railway Station
Hertford East Railway Station

The station is still there but it sort of merges into the flats built behind it in Mead Lane. It is not a station to compare with St Pancras but it has its merits. It has been listed alongside some of Britain’s biggest and best-known stations in Simon Jenkins’ newly-published Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations .

The thing is, now you can’t appreciate it as it does not have its own silhouette. It just blends in with a modern building that will never get a mention in any architectural Hall of Fame. Well from one side anyway and that is bad enough.

I am lucky to live on Folly Island. You could stand on Folly Bridge looking west and at night see St Andrews Church all lit up. It doesn’t matter which God you support but it was a wonderful view. It was. That view has now been lost because of the new builds on Old Library Lane where the bascule bridge was going to be built. Now all you can see is the tip of the church spire.

It is the same looking east. You can just make out the top of St John’s Church.

Statue of Samuel Stone at Mill Bridge
Statue of Samuel Stone at Mill Bridge

A few months back I stood by the statue of Samuel Stone in Mill Bridge and looked across at the Seed Warehouse.

When I was Town Centre Manager my office was there. Wonderful building; like a Tardis.

It is a point of a triangle in Mill Bridge but if you walk through the yard you will appreciate the size of the place.

However at that time a new building was being constructed in Adams Yard. The developers/architects had designed it so that it matched the sloping roofs of the Seed Warehouse and the new flats on top of the new Library but they had pinched a few more feet. It was higher than the rest. You can’t see this from the Folly Bridge side.

I am writing all this because I have noticed over the years how the Hertford skyline has changed so much. Where you could see our historic buildings you can’t anymore. They haven’t gone the way of the George Robey pub or the Finsbury Park Astoria but they all seem to be overshadowed now by new builds. Old views have been lost. Mine with them.

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By John Barber

John Barber was born in London at the height of the UK Post War baby boom. He had careers in Advertising, International Banking and the Wine Industry before becoming Town Centre Manager in his home town of Hertford. He has been writing professionally since 1996 when he began to contribute articles to magazines on social and local history. His first published book in 2002 was a non-fiction work entitled The Camden Town Murder, a hitherto unsolved murder case from 1907.