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Stage 7 - Chipperfield  to  St Albans Abbey Station (9 miles)

Start: Grid Reference TL 04376 01641  Post Code WD4 9BS  StreetMap

If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 7 of this walk, without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a Word Docx by clicking on the link.


Starts at Two Brewers Inn, Chipperfield. Passes through Kings Langley where we join the Grand Union Canal for a short distance. Then thru' Bedmond and Potters Crouch before descending past the Roman wall into Verulamium Park and past St Albans Cathedral to finish at St Albans Abbey Station.

Start on Chipperfield Common at pub sign facing Two Brewers Inn. Turn right to cross over the road (The Common) and into Kings Lane, signed Kings Langley. Follow Kings Lane for 250 yards staying on the RHS pavement - crossing over the entrance to two residential roads on the way. As the road turns sharp left, turn right, signed Public Footpath, into a cul-du-sac, with five houses to the right and hedgerow to the left.

Go straight on to a gate and cross a stile to the right of it. Then follow the path straight across a large field. and after 500 yards along an isolated line of trees. Just past the last tree veer half left and follow the worn path across the field to a gate. Exit the field and immediately turn right onto a footpath downhill with the road to the left and below.

Near the bottom of the decent the path follows a pavement, then at the entrance to The Grove cross the road, and by the entrance to Whippendell Farm, take the path signed "Public Footpath King Langley".

This area is called Whippendell Bottom and is one of the few places where the underlying chalk is exposed. It's a very peaceful and only the road through it really intrudes on the silence. However, in earlier times there was a lot going on here. During World War I the Whippendell Farm (on the LHS at the bottom) was set up as a poultry farm used to help rehabilate injured soldiers and by 1938, when it ceased these activities, was the 4th largest poultry farm in the country.

During this time according to a publication entitled "Does the Lark Still Sing? My Life in Kings Langley" by Allan Norman Butler.

"On 15th April 1933, Sir Alan Cobham brought his Air Show to Whippendell Bottom. What a strange choice of venue for such an event! The field was rough and sloped on either side, so how did the pilots manage to take off and land a De Havilland Dragon Rapide, under such conditions? Granted the plane was only small but the odds were challenging! The public were offered trips at 21shillings (1.05 pounds) a ride and there were plenty of takers. A flight in a Tiger Moth cost 5 shillings (25p)."

When the path comes out onto the road again, continue along the LHS pavement (Chipperfield Road) as it climbs out of the valley past houses to your LHS and over the A41 after 650 yards. Immediately over the A41 turn right to cross over Chipperfield Road and through a wooden pedestrian gate (by a metal gate), signed Public Footpath, and follow a track downhill. At the bottom turn left with the path.

When I visited in May 2010 there was a notice, by the wooden kissing gate where we leave Chipperfield Road, entitled "Enjoy a walk in the countryside and help to look after it". I'm not sure if it's still there, but I did take a photo of it, see at Geograph (to enlarge click on more sizes, above the photo). The path we follow, to King's Langley High Street, is the top one past the school and along The Drift. In the past I've often been asked, why I did not just use the Hertfordshire Way route from Chipperfield to King's Langley. I will say, I did check it out, but I have always preferred this alternative route.

After another 500 yards a path to the left leads to the Old Palace Pub (at 1.7 miles), ignore this path and continue straight on.

Kings Langley is a large village in the Gade Valley. The name is derived from "lange lea" being a long water meadow or clearing. The settlement dates back to Roman Times and has links with William the Conqueror. In the late 13th Century a Royal Palace was built here under the supervision of Eleanor of Castile (1241 - 1290), wife of Edward I. It was used as Royal Residence by Edward I, II and III, Richard II and Henry V. During the Black Death of 1349, it was used by Edward III as his seat of government. A Dominican priory was founded by Edward II in 1308 and built just north of the palace. The village is also mentioned by Shakespeare in Richard II.

Edmund de Langley, 1st Duke of York and fifth son of Edward III, was born in the Royal Palace on 5th June 1341 and died here on 1st August 1402.  He was originally buried next to his first wife Isabel of Castile, in the priory chapel at the Friary, but in 1575 both their remains were moved to their current tomb in All Saints Church. Richard II (died 1400) was originally laid to rest here, but 13 years later his remains were moved to Westminster Abbey.

Sadly, very little of the Palace remains and most of the site was the home of the Rudolf Steiner School, closed in March 2019. It opened in 1949 and was the oldest Waldorf School.  It reopened as Langley Hill Independent School in September 2019.

