The first seven years of my life were spent in the village of Mill Hill, on the outskirts of North London and close to the borders of Hertfordshire. Although over the years London had crept up to its back door, it was still indeed a village and bordered to the north by farmland. There were a number of pubs, small shops, several schools, a working forge, a village pond and of course, the village church. The streets were lit by gas lamps as I recall and the occasional horse and cart went by, often one belonging to the rag-and-bone man.
I lived in a tiny cottage opposite one of the village pubs and right next door to the village butcher. I was not old enough to enjoy the merits of a pub across the road from home, but the comings and goings of the butcher’s shop and the pub provided me with an ever-changing assortment of interesting people to watch and talk to. It gave me a wonderful view of the people who made up the village I lived in and left enduring memories of village life that have stayed with me throughout my later years.
When I moved to Edgware, just a few miles away, although it was built up and suburban, to the north, it was bounded by woods and fields that reached into Hertfordshire. I had one foot in the city and one in the country. At that time, for me, the best of both worlds. The surrounding woods and farmland formed the childhood playground that provided me with never-ending interest and adventure. Out of this was born the deep-rooted love and respect for the countryside that I still have today. At the same time, I developed a desire to one day live in Hertfordshire, a county which unlike some others so close to London, still remains very unspoilt by comparison.
When I came to reside in Breachwood Green some eight years ago, I had instantly achieved the two things that I really always wanted. To live in Hertfordshire and to once again be in a village and with the bonus that it is surrounded by uniquely beautiful countryside. I have developed an affection for the village of Breachwood Green as the years have gone by. It may not be the prettiest of villages and has suffered perhaps as a result of indiscriminate development, but it still is lovely and has a certain charm about it. It may not have the most distinguished or the most intriguing history, but it does indeed like so many other villages, have an interesting history.
The history of the village is what this collection of photographs is all about and particularly with respect to the last century. Since coming to live in Breachwood Green, I have developed a keen interest in its past and the people who have made and shaped the village into what it is today. Indeed it is probably true to say that generally, I have a fascination with the past. I do not have a misty eyed view of those times and compiling this collection has reinforced my understanding in many ways of some of the realities of what our ancestors had to endure in their everyday lives. However, things were far simpler then and values were far different to what they sadly are today. What you see in many of the scenes in this collection of pictures are the last of real village life.
After a recent change of decoration to the cottage living room, I wanted some old pictures of the village to adorn the walls and sought help in this respect from the Breachwood Society who have custody of the village photographic archive. Having looked through it and copied several pictures using a computer and scanner, I decided it would be worth scanning the whole archive whilst I had access to it. In doing so, I reasoned that in the future, I would always be able to look through them at my leisure.
A thought then struck me that perhaps others would like to share the fruits of my labours and something that really belongs to all the people of Breachwood Green. In addition, by collating and recording these pictures, they will be preserved for the future. Out of this was born A Pictorial History of Breachwood Green that you are now viewing and hopefully will enjoy.
As the number of pictures in the village archive was fairly small, I decided to seek out further pictures to add to the collection and so started a long and difficult task in locating them and obtaining copies. An appeal to the village at large produced a small number of odd pictures here and there. On occasions I was given valuable leads to people who had lived in the village or had relatives who were once resident. A major breakthrough came when I discovered that a large number of pictures had been owned by Ruth Lawrence who lived in the village for over 80 years. Her niece, Win Webb, managed to secure a loan of these and the result is that a great proportion of pictures in the collection came from this source. The Hertfordshire Local Studies Archive at County Hall provided if not quantity, then certainly a number of quality pictures. I was disappointed perhaps that this source did not produce more.
I would like to make the comment here, that I do not regard the work as being anywhere near a full and definitive history of the village. It really is limited to a pictorial record of mostly the last century along with appropriate information where known on the pictures. Nonetheless, I believe that most people will find it fascinating and enjoyable to look at and in many cases - quite surprising!
It would have been nice to have produced a printed version of the collection, but the realities are that it is just not feasible. The cost would be prohibitive and make the final work incredibly expensive, because of the small target audience. Electronic publishing is very cheap indeed and has the added advantage of being far more flexible and allowing greater creativity. A further advantage is that it can be added to very easily. Indeed, my hope is that this first version of the work will be only the start and that others may be moved to add and improve on it as time goes by. There still is a great deal of room and scope for improving on what I have already done.
The whole project has taken some six months to complete and the number of man-hours work that I have put in I dread to think. I have lost count of the full days that I have spent on it and odd hours snatched here and there are just impossible to recount. At times I must admit that I did wish that I had never started it. Apart from all the work of finding and sorting through the material, there was a steep learning curve to many aspects of processing it and creating a display medium that would provide a pleasurable and useful experience for the end user. A great deal of new skills had to be acquired quite rapidly!
The scale of the project just grew and grew and in the end, I had to put a fixed time limit on it. This was both from a personal viewpoint and the fact that if left unbridled, the final work would never have seen any kind of completion. The difficulties and intricacies of producing this work are probably lost on the user as they zip their way through the collections of pictures, but I won’t even attempt to bring them to your attention now. If you want a simple breakdown of how the collection was made and the technical considerations, please have a glance at the Tech Notes page.
At the end of it all though, I have a tremendous sense of achievement in putting the collection together and it is my sincere hope that you and future generations of Breachwood Green villagers will share the same pleasure as I have experienced in discovering some of the hidden past of our lovely village.