St. Michael, Urban and Rural

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1910.

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"St. Michael, Urban and Rural". An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire. (London, 1910), , British History Online. Web. 22 July 2024.

In this section

111. ST. MICHAEL, Urban and Rural (St. Albans).

(O.S. 6 in. (a)xxvii. S.E. (b)xxxiv. N.E. (c)xxxiv. N.W. (d)xxxiv. S.E. (e)xxxiv. S.W.)


b, d(1). Verulam: Site of the Roman municipality Verulamium: it is the only instance of its special class in Britain, and is remarkable for its fragments of massive town walls, and for the remains now buried beneath all its area.

This site lies W. of the modern town of St. Albans, on ground which rises gradually from the river Ver, 263–270 ft. above O.D., to a point about 100 ft. higher. It is a large, roughly oval area, about 4,800 ft. long and 2,700 ft. wide, nearly 2 miles in circumference and about 200 acres in extent. Round this area the line of the Roman city defences can be traced with almost absolute certainty (see map). They consist of the following parts:—(a) The wall proper, built of flint rubble with tile bonding-courses and (as excavation has shown) flint facing, the whole 9–10 ft., or in one place 13½ ft. thick; (b) a solid ramp of earth behind the wall for all its length except on the E. side, which is covered by the river; this seems to have been piled up to strengthen the wall against siege engines and to facilitate defence generally, but its exact relation to the wall can only be fixed by excavation, and its contours have been too seriously altered by various operations of man and nature to allow its original size and shape to be determined from its present appearance; (c) a berm, 15–20 ft. wide in front of the wall—a common Roman device; (d) a dry ditch, obviously of formidable dimensions, but too much disturbed by natural and human agencies for its proper width, depth and shape to be ascertained without excavation. On the S.W. front, where the ground rises somewhat outside the wall and the defences are naturally weakest, there seems to have been a double ditch; on the E. front, the place of the ditch was taken by the Ver, which was perhaps dammed up below in order to ensure a sufficient and constant depth of water. Of these defences, the ditch is throughout traceable on the surface, and the wall, or at least its foundations, seems to survive continuously below the surface, but the most important features are the pieces of wall still visible above ground. Beginning at the S.E. and working round the W. front, the principal pieces are: (a) the St. Germain's Block, so-called from the adjacent mediæval St. Germain's Chapel, 115 ft. long, 10 ft. high, with a smaller and more ruined piece just S. of it; (b) a piece nearly 400 ft. long and in parts 6 or 7 ft. high, now much overgrown, which runs along the S. front of the city area; (c) about five small fragments visible in the section between the S. point of the wall and the Bluehouse Hill Lane; (d) a piece 58 ft. long, in a field, a little N. of this lane; and (e) the Gorhambury Block, 125 ft. long, 10 ft. wide and 10 ft. high, close to the N. point of the city. All these pieces are eminently worthy of preservation and, apart from a little ivy and the roots of trees, they appear to be in no present danger of destruction. A great deal of the wall appears, however, to be still buried underground, and whenever measures for preservation may be taken, attention should not be confined only to the fragments which are now visible and are enumerated above. On the N.W. of the town wall, a ditch, said to be called locally the Fosse, diverges from the larger town ditch and runs towards the N.W. (see map). This can be traced clearly for about 300 yds., and within living memory ran somewhat further; it is 60–90 ft. wide and 9–11 ft. deep in its present form. Its continuation is not at all certain: a possible line is suggested on the map. No rampart is now visible on either side of the Fosse except close to the end, nor can its relation to the main ditch or its object be fixed without excavation. The Roman town within these defences is buried beneath 4–9 ft. of soil and débris, and the little that is known of its constructions and monuments is due to excavations. The Theatre (see map) was excavated and planned in 1847 (Grove Lowe, St. Albans Architectural Soc. Report, 1848, Gentleman's Magazine, 1848, vol. 2, p. 143): it had a stage 8 ft. 8 in. wide and 46 ft. long, and a nearly semi-circular auditorium 190 ft. in diameter: on the N.E. of it ran a street and beyond that stood a big building which was not explored. The Forum (Town Hall and Market Square) was partly uncovered in 1898–1908 in the vicarage garden and adjacent glebe of St. Michael's (see map): it had a courtyard, 215 ft. by 308 ft., surrounded by ambulatories and apartments opening into them, and was plainly of much importance. Other finds have made it clear that almost the whole area within the walls is full of buildings, many of them apparently dwelling houses of different sizes. It is hardly possible to put a spade into the ground below plough level anywhere in this area without touching serious archaeological interests.

