Changing Times - Harpenden 1981 and now

Report of a talk by Cllr Mary Maynard on 28 November 2017

By Joyce Bunting

This report was first published in the Society's Newsletter 135, August 2018

Photo:Mary Maynard, Harpenden Town and St Albans District Councillor

Mary Maynard, Harpenden Town and St Albans District Councillor

Harpenden Town Council website


Mary arrived in Harpenden in 1981, the year of The Royal Wedding, an assassination attempt on the Pope, and when ‘Only Fools and Horses’ was first showing on TV. Structural and life-style changes have occurred since then. Is life better or worse?

Photo:Mary Maynard's home in Piggotshill Lane, Spring 1981

Mary Maynard's home in Piggotshill Lane, Spring 1981

Mary Maynard archives



Mary’s first house in Harpenden was a pre-war dwelling in Piggotshill Lane. Everyone did their own home decorating. She had to strip the Crittall metal framed windows of paint and rust and apply red lead undercoat before repainting. Would young people do that themselves nowadays?

Photo:Mary's house on Piggottshill Lane in 2018

Mary's house on Piggottshill Lane in 2018

R Ross - June 2018

The windows of that house are all modern style now. The pretty front garden which had been green with trees and shrubs is now paved over for car parking, like many modern gardens, and the once quiet road is always busy.

The working day for many people ended at 5pm. Shops did not stay open in the evenings or on Sundays.

Mary had moved from the City and found Harpenden very different. She found little to do in the evenings – apart from dinner parties at home. No gym or indoor swimming pool and it took six weeks to get a telephone connected. TV’s were mostly rented and there was no cable TV, nor Internet.

Photo:The  The Osborne 1 portable computer

The The Osborne 1 portable computer

internet images


Personal Computers (PC’s) were being developed between 1981 and 1986. Mary damaged her back lugging about a heavy Osborne PC weighing 10.7 kg (24.5 lb). Some things are definitely better!




Getting about

It was the ‘Age of the Train’. A coffee cart used to be wheeled through commuter trains, and passengers could get a seat - but journeys took longer. Mary witnessed changes to the service: electrification of trains into Farringdon - which entailed construction of overhead power gantries, re-opening of Snow Hill tunnel to permit trains to go beneath the City, and Thameslink extensions to Brighton etc. All these happened in stages from about 1985.

In 1981 local roads were unhampered by roundabouts and speed humps, yellow lines, permits and time restrictions. The Nickey Line railway bridge on Redbourn Road was removed in 1983 and the road widened and straightened.

Air traffic was slight though Mary, like many residents of Harpenden and Luton, was woken every morning at 6am by a regular flight from Luton airport, and still wakes up at that time as a result. The package holiday industry was expanding, with Lorraine Chase promoting Luton Airport.

Times have changed

Many changes have taken place in the town over the last 36 years. We have no constantly manned fire station or police station, only three local post offices – in High Street Harpenden, at Kinsbourne Green and Southdown. But coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and take-away food outlets have proliferated. The two big hotels have disappeared and replaced by apartments and houses.

Mary saw Lydekker Park created. There, as with Harpenden Common, the prestigious Green Flag* now flies. The Lea Valley Nature Reserve at Batford was developed by volunteers over the years and recently extended. Rothamsted Park remains a remarkable green space for use by everyone.

Is life better or worse than in 1981? Mary leaves you to decide.

* Details of the ‘Green Flag’ awards may be found online at:

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 21/08/2018.

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