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Tag Archives: In 50 Buildings Series

  • St Albans in 50 Buildings by Kate Morris

    St Peter's Church. (Kari Lungaard, St Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    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.

    The West End of St Albans Cathedral. (Kari LundgaardSt Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    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.

  • Yeovil in 50 Buildings by Bob Osborn

    Millennium Blue Plaque (Supplied by author)

    It is frequently difficult to establish the history of an old building unless there is early documentary evidence. I recently came upon such a case with the building 1&3 Princes Street, Yeovil, Somerset (which features in my book Yeovil in 50 Buildings) on the corner of today’s Westminster Street. Until recently the earliest known occupant of the building was a printer named William Porter around 1830 and a Millennium Blue Plaque was erected on the building to this effect. However, a chance purchase of several old leases on an internet auction site enabled me to uncover much of the unknown earlier history of this building.

    Although there has undoubtedly been a building on this site for centuries, the date of the present building is difficult to ascertain. From one of the leases, dated 1835, the earliest known occupier of the site was a saddler, John Reeks (died pre 1764), and his family during the early eighteenth century. Very little is known of John Reeks the Elder. It is known that in 1716 John Reeks, 'Sadler of Yeovil' took on Jos, son of Samuel Lester, as an apprentice. The Poor Rate of 1729 recorded that John Reeks paid 1½d Poor Rate on property in the Manor of Hendford. At this time 1½d was ‘average’ so unlikely that it would have been such a large building as the present 1&3 Princes Street. Between 1737 and 1739 he served as a Churchwarden at St John's church.

    John Reeks the Younger (1713-1770) was presumably the eldest son of the above John. He was baptised at St John's Church on 31 December 1713. John the Younger attended Pembroke College, Oxford, and matriculated in 1731 aged 18. He was awarded a BA from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1734 aged 21, an MA in 1737-8 aged 24, a Bachelor of Divinity in 1745 aged 32 and a Doctorate of Divinity in 1756 aged 43. He was Rector of Stratford St Anthony cum Hanny, Berkshire, in 1769 but died the following year, aged 57. Although he would probably have inherited his father's property, the saddlery would most likely have been taken on by John Reeks the Elder's younger son Thomas, who was also a saddler. He had presumably served an apprenticeship with his father that worked alongside him and finally assumed the business after his father's death.

    The Reeks family was followed by Samuel Toms (a deed of 1770 notes that a farrier by the name of Samuel Tomes was active at this time). In turn, he was succeeded by a solicitor and banker Samuel Watts the Elder.

    My 1835 lease refers to Samuel Watts the Elder "who erected and built the said messuage or dwellinghouse". Samuel Watts the Elder was born in 1734 and died in 1820, so it is logical to suppose that he had the building constructed around, say 1760.

    Samuel Watts the Elder's son, Joseph Watts, is known to have 'modernised' the building prior to his leaving Yeovil in 1812. Assuming he carried out the alterations around 1810, this would have meant that the building was then some fifty years old and therefore a fashionable facelift would not have been unreasonable. The building was re-fronted by Joseph Watts in the then-fashionable Regency style and had a new low pitch roof with wide eaves at the same time.

    Nos 1 and 3 Princes Street, seen from the High Street. (Yeovil in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil Bank, probably founded around 1810, was a private bank established by Samuel Watts the Elder (when aged about 76) and it is very likely that his bank was located in this building. Certainly, his sons' bank was later located here and it is surely not unreasonable to speculate that the bank of the sons was a continuation of the bank of the father, albeit under different names.

    A reference in the London Gazette in 1812 refers to the bank as Watts Marsh & Co (run by Samuel the Elder's sons, Samuel and Joseph Watts, and Thomas Marsh). In 1815 it was announced that this banking partnership was dissolved by mutual consent under the signatures of Samuel Watts the Younger, Thomas Marsh, Thomas Bullock, and James Glyde. In 1856 a writer referred to Yeovil's third bank as “the Bank of Messrs Samuel (and) Joseph Watts and Cayme." By 1822 (Pigot's Directory) the bank had become Samuel Watts & Co. It would then have gone out of business on 8 November 1823, when Samuel Watts the Younger, scrivener and banker, was declared bankrupt.

    My earliest lease of the property, dated 9 November 1815, was made between Thomas Bullock, Gentleman, James Glyde, Gentleman and Samuel Watts the Younger, Gentleman, (all of Yeovil) of the one part and Markes Lambe, Surgeon of Yeovil, of the other part. James Glyde and Samuel Watts were brothers-in-law (Glyde married Watts' sister Mary) and Thomas Bullock was the brother of Watts' mother, Mary née Bullock.

    From the 1835 indenture it is known that the property was divided by another lessee, Thomas Sydenham - "which said messuage or dwellinghouse hath been lately divided by the said Thomas Sydenham into two Dwellinghouses with front Shops and the same are now or later were in the occupation of the said Thomas Sydenham and his tenant Thomas Hain." It is known that by 1829 the building, or at least the southern half of it, was occupied by William Porter (see above), therefore Sydenham must have divided the property between 1825 (the date of my third lease which only speaks of a single property) and 1829 when Porter was in occupation – which brings us to the known history of the building as described on the Millennium Blue Plaque.

    Bob Osborn's new book Yeovil in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

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