Spotlight on St Albans
Sitting conveniently close to the M1, St Albans is about 25 miles north of central London in the middle of attractive Hertfordshire countryside.
Colonised by the Romans, who called it Verulamium, almost every age has left its mark on this bijou city. It is named after Alban, a Roman soldier who was beheaded for sheltering a Christian priest. His shrine in the magnificent cathedral is still a place of pilgrimage.
To stroll down quaint Fishpool Street, with its medieval and Georgian buildings, is to take a step back in time and it can be easy to forget St Albans is a busy market town and a successful commuter destination.
Estate agent Nula Easter, the manager of the local branch of Hamptons, describes St Albans as a mini-London. “It has everything that London has to offer: history, restaurants, cafés, theatre and a lively arts scene, but on a smaller, more intimate scale.”
Houses and flats for sale in St Albans
St Albans offers a wide range. There are quaint medieval cottages and Georgian houses in the central conservation area and in the surrounding villages such as Wheathampstead, the Ayots — St Lawrence, Green and St Peter — Childwick Bury where film-maker Stanley Kubrick lived, and Aldenham. Period houses in and around Fishpool Street sell for between £500,000 and £850,000.
Marshalswick in the north-east has the most expensive homes, with large, detached houses selling for between £1 million and £2 million. Fleetmill, close to the station and Clarence Park, has Twenties and Thirties family houses which sell for between £650,000 and £1.75 million.
St Stephen’s on the south side of town appeals to drivers who need easy access to the M1 and the M25. It has a mix of houses from the Thirties onwards, priced at between £500,000 and £1.5 million.
Transport and commuting: St Albans is situated between the M1 and the A1. Trains from St Albans station take 20 minutes to St Pancras and 25 minutes to Farringdon. The cost of an annual season ticket to London is £3,112.00.
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Who buys here?
St Albans is popular with families who come for the schools, both state and private. “People who grew up in St Albans often return to bring up their families,” comments Nula Easter.
Staying power: people find little reason to leave.
Renting in St Albans: letting agent Victoria Dundas, of Hamptons’ St Albans office, says: “We get corporate lets from nearby companies such as Tesco. With the Arsenal training ground nearby, there are footballers, too.”
Best streets: Marshals Drive, to the north-east of the city centre, has large, detached mainly Twenties houses, many of which have been extensively remodelled. Some are being knocked down and rebuilt.
St Albans: top five high-value streets
New-build homes in St Albans: King Harry Park in King Harry Lane is a development close to the station where Linden Homes, Berkeley Homes and retirement homes builder Beechcroft are building an estate.
Linden Homes (01727 811320) has 150 two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom houses, ranging in price from £590,000 for a three-bedroom house to £999,950 for a five-bedroom detached house. Berkeley Homes (01753 784417) is building 44 two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom houses and prices range from £525,000 for a three-bedroom terrace to £860,000 for a five-bedroom detached house.
Beechcroft (0845 8501232) is selling 21 two-, three- and four-bedroom houses and flats to the over-55s, with prices of the remaining units ranging from £490,000 for a two-bedroom house to £725,000 for a four-bedroom duplex.
Linden Homes is selling 255 studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom flats at Mosaic (01727 853760) in Charrington Place close to the town centre. Prices of the few remaining flats range from £185,000 for one bedroom to £300,000 for a two-bedroom property.
Abbey New Homes has a development, Beckett Place (Aitchisons, 01727 855556) in Hedley Road, east of the station, of 14 one- and two-bedroom flats where prices start from £204,995 for a one-bedroom flat and £299,995 for two bedrooms.
Schools: St Albans has an astonishing number of state primary schools which are judged “outstanding” by the government education watchdog Ofsted.
The primary schools judged outstanding are: The Abbey CofE in Grove Road, Aboyne Lodge in Etna Road, St Peter’s in Cottonmill Lane, Maple in Hall Place Gardens, St Alban and St Stephen Infants and Juniors in Vanda Crescent and Cecil Road, St Adrian RC in Watling View, Bernards Heath Juniors in Watson Avenue, Fleetwod Infants and Juniors in Royal Road and Hatfield Road, Cunninghall Hill Infants and Juniors in Cell Barnes Lane.
