St Albans



Cathedral.  St Alban's was built on the hill where St Alban was martyred in the 4th Century.  Alban may or may not have been a Roman officer who, having assisted a Christian deacon to escape, adopted the faith and was executed on this hill. Or it could have been founded by Offa who discovered the tomb of the saint and did it up.  Almost certainly there was an earlier church on the site, possibly it was also a pagan site. The Abbey was built by the first appointed Norman abbot who demolished any Saxon structures and used the Roman bricks lying around which can be seen in the square tower.  Wolsey was one of the Abbots.  It was surrendered to the Crown in 1539 and the monks were given pensions and it was subsequently bought by the people of St Alban's as the parish church. Much of the other property of the abbey was purchased by Ralph Rowlatt, a goldsmith. The town could not afford to maintain the whole church building and by the 19th it was only partly in use. In 1877 it   became a cathedral.  There is a watching loft of timber with a narrow staircase, which opens on to the Shrine of St Alban, which was erected in the 14th cent, later destroyed and rebuilt in the 19th cent. After its several thousand pieces were found. Because the construction was of Purbeck marble it was possible to identify the pieces and they were pieced together by Sir Gilbert Scott. One side, the upper part shows the figure of King Offa. A scene of the martyrdom is at the west end and in the base are several holes, supposed to be healing holes, since miraculous cures are said to have occurred at the shrine. The medieval paintings are said to be unique in England.  There are chantry chapels to the Duke of Gloucester, 1447, Abbot Wheathamstead, 1465, and Abbot Ramryge, 1519. There is also a large collection of brasses. It is the highest English Cathedral, three storeys and vaulted, standing 320 feet above sea level.  It is 550 feet in length and 190 in width and has a central Norman tower, faced with Roman tiles. The building is in a Latin cross.  The tower has eight bells, of which the tenor weighs 30 cwt., and a Sanctus bell.  It was partly renovated in 1856 by Sir Gilbert Scott and finished paid for by Baron Grimthorpe, in 1894.

St Alban's School in the Lady Chapel after the dissolution. It was once 11th biggest school in England. The school probably dates from before the Conquest. 

Gatehouse. The entrance to the Abbey Court, it was used as a prison for soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars.  There are dungeons below.  Besieged by John Ball who was executed there.  Contained the third printing press in England. 

Catherine Street

In the Second Battle of St. Albans in 1460 the Queens forces having been unable to enter the town at Fishpool Street managed to break through here over Tonman’s ditch.  They then proceeded to a battle at Bernard’s Heath.

Bleak House, which is now surrounded by houses. It is also early c18, five bays and two storeys lower three-bay wings. Above the Tuscan doorcase a projecting brick frame with ears. The other windows have slightly decorated brick lintels. Name was Daltons then called Bleak House because Dickens might have used it as the original,

Chequer Street

In the first Battle of St Albans in 1455 the Earl of Warwick marched his men through Tonman’s ditch which encircled the town into this street and smashed their way through the street, which was then part of the market.  The Duke of York’s army had set up barricades and fighting began. The King was captured and taken back to London.

Running parallel to the Market Place is mostly of the earlier 20th with a bad edifice at the corner.

Christopher Place


College Street

Quite urban - Late Georgian houses ending with a view of the flank of the cathedral. Humble brick or stucco cottages of 1830 onwards but further on, up on a slope, some stuccoed villas, some single, some semi-detached.

Site of boot factory where Cowper went mad

Fleur de Lys Inn with old tiles, much restored with timber frame and part of house where John of France was imprisoned after the Battle of Poitiers in 1356

167, Ashwell House

Fishpool Street

Neither goes straight down the hill nor possess the spaciousness of St Peter's Street. Skirts the hill and very gradually reaches the valley, meanders in a felicitously accidental way. A most pleasurable street to walk down, although there is no individual house of quality.

In 1460 before the Second Battle of St. Albans the Queens forces, having marched overnight down Watling Street, advanced up here but found the entrance to the Town blocked at Church Street. They were driven back by archers positioned on roofs.

