Area Guide: The ancient parish of St Michael’s
- Credit: Archant
Home to Sir Nicholas Bacon, the priory of St. Mary de Pré and Stanley Kubrick!
St Michael’s is a parish of St Albans which, up until 1974, was split in half and known as St Michael Rural and St Michael Urban, one of which formed the western part of St Albans, the other situated at the North West end of the city. On April 1 1974 St Michael Rural was split – part being designated to the unparished area in Dacorum and the rest becoming one single parish. Known now as an ‘ancient parish’, it comprises a number of small and isolated hamlets that make up the parish as a whole, including Childwickbury, Gorhambury and Potters Crouch. It was recorded in 1905 to contain “3,128 acres of arable land, 2,099 acres of permanent grass, and 659 acres of woodland”. The soil is mixed clay, sand, and gravel, and an old lime kiln in the area indicates that chalk was once worked there. It is home to some of the most prevalent excavated land in the St Albans area, where traces of the Roman town of Verulam and the earthworks of Kingsbury Castle have been found, as well as the site of the priory of St Mary de Pré where there were once traces of a small camp in Pré Wood (later changed to Prae Wood). North-east of this camp was ‘Lord Bacon’s Mount,’ said to be the site of an observatory built by Lord Bacon who resided in the area.
There was a watermill at Childwick in the 13th century and Kingsbury mill was among the possessions of the Abbey of St Albans at the time of the Dissolution and was granted by Queen Elizabeth to William Preston. A watermill and free fishery in St Michael’s were conveyed in 1568 to Sir Nicholas Bacon and wife Anne. A lawsuit of 1601 shows that in the previous year Lady Anne Bacon, by that time the widow of Sir Nicholas, owned other mills too, including a windmill thought to be the reason for the name Windmill Hill Wood. Queen Elizabeth visited Sir Nicholas in 1572 and again in 1577 “coming thither on Saturday, 18 May, before supper, and continuing till Wednesday after dinner following”.
During the insurrection under Wat Tyler, a farmer of the manor who owed money to the prior joined the rebels, and threatened that if the abbot did not pay him 100 marks he would burn down both the manor house of Kingsbury and the Grange of St Peter. To save his property the prior gave £20 of the required sum. The manor remained in the possession of the abbey until the Dissolution, when it came to the crown.
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Fun fact: Childwickbury Manor was home to Stanley Kubrick from 1978 until his death in 1999.
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The main schools in the immediate area are primary schools – St Michael’s C of E and Prae Wood. However, St Michael’s Catholic High School is not far away, nor are other schools that go by the St Michael’s monkier. Other amenities include Franco’s Driving School, Tip To Toe Beauty, St Albans Yoga, Waitrose, Catnap pet minding and the Parish Centre. Potter’s Crouch Candles is a 30 year business whose fragrances are made bespoke... you won’t find them in any other candle shop. The perfume is made exclusively in Grasse France - the perfume capital of the world. Off Mayne Avenue is Gym Bell a personal training service using GB training. Tiberius Square Park and Garden is close by for a spot of recreation. St Michael’s is also home to Fosse House care home set in an attractive landscaped garden, featuring a fish pond, aviary and fruit trees for those aged 81 or older.
Every Saturday at 9am, a 5km run against the clock takes place at Verulamium Park. It’s free, meant for enjoyment and welcomes anyone to come along and join in whatever your pace! It’s organised by volunteers who grab a post run coffee at The Inn on the Park.
The parish church
The church of St Michael was built in the 10th century, by Wulsin, sixth abbot of St Albans, who founded it at the same time as the nearby churches of St Peter and St Stephen. There are resemblances between these two churches and St Michael which are thought to actually be accidental, and they form a valuable commentary on each other. All three have developed their present plans from aisleless buildings consisting of a chancel and nave, with thick walls of flint and Roman brick. They were enlarged in the second half of the 12th century by the addition of aisles to the nave.
Eat, drink, sleep
There are a variety of restaurants and pubs within the immediate St Michael’s area and just outside it, including The Inn On The Park, The Six Bells and the Lake restaurant. The latter is situated inside St Michael’s Manor Hotel (with its own one acre lake). The original house dates back over 500 years and was converted into a hotel in the early 1960s. The 30 bedrooms are individually styled with a blend of décor and start at £125, with ‘spa and stay’ deals on offer. The orangerystyle Lake Restaurant offers dining options from breakfast through Afternoon Teas to dinner, as well as a bar menu. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub, once a medieval dovecote, dates back to the 8th century (with tunnels from the beer cellar to the Cathedral). Cock fighting took place there in the 19th/20th centuries (hence the name) and it is reputed that Oliver Cromwell slept there for one night during the Civil War of 1642-1651. They have their own vegetable garden suppling the kitchen with everything from courgettes to strawberrys. The Waffle House is located within a working 16th century watermill overlooking the river Ver. A family business since 1978, they specialise in sweet and savoury Belgian waffles individually cooked to order. The Rose & Crown boasts a hugh inglenook fireplace in the crown bar and in the Rose bar you’ll enjoy efreshing, simple, seasonal menus (including the best chips in town!)
Museum of Life in Roman Britain
Verulamium was the third largest city of Roman Britain and the museum stands on the site of the Roman town. Inside you will find recreated Roman rooms, hands-on discovery areas and some of the finest Roman mosaics and wall plasters outside the Mediterranean.
Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust
Located in Verulamium Park, the Trust works to create an environment rich in wildlife for everyone across Hertfordshire and Middlesex by caring for nature reserves, advising landowners and land managers on how to manage their land for wildlife and through lobbying and influencing decision makers to make the best choices for nature. Upcoming events include the post-Christmas walk at Rye Meads, a winter walk in Hitchin and winter wildfowl of Panshanger Park.