French Row: The Clock Tower
St Albans' Clock Tower is the only surviving medieval town belfry
in England and is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The
people of St Albans built the tower, which was completed by 1405 as a
symbol of their resistance against the power of the abbot of St Albans.
The Tower allowed the town to sound its own hours and, until 1863, the
curfew. The Clock Tower's bell rang out for the first Battle of St
Albans during the Wars of the Roses in 1455. Today, the tower – and its
600 year old bell – still stands face to face with the abbey's tower.
It is open to the public to climb to the top at certain times.
The side door, hemmed around with modern paviors and street
furniture, bears a hand-painted sign:
Perhaps there was a tendency for
male patrons of the nearby Fleur de Lys or The Boot public houses to
relieve themselves in this corner.
There is a 'Commit no nuisance' sign of some age in Tewkesbury. And, although not illustrated
on this site yet, we learn of another on the wall of Christ Church Spitalfields in east London – there is
more information on that page.
14 Market Place: The Corn Exchange
JOHN LEWIS ESQ. MAYOR'
Albans History website has more on the design of the St Albans Corn
Exchange (now, inevitably, used for retail) and materials used.
28 Market Place
The projecting characters have a stylish design with the
enalrged 'P' and 'S' obeying the x-height of the smaller caps. The drop
of the 'P' creates a comfortable space for the smaller 'AND'.
Gable end in brick and stucco with lettering in terra cotta; Pike &
Sons were butchers, grocers and provision merchants.
Street: shop front
Just to the left of the 1st storey window sill is an old burglar alarm
box. The amount of metal brackets and cabling at this level tells some
of the story of this building.
The word 'THE' is unreadable in
the top left corner. But the brand name is a delight and deserves to be
marketed again. The Rely-a-Bell Burglar & Fire Alarm Co. Ltd. was
based at 54 Wilson Street, Lodon E.C.2 from 1935. The company dates
back to 1904 as part of the ironmongery business of Thomas Gunn,
which developed into an electrical firm.
'BIS.' is one of the old London exchange prefixes for telephone
standing for Bishopsgate, which is on the north-east of the City of
London. The Post Office trunk telephone system
was opened to the public on 16 July, 1895. The first Post Office
exchange in London was opened on 1 March, 1902:
'Central Exchange' with a
capacity for 14,000 subscribers. 'City' Exchange was the second
(capacity 18,000) followed by 'Mayfair' to serve the West End,
'Western' for Kensington and 'Victoria' for Westminster in the same
year. Several other Post Office exchanges were also opened in the
London suburbs. New dialling codes, preliminary to the start of
subscriber trunk dialling in London, were introduced in the London
Directory Area on 6 April, 1959. The
three-letter exchange prefixes were
phased out from 1966 and replaced with all-digit phone numbers.
Former School of Art/Library
St Albans on the River Ver
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
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:
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
[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:
Regards, Paul Hardy" Many thanks to
Paul for the information and the link.]
Note that the Ipswich Museum facade dated
1880 features similar terra cotta roundels, one of which also depicts
William Hogarth – but with Isaac Newton symbolising science.
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:
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
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
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.
FINE ALES &
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.
& Co. Ltd
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
'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
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