It is worth going a few yards off route to the area around the Old Palace Pub and the school. A house (No. 80) opposite the pub has old remains in its front garden as does the garden of the pub. An old building, now part of the school, housed the original "Priory School" from 1908 contains remains of the 14th Century Priory (see Grade II* Listing) and is still part of the Steiner School. In 1970, under where the present school gymnasium sits, a 60ft wine cellar was uncovered.  All of these hold claims to being part of the Royal Palace, or the priory.

From researching Kings Langley Palace, it appears to have covered a large area, including the area around the junction of the footpaths and part of the field to the RHS of our footpath.

The path comes out onto a residential road (Archer Close). Go straight on along the road, and after a few yards as it turns left, veer right (by a no cycling sign) onto a footpath between houses and follow it to Kings Langley High Street, next to the Rose & Crown public house. 

The Rose and Crown was originally a wine tavern from at least 1635. One story at Kings Langley History, tells how:

"In 1668, headlines were made when "James Goodwin at the Rose and Crown Inn issues his own coinage". This was a half penny token and was similar to ones produced by a number of traders throughout the country to meet the lack of small change from the Royal Mint."

The pub was rebuilt in the 18th Century and used as a coaching inn. During World War 2 a diversion was put in place in front of the pub. A local police Sergeant on duty that night had an altercation with a car driver who said he had a VIP in the back. Maybe he was only doing his duty, but the VIP was Winston Churchill You can read the story at BBC History.

Across the main road from here, in Church Lane, is All Saints Church. Christopher Cox VC is buried in the graveyard. He is Kings Langley's only resident to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) - "the highest military decoration which is, or has been, awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories". Cox was a Private in the army during World War I and received the medal for his bravery in crossing the frontline many times as a stretcher-bearer under fire to carry wounded soldiers back to the trenches and saved many young lives. He served in the Home Guard in World War II and died in 1959. In 2007, 90 years after the battle, a memorial was unveiled in the village of Aichet le Grand in France to Private Cox near the site of the battle. His son and many representatives of his old regiment attended the ceremony. In 2009 the village was also twinned with Kings Langley because of the heroism of Private Cox.

All Saints Church was built in the 14th Century on the site of an older church dating from the 12th Century. It had quite a unique privilege, as up until 1925 it was allowed to fly the Royal Standard on certain days.

To read more about Kings Langley and its history visit the Kings Langley Local History & Museum Society, the town's entry on Wikipedia or Kings Langley Village.

Turn left along the High Street staying on the pavement on the LHS. After 160 yards, turn right to cross over, using the pelican crossing. Then left and past the Saracens Head Pub. After passing the next building turn right, between buildings, signed Public Footpath 26.

Kings Langley was a staging point for coaches on the turnpike from London to Aylesbury, Oxford and Birmingham. The High Street has lots of quaint and old buildings with many of them listed. The Saracens Head is an old coaching inn and dates back to at least the 15th Century. According to the pub website has been an inn since at least 1619. The pub has a listed timeline of landlords and some colourful old stories. Two worth a mention are. 

"1633. William HAYDON was the innkeeper and was also a butcher.  In 1636 he and George Deacon of Waterside were fined for delivering and selling beer in 'unsigned measures'.

1640. William HAYDON was appointed supervisor of the King's highway.  Despite this he deposited a dunghill in the street next his sign and was fined 6d.  Then he was fined a further 40s, because he misbehaved in court, he was fined 5 pounds.  When he died in 1645, his goods was valued at 64 pounds 12s."


"The footpath to Waterside used to run beside the inn and was called Dronken Lane in a document of 1389."

I assume this Dronken Lane is now Footpath 26, the one we have just turned right onto. However, I do prefer the original name.

After 160 yards and immediately past a football pitch, turn left at a crossroads of footpaths, signed Public Footpath 25. The path comes out at a junction of roads.

Turn right along Blackwell Road for just a few yards, then cross over at first house, turn left past bench and right into Mill Lane.

When Mill Lane starts to turn right, turn left to cross over and into Tooveys Mill Close. After just a few yards turn right, past some bollards, and towards the canal.

Cross the footbridge over the canal. Go down the steps and turn left, under the footbridge and along the Grand Union Canal Towpath. The canal will be to your RHS.

