Answers

  BUGBEE/PULLEN, The Noke, St Albans, WW1, 1917/18

December 2001

 Joan Perkins of South Australia wrote:  I have just seen your very interesting article 'A Military Christmas in Hertfordshire' and am wondering if you may be able to help me with any information regarding the history of 'The Noke' (now Thistle) Hotel, St. Albans, during WW1.  My Grandparents George and Amelia Bugbee were caretakers there at some time during the war.  To complicate matters they at some time changed their surname to Pullen.  I have now heard that my Grandfather enlisted in the Army and was stationed at The Noke to train horses for the Army.  I am trying to discover if this story is true.  I have contacted the War Museum and St. Albans Museum but they have been unable to help me.  You have helped me a great deal in the past in connection with other family queries and I am wondering if you may be able to help me once again.  I am afraid I do not know anything else about my Grandfather's war service and am unable to visit the P.R.O., being resident in Australia. Many thanks for taking the time to read this.

Information about where individual troops were billeted, etc., during the First World War is hard to come by, even if you live in the area. When I wrote the book "The London Gunners come to Town" (copies still available at 9.95 plus postage) I was faced with similar problems. When the war started the 2nd London Division of Territorial Force (part time volunteer soldiers) mobilised and marched into Hertfordshire to train. Their Headquarters were in St Albans (the Peahen Hotel) and about 3000 members of the Royal Field Artillery brigades arrived in the Hemel Hempstead area. Available buildings were commandeered and soldiers were billeted in private houses. Unfortunately the billeting records, etc., do not survive. Hemel Hempstead council had thrown away most of the detailed papers of the period (I could not even get a list of their employees when the war broke out) while the P.R.O. had weeded the relevant War Diaries of the units on the basis that no-one would ever want to know what the troops were doing while they were training.

The local newspapers initially identified troops by name and unit if they were involved in a newsworthy story - but war time security restrictions soon put a stop to anything that would revel which troops were in the area. Rather more of the St Albans council records survive (now at HALS) - and this allowed me to identify where the headquarters of some of the units were. I did this by searching through the carbon copies of letters in the Town Clerk's letter book. About once a week there was a letter addressed to a commanding officer, with the name and address of his unit, along the lines of "Dear Sir, One of your carts crashed into a lamp post and you owe us ... to repair the damage." Very hard work and better than nothing!

Since I did the research the PRO has been releasing files relating to individual soldiers and as Bugbee is a rather uncommon name you may be lucky if you employ a researcher to look into the records for you. Sorry I cannot be more helpful.

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The Noke has been around for a long time, as it is marked on Dury and Andrews 1766 map of Hertfordshire. The Thistle Hotel's web site says that "the Thistle St. Albans Noke Hotel has been offering a warm welcome to travellers since early Victorian times." Unfortunately there is no evidence of a hotel at The Noke in the 1851 census, and in the 1881 census the only occupants were John BISCHOFF, a 51 year old retired general merchant, born in Switzerland, and his 28 year old domestic servant  Rose Ewer. I note that my 1949 St Albans directory that the Noke Country Club was run by Claude Morrison and had a fully licensed restaurant. It should be possible to fill in the intermediate dates from the St Albans Street Directories (in the St Albans Central Library - so unfortunately not directly accessible to you) but these were suspended during and for a few years after the First World War - so will not cover the period you are interested in. The best bet would be if one family was in occupation between 1914 and about 1922 and you can trace them to see if there are any private family records.

Of course you may be lucky - and something relating to your ancestor's stay at The Noke may have survived - and maybe your best hope is that someone will see this posting and give details.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

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