8 red brick house of the usual square proportions

13 of three storeys with plaster panel framed by foliage borders.

34-36 Lower Red Lion 34-36 Lower Red Lion.  17th-century, two-bar coaching inn. A free house which serves seven changing guest beers from micro-breweries, Dutch, Czech and Belgian beers on draught, Belgian bottled beers and malt whiskies.

38-42, door with four-centred arch

41a with a late c16 plaster ceiling on the first floor:

57-61 the long, low type

78 -80, red brick houses of the usual square proportions

Fishpool Street

1 & 3 houses from around 1700.

2 & 4 19th house built round a corner into Wellclose Street in red brick and on the ground floor a 19th shop window.

5 house with an 18th front. at the back is an extension which looks  17th.

7 Abbey Lodge, 17th house

8 Holmhurst. 18th house in brown brick

8A 17th timber framed building re-fronted in the 18th to match net foor.

11 17th house with an 18th façade. May have a timber frame.

13 pargetting

20 19th front on a 16th timber framed house

26 17th house with a 19th door with glass panes

28 19th house in painted brick

37 – 41 houses built around 1700 with 19th front in red brick,

38 -42 17th houses

41A 16th T-shaped building of timber construction with an overhanging upper storey. Inside on the first floor is a 16th plaster ceiling with roses, crowns and fleurs-de-lys.

44 house of around 1600 with an 18th brick front and weather boarded at the back

46 19th house with a core of around 1600. Inside is a flint-walled cellar

50 18th  front on house of around 1600.

51 17th hiyse, wuth a rough-cast frinbt,

52 18th fronts to 17th buildings with a. Weatherboarded back extensio

53 thr  the mirrow image of  51

55 17th house

57 Kitchener's Meads. 18th with at the back is a 17th  with a first floor room with a  17th ceiling

59 Kitchener's Meads 18th :

61 Kitchener's Meads with reproduction doors and a 17th tall extension, at the back

78  this is an 18th house, now divided into two

92 17th timber framed house

98 -100 19t5hj houw3w

135 Manor Garden House. 17th house with 18th garden front


French Row

Was originally called Cordwainers Street and was part of the market area. It has the real look of the Middle Ages.  The name is a reminder of French occupation of the town in the early 13th.

1-5 incorporates the former Christopher Inn a pre-Reformation structures, although much altered.

Wooden lady rear of Christopher Place

Fleur de Lys Inn. This has been  considerably restored but has much of its original timber framework. King John of France was imprisoned here after the battle of Poitiers in 1356.

George Street

Neither goes straight down the hill nor possess the spaciousness of St Peter's Street. Skirts the hill and very gradually reaches the valley, meanders in a felicitously accidental way

Abbey Gatehouse.  1360. Massive (now part of St. Albans School). It was in the past one of two county gaols.

Steps going nowhere by Original Entrance to Upcot House

27-28 is c15, with an overhanging upper storey, close studded, one original wood-framed window of two lights. An earlier part faces Verulamium Road  -first-floor hall of c.1400, Queen -post roof

18-20 are all c15-16, some with later fronts added.

16 Late Georgian, distinguished by the excellent rounded corner - even the door, on the curve, is rounded.

Gombards Passage

Limes gone

High Street

Medieval market place with parallel burgage plots. Has too much modernization to be of value now.

Clock Tower. this was built in the centre of medieval St Albans and is a rare survival of an English belfry. It was built 1403-12, with and us a five storey flint tower with stone dressings.  From the tower, is a view of the abbey and the surrounding countryside. It was restored in 1866 at a cost of £800.  The Curfew bell, cast about 1335 and still in place weighs about a ton and is older than the tower itself.  From 1808-1814 it was used as an admiralty shutter telegraph on the Yarmouth line.

House Gate. Passage by Clock Tower is site of gate to George Inn. Which was the entrance to the abbey from the town. Springers of pointed arches are visible.

