Area Guide: The thriving cathedral city of St Albans
- Credit: Archant
St Albans is an English cathedral city with Roman remains and medieval architecture aplenty.
There’s a bounty of shops and restaurants, transport links and other conveniences on your doorstep. But every so often the Clock Tower bell will chime and remind you that you are enveloped by history.
Londoners love it - more than 11,000 moved to St Albans from the capital during the last four years. Many of them will be hoping for better value for money than they may have found in the big smoke, which isn’t to say that St Albans is cheap – far from it. According to Rightmove, the average property price stood at £557,284 in 2016, up 8 per cent on the previous year and a whopping 28 per cent on 2014.
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 the 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.
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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.
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The Clock Tower is one of only two similar towers in England; it was also the site of an Eleanor Cross.
The city was once home to Samuel Ryder, the founder of the Ryder Cup. He had 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.
The city works hard to share the relics of its past; Verulamium Museum tells the story of everyday life in Roman Britain using objects from the excavations of the important Roman Town. Work is ongoing to transform the Georgian Town Hall into a spectacular new museum and art gallery.
Trains from the main City station can get you to London St Pancras in under 20 minutes, while St Albans Abbey station connects to Watford Junction. St Albans is also close to the M1 and M25 and within easy reach of London Luton and Heathrow airports.
St Albans is home to a vast range of sporting facilities, including Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre with its pools and gym.
St Albans Cricket Club play from Clarence Park, which is also home to St Albans FC. The 25 acre park also provides facilities for other sports, including tennis, bowls and hockey, as well as a playground. For those happy to wander further from the centre, Verulamium Park, set in 100 acres, is popular with runners and provides a base for St Albans Athletics Club and the weekly 5km parkrun.
St Albans town centre is home to many popular state schools, including Alban City (rated ‘good’ by Ofsted), Maple (‘outstanding’), Aboyne Lodge (‘good’) and C of E school, Abbey (‘outstanding’).
Independent options are St Albans School and St Albans High School for Girls.
Food, drink and entertainment
From Turkish to Chinese, Indian to Italian, most of the world’s cuisines are available in St Albans.
Foodies are particularly partial to Lussmanns, Dylans and Thompson, but these are far from the only fine options on offer, as the usual high street chains compete against popular independent eateries. From modern Turkish at Tabure to British tapas at Number 23 there’s lots to tempt your tastebuds in the centre of town.
There are also countless cafés around the city - a bugbear for some locals who feel their ever increasing number is becoming excessive, but there’s no denying that the demand is there.
St Albans - home of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) - also has many traditional pubs as well as a clutch of cocktail bars, including hugely popular recent addition, Sucker Punch. Three nightclubs cater for those looking for a later night - Havana, Club Batchwood and Club Veeda.
The city has a thriving cultural life, too - there are regular concerts and theatre productions held at venues including St Albans Abbey, the Abbey Theatre and the Maltings Arts Theatre.
The Alban Arena is a popular entertainment venue, hosting a mix of comedians, rock and pop concerts and more throughout the year, as well as the Christmas panto.
The high street centres on St Peter’s Street, where pound shops rub shoulders with M&S, Tesco, Boots and a handful of independents. There are also two shopping centres - the Maltings and Christopher Place. The Maltings is home to the likes of Topshop, New Look and Wilko, as well as St Albans library.
Christopher Place offers a more high end experience, with French Connection, Space NK and JoJo Maman Bebe, among other pricier brands.
Holywell Hill and George Street are bursting with brilliant independent shops selling everything from sweets to antiques.
The bustling city centre market on Wednesdays and Saturdays is one of the largest in the south east of England, with over 160 stalls. There is also a monthly farmers’ market, plus a Christmas market, held in the Vintry Gardens.