The area just before the footbridge is where Toovey's Mill stood. Although not obvious we pass over the mill stream 40 yards before the footbridge, hence the stream and canal form an island. The mill took its name from the owning family during the 18th Century. The Domesday Survey shows there was a mill here at that time. In 1797 the Grand Junction Canal (now part of the Grand Union Canal) was cut right by the mill ... The mill stayed in the Toovey family until 1978 when the company went into voluntary liquidation. It was demolished to make way for new residences, but the Mill House still stands on the opposite side of the close from where we turn right towards the footbridge. To read a fuller history of the mill visit Kings Langley Local History & Museum Society.

After 180 yards the towpath passes Kings Langley Lock and soon after approaches a road bridge (Water Lane). DO NOT follow the towpath under the bridge, instead turn left to follow a path up to the road. Then stay left along Water Lane.

Kings Langley Lock was completed in 1797, the same time the Grand Junction Canal was dug. After walking past the lock, look back to see the Toovey's Mill Race rejoin the canal by the opposite bank. 

On a personal note, I have always wanted, in some way, to include the Grand Union Canal towpath as part of this long-distance walk around London's green necklace. On my originally route, I only included the short section we are on now. Joining the canal at Water Lane, going in the opposite direction, and leaving it just 250 yards later, next to the footbridge we have just crossed.  I have often toyed with adding more and managed to do so up until two years ago, by using the present route and continuing south for another half a mile along the towpath to join the Hertfordshire Way at Home Park Mill Link Road and following it past Numbers Farm to Bedmond. However, permission for a footpath was removed, hence Hertfordshire Way had to be rerouted and I have had to also with London Green Belt Way.

The canal is the main line of the Grand Union Canal. It is 137 miles long and links Brentford, in London, to Birmingham. There are also branch arms going off to other destinations including Paddington, Slough, Wendover, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Leicester. The name comes from the formation of the canal, completed in 1929 and comprised of the linking up of many earlier canals to form a union of waterways.

The Water Lane bridge is a cross-over bridge, meaning the towpath crosses over to the other side of the canal. The bridge has been in the news recently.

On 1 May 2018 Scott Ross, whilst magnet fishing, found a live World War 2 bomb in the canal under the Water Lane Bridge. He videoed himself pulling old metal from the canal, but did take a while to call the emergency services. When he did the whole road was closed off and houses were evacuated. It's one of the daftest things I've ever watched. You can watch his video at YouTube.

After 180 yards, at junction with Primrose Hill, veer left then turn right to cross over into Toms Lane. Take extreme care as the pavement is almost no existent.

Just 200 yards to the right of this junction, along Station Road, is the site of the old Ovaltine Building. The first factory was built here in 1913, but due to the popularity of their product, this expanded rapidly. Soon there was a much larger Art Deco building. Production lasted for almost 90 years and at its peak employed 1,400 workers. However, the factory here was closed in 2002 and production relocated to Switzerland. Most of the building has since been demolished to make way for luxury flats. However, the Grade II Listed, Art Deco facade was retained and is still a well-known landmark for locals and train passengers travelling north on the West Coast Main Line. At Geograph you can see a photo of the back of the factory, from canal path, taken in 2005 and before most of it was demolished. For more information on the old Ovaltine Factory - see history at Kings Langley Local History & Museum Society.

Toms Lane leads under the West Coast Main Line from London Euston to Glasgow. The railway line is almost 400 miles in length and the busiest for mixed-traffic in the UK. This part of the line is the oldest (Euston to Birmingham) completed in the 1930s. Today the line is the main feeder for Birmingham and the Midlands, for one of Britain's busiest railway junctions at Crew, for the industrial cities of Manchester and Liverpool and beyond to Glasgow. This line also carries the Irish Mail Train from Euston to Holyhead. It is the oldest surviving railway service in the world and began in 1848. 

Follow Toms Lane, soon under a railway bridge, and uphill for 200 yards. Turn right into a cul-du-sac, still Toms Lane, now running parallel to the main lane. 

As the cul-du-sac turns back to re-join the main lane, turn right and go through a metal kissing gate, next to a wooden fence, signed Public Footpath.

Follow the footpath, firstly between gardens, then along the RHS of a field. After 300 yards turn sharp left onto wide track.

On maps this track is named Sheppeys Lane. A short distance to the right, along the lane and hidden behind trees, is Numbers Farm. Where I mentioned earlier how both our route and that of the Hertfordshire Way had to be diverted due to permission being removed for a permissive path, that permission was the lane up from Kings Langley and past Numbers Farm. It's a shame we have had to miss out some of the canal towpath, but our route through here now follows a public footpath where no permission is required.