Condition—Generally good, but the pieces of wall now above ground need watching—in fact, any disturbance of the site needs to be as jealously watched as if the whole area were covered by Roman constructions upstanding above the surface.


d (2). Parish Church of St. Michael, stands W. of the city of St. Albans, about ½ mile W. by N. of the cathedral. It is built of flint and Roman brick, with stone dressings, and the gables of the S. chapel are of modern timber. The roof of the nave is of lead, the other roofs are tiled. The original church was founded by Wulsin, abbot of St. Albans, in the middle of the 10th century. The Chancel and Nave both contain detail which is evidently of pre-Conquest date, although the walls are unusually thick for the period. The North and South Aisles were added towards the end of the 12th century, and the South Chapel and the nave clearstorey early in the 13th century. The E. wall and part of the side walls of the chancel and the walls of the N. aisle were re-built c. 1340, and in the 15th century the West Tower was added, or possibly re-built. In the 19th century the late Lord Grimthorpe pulled down the tower, lengthened the nave towards the W., built the new North-West Tower, the South-West Vestry and Porch on the site of the S. aisle W. of the S. chapel, and restored the rest of the building.

The church is exceptionally interesting on account of its early date and subsequent history; the remains of pre-Conquest windows and the 13th-century clearstorey of the nave are especially worthy of note. The monument of Sir Francis Bacon is also of interest.

Architectural Description— The Chancel (24½ ft. by 14½ ft.) has a modern E. window. In the N. wall is a much restored 13th-century lancet window and a blocked pre-Conquest doorway in Roman brick; the head is semi-circular, and the jambs go straight through the wall without a rebate; externally only the W. jamb remains. In the S. wall the easternmost window is of the 15th century, with three cinque-foiled lights under a square head; the other window is of two lights with 14th-century tracery under a square head, and below it, outside, is a tomb recess of the same date (see fittings). The chancel arch is segmental, of two chamfered orders, with plain rectangular jambs. Between the windows is a modern doorway. The Nave (77 ft. by 21 ft.) has a 12th-century N. arcade of three bays, cut irregularly through the wall, with semi-circular arches and large rectangular piers with square chamfered abaci; at the E. end is a small 15th-century doorway opening into the N. aisle. On the S. side is a similar arcade of four bays; two open into the S. chapel, and one of them is under-built with a plain 13th-century doorway. The other two bays contain the 13th-century S. doorway and a small modern doorway opening into the vestry. Above the arcades on each side are remains of the round heads and jambs, in Roman brick, of pre-Conquest windows. The 13th-century clearstorey has six windows on each side, all originally plain lancet lights, but, c. 1500, three on the N. side were replaced by square-headed windows of two cinque-foiled lights. The W. end is modern. The North Aisle (9 ft. wide) has a round-headed E. window, possibly of the 12th century, restored, and four N. windows, three of the 15th century, with two cinque-foiled lights under square heads, and the fourth a two-light window of c. 1340, with delicate tracery. The N. doorway is blocked, and is only visible inside. At the W. end is a modern doorway into the tower. The South Chapel (30 ft. by 18½ ft.) has, in the E. wall, two tall round-headed 13th-century windows, with engaged shafts in the inner jambs, and a small circular light between them. In the middle of the S. wall is another tall single-light window with edge rolls to the inner jambs; on each side of it is a square-headed, 15th-century window, one of three lights, the other of two; in the N. wall is the blocked door of the 15th-century stairs to the former rood-loft, and low in the W. wall is a curious round opening into the porch, formerly into the S. aisle. The Roof of the nave and the carved stone corbels which support it are of the 15th century. Some of the timbers in the roof of the N. aisle are also old.

Fittings—Brasses and Indents: in the S. chapel, brass of John Pecok and his wife, c. 1330, with inscription and arms, three peacocks im paling on a cross three escallops: floriated cross, with figure of civilian in the head of cross, 14th-century, no inscription: in the nave, of knight in armour, c. 1400: to Henry Gape, 1558, and his wife, inscription only: in various parts of the church, indents. Door: in S. wall of nave, probably 15th-century, with original wrought-iron strap hinges. Font: with octagonal bowl and quatrefoil panels in the sides, 15th-century. Monuments and Floor Slabs: against the N. wall of the chancel, of Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor, died 1626, marble figure, life-size, seated, and inscription: in the floor, several 17th-century slabs: in the nave, 17th-century slab. In the S. wall of the chancel, outside, 14th-century tomb recess with a foiled head, and in it contemporary coffin lid carved with a cross. Niche: E. of the tomb recess, possibly locker of small cell, 15th-century. Paintings: in the vestry, remains of a 'Doom', 15th-century: on the S. wall of chapel, painted inscription to John Maynard and his wife, dated 1556, much defaced: on the W. jamb of S.E. window of clearstorey, traces of figure and decoration: on the jambs of E. window of N. aisle, fragments of diaper pattern. Piscinae: in the chancel, 15th-century: in the chapel, 15th-century. Pulpit: hexagonal, with elaborately carved panels and tester, 17th-century; wrought iron hour-glass stand, probably 17th-century. Seating: in the nave, 15thor early 16th-century linen panelling, made up.

Condition—Structurally good, owing to the 19th-century restorations, but the stonework of a few of the old windows is decayed.


b (3). Kingsbury Earthwork (? village site) lies N.W. of St. Albans Cathedral and a few hundred yards N.E. of Verulamium on a natural hill about 300 ft. above O.D., but is now hardly distinguishable, as the site has been much built upon. The area, covering about 27½ acres, was surrounded by a steep scarp or rampart, varying considerably in height, formed by levelling the top of the hill and throwing the soil outwards. Before reaching the southern boundary, the rampart curves outward to the E. to form a projecting bulwark, mentioned in one of the St. Albans Chronicles as a propugnaculum or municipiolum. The main area was levelled in the 10th century, and the propugnaculum c. 1152. There is no trace of a ditch; whether there ever was a stone wall of any sort is wholly uncertain. The original entrance appears to have been on the S.E. at the point where Dagnell Street now enters the area.

