Shropshire Lane or Butts Lane

This lane was not built up untill well after the medieval period. It led beyond the town to the Abbot's warren of Shropshire Lane which was broken into by the insurgents in 1381. The alternative name, Butts Lane came about because the lane also led to the archery butts situated in Tonman Ditch.

Halliwell Street


Throughout the Middle Ages the name Halliwell Street, with various spellings was invariably used for what today we call Holywell Hill. The name was certainly in existence by 1250, and although a document of 1377-99 refers to "Halywell Hull" this name does not seem to have become common until post-medieval times. The street ran from the Malt Chepping down to the river and Halliwell Bridge, which was in existence by 1258 when Stephen Grasenloyal had a tenement next to that next to "pontem Alliwell".

The 'traditional' site of the Holy Well was excavated in 1986 but the existing structure was no earlier than the late nineteenth century. In the fifteenth century Halywell was the name given to the river; e.g.. in 1441 a garden is described as "situate by Halywell Bridge adjoining the bank of the Halywell " and in 1458 a messuage and curtilage was " by the stream called Holystreme running towards Sopwell ".

On the west of the street properties were bounded to the rear by the Abbey precinct wall. On the east the street was broken by Sopwell Lane. Above this the properties originally stretched back to Tonman Ditch, Below Sopwell Lane the situation is not clear. In post-medieval times much of the area in this lower part of the street, and down to the river was occupied by the garden of Holywell House. Whether there were long properties stretching back to the borough boundary is uncertain. One well documented property was bounded by Potters Hedge and this is assumed to be the old boundary line which more or less continues the line of Tonman ditch down to the river.

The difference in the space available on either side of the street led, as in Church Street, to differing functions on either side. On the east above Sopwell Lane there was space for the development of inns. After the dissolution of the Abbey almost the whole of this frontage developed into a string of inns up to the Malt Market. Most of the buildings here today seem to be no earlier than the mid C 16 but there were several inns here in the Middle Ages.
On the northern comer of Sopwell Lane stood the 'Mermaide' recorded in 1497. Next to this was the Angel which may have had a medieval origin.
To the south of the present White Hart (where the Comfort Hotel now is) was the Bull which at the time of the dissolution was the property of the Charnel Brotherhood
The White Hart, in earlier times known as the 'Hartshorn' was leased by the Abbot in 1535 to John Broke and his wife Elizabeth, 'with a brewing lede, one growte lede, one tabyll with a Pair of trescelles standing in the hall, and in the parlour one tabyll with a peyer of trescells and ten bedstedds'! The visible portions of the existing building are of late sixteenth and seventeenth century.
To the north of the White Hart was the Saracen's Head. This name is recorded in the C15 but there seems to have been two Saracens Heads' in the town. This one was perhaps that left in his will by Robert Deeping in 1496/7. Parts of the existing building may be late Medieval
Further up was was the 'Dolphin' recorded in the C16 but probably in use earlier'
At the top of the Hill were the Woolpack or Wool-sack and the Peahen. There is mention of 'a messuaqe called le Pehenne' in' 1480 which is probably a reference to the latter. To the north of the Peahen, where London road is now was the Key or Cross Keys first mentioned in 1437 and described in 1455 as being in the High Street.

On the western side of the street towards the top of the hill encroachment took place in the C14 into the Abbey as it did in Hiqh Street and Church Street. One of those mentioned in the C14 survey was John Swanbourne. In the C15 a descendant of John Swanbourne (probably the same), a minor, died intestate, with no heirs and his estate was claimed by the Abbot as lord of the Fee. However, Thomas Banington, a connection of Swanbourne's daughter, turned up from Essex and occupied the estate. Eventually in 1452, Abbot Wheathamistead persuaded him lo give up possession- for an annuity of sixty shillings and a gown. What is interesting here is that one tenement was on on the eastern side of the street and eleven tenements on the western side of the street, all of which stretched back to the Abbey garden. This would suggest that they were all below the present entrance to Sumpter Yard.

In 1194 Abbot Warin, to support the newly founded Hospital of St. Mary de Pre, granted it among other things, a tenth of the rent from the stone house which he had built on the wall of the Abbey cemetery. This seems to have been in this street at its northern end or perhaps in High Street.
During the Abbacy of Thomas de la Mare, (1349-96) Richard Egleshale and Cemencia his wife gave to the Abbey their tenement 'in vico de Haliwelle' called the Stonehall. One of the Swanbourne tenements was situated in 'Haliwellestrete', to the south of the 'Stonehall' and to the north of 'the Bell'. and was on the eastern side of the street. It has been suggested that the Bell was the inn of that sign in Chequer Street. Another reference to a Stonehall occurs in 1496/7; an inn 'commonly called the 'Stonn Hall or the sign of the Sarsyns Hede'. To add to the confusion there was a property in the Market Place called Stonehall by 1543.