In 1929 the Ovaltine Company bought Numbers Farm at Kings Langley and Parsonage Farm at neighbouring Abbots Langley and created a single larger Ovaltine Farm. Here the produced the milk, eggs and barley to make their famous product. Today the farm has once again been divided into two as the M25 motorway, completed 1986, cuts straight through it. Numbers Farm has been converted to a private residence. Ovaltine Egg Farm, to our right and by the M25, is now Beaufort Court. It is home to Renewable Energy Systems. Their large wind turbine dominates the surroundings and is a marker for many regular M25 users.

As you walk along Sheppey Lane the constant sound of traffic from the motorway stays with you. However, you'll probably be glad to be here rather than there.

Follow Sheppeys Lane for 0.9 miles. On approaching a wood, turn left on a path through the wood (at 4.25 miles) and eventually leading to a recreation ground. Cross the recreation ground, passing a children’s play area and then right to exit, by a soccer pitch, onto Meadow Way. Turn left along the pavement.

On reaching a T-junction, cross straight over and turn right along the pavement (now Toms Lane).

At the end of Toms Lane, veer left to a zebra crossing. Cross Bedmond High Street via the crossing and turn left along the pavement.

After another 230 yards turn right, before Tin Church, into Sergehill Lane. 

Nicholas Breakspear was born at Breakspear Farm in Bedmond around 1100, and is the only Englishman to become Pope (although some sources claim there was also an Englishwoman Pope, also see Wikipedia). His mother died when he was young and his father then joined St Albans Abbey as a monk. At 18 years old Nicholas also applied to join the abbey but was refused due to the fact he did not have enough schooling. Undeterred he went abroad to study. Firstly, to Paris and eventually onto Avignon where in 1130 he became a monk at the Augustinian Abbey of St Rufus. He was elected Abbot in 1137 and eventually promoted to Cardinal by Pope Eugenius III. After four years of helping to restore peace in Scandinavia and setting up two new archbishoprics there, he returned to Rome. Eugenius had died and had been succeeded by Anastasius IV. The new Pope was ninety years old and within a year was also dead. Nicholas was then unanimously elected Pope in November 1154. He took the name Adrian IV and died in 1st September 1159. His tomb is in the Vatican. History has it that he granted Henry II permission to conquer Ireland.

On the corner is Bedmond's Tin Church (or the Church of the Ascension), constructed using corrugated iron in 1880 at a cost of 80 pounds. I can't find any connection with the local Pope, but every time I see it, I am reminded of something from a child's storybook. 

Within a short distance pass the 17th Century White Hart Inn (closed 2009) on your right and after just another 100 yards at a Y-junction stay left into St Albans Lane which after 300 yards becomes Bedmond Lane.

After 300 yards St Albans Lane turns left then right past Funny Farm and changes name to Bedmond Lane. The farm owner's children living up to the name, as every time I have passed, the two statues at the entrance were always dressed in different clothes and a caption to go with. However, from the caption in the picture it seems they got fed up with rogues trying to spoil their show. The lane is narrow and there is no pavement, so take great care.

From Bedmond our route is on-road for just over two miles. For years I have looked for alternative off-road routes but have not been able to find any suitable. There are footpaths, but many were cut off by the building of the M1 and other trunk roads in the area. If you study OS maps you can see what I mean. It's a shame the council didn't preserve the older footpaths and bridleways connection across these roads, like many other councils have. However, on research I have read a few articles in the press about local campaigns to protect Bedmond Lane from developers. Apparently, although now a narrow road, it's one of the last ancient wooded tracks in the St Albans area. I have walked and ran the lanes from Bedmond and looking back, I have always found them pleasant and almost traffic free, plus there are a few pleasant surprises along the way.

