St. Albans Visit with Cream Tea, Cathedral & Clock Tower Tour

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Last weekend, I visited St. Albans, a town in England which is just north of London and one of the commuter towns. The purpose of the trip was to attend a tour of the cathedral, followed by cream tea and to see what the town has to offer. In fact, St. Albans does have a lot to offer. It has so much to offer that I will be writing two posts about it; the second one will be about the Roman settlement here, which was called Verulamium. Before the Romans, the settlement was known by the same name and inhabited by a Celtic tribe who minted many coins and traded openly with the Romans. More about the Roman settlement will be covered in another post. 


I arrived in town in time for lunch and went to Hatch, a local burger cafe. I ordered a chicken burger, and this came with fries. The food was delicious, and I loved the taste of the fries.


After eating, I walked back up the hill to the middle of St. Albans, where I discovered the clocktower. It was build in the early 1400s, and it was built at a time when clocks were rare in England. Near the clocktower was St. Eleanor's cross and other medieval structures, but these were later demolished. The clocktower also had bells, which were used by the market and as curfew.


The clocktower was also used as a shutter telegraph in the Napoleonic Wars (from 1808 to 1814) to communicate with the fleet at Great Yarmouth and Westminster, but it only worked in certain conditions and until electronic telegraphs came into use in the 1840s. The clocktower's lower floor was a shop, and the room and room directly above were rented out together. In the room above, there was just enough room for a garderobe (toilet) and bed. 

The three rooms above the shop and room were used for the clock. The second from the ground was the lodging for the family of the clock-keeper, and it would have smelled from the garderrobe below and had the weights from the clocks hanging down into the room.


The clocktower was open, and for £1.00, I could climb the narrow and winding stairs to the top. There is only one set of stairs, so I had to sometimes wait for a few minutes until everyone coming down had passed, but there are the rooms mentioned above to stop off at. 


The Victorian clock (which is on the lower level) was installed in 1866 when the tower was repaired. The larger clock is Market Clock, installed in 1729. Goods could not be sold before the bell rang, and dealers could not buy until a second bell so that the average people had the chance to buy first at better prices.


The big town bell is called Gabriel, and it was cast in Aldgate by William and Robert Burford in the 1700s. The bell was used to wake the town and signal curfews; it was also used to warn about fires, bad weather, and wars.


Finally, I reached the top and had it to myself for a few seconds. I caught a nice glimpse of the cathedral, where I would be visiting later for a tour and cream tea.


A couple of the gargoyles on the top of the tower were still intact, but others were worn away and had broken off.


I also saw the market from the top of the clocktower, so I went to have a wander after descending the clocktower.


The market had a variety of food and craft items. Fish, meat, olives, baked goods, pies, and cooked meats were on offer. I also saw crafts, soaps, chutneys, sewn products, and jams. The market was relatively empty, suggesting that it operates earlier and does a good business.


After walking back to the clocktower, I noted the old pub. St. Albans was a stop on the coach service to London, so it has many inns. This one was the Fleur-de-Lys. King John of France was captured at this site in 1356. The inn was built in the mid 1400s.


I then walked around and walked to the cathedral. Beautiful gardens filled with holly hocks and lavender were lovely...



The cathedral is another attraction in St. Albans, and it is currently under renovation. The town of St. Albans and the cathedral was named after British saint Alban. In Roman times, Christianity was forbidden, and those who practiced were put to death. Alban met a priest and turned to Christianity; the priest became his guest and he protected him by wearing the priest's robes when the Romans called in. Alban was executed for this (saving the priest's life), so he became a saint. The cathedral is built where he was executed.



The voucher implied that tours were held at certain times, so the idea was to have the cream tea first and then go to the tour. However, the voucher was misprinted. The last tour started at 2:30, so we were half an hour late. We did manage to find the tour and the guide inside the cathedral, so we did get to hear half of the tour. 


The ceilings are beautiful in this part of the cathedral, and we learned about the building and how it suffered due to collapsing. It was originally a Norman building. Part of the cathedral is older than the other side, which had to be rebuilt in a different style. Apparently this land was one of the first places where Christianity was worshipped in England. 



This rose window is a modern one, and it was unveiled by Princess Diana in the 1980s. It was designed to look like coins and is sometimes known as the bank window.



The statues here signified Alban and other popular religious people. The cathedral was the monastary before they were dissolved.


This is the Lady Chapel, which dates to the 14th century and dedicated to Mary. It became a school for boys at one point.


Lastly, we looked at the shrine that holds the relics. It was damaged in Victorian times when they attempted to restore it. It has been corrected with a metal frame in more recent times and is meant to hold some of the bones of St. Alban.


After the tour, we went to Abbot's Kitchen to have the cream tea. This is the cathedral's cafe, but it's currently held outside in a tent as the building is under renovation. The cream tea consisted of a choice of plain or fruit scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. We were also given tea, but it was really too hot for tea, and the temperatures were not the best inside the tent. I ended up drinking as much tea as possible and then getting a fruit ice and cold drink to take away.




I had lovely weather in St. Albans. I took one last photograph of the cathedral after the tour and tea.


Have you ever visited the cathedral or town of St. Albans?

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