St Albans, Hertfordshire Family History Guide



St Albans, Hertfordshire comprises the following parishes:

  • St Albans St Michael, Hertfordshire
  • St Albans St Peter, Hertfordshire
  • St Albans St Stephen, Hertfordshire

Historical Descriptions

The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales 1851

Alban’s (St.), a borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, in the liberty and union of St Alban’s, county of Hertford; 12½ miles west by south of Hertford, 21 north-west of London, and 6½ north-east of Watftrd station, on the London and Birmingham railway. It is situated chiefly on the summit and northern declivity of a hill rising from the Ver, a branch of the Coln; and consists principally of three streets. Many of the houses are ancient, but others, particularly on the new line of road to the southward of the town, are of modern erection. The town comprises three parishes, all of which are in the arcbd. of St. Albans and dio. of London. The living of St. Albans is a discharged rectory in the patronage of the Corporation; valued at £10; cross income £111. That of St. Peter’s is a vicarage; valued at £9 0s. 10d.; gross income £345. Patron, in 1835, the Bishop of Ely. St. Michael’s is a discharged vicarage; valued at £10 1s. 8d.; gross income £320. Patron, in 1835, Lord Verulam. — Tanner says: — “At a place called Holmhurst, near the ancient Roman city of Verulam, known after, in the Saxon times, by the name of Verlamceaster, or Watlingceaster, King Offa, A.D. 793, founded a noble sbbey for 100 Benedictine monks to the honour of St. Alban, the protomartyr. This monastery had very great privileges and exemptions, and also revenues valued, 26° Henry VIII., at £2,105 7s. 1d. ob. q. Dugd. The church, since made use of as parochial, and great part of the site, were granted, 7° Edward VI., to the mayor and burgesses.” Of this magnificent, mitred, parliamentary abbey, “nothing,” says Lady Morgan, “now remains but its portal or gateway, with its beautiful pointed arch above, and paved court beneath, — so often trod by the pilgrim feet of votarists of all nations, — so often filled with the gorgeous trains of royal guests, and of princely confraternites. The conventual church, however, though but a fragment of the once magnificent pile, attests the grandeur of the whole, and the perfection of ecclesiastical architecture in England during the middle ages. There is still extant, in the interior, specimens of genuine Saxon architecture, a part of the original building, the rounded arch, the massy tower, and enormous pillar, whose rude but noble simplicity is forcibly contrasted to the elaborated elegance of the Gothic style. Screens of the most minute tabernacle-work, pointed arches, feathery shafts, and a prolusion of richly-sculptured tracery, display all the characteristic beauty of that most picturesque and fanciful epoch of the art. The high altar, the after-part of the choir, the chapel of Abbot Rambridge, and that of St. Alban, are the most remarkable. There are also existing beneath the fretted roof of this beautiful abbey church, monuments and tombs well-suited to revive remote associations with great events, and to awaken a poetic nationality in the most phlegmatic temperament. Of these, the tomb of the Protector, Duke of Gloucester, familiarly called the good Duke Humphry, stands on the southern side.” The whole church, from east to west, is 600 feet in length. From the west door to the high altar is 411 feet; from thence, including the chapel of the shrine, to the east end of the Lady-chapel, is 189 feet. The breadth of the transept is nearly 32 feet; its extreme length 174; the length of the nave with its aisles, is 74½ feet; height of the nave 65 feet; of the tower 144. The church consists of a nave with two aisles, two transepts, an anti-choir or baptistry separated from the former by a rich screen, and a choir with two aisles opening by two lofty pointed arches into a chapel and presbytery; beyond which, eastward, is the Lady-chapel, built in 1308, and now converted into a school-bouse. “It has been the privilege of the abbey of St. Albans, and of its historical neighbourhood,” says Lady Morgan, “to have fascinated the imaginative, and to lave lured to its scenes and time-honoured site, the high-minded, and the intelligent of all ages. There was a spell hovering over the ruined fragments of ancient Verulam, which led the poetical and the philosophical alike to wander over its site, and to repose within its view. Spenser assumed the character of its presiding genius, to sing its grandeur and melancholy glory : —

I was that city, which the garland wore Of Britain’s pride, delivered unto me By Roman victory, which it wore of yore. Though nought at all but ruins now I be, And lie in my own ashes, as ye see. Verlarne I was: what boots it that I was, Sith now I am but weeds and wasteful grass. Ruins of Time.

The wish of Sir Thomas More was to live and die in its neighbourhood; and Bacon chose its little church of St. Michael for his grave, because the ancient pile arose within the precincts of the walls of Verulam. The south wall of the great nave fell lately; and it is estimated that it will require £14,000 to make the repairs necessary to preserve it from total ruin. The Society of Antiquaries has published very splendid illustrative plans, elevations, and sections of the abbey-church of St. Albans.