Fly-tipping is one of the greatest enemies of the English countryside and is common place along this lane as it is quiet and has few dwellings. During a visit on 17th May 2008 the whole lane was closed off to traffic, thanks to some very selfish, unthoughtful people who dumped a whole lorry load of waste on the road. Their only goal was to save the few pounds it would have cost them to dispose of it properly at a local council dump. It caused a great inconvenience to me as I was just in front of a charity run around London, marking the route for the runners. I was delayed, had to go back on myself and take a 5 mile diversion, luckily the runners were allowed through by the local council employees who were starting to clear the lane. However, because of the delay, later in the day it caused me to skip a few marking points and some runners went off-course. It spoilt their weekend and put a dampener on mine. The expense to local tax payers to remove the tip ran into thousands of pounds. Fly-tippers and others who dump rubbish in the countryside don't just cause temporary problems, they also cause permanent problems. There is evidence of this all over the British countryside where picnic areas, nature reserves, car parks and lay-bys have been closed by councils because they cannot continually afford to clean up the mess that is left. In a 2008 programme on TV by Bill Bryson, author and President of the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) from 2007-2012, highlighted the problems of how illegal dumping of waste and littering was affecting this beautiful country - you can watch section on fly-tipping at YouTube. It's one of the top items mentioned by the public in political polls. Basically, look after where you live, look after the countryside, have respect for others and your surroundings, take litter home and dispose of it properly - recycle it when you can. It does not take much effort and you'll feel better about yourself for doing it. Also, encourage friends to do the same and report other you see blatantly breaking the laws and making this country a more unpleasant place for us all.

Follow this narrow and enclosed country lane for another 0.8 miles to where it passes under the M1 motorway (at 6 miles).

To the left and above the lane before the motorway is the recently built Centurion Club - a private members gold course. For well over a decade it looked like something was being built on this land, however work began and stopped many times. Each year I passed I got the impression it was being used as a scam to somehow generate money from grants by pretending to do something with it. At times I thought it was being used as an unregistered dumping site. I'm glad to see the land has now been put to good use in building a championship golf course and no longer having to worry about other things less pleasurable to the eye.

Bedmond Lane widens as it passes under the M1. They even seem to have put a pavement on both sides. The motorway passes over on two separate bridges, both obviously built in different eras. The carry eight traffic lanes above us. The long dark tunnel (it's 70 yards) reminds me of the M25 / A30 bridge on stage 2 of our walk, but here there is no peaceful river next to it and I always find this place a bit haunting. It's another favourite place for lazy people to fly-tip and in 2012 a dead thoroughbred horse was dumped here.

After another 500 yards go straight on at a crossroads past Potters Crouch Farm, staying on Bedmond Lane as far as The Holly Bush pub.

In front of the pub turn right into Ragged Hall Lane, soon past East Farm.

The tiny hamlet of Potters Crouch is made up of two farms, a pub and just a few cottages. Most of the buildings are listed for historical reasons and the hamlet was designated a conservation area by St Albans Council in 1977. All of the conservation area is within the Metropolitan Green Belt.

In the Domesday Book, completed in 1086, this area is referred to as Windridge. It contained 10 households and belonged to the Abbey of St Albans. There still is a Windridge Farm, just outside this tiny hamlet, on Potters Crouch Lane, half a mile west of The Holy Bush. Roman findings on the farm prove this area was occupied well over 1,000 years before Domesday. Sixty-four Roman lead sling-shots were found by metal detectorists in the 1980s. Some of them are on show at Verulamium Museum in St Albans.

I've often wondered where the name Potters Crouch came from and how old it was. One source with an explanation is in the link in the paragraph above.

"The name Potters Crouch may have come about because a potter lived and worked in the area. Richard Le Pottere is mentioned at Potters Crouch in 1294 and his son William Pottere succeeded him in 1335 and was probably the Potter of Potters Crouch referred to in 1344. Two medieval St Albans Ware jugs have been found locally and are believed to have been made in the area. The name may also have been derived from Potter Cross; "Le Pottercrouch next the way leading from St Albans to Langley" is mentioned in 1346."

The two farmhouses date from the 15th Century. Potters Crouch Farm has an old weather-boarded barn backing onto Bedmond Lane. East Farm, or Potters Crouch East Farm to give it its full name, has a large duck pond next Ragged Hall Lane.

The Holly Bush pub (see photo) dates from the 17th Century and has been run by the same family for over 30 years. Ragged Hall Lane is very narrow and peaceful, with raised banks on both sides. During spring and summer, the hedgerows are awash with wild flowers. It's difficult to believe that within a mile on all sides are two of the UK's busiest motorways (M1 and M25) and two trunk roads (A414 and A405).

0.65 miles after the Holly Bush pub we pass Furzebushes Lane to our RHS and Park Wood to our LHS. After another 200 yards, and at the end of Park Wood, turn left past a wooden gate onto a path, signed Public Footpath to King Harry Lane (DO NOT take the track into the wood). 

Furzebushes Lane leads to The Garden of the Rose (no connection with the Wars of the Roses, but our route does have as you'll see later). The Royal National Rose Society was founded in 1876 and was the world's oldest specialist plant society. However, according to this news article from BBC, dated May 2017, it has gone into administration. It was open between June and September each year and there were over 30,000 roses on display. I suppose, let's wait and see what happens.

