St Albans is a city in Hertfordshire. It gained city status in 1877, having previously been a town and borough. It comprises four ancient parishes: St Albans Abbey, St Michael, St Peter and St Stephen. The three parishes of St Michael, St Peter and St Stephen each had their church in the town but included extensive rural areas beyond the town - St Michael to the north-west, St Peter to the east and St Stephen to the south-west. The parts of each parish within the town (including the four ancient parish churches) have now been merged to form the modern city. The rural parts of each former parish have been formed into new civil parishes: The rural parts of St Albans St Michael parish are now a civil parish called St Michael, the main settlement of which is Childwick Green. The rural parts of St Albans St Stephen parish are now a civil parish called St Stephen, which covers the settlements of Bricket Wood, Chiswell Green and Park Street. The rural parts of St Albans St Peter parish are now two civil parishes, called London Colney and Colney Heath.
St Albans (Lat. Villa Sancti Albani or Villa Albani) is a city and unparished area in southern Hertfordshire, England, around north of central London. It forms the main urban area of the City and District of St Albans. It was the first major town on the old Roman road of Watling Street for travellers heading north and became the Roman city of Verulamium. It is a historic market town and is now a dormitory town within the London commuter belt.
The St Albans area has a long history of settlement. The Celtic Catuvellauni tribe had a settlement at Prae Hill a mile or so to the west. The Roman city of Verulamium, second-largest town in Roman Britain after Londinium, was built alongside this in the valley of the River Ver a little nearer to the present city centre.
The mediaeval town grew up on the hill to the east of this around the Benedictine foundation of St Albans Abbey. This is the spot where tradition has it that St Alban, the first British Christian martyr, was beheaded some time before AD 324. It was at one time the principal abbey in England and the first draft of Magna Carta was drawn up there, reflecting its political importance. The Abbey Church, now St Albans Cathedral (formally the Cathedral & Abbey Church of St Alban but still known locally as The Abbey) became the parish church when it was bought by the local people in 1553, soon after the priory was dissolved in 1539. It was made a cathedral in 1877 when the City Charter was granted. There is evidence that the original site was somewhat higher up the hill than the present building and there had certainly been successive abbeys before the current building was started in 1077.
St Albans School, a public school which, since 1871, occupies a site to the west of the Abbey and which includes the 14th century Abbey Gateway, was founded in AD 948 and is the only school in the English-speaking world to have educated a Pope (Adrian IV). It numbered amongst its buildings until comparatively recently a converted former hat factory, a link with the city's industrial past. Nearby Luton was also a notable centre for the hat making industry.
Two battles of the Wars of the Roses took place in or near the town. The First Battle of St Albans was fought on 22 May 1455 within the town of St Albans itself, and the Second Battle of St Albans was fought on 17 February 1461, just to the north.
The growth of St Albans was generally slow before the 20th century, reflecting its status as a rural market town, a Christian pilgrimage site, and the first coaching stop of the route to and from London - a fact which also accounts for its numerous inns, many dating from Tudor times. In the inter-war years it became a popular centre for the electronics industry. In the post-World War II years it was expanded significantly as part of the post-War redistribution of population out of Greater London that also saw the creation of new towns.
The city today shows evidence of building and excavation from all periods of its history and is a tourist destination. Notable buildings include the Abbey and the early 15th century Clock Tower (pictured). The clock tower is one of only two similar towers in England; it is also the site of an Eleanor cross, which was pulled down in 1703, it had suffered years of neglect, and had been struck and badly damaged by a carriage, it was replaced by the town pump. A fountain was erected in its place in 1874, now relocated to Victoria Square. Originally the fountain was situated in front of St Albans Clock Tower on the High Street. However as traffic increased it became too obstructive and was moved in the 1920s.
Running into St Albans from the south is Holywell Hill (generally pronounced "holly-well hill"), its name taken from the story of St Alban. Legend has it that the Romans were looking for a traitor that had been injured and Alban found the traitor and helped him to recover; somehow, after the traitor had recovered and left, the Romans found out that Alban had helped the traitor to escape and had him beheaded. The severed head rolled down the hill from the execution site and into a well at the bottom, thus Holy-well Hill.
More recently, several scenes from the film Incendiary, starring Michelle Williams, Ewan McGregor and Matthew Macfadyen, were filmed in St Albans, focusing in particular on the Abbey and the Abbey Gateway.
The Clock Tower
Between 1403 and 1412 Thomas Wolvey, formerly the Royal Mason, was engaged to build "Le Clokkehouse" in the Market Place. It is the only extant mediaeval town belfry in England. The tower's design was based on the Clock House at Westminster Palace that the architect Henry Yevele (Wolvey's master) built in 1365. The Clock Tower was used to sound the curfew until 1863. The Tower was also used as a semaphore station from 1808 to 1814 during the Napoleonic Wars. The architect George Gilbert Scott restored the structure of the tower in 1865-6; he also added the gothic spire and parapets.
The original bell, named for the Archangel Gabriel (cast round the bell is the Latin rhyme "From Heaven I come/Gabriel my name"), is still in use, though chimed rather than rung; it last rang out for Queen Victoria's funeral in 1901. It sounds F-natural and weighs one ton.
Gabriel sounded at 4 am for the Angelus and at 8 or 9 pm for the curfew. A small bell, dated 1729, was moved in the Clock Tower from the market place nearby, where it opened business until 1855.
The ground floor of the tower was a shop until the 20th century. The first- and second-floor rooms were designed as living chambers. The shop and the first floor were connected by a flight of spiral stairs. Another flight rises the whole height of the tower by 93 narrow steps and gave access to the living chamber, the clock and the bell without disturbing the tenant of the shop.
The old clock may have been removed in the 18th century and replaced by a pendulum clock. The present clock incorporates a four-legged gravity escapement invented by Lord Grimthorpe, the local horologist and restorer of the Abbey who designed Big Ben's mechanism.
Borough of St Albans
St Albans was an ancient borough created following the dissolution of the monastery in 1539. It consisted of the ancient parish of St Albans (also known as the Abbey parish) and parts of St Michael and St Peter. The municipal corporation was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 and the boundary was adjusted to additionally include part of the parish of St Stephen. In 1887 the borough gained city status, following the elevation of St Albans Abbey to cathedral, and the boundary was adjusted to include part of the parish of Sandridge.
The Local Government Act 1894 divided parishes that were partly within municipal boroughs. The parts of St Michael, St Peter and Sandridge within the borough became the new parishes of St Michael Urban, St Peter Urban and Sandridge Urban. The part of St Stephen within the borough was absorbed by the parish of St Albans. The parishes that were formed outside the borough, that is St Michael Rural, St Peter Rural, Sandridge Rural and the reduced St Stephen, became part of St Albans Rural District in 1894.
In 1898 the parish of St Albans absorbed St Michael Urban, St Peter Urban and Sandridge Urban so the parish and borough occupied the same area. In 1901 the population of the borough was 16,019, growing to 18,133 in 1911. St Albans expanded in 1913 by gaining parts of Sandridge Rural (241 acres), St Michael Rural (138 acres), St Peter Rural (992 acres) and St Stephen (335 acres). In 1921 the population of the enlarged borough was 25,593, growing to 28,624 in 1931. It expanded again in 1935 as part of a county review order gaining more of St Michael Rural (890 acres), St Peter Rural (436 acres) and St Stephen (712 acres). The population of the borough was 44,098 in 1951 and 50,293 in 1961.
The borough was abolished on 1 April 1974. It became an unparished area within the City of St Albans non-metropolitan district. City status transferred to the entire new district by letters patent dated 9 July 1974.