© 2017 The Harpenden Society
Though to many it might sound a rather mundane address, for others a mention of ‘40 Luton Road’ evokes memories of their sons’ or daughters’ babyhood, when St Helena’s – its original name – served as Harpenden’s much-valued Child Welfare Clinic.
Today the site, on the corner of Townsend Road, is occupied by the appropriately-named and architectually-attractive St Helena’s Court apartment block built by Plowright Homes, completed in 2004. Its residents and their visitors are reminded of 40 Luton Road’s history by an impressive ‘relief plaque’ in the entrance porch by local artist Zoé McNeilly, (below) depicting its distinguished role in serving Harpenden’s medical needs for over 70 years.
Built in 1897 as St Helena’s College, a private school for girls, it fulfilled that role until just after the First World War when, in 1919, it was purchased by the Memorial Nursing Centre Committee for £3100. It was described as ‘a suitable building with grounds comprising lawns, flower borders and a vegetable garden’.
Prior to its official opening in October 1920 by Lt Gen Lord Cavan (on the same day he dedicated Harpenden’s war memorial on Church Green) some structural alterations were made including, notably, the installation of central heating.
Medical facilities included a dental and ophthalmic clinic, a minor injuries unit and a massage and electro-therapeutic clinic where, in particular, ex-servicemen were treated. Provision, from the outset, of a maternity and infant welfare room set the pattern for the centre’s enduring role. Three District Nurses ‘lived in’.
In 1941, Second World War priorities led to 40 Luton Road being requisitioned by the Army as a billet for soldiers of the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), all clinical service having been transferred to the Red House in Carlton Road.
For three years after the end of the war the building was converted – still under military aegis – into five flats, but a further change of plan saw the clinics reinstated on the site, albeit after extensive alterations. No 40 Luton Road opened as Harpenden’s Child Welfare Clinic in February 1952, and it continued to fulfil that role until May 1991, when it became a day centre and training & business centre for people with mental health problems under the title Community Meeting Point.
In 1999, the NHS deemed the building surplus to requirements and wanted to sell it. Despite a long and vigorous campaign to retain the building as a community facility, it was bought by Plowright Homes for demolition and redevelopment as today’s St Helena’s Court, comprising nine apartments.
Acknowledgement: the website of Harpenden Local History Society