Park Wood, an ancient woodland, is listed as an "asset of community value" or "ACV". This is because it has been accessible to the local community for many years. It means if the landowner decides to sell, then the community will be given first refusal.

Follow the path around to the left and along the edge of the wood. After 400 yards, the path leads to a footbridge over the A414. Cross over the footbridge.

Up until 2009 this section of the A414 was classified as motorway (M10) but was downgraded so that non-motorway traffic could use it.

In 2004 the footbridge was being damaged by vandals - they stole the metal railings. It took the council a few years to carry out the repairs and this caused a lot of inconvenience. As you can see from walking over the bridge, the road cuts straight through the wood - I suppose this is called progress.

Continue along the path keeping the wood to your LHS. On reaching the corner of the wood turn left with the wood still to your LHS. After just 50 yards, turn right on a footpath directly away from the wood and downhill, across a large field. In the distance you get a good view of St Albans. At the bottom go through a hedge. Follow the path left through a grassy area and then right to a cul du sac.

All of the streets in this area are quite modern, but have Roman names thus reflecting St Alban's history, and unless you know the area well it is difficult to find your way out by road. However, whether by sheer fluke or good council planning, there is a very direct path which cuts straight through the house to where we want to go.

Stay straight on, along the pavement at the end of the cul du sac, onto a path between houses. The path cuts straight through, crossing roads and between houses, and ater 0.48 miles leads to King Harry Lane.

Cross over the road using the pelican crossing. At the opposite side turn right and then left onto a path away from the road and leading downhill, soon over a footbridge, and along the Roman Wall of Verulamium Park.

After 570 yards the path through the park leads past a lake to your LHS and then over a bridge across the River Ver. Immediately over the river turn right in front of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub. Continue along the river, keeping it to the right, and past wooden bollards into the grounds of the Abbey. (DO NOT take the footpath to the left or the private road to the right).

Go straight on along the grass path through the lower grounds, with the Abbey on the hill to your left. Then follow the path as it becomes enclosed and leads to a road (Grove Road).

Turn right along the Grove Road to a T-junction with Holywell Hill. Turn right along the pavement to cross over the River Ver and then over the entrance to Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre. Turn left and cross over the road (Holywell Hill) via the pelican crossing.

St Albans Abbey Station is just a few yards to the right.

On the last mile of the stage through St Albans there are great views of the Abbey, the Roman remains, the lakes and the river from the path through the park. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks (pub website) is one of many old inns in the city and claims to be the oldest inhabited licensed house in England. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the "Oldest Inn in Britain". Parts of the pub date from the 8th Century, but most of what is seen today dates from the 11th Century. Oliver Cromwell is reported to have stayed here during the English civil war. It was originally known as the Round House but this was changed to its current name in the late 19th Century due to the sport of cockfighting being held here. Thankfully this barbaric sport was banned in all of the UK by 1895, but is still legal in some countries in the world.

St Albans as a settlement goes back to well over 2000 years ago. It was originally a Celtic Iron Age settlement named Verlamion, meaning "the settlement above the marsh". It is a city steeped in history with many old buildings, including the Roman Verulamium with its unique Verulamium Theatre, the 14th Century Abbey Gateway, the 15th Century Clock Tower which retains its original bell, the Marlborough Almshouses of 1736 and the many old houses in Fishpool Street, to mention a few.

The town was one of the first built by the Romans after their invasion in 43 AD and went on to become one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. It was completely destroyed by Queen Boadicea in an uprising in 60 - 61 AD, but rebuilt even larger, by the Romans in the following years.

Boudica and her husband King Prasutagus ruled over the Iceni tribe of East Anglia in an area now we know as Norfolk. Cassius Dio, the Roman historian recorded about her:

"In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire."

When the Romans invaded southern England in 43 AD Prasutagus allied with them. This enabled the tribe to keep their independence and afford Boadica and Prasutagus a lavish lifestyle. Before his death Prasutagus willed his lands jointly to the Roman Emperor and his wife and two daughters, hoping to keep his bloodline in place. However, the Romans did not believe in female inheritance. When Prasutagus died Boadica's lands and property were confiscated by Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman Governor of Britain at the time. She was publicly flogged and her daughters were raped by Roman slaves. The Iceni were outraged and rose up under Boadica. They sacked Colchester, torturing, raping and killing the inhabitants. They burnt their houses and desecrated their burial grounds. London and Verulamium were next to suffer the same fate at the hands of the Warrior Queen. In total around 70,000 died in the three places. When the Roman Army finally caught up with Boudica, her huge army was defeated in the Battle of Watling Street by the smaller but more tactful Roman army. They systematically slaughtered the Iceni warriors and their families. It is claimed that between 100,000 and 250,000 died, wiping out almost all of the Iceni tribe. Boudica survived the battle, but later poisoned herself and her daughters so as not to be taken as prisoners.

