St Albans store refurb uncovers lost treasures

Cllr Brian Ellis stands outside the old Isis store which is being refurbished

Cllr Brian Ellis stands outside the old Isis store which is being refurbished - Credit: Archant

A treasure trove of historic papers linked to a store adjoining St Albans Clock Tower, some dating back nearly 500 years to the reign of Elizabeth I, have been discovered in an old box.

And in the shop next door, builders have uncovered a centuries-old hearth during renovations, part of which stretches beneath Market Place towards The Boot pub.

The historic finds have been unearthed as a result of renovations at neighbouring stores, the former Isis and Buckos shops, at 1 and 3 Market Place respectively, both being transformed in the city centre.

A spokesman for Trailfinders has confirmed that the travel firm is to move to the former Buckos shop.

Builders there were surprised recently when an old hearth was revealed behind a wall that was knocked down in the basement during renovation work.

The hearth contains building rubble and the back of it stretches under the cobbled street.

Meanwhile the old Isis shop, which had earned the title of “eyesore” from locals frustrated at seeing it go to rack and ruin while remaining empty for the past two years, is undergoing a major £100,000 overhaul.

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The Grade II listed building’s roof and windows are being refurbished and the upper floor of the shop, which has five levels, is being converted into offices.

The store is owned by the Lathberye’s and Raynshaw’s Charity which dates back to the 1500s.

One of its trustees, St Albans district Cllr Brian Ellis, said that a rusty metal box containing historic documents was found in the office of the charity’s former clerk.

Among the oldest documents are original wills of both Richard Raynshaw and Thomas Lathberye, dating back to 1569.

Cllr Ellis said: “The story goes that they didn’t like each other and drew swords at each other in church. As penance, they set up these two charities.”

Income from properties owned by Lathberye has been used to help the poor in St Albans, especially to support the almshouses provided by Raynshaw.

This arrangement continues to this day, and although they are separate charities, they are linked and have the same board of trustees.

This has resulted in the income from the sole remaining Lathberye property, 1 Market Place, being used to maintain the Raynshaw Almshouses in Spicer and Lower Dagnall Streets.

Those almshouses are also being refurbished, and there will shortly be vacancies for two St Albans residents “over 60, of good character, and of limited means”.

Cllr Ellis said among the documents dating back to the 1500s was one written during the reign of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, referred to as “Ladye Elizabeth”.

Raynshawe, a wealthy man, was one of 16 Sergeants-at-Arms to both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Many of the papers in the box set out the details of lease agreements over the centuries, mostly in Latin and signed with red seals, stamped with a cross in the centre.

While the lease runs into the thousands of pounds now, back in 1874 it was six pounds and ten shillings a year.

Wording on an indenture - legal contract - dated 1842 sets out terms of a transaction for the site, “to have and to hold the said piece or parcel of ground”. It warns that the person signing the contract was “responsible if the building is destroyed or damaged”.

These historic documents are now with the Herts Archives and Local Studies centre at County Hall, Hertford.

Cllr Ellis said the box contents would remain there for safekeeping, and were available for local historians to research.