The small children in caps and bonnets and pinafores join hands to make a circle, possibly for a game of Ring a Ring o’ Roses, on the parish green, while a man sits in his horse-drawn cart outside the fishmonger’s. The year is 1904 and the postcard is from the collection of John Cooper, author of Harpenden Through Time, the latest of his six books of local history.
The book takes the reader on a nostalgic journey back to an age when the pace of life was much slower, through a vibrant selection of old picture postcards coupled with photographs John has taken, to chronicle the many changes that occurred as Harpenden transformed from a quiet, agricultural village to a larger, attractive town.
“The biggest change, of course, is the traffic,“ says John, 74, who was born in Harpenden when it was still a village.
“It’s a commuter town of 30,000 people now and the congestion is horrendous. But it still has a charm of its own and people are still very fond of it, especially the older residents. Although it’s now a town, they still refer to the town centre as ‘the village’.
“It has a very wide high street and along the lower high street are all these greens, which give it a boulevard feel. It’s a very attractive town, still.“
The book covers from Edwardian times to the 1950s and features postcards that John has collected from specialist fairs all over the south-east.
He visited the places featured in the postcards, such as Harpenden Church Green, Southdown, and Wheathampstead High Street (all pictured) and tried to recreate the views in them in photographs, which are presented in the book beneath the postcards.
“The golden age of postcards was from 1902 to 1918,“ says John, who has lived in Watford for the past 40 years.
“They were cheap to buy and send, and you could send a postcard in the morning and it would arrive that afternoon. In those days, there were about three or four posts a day. They were the email of their day.“
- Harpenden Through Time is out now from Amberley Publishing and is available from News 4U, Threads and WH Smith in Harpenden, and Waterstones in St Albans. John Cooper will be doing a book signing at Waterstones, Peter’s Street, St Albans on Saturday, July 13 from 11am to 1pm. Details: amberleybooks.com