Living in St Albans
What is life like in St Albans?
With a 20-minute train journey connecting St Albans and central London, living in the Hertfordshire city is arguably no different to living in one of the capital's many suburbs. It is hugely popular with commuters, who see it as a chance to maintain their London jobs while getting greater value for money in property terms by basing themselves elsewhere.
St Albans is also much quieter and more relaxed than London, so it is understandably a hit with all those who value their quality of life. It has the very best of both worlds, with its own modern facilities and attractions complemented by high-quality transport links that mean London is effectively on the doorstep.
What's more, it is surrounded by magnificent countryside and examples of its history through the ages, which make it a fascinating place to explore.
The city has its own character and a sense of vibrancy, with many shops and restaurants open and several beautiful parks and open spaces providing the ideal places to unwind or get involved in sports.
In property terms, St Albans is a truly unique market in the area around London, and is widely recognised as a hotspot. Indeed, many experts use results in St Albans as an indication of what will soon happen elsewhere in the country.
For more than 2,000 years of history, the latest facilities and wonderful surroundings just 20 minutes from central London, people seeking a new home will find there is nowhere better than St Albans.
St Albans began life as Verlamion, which was a settlement created in the Celtic British Iron Age. The name Verlamion means 'the settlement above the marsh', and it grew after the Roman conquest in 43 AD to become one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. However, it was destroyed during the revolt of Boudicca before being rebuilt.
By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, the population was about 500. In 1349, the Black Death hit hard in St Albans and caused many deaths and illnesses among the local people.
King Edward VI was a key figure in the history of the city, as he granted a charter to it in 1553 that allowed it to become a borough with a mayor and corporation. He also agreed to sell the Abbey Church to the town for a price of £400.
In 1877, the Abbey Church was given cathedral status and the town became a city. During World War I, a German airship carried out an attack on St Albans and was then the first aircraft to ever be shot down over England.
Seed Merchant and Verulam Golf Club member Samuel Ryder (1858-1936) came to St Albans in 1895, built Ryder House (now the Clarion Collection Hotel) on Holywell Hill in 1911 and co-founded the Ryder Cup in 1927.
Saint Alban is venerated as the first British martyr. A Romano-British pagan initially, Alban lived in the city of Verulamium sometime during the third or fourth century.
Stephen Hawking studied at St Albans School. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Paul Newell is one famous face to hail from St Albans, along with Game of Thrones actress Esme Bianco. St Albans School pupil Nicholas Breakspear (c.1100-1159) became Pope Adrian IV.
Film director Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) lived in the area for many years. Actor Philip Madoc (b. 1934) lives locally and is patron of Best Theatre Arts and The Abbey Theatre. Maddy Prior MBE, 'the first lady of folk' and former member of Steeleye Span grew up here and is a patron of St Albans Arts and the famous playwright Willis Hall also lived in the city. John Sessions (b. 1953), actor and comedian, went to St Albans Boys' Grammar School (now Verulam School) and is a patron of St Albans Arts.
Entertainment, sport and days out
Several venues offer various types of entertainment and shows by some of the UK's most famous performers. The Alban Arena is a great option for everyone who wishes to catch a rock or pop concert, their favourite comedian, a musical or a touring show.
There are also two theatres in St Albans – Maltings Art Theatre and the Abbey Theatre. These host a full programme of dramas and other productions.
St Albans is an incredibly sporty city, with facilities for all major sports available to local people. St Albans CC and St Albans FC are the local cricket and football clubs respectively and are well supported by the local community, while there are also recreation grounds and parks – such as Clarence Park – for residents to play themselves.
While the obvious destination for a day out is London, with its many sights and landmarks just 20 minutes away and sure to entertain people of all ages, there are other options too. For instance, the Chilterns – with its fabulous scenery and breathtaking landscapes – is just a few miles away.
Another attraction that is popular with locals is Whipsnade Zoo, which is just 13 miles away from central St Albans and is renowned as one of the UK's best wildlife centres.
Eating, drinking & shopping
There is a strong café culture in St Albans, with many establishments in the city centre providing an ideal spot to stop for a beverage. Being a very old city, St Albans can also lay claim to perhaps having the most pubs per square mile in the UK. A large number can be found grouped close together in the historic Conservation Area.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans is the oldest pub in the UK.
People who love to eat out will not be disappointed, with a growing number of restaurants springing up around the city. Among the most popular are Cote, which specialises in French cuisine, as well as THOMPSON@Darcy's, which offers a fantastic fine dining experience.
Jamie's Italian, St Michael's Manor, Sopwell House and Brasserie Blanc are similarly successful venues where people can enjoy a great meal. St Albans is also home to an annual beer festival and the headquarters of CAMRA.
Shoppers will find several districts within the city that offer every type of product they could ask for. The main shopping centre in St Albans is the Maltings, which contains some of the most popular high street stores, such as New Look, Topshop and River Island.
Many more are based in St Peter's Street, including Marks & Spencer and Waterstones. Christopher Place and the Conservation Area around George Street are other great shopping areas with their boutiques and independent outlets alongside major retailers throughout. There is also a twice-weekly street market.
Schools & healthcare
Four schools in St Albans are ranked in the top 100 in the UK, with these decorated institutions including Haberdasher Aske's and St Albans High School.
Several other local schools are highly rated by Ofsted, including St Albans Girls School, St Columba's College, Verulam School, Loretto College, Beaumont School and Sandringham School.
Those who are looking for an independent school should consider St Albans School for Boys and St Albans High School for Girls, both of which offer education to pupils up to the age of 18.
St Albans City Hospital has a unit available for minor injuries, plus other facilities following referral from a GP . There are also several GPs' surgeries, clinics and dentists, both private and NHS, located throughout the area.
St Albans is a remarkably well connected city, with excellent rail services running to central London. Indeed, it takes only 20 minutes or so to travel between the destinations, while there is also an Abbey Flyer train into Watford that connects with another service into Euston.
It is only one stop on the train from St Albans to Luton Airport, from where direct connections are available to Brighton and Gatwick Airport.
By road, St Albans residents benefit from easy access to the A1(M), M1 and M25, which make all parts of the south-east and Midlands available in less than a couple of hours. The M1 and A1(M) also run towards central London for those who need to drive into the capital.