St Albans

Former School of Art/Library
St Albans
on the River Ver in Hertfordshire has two official names for its inhabitants: Verulamian and Old Albanian. St Albans was a settlement of pre-Roman origin named Verlamion (or Verulam) by the Ancient British Catuvellauni tribe. It became the first major town on the old Roman road of Watling Street for travellers heading north and became the Roman city of Verulamium. After the Roman withdrawal, and prior to becoming known as St Albans, the town was called Verlamchester or Węclingacaester by the Mercian Angles. The mediaeval town grew up on the hill to the east of this around the Benedictine foundation of St Albans Abbey. This is the spot where tradition has it that St Alban, the first British Christian martyr, was beheaded sometime before AD 324. The city is therefore steeped in history.

The lettering examples here are to be found in the Romeland / George Street area, just north of the Cathedral & Abbey Church of St Alban. The first building has an 'institute' feel about the architecture and will be familar to those who regularly wait at the bus stop on the opposite side of the road. They may not have noticed the lettering on the lower part of the terra cotta roundels beneath each relief portrait:

'DAVY
BACON
HOGARTH'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 1 Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 3 
This is an eclectic mix of personages: chemist, inventor and poet Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829); philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and father of the scientific method Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount Saint Alban (1561-1626) and painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist William Hogarth (1697-1764). Their presence on this building is explained below...
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 2 Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 4
[UPDATE 6.8.2014: "I came across your site whilst searching for the meaning of the N&C lettering on the building in Sutton Road, St Albans [see below] and so I was pleased that you resolved that for me. I was following the route of the old Hatfield to St Albans railway line at the time, now called the Alban Way.

The building with Davy, Bacon and Hogarth on the outside was once the St Albans School of Art and also housed the public library before it moved over the other side of the road. Davy, Bacon and Hogarth represent science, literature and art, apparently.

The former Benskin's pub in Spicer Street was called the Vine. Hence the grapes sign over the door. More info here:
http://www.stalbanshistory.org/page_id__538_path__0p2p145p147p.aspx
Regards, Paul Hardy" Many thanks to Paul for the information and the link.]

The Vine
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 6 Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 5
The brickwork sign often lives on for decades (or even centuries) after the building has fallen into disuse or changed function. This fine example of a small tavern show a pale cartouche with the centred large and small capitals:
BENSKIN'S
FINE ALES & STOUT'
It looks at first glance as if this ghostly sign used drop shadow characters, but we think that there is an earlier sign underneath which follows that same lettering but uses a fatter font. If anyone knows the original name of this house, do get in touch.  Benskin's Watford Brewery Ltd was founded by 1722 by John Pope at New Street. Moved by his great-grandson, John Dyson to 194 High Street in about 1820. Bought by Joseph Benskin in 1867 with 42 public houses for £34,000. Registered in July 1894. Acquired by Ind Coope Ltd in 1957, and brewing ceased in 1972 with 636 tied houses. The brewery buildings were demolished in 1978, but the offices were converted into the Watford Museum.

From the link provided by Paul Hardy: dating from the 17th century, from 1811 the Vine was let at a peppercorn rent to Samuel Wildbore, a brewer trading from premises in the yard of the Blue Boar in the Market Place. He turned it back into an alehouse. The Vine was later leased to Messrs Locke & Smith, brewers based in Berkhamsted, and then, from 1913, as part of the Benskin's empire. It shut in 1932.

We don't think that the Brewery History Society (see Links) lists this example in its lists of defunct brewery signs.

Nicholson & Co. Ltd
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 10   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 92012 images
Nicholson & Co. Ltd rainwear factory, Beaumont Works, Sutton Road, at St Albans' "East End".
The Beaumont Works was built in the early part of the twentieth century as a clothing factory. Apparently, there is a preservation order on the front door and its ornately tiled surround, which is indeed very grand (above right). The
Grade II listed attractive Dutch gable faēade; its buff tablets bear the initials:
'N & C'
for Nicholson & Company in a deliciously serpentine letterform. We love the way in which the Gordian knot of the ampersand rises up and kerns over the belly of the 'C', while keeping a grip on the upper loop of the 'N'. In 1900 Nicholson and Co. (Coat Specialists) Ltd. moved from Manchester and was established at the Beaumont Works in Sutton Road. The firm was based there until the 1970s. The  building is currently in use as a multi-occupancy business centre (see update below).
Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 8   Ipswich Historic Lettering: St Albans 7
Not far from this building is the trackbed of Great Northern Railway branch line,
the St Albans to Hatfield branch line, now a cycle and pedestrain route. The line opened in 1865; the last passenger train on this line was in 1951 and the last goods train in 1964.

[UPDATE 29.1.2017: 'It's sad to see the old building as it's going to be flats. I was an apprentice there from 1963 to 1968 in the cutting-room. Kind regards Colin Smith'. Many thanks to Colin for getting in touch.]



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