Chamber of Commerce St Albans

The Chamber of Commerce in St Albans has a rich history of promoting business interests and helping to develop this great city. The first meeting was held on 15th November 1907 in the Mayor's Parlour of the Town Hall, St Albans of the newly formed St Albans & District Trade Association.

The aims and objectives of the group were recorded in the handwriting of its Chairman William Green in the Minutes of the first meeting as, "for furthering the interest of the various trades carrying on in business in St Albans and District and for other purposes connected with the development and welfare of the city and neighbourhood."

The Association gained its first employee at the second meeting held on 9th December 1907 when Mr Stanley Robinson was appointed Secretary at a remuneration of 10 guineas per annum. William Green was duly elected first President and Thomas Oakley Vice President for 1908.

The first AGM was held on 8th February 1909, attended by 43 members. The venue was once again the Mayor's Parlour, and it was at this meeting that it was unanimously agreed to change the name to "St Albans & District Chamber of Commerce". Mr Green was promptly elected President of the St Albans Chamber of Commerce for the ensuing years and continued until the election of Mr W Fisk in 1914.

On the 7th November 1910, three years after the formation of the original Association, the Chamber proposed to increase the annual subscription of its members to 10 shillings and sixpence each. This was subsequently put to a Postcard referendum of the members with the result 85-For 23-Against.

Mr W Fisk was President throughout the four years of World War One and handed the reins to E. Watson for the year 1919. The Chamber's records of all committee meetings throughout its 10 year history exist in the original Minute Books in the cultured handwriting of the respective secretaries.

In May 1919 it was agreed to increase the membership subscription to 15 shillings in order to cover the increased subscription which the St Albans Chamber was to pay to the National Association of Chambers of Commerce. The Chamber's meetings were now held at 11 St Peters Street and would continue there well into the 1930's.

In 1919 the type of problem brought to the attention of the Chamber by its members included milk being delivered at St Albans Station after 6.00am. This was causing serious inconvenience and delay to the local milkmen who had previously been assured that milk would be left at the station by a train passing through at 4.00am. The Secretary resolved to write requesting that the promise be carried out.

It seems that the Chamber of Commerce in St Albans has always sought ways in which to try to increase the membership. In March 1921 it was resolved to invite a Lecturer to address the next meeting and that all traders be invited to attend. The circulation to members requesting payment of subscriptions also contained an appeal for them to take a greater interest in the work of the Chamber.

The Officers of today’s Chamber who attend the meetings of outside organisations and sit on committees would be impressed with some of the committees which the Chamber in the early 1920?s was involved with: British Empire Expedition (1923) Incorporated, League of Nations Union, National Chamber of Trade, Association of British Chambers of Commerce, and the Early Closing Association.

In early January 1924, the Chamber discussed arranging a Social evening. The President was deputed to arrange a Whist Drive and to "engage a room for the purpose". By February, funds were healthy enough for £100 to be deposited with the St Albans Building Society (subject to one month's notice of withdrawal) at the rate of interest to be received thereon being 4% free of Income Tax.

In September 1924, the National Chamber of Trade prepared 100 copies of a circular entitled "Why you should be a Member" to be forwarded to traders who were not members as the Chamber was conscious then of the need for a stronger membership.

By 1925 the advances in technology had been brought to the attention of the Executive Council. A suggestion for the provision of Wireless apparatus at the local infirmary had been made. The Chamber undertook to send £2.2.0 towards the cost of installation.

Later that year the Chamber's President Cllr. E W Hitchcock was elected Mayor of St Albans, and subsequently remained President for 1926 also.

In 1928 Quarterly Meetings was introduced to improve the status of the Chamber and prevent a recurrence of complaints that the Chamber was not a live body; the President suggesting that the members of the Chamber should accompany him to church on a Sunday was approved.

In 1929 the Chamber debated such issues as; whether they supported or opposed the scheme for a tunnel linking England to France; suggestions for a St Albans Municipal Airport, and; whether street names could be affixed to street lamps at the corner of each street.

At the final committee meeting that year it was decided that each member of the Chamber was to call upon a non-member and persuade him to join.

In February 1931 it was first proposed that a Chain of Office be provided for the President of the Chamber of Commerce in St Albans with designs and costs to be considered at a future date. In fact, the idea was met with such enthusiasm that a suitable Chain of Office was ordered in order that the President could wear the same at the Whist Drive and Dance arranged for March. The Mayor of St Albans formally invested the President with the Chain, which was subsequently suitably insured against all risks.

Historically, the early Thirties were a very important time in St Albans past with the discovery of the Roman ruins at Verulamium. The purchase of Verulamium Park in 1929 by the City Council allowed a major excavation campaign during 1930-1934, one of the first systematic examinations of a Roman city in this country. The Chamber contributed towards the cost of raising the pavement at Verulamium and a small sub-committee was appointed to interview the secretary of the Archaeological Society. They discussed the possibility of the excavations being kept open permanently and guaranteed further contributions towards the site.

In late 1932 it was resolved to organise an annual Dinner, tickets priced 10/6, a tradition carried on to this day (with prices increasing in line with inflation!). In 1932 the Chamber decided to employ a "Canvasser" in an attempt to attract new members. The remuneration was to be 25% of the annual subscriptions payable and 50% where new members joined after June in any year, plus reasonable travelling expenses.

Two years after his appointment, the Chamber's Canvasser resigned.

In 1934 whilst the world was following the developments overseas involving Hitler and Mussolini, the Chamber dealt with the usual business of the City; car parking, inadequate street lighting and meetings with other Chambers and Associations.

In June 1934, the Mayor of the Council made a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce in St Albans on the local authority's plans on purchasing Batchwood Hall. The Chamber "heartily" supported the proposition for the stately homes purchase for the purpose of golf and general sports.

By April 1935, the Chamber was debating weighty matters such as the possible attendance at meetings of an organisation known as the Brotherhood of Busy Bees, and the need of a Public Convenience near the Abbey.

By early 1937, officers of the Chamber attended meetings at Hertfordshire County Council to listen to Home Office officials speak on the subject of Air Raid Precautions. These procedures, it was suggested, should be carried out by owners of factories and large shops.

At the meeting of the Executive Council on 14th June 1937, the proposal of obtaining speakers to General Meetings was discussed. It was decided to arrange, if possible, for Mr Winston Churchill to give an address at the next meeting, and failing him, to endeavour to arrange for the Assistant Post Master General to do so. Matters under discussion by September that year included the purchase of a Police Patrol Car and the "discontinuance" of the Chamber's telephone service owing to the fact that their bill had been inadvertently overlooked!

With the prospect of war with Germany becoming ever more probable, by 1938 the Chamber passed the following proposition:

"That this Chamber views with great concern the danger to which Traders and their property are exposed from enemy aircraft and as no Insurance Company will take the risk of insurance without Government support, this Chamber considers that the Government should be asked to formulate a scheme in conjunction with the Insurance Companies whereby owners will be given an opportunity of insuring against such risks".

Bringing pressure to bear on the Government via their MP, Sir Francis Fremantle, and the Chamber resolved to watch the Government’s proposals with interest in respect of Air Raid risks.

Further history of the Chamber of Commerce in St Albans to be posted. Watch this space!