When a Texan friend came to visit last year and the most I could tell him was that 'Romans once lived here' and 'we've got the oldest pub in Britain', I thought it high time to finally get to grips with the history of our great town. As a born and bred St Albans resident, I have been on a number of obligatory school trips to the Abbey and of course whiled away many hours in Verulamium Park (almost as many hours as i've spent shopping in the Maltings!) but I can't say that i've ever dug too much into the Town's fascinating historical past.
So one sunny morning in early August, I joined a small party of tourists on the Historic St Albans walking tour. There are a number of different walks focussing on a variety of topics such as Crime and Punishment and The War of the Roses, but for a general overview of the history of the City, I think this one would be hard to beat. We started off in Market Place and took a while to look closer at some of the buildings that even though I’ve walked past hundreds of times, I have never really taken in their detail. Ever noticed how bowed the wooden beams are along the side of W.H. Smith? Well, that building used to be a prison. The left hand side housed the men and the women were on the Whittards side. Apparently they ran out of wooden beams for this part so they are just painted on the outside! Almost every building has a story to tell – from travelling kings to Benedictine monks and corrupt politicians (nothing changes!), St Albans has housed them all.
The tour takes in French Row, George Street, Romeland, The Abbey Gateway, Sumpter Yard and a small area of Holywell Hill before the final stop at Waxhouse Gate. I won’t recount all the fascinating facts and fables I learned as I probably wouldn’t be able to do them justice anyway – will leave that to the accomplished tour guides! Suffice to say, it was a thoroughly enjoyable 90mins and a total bargain at £3 per person. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to tourists and local residents. [Aug 10]
14 Aug 10