In 1491 the will of Thomas Kylyngworth refers to the place "sometyme John Henyssy set and lying in Haliwelstret.....ayenst the crosse of Sopwellende " and this implies that there was a cross in the street by the Sopwell Lane Corner. The Inn known as the Mermaid, which stood close by, seems in the Seventeenth century to have been known as the Red Cross so perhaps this was what the cross was called.

Somewhere on the west side of the street was the Holywell Gate of the Abbey which was attacked by the townsmen in 1327. Its position is not known but it was near to the bridge

Excavation just to the south of the present Belmont Hill comer revealed, among other traces of medieval activity, two pits into which had been thrown the remains of several horses. These were all stallions, of twelve to fourteen hands and all had lived to a ripe old age (the exception being a Shetland pony or donkey). The carcasses had been skinned before before being dismembered. They had been buried in the C14/C15.

In Grove Road next to the southeast corner of the Abbey J.M.I. school grounds a small excavation revealed part of the foundation of the Abbey precinct wall.

58-60 Holywell Hill

58 - 60 Holywell Hill
and an imaginative reconstruction
of the guildhall

This building has the characteristic form of a 15th century Medieval Guidhall. It consists of a building of 2 bays apparently jettied on both of its long sides. The ground floor consisted of an open arcade and the first floor a single long room open to the roof.
This building is likely to be that recorded in a deed for a property on the west side of the street which abutted on the north on a tenement called the Charnel Hous (Charnel House). This name relates to the Charnel Brotherhood, the common name for the Guild of the Fraternity of All Saints which ha a chapel known as the Charnel Chapel in St. Peters churchyard. At a later date the name Charnel House was given to another Hall in the Market Place which was replaced in the mid 16th century, after the dissolution of the Abbey, by a new town Hall.


Sopwell Lane


This street was the way to London, via Barnet, and replaced an earlier route via St. Stephens Hill and Watling Street. The evidence of the property boundaries on the northern side of the street which are extremely short suggest that the street was inserted into an existing town plan and this seems to have happened by the early twelfth century. in 1265 heads were placed on poles at the four entrances to the town, whereas in Saxon times three churches had been built at the entrances to the town.

It is not clear what the pattern of boundaries was on the southern side of the street as the later development of the large garden of Holywell House removed the pattern at the bottom of Holywell Hill before detailed maps of the town were drawn. Although some properties are described as stretching to the river others are described as being near to Sopwell Mill and evidence of Medieval occupation in the form of pits has come from the building of St. Peters J.M.I School and the flats on the southern side of Riverside Rd. Some of the properties described as being in Sopwell Lane will therefore have been beyond the borough boundary. It seems likely that the southern side of Sopwell Lane within the borough had, like the northern had properties which did not stretch far from the street but further research is required to resolve this problem.

In 1482/3 John Frygleton left 3s 4d for repairs to the well near John Strengar's mansion house. This was presumably a public well, the only one so far recorded in medieval St. Albans.

On the town boundary were situated the Sopwell bars which controlled access into the town. It was here that the Yorkist forces first tried, unsuccessfully yo break into St. Albans in 1455.


Immediately to the north of Sopwell Lane as it left the town and outside Tonman Ditch was Keyfield named after the Key at t the top of Holywell Hill. It was here that the Duke of Warwick's forces camped before the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455

The Crane

Situated on the southern corner with Holywell Hill is St. Albans best preserved late Medieval inn with a long jettied range stretching along Sopwell Lane. On the southern side this range had originally an open gallery which provided access to the first floor chambers although this has been built under. All these chambers had unglazed windows. On the ground floor, which has been more altered, the remnants of a large window indicates the position of the principal room. This range was probably built in the early years of the sixteenth century and its original name seems to have been the Crane for it was so called in 1556. It later became known as the Chequers and in recent times was the Crown & Anchor public House.

Details of Timber Frame

The long Jettied range on Sopwell Lane

The building on Holywell Hill

The Goat

The Goat was built c.1500 as a medieval hall house of H shaped plan with an open hall set between two two storied wings. It had become an inn by 1587

26 Sopwell Lane

Front Elevation with the Windows Restored

Now distinguished by the recent brick noggin filling the timber frame, this building was built as a shop in the early years of the Sixteenth century. The larger of the two ground floor rooms provided living accommodation.