23rdJuly 1894 may not be imprinted on the minds of St Albans City supporters but for those that attended the grand opening of Clarence Park it must have been an unforgettable experience.
The day itself was wet - rainy days in July are nothing new – but it didn’t stop thousands of people coming out to celebrate the event. In addition to the citizens of St Albans there were 700 invited guests to see H.R.H The Duke of Cambridge conduct the opening ceremony. The crowds thronged to the Park long before the opening ceremony got underway.
As the dignitaries entered the Park via the newly created Clarence Park Road they were greeted with a Guard of Honour. This consisted of the 2ndHerts R.V., and the combined forces of the St Albans & Watford Volunteer Bands, who lined up along the road between the lodge and pavilion. At this time the road was of gravel foundation with a sweep sufficiently wide for ‘a coach plus four,’ to turn. The pavilion had been constructed by the St Albans-based firm Miskins. Members of the Miskin family featured prominently in the history of the original St Albans Football Club, which was still in existence at this time with the City club still 14 years away from being formed.
The Park had been passed to the people of St Albans by Sir John Blundell Maple; he had purchased the land from the Earl Spencer and Frederick Sander in 1891. After having lunch with the Duke of Cambridge at Childwickbury, Sir John, accompanied by his wife, Lady Maple, and H.R.H. entered the Park at around 4.30pm. Upon their arrival the 1stGuards gave a rendition of the national anthem. The party were greeted in the pavilion by the Mayor of St Albans. The pavilion in which they now stood had cost Sir John £2,300 to have built while the lodge cost £800.
During the ceremony speeches were given by the Duke of Cambridge, the Mayor and Sir John (or Sir Blundell Maple as he was referred to at the time), who was the M.P. for Dulwich but resided at the sumptuous manor house at Childwickbury.
Celebrations were not restricted to the Park with business properties and private houses throughout the city being decked out in flags and bunting. As evening fell, following a break in the opening ceremony, the people of St Albans returned to the Park to hear music from the C.E.T.S and City Bands. There was also a grand firework display.
After completing their duties at the Park the dignitaries day continued with an evening reception that was held by the Mayor at the Town Hall. During the evening Sir John’s generosity was given full appreciation when he was afforded the honour of being the first Honorary Freeman of the City of St Albans. Prior to Clarence Park, he had previously paid for the construction of the Sisters’ Hospital, which, today, is situated within the grounds of the City Hospital.
The scroll declaring the great honour was presented most lavishly. The casket that contained it bore the arms of both Sir John Blundell and the City, while it was also emblazoned with his monogram on the cover. The interior of the scroll was lined in royal blue velvet and quilted satin. To carry out the ceremony the Mayor (Councillor A.Rowden) wore his scarlet and ermine robe and chain of office. Sir John was joined on the stage by his wife and daughter for the presentation.
The Herts Advertiser concluded its appreciation of the day with these words. ‘Thus ended the greatest day in the annals of St Albans for many a year, which will be long remembered by those who took part in it.’.
Above: Invitation sent from the Mayor of St Albans to Jack Dickerson to attend the evening function at which Sir John Blundell Maple was handed the Freedom of the City. Dickerson was goalkeeper and captain of the original St Albans club and led the Saints to their first Herts County Cup victory in 1893.