It all started in 2009 when Chris Pudsey talked about having a parish map in place and that there were some parish maps in place on the web which we could look at. This was at one of the Sopwell Residents Association (SRA) committee meetings which were usually mundane affairs. Sopwell is not a parish but we thought it was a good idea to act like one and look at what assets we had in Sopwell.
We have several areas of historical interest, such as the ruins of a Tudor house built on what was the Sopwell Nunnery; we have the site of the Holy Well, a medieval church, several farms and mills, railways and other industry and a large stretch of the river Ver.
We were also keen to highlight the many beautiful green spaces we have in the area. Sopwell was labelled a deprived area, according to the Office for National Statistics, as we had more than the national average of local authority housing tenants and more than the national average of people from mixed ethnic backgrounds. But, we also had the most green space in St Albans District and we were proud of this. To celebrate this, we began to organise annual walks around the area which we called Celebrating Green Sopwell walks. One of our local district councillors, Eileen Harris, loved history and added a history element to our walks. These annual talks and walks were extremely interesting.
Various other people also inspired us to get interested in the history of Sopwell. SRA’s founder member, Anne Kaloczi, now unfortunately passed away, loved the Sopwell Nunnery Green Space and this enthusiasm was passed down to other members of the committee. There was a memorable presentation by Councillor Eileen Harris on the origin of Sopwell street names at one of our AGMs. Two residents had written about the area: Donald Pelletier, had researched and written a book about the ruins in the Nunnery green space; and Anne Wares, had written a booklet all about the history of Priory Park. Anne had been asking questions and gathering information and maps and images from her neighbours in Ramsbury Road and from the other roads in what was once Priory Park, part of the ancient manor of Sopwell. We liked this idea and thought it could be extended to other areas in Sopwell. Anne Wares, Chris Pudsey, Eileen Harris and myself got together to see what we could do. We allocated jobs and started to gather information. We began to call this the Sopwell Project.
Originally, we thought we would just put all the historical information which we had collected on to our SRA website and that would be that, but there was such a lot of it and it became unwieldy to manage. Added to this we had begun to collect memories from residents about what the Sopwell area looked like years ago. There were a lot of the original residents who were old enough to remember life before the estates were built and we wanted to collect their stories before it was too late. We obtained a small grant to buy a hand-held recorder, put an item in our newsletter and in the Herts Advertiser asking people to come forward. We involved the local councillors and they suggested residents to interview.
By 2011, we had collected loads of information. By then, we had given up on putting history on the SRA website and the expectation was that we would turn all this information into a book so that’s what we did. In May 2012, we published Sopwell, a history and collection of memories. We did it ourselves with some financial help from local organisations, and a very patient, helpful and amenable printer. The book has been very well received and is still on sale.
Following on from the success of the book, we applied for and were awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund All Our Stories Project to continue our work – and this is the result!
This website is intended to complement our book. Those interested should still read the book to learn about the history of Sopwell. We have collected many more stories and images and will continue to do so even though lottery funding for the project has ended.