Area Guide: St Albans’ Cottonmill area explored
PUBLISHED: 09:29 16 November 2020 | UPDATED: 09:29 16 November 2020
Danny Loo Photography 2018
A residential enclave dotted with ample green spaces, Cottonmill is way more than just an estate. We found out more about this peaceful part of St Albans.
Cottonmill Lane is named after a cotton mill at the bottom of the hill, on the River Ver. The cotton mill was previously a water mill, built in the 18th century and used to polish diamonds. In the early 19th century production changed to spinning and weaving cotton and manufacturing candlewicks. After 1883, the site was used for open air baths.
The area changed dramatically in the 1930s when the Mentmore estate was built, followed after World War Two by the construction of the Cottonmill and St Julian’s estates.
St Julian’s C of E Church was founded in 1952 to serve the growing Cottonmill estate. It was initially based in a Nissen hut, eventually moving to its current building on Abbots Avenue in 1956.
The Christadelphian church on Abbots Avenue was originally known as Cottonmill Baptist Church, which was built in the early 1950s with money raised by the community. It closed in 1968 after merging with the Park Street Baptists, and remained vacant until it became a Christadelphian church in 1976.
There is a small strip of shops on Abbots Avenue West, including a convenience store and a hair salon as well as a larger parade at Vesta Avenue, offering a mix of take aways and grocery stores, among other amenities.
More is on offer on the nearby Abbey View Retail Park on Griffiths Way, with the likes of Sainsbury’s, Pets at Home and McDonald’s.
There is a strong sense of community spirit in Cottonmill, which is centred on the estate of the same name.
The Cottonmill and Sopwell Hub is a campaign group led by like-minded residents who are committed to founding a local community centre.
Noting on their website that Sopwell has “pockets of deprivation and several poorer health outcomes than the district as a whole” as well as above average unemployment, the group is striving to provide an inclusive meeting place for all.
The estate’s only pub, The King Offa, closed for good in 2015 and has since been demolished.
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There are many popular pubs close at hand however, including The Hare and Hounds, The White Lion, The Goat and The King Harry. The upmarket Sopwell House is also nearby.
The Abbey station offers a direct link to Watford, while the less convenient City station has fast trains to London on the Thameslink Bedford to Brighton line.
The A414 is immediately south of Cottonmill and the A1(M) and M25 are also close at hand. Buses connect the estate with the town centre and the two stations.
Mandeville is the local primary school for the Cottonmill estate. Rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, it has 60 children in each year group from Reception to Year 6. There is also a nursery on site.
The school is more diverse than many others in St Albans; the latest Ofsted report states that 40 per cent of pupils speak English as an additional language and a fifth of the total intake come from Bangladeshi backgrounds.
Other nearby primaries include St Adrian’s Catholic primary, Prae Wood and St Peter’s (also ‘good’).
Secondary-aged children are served by the Marlborough Science Academy (‘good’), while Watling View (‘good’) is a school for children and young people aged two to 19 with learning disabilities.
Amenities and attractions
Cottonmill residents are spoilt when it comes to green spaces and often boast that only they know how green their suburban corner of St Albans is.
The six-and-a-half mile long Alban Way walking and cycling route runs between Cottonmill Lane and Wrestlers Bridge, Hatfield. It covers what was the Hatfield to St Albans branch line of the Great Northern Railway, which opened in 1865 and closed in 1969. One of the best-loved stop off points close to Cottonmill is the Watercress Wildlife Association’s local nature reserve, a peaceful haven maintained by volunteers.
Nature lovers also enjoy the River Ver Trail, which passes through the area on its 17-mile route from Kensworth Lynch to Bricket Wood. Walkers following the chalk stream enjoy a picturesque tour of local attractions, including Holywell Hill and the Nunnery fields. The historic Sopwell Nunnery’s ruins date back to 1580, and now provide a scenic spot to while away an hour or two.
Marlborough Pavilion open space has a BMX track, football pitch, multi-use games area and hall, kitchen and changing rooms. Those who have made recent use of the facilities include the cast of TV royal comedy The Windsors.
A social club, known variously as the Cottonmill Club and the Marlborough Club stood on the site from the 1970s, but was closed in 1994 following a fire, a year after Radiohead played there.
The St Albans Sub Aqua Club on Cottonmill Lane has an outdoor pool used for scuba diving, snorkelling and underwater hockey. Hardy swimmers also make use of the pool.
There are several allotments in the Cottonmill area, with plots available to hire from the council.
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