STAHS (St Albans High School) and STAGS (St Albans Girls School) are two top performing girls’ secondary schools. STAHS (ages four to 18) in Townsend Avenue, with the junior school in Wheathampsted, is private; STAGS (ages 11 to 18) in Sandbridgebury Lane is a comprehensive with an “outstanding” rating.
The other top performing comprehensive schools are: Loreto (ages 11 to 18) a Catholic girls’ school in Hatfield Road, Verulam (boys ages 11 to 18) in Brampton Road, Beaumont in Oakwood Drive and Sandringham in The Ridgeway. St Albans School (boys ages 11 to 18 with girls in the sixth form) is a private school occupying picturesque buildings close to the cathedral. The physicist Stephen Hawking is a former pupil.
Shops and restaurants: St Albans is a busy market town with a twice-weekly market on Wednesdays and Saturdays and a farmers’ market on the second Sunday of the month. There are two shopping centres off the main shopping street: The Maltings has a Hennes, Top Shop and TK Maxx; while the more up-market St Christopher Place has a Whistles, Hobbs, and Space NK.
There are small independent shops in George Street and Holywell Hill. Look out for Robert Roope for unusual sunglasses and frames with Mad Men chic in George Street and Ian Rastrick Fine Art for mid-century British art and Walney Radiators, who are turning the humble radiator into a work of art, both in Holywell Hill.
Chain restaurants include Pizza Express, Carluccio, Brasserie Blanc,Jamie’s Italian, Wagamama and coming soon Bill’s. The best gastronomic restaurants are Darcys in the city centre on Hatfield Road and The Lake at the St Michael’s Manor hotel in Fishpool Street.
Open spaces: Verulamium Park is the town’s landmark park, with a large lake and a stretch of Roman wall. The Heartwood Forest near Sandridge, north of St Albans, is where the Woodland Trust is creating England’s largest new native forest.
Leisure and the arts
St Albans has three theatres: the Abbey, home to the Company of Ten, a well-respected amateur company; the Maltings Arts Theatre and the Alban Arena. The latter two serve up a diet of drama, dance, music and comedy.
The former Odeon cinema — now renamed the Odyssey in homage to Stanley Kubrick and his film 2001: A Space Odyssey — is being restored by James Hannaway, who rescued the Rex in Berkhamsted with the help of local investors. Westminster Lodge in Verulamium Park is the newly built council-owned swimming pool.
Council: St Albans city and district council (Conservative controlled). Band D council tax for the 2012/13 year is £1,472.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE:
St Alban was a Christian martyr. But what happened to his severed head?
St Alban was a Roman soldier who met a gory end. Legend has it that when he was beheaded for sheltering a Christian priest, his severed head rolled down a hill and landed in a well at the end of the road now known as Holywell Street.
What has Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2 got to do with St Albans?
The play ends following the battle of St Albans in May 1455 an event which marks the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. St Albans Museum is asking local people to produce a soap opera around the event, to be called Blood, Lust and the Roses. It all kicks off at the museum on Saturday 3 March from 2pm to 3.30pm.
Jim Joel “The Grand Old Man of Racing” owned the stud farm at Childwickbury between St Albans and Harpenden. When he died aged 97 in 1992 the estate was broken up and Childwick Bury Manor was bought by the filmmaker, the last Stanley Kubrick, whose wife still lives there.
Average prices: Buying flats and houses in St Albans
Average prices: renting flats and houses in St Albans
One-bedroom flat: £800 to £1,000 a month
Two-bedroom flat: £1,100 to £1,600 a month
Two-bedroom house: £1,100 to £1,600 a month
Three-bedroom house: £1,500 to £2,000 a month
Four-bedroom house: £1,900 to £3,500 a month
Five-bedroom-plus house: £2,200 to £5,500 a month
Source: Hamptons International