The Roman Army eventually departed in 410 AD, and the Verulamium fell into decay. By the time of the Doomsday Book (1086), St Albans was recorded as having a population of only 500. However, the town soon started to grow and again became an important settlement. It was chosen by the Barons and the Clergy as one of the five places where Magna Carta 1215 was drawn up and figured highly in the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. Today there remains many visible signs of the Roman presence and the history of the occupation is well depicted in Verulamium Museum with its model of the Roman Town.

The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban has an exceptionally long nave and dates from Norman times. It was built on what is believed to be the site where St Alban, Britain's first Christian martyr, was killed. According to English historian John Morris, Alban was executed in 209 AD in the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, although this is disputed by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles which puts the date as 283 AD and by the Venerable Bede who suggested it was around 304 AD in the reign of Diocletian, an Emperor known for his persecution of Christians.

Alban was a Briton and also a Roman citizen. He sheltered a priest called Amphibalus who converted Alban to Christianity. Alban protected the priest by changing cloaks with him and was arrested in his place. The Roman judge was furious when Alban's cloak was removed and the deception was realised. Alban was tortured, ordered to denounce his Christianity and give sacrifice to the Roman gods. He refused to recant, reaffirmed his faith saying "I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things". For his actions, Alban was taken to a hill across the river from Verulamium and was executed. A monastic shrine to St Alban was built here around the 4th Century, and later, in 793AD, Offa, King of Mercia, founded an abbey and restarted the monastery. 

There are several legends associated with Alban's beheading. One states that on the way to his execution he was unable to cross the river using the bridge as it was crowded with onlookers. Instead he parted the waters and walked across the dry river bed. On seeing this, his executioner was so amazed he immediately converted to Christianity and refused to carry out his job. A replacement was soon found and as he cut off Alban's head the executioner's eyes were said to have dropped out of his head. The original executioner was also beheaded for refusing to obey his orders.

The present Abbey was begun in 1077 AD, yet a lot was destroyed with the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 - 1541) under Henry VIII. In 1877 St Albans received a Royal Charter, giving it city status and the Abbey became a cathedral. In the 1880's Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe and a wealthy businessman, restored the Abbey to its present state. He died on 29th April 1905 and is buried in the Abbey grounds. The Abbey still contains St Alban's Shrine which has been visited by pilgrims for over 1700 years. It also has a shrine to Amphibalus, the priest whom Alban was trying to protect. Although he had escaped originally, he was later captured and also martyred by the Romans.

There are many other old churches in the City, including St Michaels, founded by Abbot Ulsinus in 948. It is where Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626) is buried. The church also houses Bacon's Monument. He was the 1st Baron Verulam, Viscount St Albans, an English philosopher, lawyer and politician. He lived close by at Gorhambury House, which he inherited when his brother died in 1601. The present Gorhambury House was built in the late 18th Century and replaced the older 16th Century one where Bacon lived and remains the seat of the Earl of Verulam. The ruins of Bacon's house can still be seen in the grounds.

Roman Verulamium was situated southwest of the River Ver in what is now Verulamium Park, the area around St Michaels Church and on the other side of Bluehouse Hill (A4147) around the remains of the Roman Theatre. The boundary walls of the Roman town are still easy to see on most maps, e.g. StreetMap. Watling Street was an ancient trackway leading from what is now Canterbury to here, by way of London. It was paved by the Romans who extended it to the Kentish ports and also further north through England. It entered Verulamium from the south through "London Gate" (see map and photo) and exited northwest of the Roman theatre (see map). St Albans Abbey and the Saxon settlement grew up on the hill across the River Ver from the Roman town and around the area where St Alban was believed to be buried. Abbot Ulsinus (10th Century) built three new churches where the main roads entered the town. St Stephens and St Michaels on Watling Street and St Peters at the north entrance. Ulsinus diverted the route of old road (Watling Street) at St Stephens to go up around the abbey and then back down to rejoin the Roman road at St Michaels. This meant all passing traffic passed through the town and pilgrims visiting the Shrine of St Alban could prepare at the three churches as they entered the town. The abbey levied the tolls and controlled the market. The market was enlarged and the route from the three churches, into the town, met there. Overall, it was a great piece of town planning and encouraged the population to grow and the town to thrive.