Fountain. On the site where there used to be an Eleanor Cross. The Cross was to commemorate the resting place of Queen Eleanor's body in its journey to London on the night before it was conveyed onwards to Waltham. It was pulled down in 1703 and a market cross erected in its place which was itself replaced in 1874 by a fountain by Worley as part of the remodelling of the area.

3 Barclays is an altered five-bay c18 brick house with end pilasters.


15 is an altered early c18 house. On the rainwater head is 1723.

House of 1665, and although it is still gabled, it is now imitating rustication - a taste for quoins and plaster panels with rude foliage borders. It is dwarfed by the neighbouring shops and restored 1972-5, by Fitzroy Robinson & Partners. The line is broken up by having the first floor receding and by projecting cross-walls, which give emphasis, quite a satisfactory design if we accept so large a chunk of the C20 in this.

Fifteenth century block with projecting storey was a tallow factory. Had a private chapel which became a stables at the Reformation

Ley line to Pulpit Green via the Ver, a ford and a camp in a wood

Stone urn in a niche

Boot Inn

Civic Centre

Lower Dagnall Street

Cottagey terraces winding down the hill.

Market Place

From the Clock Tower streets run parallel: French Row and the Market Place originally no doubt extended over and above the area in between. With their crazy overhangs and the projection the houses here is still a suggestion of the Middle Ages. There is nothing eloquent. One side is mostly taken up by the Corn Exchange But opposite is a hint that in the c17 buildings were taller and more prominent than in less important streets.

War Memorial with Garden of Remembrance

13, dated 1637, three overhangs

25 Smith's together with 27.  This was a former house with a balcony and dormers and was the former Moot Hall – the gildhall of St.Albans. It has two bay-windows. Pre WWII shop front belonging to Smiths.

27 at the comer of Upper Dagnall Street together with 25 have bogus-looking exteriors, which conceal a genuine medieval timber-framed building, with large first-floor hall. It was used as the Moot House before the Town Hall was built.

31-37 was once a fine early c18 house. Seven bays, blue brick with red brick dressings, good doorcase.

National Westminster Bank, Flint

Plaque to Battle of St.Alban's

Corn Exchange.  Classical style built in 1857 by John Murray. It is now shops and  stands on the site of an ancient market-house erected in the reign of Elizabeth.

Burial ground where George Tankerville was burnt at the stake

Spicer Street

Congregational Chapel 1797, Independent Chapel


Portland Street

Portland Arms. back-street pub, tucked away in a residential area. Acquired by Fuller's from Whitbread in 1990


Neither goes straight down the hill nor possess the spaciousness of St Peter's Street. Skirts the hill and very gradually reaches the valley, meanders in a felicitously accidental way. From 16 George Street it leads on into the street which, with a few low cottages, connects the street with the green in front of the cathedral

Romeland Hill.

Graveyard. Originally there had been a square called Roomland with the town pound. The churchyard which has replaced it is of 1812.

1 of only three bays

Romeland House. built c.1710 in purple and red brick with seven bays, and a broad doorcase on Tuscan columns. Ther is a Venetian window above it. Good plasterwork inside.

Spicer Street

Abbey National Boys School, 1846 by T. L. Donaldson, five bays, brick with blue diapering and stone dressings, extended 1847 and 1884. Converted to offices, 1975-6.

Independent Chapel

Almshouses of 1846.

St. Albans

 A small but busy industrial and commercial centre, standing on the high ground north of the River Ver, opposite the site of the old Roman city of Verulamium. The city is named after Alban, Roman soldier and first Christian martyr in Britain. On the spot where he died in about 303 A.D. a small church was later built to commemorate the martyrdom.  The story may or may not be true. The modern town is a creation of the Abbots who moved it to this area away from the site of the Roman town and traffic was diverted from the Roman road to here.  Thereafter conflict grew with the townspeople who wanted autonomy while being regarded as villains by the Abbey. Although they eventually won some rights the abbey maintained control of all milling.  St Albans is where in 1213 Magna Carta was drafted in the course of a conference called to discuss mis-government by King John.   In 1295 it was the venue for the Model Parliament called by Edward I.  The first true engagement of the Wars of the Roses was also here.

