Area guide: central St Albans
- Credit: Photo courtesy of Petra Koblova
True to its roots: central St Albans built its reputation as a thriving market town. It still holds that status today, but with all the conveniences of city living baked in.
The central area of St Albans provides all the convenience of city living but with a charming historic twist. There’s a bounty of shops and restaurants, transport links and other conviniences on your doorstep. But every so often the Clock Tower bell will chime and remind you that you are enveloped by history.
St Albans is an English cathedral city with Roman remains and medieval architecture aplenty. The centre is a hotspot - always humming with activity and events.
It’s just 20 minutes from London St Pancras, close to the M1 and M25 motorways, within easy reach of London Luton and Heathrow airports. The St Albans City station (part of the main Bedford to Brighton line) is situated 0.5 miles east of the city centre, and the St Albans Abbey station (a single track line to Watford Junction) is 0.6 miles south of the city station.
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In December 2007, Sport England published a survey which revealed that residents of St Albans were the 10th most active in England in sports and other fitness activities. The area is home to a vast range of excellent leisure facilities designed to suit all ages and interests. For those who enjoy fitness and sports activities, there are various sports centres to choose from. St Albans Cricket Club runs four Saturday sides, playing in the Saracens Hertfordshire Cricket League and also two Sunday sides in the Chess Valley Cricket League.
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The local football team is St Albans City F.C. St Albans Gymnastics Club, founded in 2005, provides the area with fun and effectively structured recreational classes as well as a professionally managed competitive squad. The hockey club is represented at National league level by both women’s and men’s teams. St Albans Centurions Rugby League Club have their ground at Toulmin Drive and play in the London Premier League. Old Albanian RFC is a rugby union club that plays at the Old Albanian complex.
St Albans is home to one of the country’s oldest and finest indoor skateparks, the Pioneer Skatepark in Heathlands Drive, next to the former fire station. St Albans is additionally home to a community of traceurs from around Hertfordshire.
The medieval town grew on the hill to the east of St Albans Abbey. This is the spot where St Alban, the first British Christian martyr, was beheaded some time before AD 324., so legend has it. It was at one time the principal abbey in England and the first draft of Magna Carta was drawn up there. The Abbey Church, now St Albans Cathedral became the parish church when it was bought by the local people in 1553. It was made a cathedral in 1877 when the City Charter was granted.
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.
The Clock Tower is one of only two similar towers in England; it was also the site of an Eleanor Cross. St Albans was once home to the most prestigious steeplechase in England. The Great St Albans chase attracted the best horses and riders from across Britain and Ireland in the 1830s.
The city was once home to Samuel Ryder, the founder of the Ryder Cup. He ran a very successful packet seeds business in the 1890s which at one time
he ran from a packing warehouse on Holywell Hill (now Café Rouge). His interest in golf and sponsorship led to his donation of the now famous Ryder Cup. He is buried in Hatfield Road Cemetery, where in July 2012 the Olympic Torch Relay passed by to honour him.
St Albans has many state primary and secondary schools, and number of independent schools. The Law School of the University of Hertfordshire used to be based in Hatfield Road in St Albans until it moved to the university’s De Havilland campus in Hatfield in 2011. Hertfordshire County Council purchased the site. The interior of the former Law School building has since been refurbished and now forms part of Alban City School, a tate-funded Free School for primary aged children, which started taking reception class children in September 2012.
Dining & Recreation
You may have missed the St Albans Food and Drink Festival but the city still has a vast range of restaurants to suit every taste and budget. From AA Rosette and Good Food Guide listed restaurants, to small, cosy eateries tucked away from the bustling main areas. As well as modern British food, you can enjoy cuisine from around the world. There are dozens of cafés around the city offering a tempting range of cakes and treats. St Albans has many “real ale” pubs and holds a major beer festival each year. The nightlife is also great, with clubs such as Havana, Club Batchwood and Club Veeda. St Albans is the home of a range of independent food and drink shops where specialist knowledge and hard to find products abound!
St Albans has a thriving cultural life - there are regular concerts and theatre productions held at venues including Trestle Arts Base, St Albans Abbey and the Abbey Theatre. The churches play host to numerous choir groups, the St Albans Symphony Orchestra and St Albans Chamber Opera. The Trestle Theatre Company have been centre stage since 1981 and the andpit Theatre is a theatre attached to Sandringham School which hosts a wide variety of plays throughout the year, mainly performances put on by the pupils of the school. Sandringham also hosts Best Theatre Arts, a part-time theatre school for children aged 4 to 16.
The Maltings Shopping Centre plays host to a variety of high street stores and there are two museums in the city centre: the Verulamium Museum, which tells the story of everyday life in Roman Britain using objects from the excavations of the important Roman Town; and the Museum of St Albans, which focuses on the history of the town and of Saint Alban. A visit to St Albans for shopping is a unique and varied experience, a contrast to indoor shopping malls. The bustling city centre market on Wednesdays and Saturdays is one of the largest in the south east of England, with over 160 stalls.