The serious traffic delays on Old London Road at the junction with Cottonmill Lane have brought a rare unanimity to locals and rat-runners alike. The parlous state of the unassuming building shown in the photo is the cause.
Dating to 1881, this building has an interesting history. It owes its origins to the prospect of the many men constructing the city’s new sewage system spending too much time in the local pubs. Give them somewhere else to go was the idea, somewhere without the temptation of alcohol but with plenty of self-improving literature to read.
The idea originated with Hon. Robert Grimston, brother of the third Earl of Verulam, who later became national secretary of the Navvy Mission Society and later still, vicar of St Michael’s. The building has had various purposes since, a tramps’ rest and light industrial use among them. But is the current construction original?
The report of its opening in the Herts Advertiser (3 November 1881 p. 5) describes the building as being of wooden construction with sawdust packed in the wall cavities ‘to secure warmth and prevent draught’. This perilous form of insulation probably explains why bricks have replaced timber in the lower portion. SADC’s Character Statement no. 5a (2003, p. 172) reflects this: the old mission room is “timber clad but altered and in poor repair”. From our cursory study, we remain unsure whether there is anything original about the building.