Author explores city's hidden history
- Credit: Kate Morris/Amberley Publishing
A local author and former St Albans mayor is releasing a book exploring the lesser-known history of the city.
In 'Secret St Albans', Kate Morris portrays episodes in the social life of the charter borough and market, revealing lesser-known events and characters of the Early Modern period of the city’s history, to “give a more rounded picture of St Albans”.
Having lived in St Albans for 45 years, the book includes many things she found by sleuthing through old newspapers, the wills of residents of the town and many other sources in her time as a social historian.
Due to the city’s location on the ancient Watling Street, linking London with the Midlands and the North West, it has been significant throughout history from its pre-Roman settlement as Verlamion, through to being the charter borough and market created by Edward VI in 1553 and the city designated by royal edict in 1877.
The absence of a welfare state and education for all did not, according to Kate, mean that those without landed estates or profitable businesses were not provided for.
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Among other stories, she tells of how each parish made provision for its own inhabitants and those who were able would help provide for those with less within their communities.
She recounts that the Dowager Countess Spencer, who came to live at Holywell House at the foot of Holywell Hill, established a Friendly Society exclusively for women.
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Local ladies were offered a medal for a subscription to support the society, to which benefit members contributed a small weekly sum. In return, the women received support following pregnancy, support for funerals and a pension if they survived to age 60.
When asked whether any aspect of St Albans history has remained firmly ingrained since the Early Modern Period, Kate explained how St Albans has been a “commuter town” since the 17th century. Its proximity to London has “governed the development of the city" and has meant that the city has not developed its own economy or industry to a significant extent.
However, the valued heritage of St Albans and the opportunity to find family houses in St Albans to appreciate the countryside is a pattern which she feels has been maintained throughout history.
On the other hand, she explained, the biggest change in St Albans has been the changing density of population, with there now being less space in the city due to an increasing demand for living spaces, leading to a worsening quality of air.
With the increase of industry in the 1870s, there was also an influx of working people; however, the decline of industry in St Albans was not matched by a falling population, as people were still able to commute to London.
‘Secret St Albans` explores different aspects of the history of the city, enabling a more rounded understanding of how it has developed.
As well as writing books, Kate has established a small business offering English language and cultural induction for foreign speaking professional people.
She explained how while teaching people English, she also uses St Albans to represent the culture of England, showing students many of the monuments and institutions in the town, which she feels epitomise England.
Kate also served on St Albans district council for 12 years and was elected Mayor in 2007. She hailed this experience as offering a “huge opportunity to learn about the community”, giving her more of an understanding as to how St Albans has developed.
She highlighted this to be an important aspect of historical studies - enabling people to see why things why they are as they are today, and she explained that the book allowed her to “look at different sides of society and understand how they came to be".
An enthusiastic and longstanding member of the St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society, she has served as its president and was made an honorary life member in 2015.
Through this experience, she has been able to use the society’s library and has carried out large amounts of research, adding depth to her knowledge and understanding of the social history of St Albans.
'Secret St Albans' is available in all local bookshops from Saturday, May 15 as well as being available in Kindle, Kobo and iBook formats.
The book is also available at https://www.amberley-books.com/secret-st-albans.html