Dimensions—Greatest length, about 1,370 ft.; greatest width, about 880 ft.

Condition—Poor; much built upon and denuded.

d (4). St. Michael's Manor House, on the S.W. side of Fishpool Street (see also St. Albans), a two-storeyed building of plastered and cemented brick and timber, is probably of late 16th-century date. The original plan has been completely obscured by alterations made at various times, and the street front is of late 17th-century date, but has been replastered. A room at the N. side of the building is lined with large bolection moulded panels of late 17th-century date, and has a plastered ceiling ornamented with moulded ribs, in geometrical and flowing designs, and foliated panels in which are the initials I.G. and the date 1586. The Dairy, about 50 yards further down the street, was built possibly a little later than the house, and was redecorated and much altered late in the 17th century. The plan is rectangular and has probably been enlarged. The street front is plastered and cut up into panels by bands of running ornament. On the first floor is a room lined with early 17th-century panelling divided into bays by Ionic pilasters ornamented with strap work. In the entrance hall is some plain, late 17th-century panelling, and the wide fire-place in the kitchen is original.

Condition—Good; much altered.

c (5). Sir Nicholas Bacon's House, ruins, in Gorhambury Park, about 2¼ miles W. of St. Albans. The remains consist of the walls and porch of the hall, and part of the W. side of the main courtyard. The porch is of stone and the other walls of brick and flint. The house was built by Sir Nicholas Bacon between 1563 and 1568, and a complete plan exists in a manuscript history of Gorhambury by the Hon. Charlotte Grimston, 1821. The porch is a good example of Renaissance work, and is of two storeys, with a parapet; the lower storey is open on three sides, and has semi-circular arches now under-built with modern brickwork. The upper storey has square-headed windows; the front window, which has lost its mullions, is flanked by semi-circular niches with a mutilated figure in one of them. On the parapet are carved the royal arms, France modern, quartering the leopards of England. The parapet is finished with small pediments, and at one angle is the fragment of a statue. The windows in the other walls are square-headed, with stone mullions and transoms; the uncusped heads of the lights are four-centred. At the W. end is part of an octagonal clock tower and there is also an open fireplace with a tiled back of herring-bone pattern. Further W. is a small fragment of wall containing a semi-circular niche in which is a statue of Henry VIII. in armour, with the head and one leg missing. There are many fragments of moulded stonework lying near the ruins.

Condition—Bad; the stonework of the porch is cracked and decayed; it is under-built and is kept up by a large brick buttress, iron ties and bands. The other walls are ruinous; some of them are loaded with ivy, and trees and shrubs are growing among them.

c(6). The Pondyards, a small cottage, about 2 miles N.W. of St. Albans, on the W. side of the main road to Redbourn, is the only fragment remaining of Verulam House, a large building erected by Sir Francis Bacon c. 1601, as a secondary house to Gorhambury; the rest was destroyed in 1663. The cottage stands near the ponds, now almost filled up, which formerly supplied Gorhambury with water. It is of two storeys and attics. The walls are of red brick; the roof is tiled. Between the two storeys is a moulded brick string course, and the chimney has a moulded cap. The windows are not original.

Condition—Fairly good; the moulded brickwork is damaged in places.

a(7). House, at Childwick Green, about 2 miles N. of St. Albans, and ½ mile N.E. of Childwickbury, is a two-storeyed building with attics, of late 16th-century date; at the back are modern additions. The walls are of brick, with stone dressings; the roof is tiled. The plan is rectangular, facing S.W., with a small central staircase between the principal rooms on the ground floor, and a kitchen and offices at the back. Originally a moulded stone plinth ran round the house, but only parts of it remain. On the S.W. front are two stone cornices, one on the first floor level, the other under the eaves; the entrance doorway, also on this front, has slightly moulded jambs and a flat, four-centred head; on each side of it is a projecting splayed bay window; the northernmost is almost entirely modern, but the other is original, and has three front and two side lights, with moulded stone jambs, mullions, transoms and lintels. Several other windows retain original stonework, partly restored, and a window at the back contains 16th-century diamond pattern lead glazing. The chimneys have been restored. Some old beams, which have been encased, remain in the ceilings.



c(8). The Devil's Ditch (line of entrenchment or dyke), lies between Mayne's Farm and Gorhambury Lodge. It is an isolated ditch on the S.E. slope of a spur formed by the 300 ft. contour, and there are no traces of any extension to the E. or W. or of any other works in connection with it. It has a conterscarp on the S. 9 ft. high, with a slight bank; the N. slope, 11 ft. high, has a berm, but no apparent rampart.

Dimensions—Length, 500 ft.; width, crest to crest, 75 ft.

Condition—Fairly good.