Verulamian By Any Other Name..

Last Friday night I stayed in St Albans after our work Christmas Party and the following morning, my hostess with the most-ess took me on a little guided tour of this bustling market town 22 miles north of London.

St Albans Coat of Arms

St Albans started life as an Iron Age town called Verlamion (meaning settlement above the marsh) and following conquest by the Romans in 43 AD, was renamed Verulamian and grew to become the second largest town in Roman-occupied Britain (after Londinium of course). Sometime around 250 AD, the pagan-converted-to-Christian Alban was executed for his beliefs. Actually he was beheaded – there was nothing new about Henry VIII’s predeliction for offing heads. He was later named a saint (the first British Christian martyr) and a shrine built over the site of his execution following the adoption of Christianity into the Roman empire by the Emperor Constantine. And so St Albans was born.

Market Place, St Albans

Saturday is market day in St Albans so it was first a wander amongst the stalls lining Market Place.

Before long, we turned into a covered alleyway, much like the Block and Royal arcades in Melbourne, and emerged to see the Church and Abbey of St Alban basking in the wintery sunshine.


A reverent stroll around inside revealed an awe-inspiring array of history, architecture and restoration works – if you click here, Robin from St Albans Blog has taken some magnificent photos of the interior.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
Source: Wikipedia

We emerged back into the winter sunshine and set out down the park towards our lunch destination, the oldest pub in Britain, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

It started life as a pigeon house near the Abbey before being dismantled and rebuilt in its current location as The Round House. The foundations of this building date from about 793 AD and in 1800, it was renamed to reflect the popularity of its main attraction, cockfighting – that is until it was banned in 849 AD. There’s even a glass case containing a large black cockerel above the door as you enter the low-beamed dining room. (For the record, I had a butternut squash and swiss chard bake which was really delicious and perfect for such a chilly winter’s day.)


With the magnificent Verulamian Park just across the bridge (over the River Ver), we took a brisk and chilly stroll around the part-frozen lake and climbed the hill to view the hypocaust and mosaic. The building looks a little like a toilet block from afar so if it hadn’t been for my local guide, I may never have bothered with this.

By this time, I needed to head back for the train (silly old me had booked a Sainbury home delivery for 4pm thinking I would be home in plenty of time instead of playing tourist in St Albans). So up the hill we trudged again, this time through the Monastery Tower (which has been a prison in its life amongst many other things), back into town, past the Clock Tower (erected by the town to symbolise its independence from the church, including the setting of its own curfew) and parted ways with me off to the train station for the trip back to London, feeling very satisfied with my impromptu day out into one of England’s most important historic towns.

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