Roman Watling Street traveled in a direct line between St Stephens and St Michaels. The diverted route would have followed a route along St Stephens Hill, Holywell Hill, High Street, George Street, Fishpool Street and St Michaels Street. To see a map of the diversion see MapMyWalk. Up until the late 18th century the three main roads into the centre of St Albans continued to be the Saxon ones past the three churches and all converging on the Market Square. It means character of the area and many of the old buildings along these roads have been retained and, with the Cathedral and Roman ruins, continue to attract many outsiders here today.

Charles Williams (1886-1945), the prolific English writer, as a boy lived at 15 Victoria Street and went to St Albans School. He was a member of the Oxford literary group, the "Inklings" whose other members included C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. The house was knocked down in 1981 to make way for the Maltings Shopping Centre. However, there is a blue plaque on the building to commemorate his former home.

Two great battles of the Wars of the Roses (1455 - 1487) were fought at St Albans, one on 22nd May in 1455 and the second on 17th February 1461. The wars took place between 1455 and 1487. They were a consequence of a feud over the throne of England between the Yorkists (white rose) led by Richard, Duke of York and the Lancastrians (red rose) led by King Henry VI. Henry was not a strong king, he had bouts of mental illness, He was not being very successful in the war with France and Richard blamed this on the influence of his advisors, especially the Duke of Somerset.

Both factions had legitimate claims as they were directly descended from Richard III. When the first battle of the wars commenced at St Albans on 22nd May 1455 it took a lot of people by surprise as most did not believe there would be a military engagement. 3,000 Yorkists led by Richard, Duke of York and Richard, Earl of Warwick defeated the king's army of 2,000. Henry VI was injured by an arrow during the battle. He took refuge in a local tannery, but was soon found by his enemies. He was taken prisoner and was held in the Abbey. Many of his supporters died, including Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, Thomas de Clifford, 8th Baron Clifford and Sir William Chamberlain. In total the king's army lost a few hundred men. Some of the nobles slain in the battle were laid to rest in the Lady Church at the Abbey.

With Somerset now dead the two sides reconciled their differences for a while. However, on 23rd September 1459 at the Battle of Blore Heath, hostilities resumed. Four battles later and with advantage moving back and forth, Henry was once again a captive of the Yorkists. On 17th February 1461, Henry's wife Margaret of Anjou with the new 3rd Duke of Somerset led 25,000 soldiers to attacked Richard, Earl of Warwick and his similar sized army at the 2nd Battle of St Albans. In defeat, Warwick fled and left his hostage behind. The king was found sitting under a tree in the town. After the battle the king and queen went to pray at the abbey for thanks for their victory.

The battles continued, sometimes with breaks until 1486, when after the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor became King Henry VII and united the two houses by marrying Elizabeth of York.

Today, if you walk around the centre of St Albans you will be treading the same steps and even passing some of the buildings that the soldiers in these battles did over 500 years ago. Holywell Hill and the Market Place are just two of the places referred to in stories of the battles.

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), although not always historically correct, covers the wars in Henry VI (parts 1, 2 & 3) and in Richard III.

During the first English Civil War (1642-45) St Albans sided with parliament against the Crown. However, in 1643 when the High Sherriff of Hertfordshire was reading a royal proclamation from the steps of the Eleanor Cross outside the Clock Tower, he was unfortunate to soon find out that at the same time Cromwell and a group of his men were riding up Holywell Hill towards him. He was arrested and soon on his way to the Tower of London.

In more recent times you can say that another great battle which takes place every two years had its roots in St Albans. "Ryder and Son" had a seed merchants here. Sam Ryder (1858 - 1936) is better known today as the founder of the golfing competition, the Ryder Cup. His own club, the Verulam Golf Club, to the south of the city and which we pass on leaving St Albans via the Alban Way, is the original home of the Ryder Cup and is where he developed the competition.

This old town has a lot of history, connections with many famous people and has been much used in film-making and television. If I were to list it all it would go cover many more pages. However, you can read more by visiting IMDb and the St Albans entry at Wikipedia.

Before leaving St Albans, I'll direct you to a very interesting website named It has lots of information about the archaeology and history of the city, with maps, photos and sketches. Also, for a detailed history of St Albans you can visit British History Online.

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