A Brief History of St Albans

Roman Times

History of St Albans

St Albans history goes back a long way, back to the Celts when they built their capital city there in 20 BC. It was a town of wooden huts with roofs made of thatch.  The capital was surrounded by a ditch with a rampart made of earth and a palisade made out of wood on top.

The Roman invaded Britain in 43 AD, they attacked St Albans, won over the settlement and renamed it Verulanium.

In 61 AD Boudicca burned St Albans when she attacked the Romans. But the resilient Celts got to task and rebuilt the town and the wooden structures were replaced with stone buildings, I guess they were done with being attacked and being burnt down.

In St albans run by the Romans, there was a theatre with capacity for six thousand people. And the continuing move to stone buildings and structures continued into the 3rd century and made a great difference to the town.

In 304 AD St Alban was executed there, he was the first British Christian martyr.

The Romans began to decline in the fourth century and by 407 AD the Romans had vacated Britain. But St Albans was growing well and St Germanus cam to St Albans in 429 AD. Following that the people in the town went away to the local countryside and St Albans was abandoned later in the 5th century.

Saxon Times

The Saxons moved in when the Romans left and invaded from Germany in the 6th century. And became Christians in the 7th century. Later on in the 8th century and abbey was built in dedication of St Alban and a village grew in the local vicinity and was named St Albans.

Close by a settlement was built, it was named Kings Burg (old name for fort – but renamed to Kingsbury later on) and was built by a Saxon king. This new settlement of Kingsbury grew fast and became larger than Sy Albans. In the 10th century St Albans was turned into a town and enlarged by an abbot. The abbot was determined to grow St Albans, so he bribed new settlers and he started a market, which was the centre of ost settlements as it was the only place to sell your produce.

But there was simply not enough trading for 2 towns so close, the inhabitants of Kingsbury worked and made their money from their local pool, which had fish in it. The abbot who was determined to male St Albans the prominent town purchased the pool and drained it. The pool was bought from the king and when it was drained the good people of Kingsbury lost a lot of income. And so determined was the abbot, he bought Kingsbury and basically knocked it down. So St Albans was the town that was left and the abbot had won, some of the people of Kingsbury moved into St Albans.

However there was not enough trade for two towns. The people of Kingsbury made much of their livelihood from a large fish pool. An abbot purchased the pool from the king and drained most of it thus depriving the people of Kingsbury of a vital source of revenue. Finally in the early 11th century an abbot purchased the whole of Kingsbury from the king and leveled it. Some of the inhabitants may have moved to St Albans.

And to add even more traffic and commerce to St Albans, an abbot closed Watling Street that was nearby and created a diversion through St Albans, thus creating more opportunities to sell their wares.

Middle Ages

By 1086 there a total population of 500 as recorded in the Domesday Book, which seems small but remember it was jus a settlement in the middle of England and settlements were this size in those days. Villages had around 125 people living there in that time. By the 1500’s St Albans had grown to 1,300.

There was a few new abbots during the years and the abbot in 1077 who was a Norman took the abbey down and built a new one and this was consecrated in the year 1136.

In 1077 the new Norman abbot demolished the old abbey and rebuilt it. The new building was consecrated in 1136.

In settlements in the middle ages they had very similar craftsmen, which basically kept the settlements going; blacksmiths, bakers, butchers, carpenters and St Albans was no different. St Albans’ was manufacturing woollen cloth in those days, once it was woven it was pounded in water and clay by wooden hammers in water mills to thicken it and clean it. This was known as fulling.

The abbots through the ages were very powerful and actually created St Albans and have held on to power the whole time and the middle ages was no different. The people of St Albans were forced to use the abbots mill to full their wool, and they wanted to build their own mill but with the abbot owning the mill, they had no choice. He also owned the local flour mill, which they had to use, he was in complete control and would charge for all his services.

The good people of St Albans didn’t want the abbot to rule as he did and fought against this rule of the abbot and his agents. There were many arguments between the people and the abbot and his men throughout the middle ages.

In St Albans there were fairs and markets throughout the year, these would bring in people wanting to buy and sell from as far away as London as well as the surrounding area of Hertfordshire. There were 3 fairs a year and a market every week.

In the 15th century, there were the civil wars and in 1455 and 1461 there were battles between the 2 warring sides in St Albans. These civil wars were called the Wars of the Roses as were between Yorkshire & Lancashire.

16th and 17th Century

There were no more pilgrims coming to St Albans in 1539 as Henry VIII had the the abbey closed and therefore the abbot was also gone. And abbots had ruled St Albans for hundreds of years and this was a chance for the people of St Albans to be free at last. And in 1553 it had its first charter, giving the people their own rights. They had a mayor, independence and a corporation.

There was a plague in 1604 and earlier in 1556 in Romeland, the Protestant George Tankerfied was martyred.

Next came a civil was in 1642, this time the King and Oliver Cromwell were at war and the Herfordshire High Sheriff came into the Market Place and asked the people of St Albans to back the king, this was in 1643. But unfortunately Oliver Cromwell’s troops arrived and there was a battle in the high street. Oliver Cromwell’s troops won and the High Sherif was taken.

From then on until the war ended St Albans was run by parliament and the good people of St Albans built defenses of earth to protect themselves from whatever was coming next.

St Albans was described thus “There is a very large street to the Market Place. It is a pretty town taking all’ by Celia Fiennes in the 1600’s, who was a travel writer.

18th Century

There was a population of 3,500 in St Albans in the Georgian era but it was very successful due to the fact it was on the road to the Midlands and the Northwest from London. There several inns and shops in St Albans and lots of stagecoaches went through on the way north and south.

The London Road had  to be rebuilt as traffic grew and this was achieved in 1796. Almhouses were built in the same year by the Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah in Hatfield Road in 1736 and they employed someone to clean the streets, known then as a ‘scavenger’.

19th Century

In 1900 the population was 16,000, which is 4 times the amount at the beginning of the century. There was the first silk mill in St Albans in 1802 and also cotton mills and straw mat manufacturing, but this didn’t last that long. Also they started printing and brewing, showing how far St albans had come.

st albans straw hat manufacturer

There was street lighting in 1824, gas of course and a town hall was built for the first time in 1831. And the police were created for the first time in St Albans in 1836. In 1857 there was a corn exchange and in the 1830’s piped water without sewers were built. The first real sign of plumbing in St Albans.

St Albans became a city in 1877, in 1881 the library a public one was opened. Clarence Park in 1896 became part of the city and owned by the city. In 1899 St Albans had its first museum. And a cemetery alongside Hatfield Road was opened in 1882.

The railway arrived in Victorian St Albans, which made an enormous change as it linked it to London in a way never before considered, this was in 1868. So no more stagecoaches but the population rose. And middle class people commuted to London in the latter part of the century. In 1835 and 1879 the boundaries of St Albans were extended.

20th Century

The 20th century arrived and things improved for St Albans, there was a cinema in 1908, busses arrived in 1909 and council houses were built in 1920, lots more in 1945 were built.

Straw plaiting ended as did the silk industry in the 1930’s, but during the world wars St Albans built aircraft and electrical appliances. St albans was lucky in he 1930’s and escaped a lot of the depression.

As ever St Albans was on the outlook to grow and tried to get new people to come and live there after the wars. In 1950 Valley Road Industrial Estate was built but St Albans has remained a commuter town to today.

A new civic centre was opened in 1961. The Abbey theatre opened in 1968. The Maltings shopping centre opened in 1988. A new Crown Court was built St Albans in 1993. Today the population of St Albans is 63,000. And they have all the services and trappings of a modern society, wow what a journey.

St Albans pictures