There are here places of worship for Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, Methodists, and Unitarians. The Baptist church in Dagnall-lane was founded in 1675; the Presbyterian, now Unitarian, church, in 1697; the Spier-street Independent church, in 1790. The Society of Friends also have a meeting here. The free grammar-school was chartered by Edward VI. in 1553, and still further endowed by Queen Elizabeth and James I. It would appear, however, that a celebrated school existed here in very early times. Salmon says tbat Garine, the 20th abbot of St. Albans, and bis brother, built a school here, “which had the greatest number of scholars of any in England.” The school itself was formerly part of the abbey church; and is said to have been the place of interment of the nobles who fell in the first battle of St. Albans. The annual income of the school, in 1832, was £157. Master’s salary £60; number of free scholars 12 In the Blue-coat school, 35 boys are clothed and educated. — There are three daily and Sunday National schools here; and there are almshouses, called Marlborough buildings, in which 36 decayed men and women are supported, each of whom receives a pension of £10 per annum, founded and endowed by the celebrated Sarah, duchess of Marlborough. — There are twenty-one other almshouses, and numerous charities to the poor. — At a short distance from the town are the remains of the nunnery of Sopwell, founded in 1140 by Abbot Gorham.

This town was incorporated in the 7° of Edward VI. in 1554, by whose charter, and a subsequent one of Charles II., the common council, and governing body of the corporation, consisted of a mayor and 12 aldermen; the other members and officers of the corporation, were a high steward, recorder, town-clerk, chamberlain, and coroner, 24 assistants, with an indefinite number of freemen. St. Albans possesses a liberty or district, which, both in civil and ecclesiastical matters, exercises a jurisdiction peculiar to itself; it includes the parishes of Abbots Langley, Aldenham, Barnet, Sandridge, Redbourne, Codicote, Shephall, Brantfield, Elstree, Sarratt, Hexton, Norton, Ridge, St. Paul’s Walden, Northam, Newnham, Brantfield, St. Stephen’s, Rickmansworth, and Watford. The principal courts held within the borough are the quarter-sessions, petty-sessions for the liberty, court of record, and court of requests. St. Albans has been represented in parliament from a very early period. Its elective franchise was suspended from the 5° of Edward III. till the 1° of Edward VI., since which time it has returned, and still returns, two members to parliament. The number of electors on the register for 1832, was 657; for 1833, 574. The paramount influence in the borough was long shared by Earls Spencer and Verulam; but of late years the electors have been left very much to themselves. The St. Albans poor-law union comprehends a district of 54 square miles, containing a population, in 1831, of 15,843. The average annual expenditure for the relief of the poor in this district, during the three years preceding the formation of the union, was £8,868; in 1838, it was only £4,041. With the exception of straw-plat, the only manufactures of St. Albans are carried on in one silk-mill, employing 100 hands. The market-day is Saturday; and there are fairs on March the 25th and 26th, and on the 10th and the 11th of October for servants, horses, cows, and sheep. According to the most recent accounts the town is now stationary, and has little prospect of advancing in wealth or consequence. The nett income of the town, in 1834, was £188 14s. 9d. Assessed taxes for 1831, £1,964. Pop. of the old borough, in 1801, 3,038; in 1831, 4,772. Houses 800. Acres 320. A. P. £20,881. Poor rates, in 1837, £2,880. Pop. of the extended borough, in 1831, 5,771. Houses 996. The liberty of St. Albans does not contribute to the county-rate. The borough of St. Albans is built near the site of the ancient town of Verolamium, or Verulamium, the Ourolanion of Ptolemy, which, according to the Roman historians, was founded by the Britons at an earlier period than London. According to Camden, it is the city or fortress of Cassibelan, or Cassivel-launus, which was forced by Caesar. Milton calls St. Albans “jugera Cassibelauni.” In Nero’s reign it ranked as a municipium, or free city, enjoying the privileges of Roman citizenship. Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, surprised it in the reign of Claudius, and put the chief part of the inhabitants to the sword: but it soon recovered from this calamity. In A. D. 293, Albanus, a citizen of Verulam, who had embraced the Christian faith, was beheaded on a hill in the neighbourhood. In 429, Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, bishop of Troves, held a synod here, to confute the Pelagian heresy. Verulam fell not long after into the hands of the Saxons, but was retaken by the Britons, and again reverted to the Saxons. While yet in ruins after these successive contests, Offa — as already mentioned — founded a monastery or abbey here in honour of St Alban, whose remains had just been discovered on the spot of his martyrdom. Matthew Paris — who was him self a monk in the abbey of St Albans — says that Alsinus, the 6th abbot, about 950, built a church on each of the three principal roads leading from the monastery, and that around these the present town of St. Albans gradually arose. Pope Adrian IV. constituted the abbot of St. Albans first abbot in England in order and dignity; and Pope Honorius, in 1218, exempted the abbot from the jurisdiction of the bishop of Lincoln, his diocesan. A sanguinary battle was fought here in 1455, between Henry VI. and the duke of York, in which the Lancastrians were defeated. Money is said by Camden to have been coined here in the time of the Romans. On the introduction of printing into England, a press was put up in the abbey of St. Albans, from which issued some of the earliest English specimens of the art. Alexander Neckham, a poet and divine, the celebrated Sir John Mandeville, and Sir John King, and Sir Francis Pemberton, two eminent lawyers, were natives of St. Albans. — The noble family of Grimstone takes the title of Earl from Verulam; as does that of Beauclere the title of duke from St. Albans.

Source: The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales; A Fullarton & Co. Glasgow; 1851.

Leonard’s Gazetteer of England and Wales 1850

Albans (St.), 21 miles N.W. London. Mrkt. Sat. P. 6497

Source: Leonard’s Gazetteer of England and Wales; Second Edition; C. W. Leonard, London; 1850.