Weekly City Spotlight: St Albans

St Albans

St Albans Cathedral

Just a 20 minute train journey from London lies St Albans in the county of Hertfordshire, England.  This historic city is an ideal choice for a day trip or short break, proving a chance to explore what was one of the largest Roman settlements in the country.  Fantastic shopping awaits with a wealth of boutiques and gift shops and great choice of places to eat and relax, with more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the country.  From its Cathedral to the Verulamium and St Albans Museums visitors can learn more of the history of the city, and also explore its picturesque parklands and attractions.

Historic St Albans
St Albans takes its name from the first British Christian Martyr who died around 308AD and is buried at the Cathedral in the city.  In Roman times the area was known as Verulamium, second in size only to London.  With various Roman ruins located in the City, including the only example of a Roman theatre with a stage, Roman bricks which were part of the old settlement were used in the construction of the Great Tower which forms part of the City’s beautiful Cathedral. Prior to becoming a Cathedral in 1877 when St Albans was granted City Status, this was the site St Albans Abbey, not only the principal abbey in the country but also the location for the first drafting of the historic Magna Carter.

During the War of the Roses which took place from 1455 to 1487, fighting took place in the area with battles held in both May 1455 and February 1461.

Due to its close proximately to London, St Albans was a popular stop-off point for travellers seeking refreshment and as such many coaching inns were established in the area.  These also accommodated the many pilgrims who travelled to city to visit the shrine of St Alban.

Popular Culture
St Albans is a historic and cultural city and as such has also been a focus in popular culture.

Films & TV
Birthday Girl (2002) starred Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin and was directed by Jez Butterworth.  The crime drama focusses on John Buckingham and Nadia, his mail-order bride with the story set in part in St Albans.

Porridge (1974 – 1977) The TV comedy sitcom series Porridge which starred Ronnie Barker as prison inmate Norman Stanley Fletcher was hugely popular with 3 series, a feature film and Christmas specials entertaining audiences.  Set in Slade Prison, the shots of the main gate prison were actually filmed at St Albans Prison, located in Victoria Street.

Panorama (1957) Those who remember the short feature about harvesting spaghetti back in 1957 on Panorama watched one of the more famous April Fools spoofs, which featured scenes filmed at the Pasta Foods Factory which used to be located in City’s London Road.

Bleak House (March 1852) A house in St Albans’ Folly Lane is believed to have provided the setting for one of Charles Dickens’ most famous works – Bleak House.  Dickens lived in the area for a time, and created the tale which featured characters Esther Summerson, Tulkinghorn and John Jarndyce and consisted of 20 instalments which were published from 1852 to 1853.

Reading Upside Down by Jo Platt is set in St Albans, as a previous resident of the city herself Platt’s novel features Rosalind Shaw, who having been stood up at the alter sets about making a recovery which see her enter into a new life after moving to the city from London.

Social Media
Additional information on St Albans can be found on its official website Enjoy St Albans as well as its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Famous Faces
Michael Morpurgo was born in St Albans on 5 October 1943, the renowned author and playwright is best known for his collection of children’s novels including War Horse, Friend or Foe and Why The Whales Came.  Morpurgo was also the British Children’s Laureate a position he held from 2003 to 2005.

Arthur Melbourne-Cooper is recognised as one of the founders of the British Film Industry and was born in St Albans on 15 April 1874.  Melbourne-Cooper is also known for his work in the development together the R.W. Paul Cooper of the first British 35mm moving picture camera, as well as creating the first animation movies in 1899, one of which was entitled Birds Custard Powder in which a poster came to life.

Mike Newell the BAFTA award winning director and producer was born in St Albans on 28 March 1942.  Newell’s extensive career includes directing Four Weddings and A Funeral the massive cinema success in 1994, as well as Hollywood blockbusters Donnie Brasco, Prince of Persia, Enchanted April and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

St Albans Cathedral
The beautiful Cathedral of St Albans in located in Sumpter Yard in Holywell Hill, with the magnificent place of worship home to the shrine of St Alban and as such remains a place of pilgrimage attracting visitors from around the world. Free guided tours are available to learn more about the Cathedral and its historical significance and to witness first-hand the splendour of its design which incorporates various styles of architecture including Romanesque and gothic.

St Albans

St Albans Clock Tower

Clock Tower
Dating back to 1403, the only medieval belfry in England provides amazing views of St Albans and the surrounding area.  Located in the High Street, the Clock Tower has played an important role in alerting townsfolk in times of danger or crisis and was also used to signal curfew.  It featured in the Napoleonic War when used as a semaphore station relaying messages with Yarmouth, and was substantially restored in 1864 following its near demolition.  Today 93 steps take visitors to the top of the structure which is open to the public at Weekend and Bank Holidays.

Verulamium Museum
The Verulamium Museum houses a vast and fascinating collection from the Roman City of Verulamium.  The award winning museum explores everyday life in Roman times as well as showcasing amazing displays of wall plasters and striking mosaics. Its Roman rooms house a wealth of objects and artefacts and with Roman Soldiers on hand every second weekend in the month visitors can learn more about the Roman Imperial Army, from armour and weapons to tactics used.  Archaeology, Social History and Natural Sciences are also featured in the collections of the museum.

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