St Albans in 50 Buildings by Kate Morris
Patronal saint’s day in St Albans – Albantide 2018
22nd June, the height of midsummer, is the day on which the Feast of St Alban is celebrated, and celebrated it is, in a big way, in the town named for that saint, which grew on the site of the execution of Alban, the first recorded British Christian martyr.
The Alban Pilgrimage will take place in 2018 on Saturday 23rd June, culminating in a re-enactment of the execution of that citizen of Verulamium on the hill overlooking the Roman city in the 4th century. The spot is outside the West End of the modern cathedral and the drama will be followed by a Festival Eucharist in the church. The procession begins at St Peter’s Church at the northern end of the town and makes its way through the market area to the Cathedral and Abbey Church, which began its life as a shrine to the martyr on the site of his execution.
This celebration and festival day is truly of national significance for the culture of this island, given the impact of the event on the development of Christianity in Britain. Locally, the procession is a highlight of the community year, with the multitude of twelve feet tall carnival puppets depicting the saint, Roman soldiers, lions, gladiators, horse drawn chariots, played by 300 or so adults and children.
Rebuilt in the 12th century by the Norman invaders, the abbey was all but destroyed completely in 1539 following Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries. Only the abbey church and the great gateway entrance survived, having been bought by the newly formed Corporation as parish church, school and prison.
These buildings form a notable introduction to the story of the medieval and modern city of St Albans which grew over the last one thousand years in South West Hertfordshire, just 20 miles north of London on the old Watling Street. The story is told in my recent book St Albans in 50 Buildings published in February this year. The town has a remarkable number of buildings to illustrate how it developed from being the premier abbey of the land in the Middle Ages, to staging post for packhorse trains and wagons, tourist destination and commuter town. Designated a city by Queen Victoria following the creation of the new Diocese of St Albans in the late nineteenth century, with the Abbey Church as its cathedral, the town had a long and interesting history as a corporate borough with a thriving market throughout the early modern period. With trade and transport at its heart, it hosted not only the Establishment with parish government, but a significant range of dissenting congregations, all of which leave us chapels and meeting houses to remind us of the town’s diverse and wide-ranging history.
Industrial buildings from the cotton, silk and straw trades as well as printing and other trade premises remain as well as ancient inns and grand eighteenth century town houses, mostly now in commercial occupation, allowing us an insight into the social history of the town, which can truly be said to represent a microcosm of that of the English nation as a whole.
St Albans in 50 Buildings with a map identifying the location of each of the buildings described, provides not only a good history read, but acts as a guide book for the thousands of tourists and new residents in the town. It also provides a taster for further investigation into the pattern of development of the town and its many more interesting buildings from all periods.
For information about the Alban Pilgrimage https://www.stalbanscathedral.org/whatson/the-alban-pilgrimage/
Kate Morris' book St Albans in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.