Stories of how Harpenden grew from a village into a town – and what life was like for a local reporter in the 1950s – are told by journalist John Seabrook in a book chronicling his years of working for the Harpenden Free Press.

In 'The View from Church Green,' Mr Seabrook, who died earlier this year, tells of his career on the newspaper, joining as a 16-year-old trainee reporter in September 1948, and leaving in December 1959.

Herts Advertiser: John Seabrook as a chief reporter, standing at the office door in 1954John Seabrook as a chief reporter, standing at the office door in 1954 (Image: Courtesy of Hilary Robertson)

He explains: "Through the 1950s, Harpenden changed into a town. No matter that almost everybody called the central area 'The Village', that Harpenden Town never quite rang true as the football team’s name, or that the council managed to persuade British Railways not to call the main station 'Harpenden Town', it was nevertheless becoming one."

Mr Seabrook traces controversies over new housing in the area, plans to redevelop Church Green, and the coming of diesel trains in 1958 to "replace the slow and dirty steam trains which were overcrowded with commuters every morning and evening".

He also recalls how Harpenden welcomed Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in June 1953, with crowds "clustering around the TV sets in the Public Hall" and a young woman being crowned 'fairy queen' as part of the celebrations.

Mr Seabrook, who also served as a local councillor in the early 1960s, says that, although journalists made daily calls at the local police station, "The amount of crime in Harpenden could usually be depended on to fill about two short paragraphs.

"If we had relied upon it to sell the paper and pay our wages, we should have been quickly out of a job.

"You could park your car with the keys in it, prop your bike up at the kerbside and leave your back door unlocked. Late at night, you could stroll through the Village and over The Common without fear or hindrance."

In the decades before computers, social media and the web, local reporters’ duties included cleaning the office phones, keeping the editor’s coal fire burning and attending community events – including dances and dinners – most evenings of the week. The newspaper’s staff used manual typewriters, with carbon paper to make a copy of their articles.

Reporters normally visited the home of a deceased person to interview the family for an obituary. Mr Seabrook recalls "There was often a glass of sherry for the reporter. Sometimes an invitation to view the body, politely declined."

Early in Mr Seabrook’s career, the requirement for reporters to wear hats to funerals was relaxed by the editor.

In September 1953, John Seabrook achieved a national 'scoop', when he was the first reporter on the scene after an RAF Meteor jet fighter crashed at Aldwickbury.

He arrived shortly after the police to find "nothing to be seen, other than small pieces of wreckage".

The Harpenden Free Press closed in 1973.

'A View from Church Green' is available from Threads, High Street, Harpenden, at £8.50 or from John Seabrook’s daughter, Hilary Robertson via