St Peter Street

Most important, a fine broad thoroughfare. A tree-planted street of the width and character of such small-town high streets - the visual peculiarity at St Albans is that the lines of trees are not at equal distance. One can see the quality in moulded doorjamb stones, which with scarcely any doubt came from Sopwell. Sir Jeremiah Snow was rebuilding at Salisbury Hall at about the same time as Sopwell was partially demolished by Sir Harbottle Grimston, transferred some features to Gorhambury; others may well have gone to Salisbury Hall.  Site of Battle of St Alban's during the War of the Roses, Percy, Beaufort and Clifford all died, Henry VI sheltered and imprisoned.

Town Hall, a building in the Italian style erected in 1826.

Albans Emergency Centre located in the basement of the Council Offices in the city centre. This is a relatively recent bunker constructed when the new Civic Centre was built in 1989 and it replaced an earlier emergency centre in the basement of the   magistrates’ court. The bunker, which cost £631,000 to build, takes up part of the   basement of the civic offices and is still in regular use both as an emergency centre and when not required for this purpose the large control room can be partitioned off into three committee rooms.  Although only recently built, all the ventilation and filtration plant and the standby generator have already been stripped out and the rooms put to other uses. The ventilation plant room, which also contained the chemical toilets and emergency escape shaft, now houses the council's CCTV control centre.  After descending the lift to the basement there is a heavy blast door still in place, which is the main entry point into the 'bunker' from a long corridor. The first room is a store, which still contains some of the original ventilation ducting. The corridor then turns through 90 degrees past one door into the control room and into the canteen, which would also have doubled up as the dormitory. The canteen is still in daily use as is the kitchen beyond which still contains all its original fittings. On the far side of the canteen a door leads into the small communications room which contains a number of transceivers installed by Raynet and the government ECN (Emergency Communications Network) switchboard. At the far end of the canteen another door leads to a corridor running along the rear of the bunker with another door into the control room and two doors on the opposite side into the former ventilation plant room and stand-by generator room. At the end of this corridor is a second blast door leading to the stairs and emergency exit. The corridor then turns through 90 degrees again with two further doors into the control room and a third blast door back into the main basement spine corridor. When first installed the three blast doors alone which are steel frames with mesh and concrete filling cost £11,890.

Sumpter Yard

Packhorse supplies for the Abbey

Waxhouse Gate, 

Candle shops were nearby


Secret Tunnels. Mathew Paris, a 13th century chronicler of St Albans records the activities of Ealdred, the eighth abbot who began sacking the ancient cavities of the old city called Verulamium overturned and filled up all the rough, broken streets, with the passages running underground, and covered over with solid arches.  He pulled down or stopped up, because they were the lurking places of thieves, nightwalkers and whores. Among the legendary monks' holes and passages is one said to lead from St. Mary's Church; to the priory, now the Council Offices.

Verulamium Road

Christ Church. Redundant church now used as Offices. Begun in 1850 as a Roman Catholic church but was finished by the Church of England. Not mentioned elsewhere in these pages, it is recorded here because of its unusual Italianate Renaissance architectural appearance.

House, a large, detached, plain red brick house storeys, built as the Verulam Arms. Later it became a house, and was converted by Caroe

Vicarage, by Parker

 Victoria Street

Trinity United Reformed Church

Wellclose Street

19-21 are elegant villas of c.1830 with Soanian incised decoration below the upper windows


3, 3a The Vintry garden. This includes The circular stone ruin of an ancient well; and two octagonal stone posts. Walls surrounding the garden and front onto Waxhouse Gate which is at the north-east end of the Abbey. They are 18th brick ramped up to follow the slope of the hill; and varying in height. Waxhouse Gate itself is of flint and may be mediaeval and here is an arched opening to it.



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