Answers to Questions


SMITH, St Albans, 1942

July, 2009



St Albans

Terry Smith (tsmith7133 @t of Niton, Isle of Wight, asked: What was/is Oster House, St Albans? My grandfather was Charles William Smith. His death certificate shows he died in Oster House 16.09.1942.  An address given is Cravells Road. As he lived and worked in Wandsworth & Brentford it is a puzzle why he would die so far from his home.  Terry provided a transcript of the death certificate on request.

The best I can do is to provide a commentary on the death certificate - suggesting the probable background and some possible areas where further research may turn up new information.

Column Entry


1 Sixteenth September 1942 This is during the Second World War, and there would be many temporary changes affecting both people and institutions. While the St Albans area was bombed during the war it was less severely affected than London and places closer to the continent, and Charles may have moved to Harpenden as a refugee from the Blitz. It could be worth checking whether his previously known address was bombed.
  Oster House St Albans UD Oster House was the workhouse, but by this date the workhouses had become, in part at least, places for the elderly poor who could no longer cater for themselves. Many workhouses were taken over by the National Health Service later in the decade. In both St Albans and nearby Watford the current hospitals are still on the old workhouse sites, while in nearby Hemel Hempstead the old workhouse became the maternity hospital, but is now a housing estate and a small mental heath facility build in the early 1990s.
2 Charles William Smith  
3 Male  
4 61 years While ages at death were significantly lower in 1942 than they are now, most men of this age who were still alive would have been working unless they had some chronic illness.
5 74 Cravells Road Harpenden RD The 1949 Kelly's Directory for St Albans shows that 74 Cravells Road, Harpenden, was occupied by John Myers. There are local street directories in the St Albans Central Library for earlier dates - but there may well be gaps for the war period. I don't know the road, but at least part of it still consists of small Victorian period terrace houses (from house adverts on Google). If Charles had been bombed out of the London area he may have been a tenant or he could have been a lodger prior to his admission to Oster House.
  retired wood machinist/furniture maker There would have been a need for people with such skills during the war, and the fact that he is described as "retired" suggests some chronic health problems prior to his death, probably pre-dating his move to Harpenden.
6 Myocardial degeneration/rheumatic carditis Death certificates of this date only recorded the principle cause of death. He was of an age where he could well have fought during the First World War. A contributory chronic factor may have been chest problems associated with smoking (very common) or war time injuries such as poison gas. Information on his war records might suggest a reason for early retirement.
  certified by Penelope K Hammick MRCS Women doctors were not that common in the 1940s - I was not able to locate her in St Albans for records I have for 1937 or 1949. It may have been a temporary war-time posting.
7 Pamela B Sweetman Daughter in attendance  
  60 Northway Road Croydon Surrey (my aunt; deceased)  
8 Eighteenth September 1942 Registered two days after death by his daughter. Was she already in the area prior to his death?
9 R D xxffxx (illegible signature of registrar)  

A slim book, St Albans: The Home Front, was published by St Albans Museums in 1995 (for 50th Anniversary of the end of the war) but doesn't say anything relevant.

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