The unique character of Fishpool Street in St Albans has evolved over the centuries by serving the people who use it.
For 900 years our street was the first (or last) stop on the road between London and Manchester. It was special then – and remains special today – by being:
A living community for people of all ages – whether long-term residents or new arrivals
An aesthetically pleasing site of architectural and historical interest
A place of historic and heritage interest for our many visitors to enjoy
A great place to do business – whether as
a local trader, such as the hotel, the pub and the school
an external supplier of services
or even as a customer
An historic right of way used by appropriate traffic to access local properties.
While the street scene and the proximity to St Albans city centre and the cathedral are important factors in making Fishpool Street a popular place to live, the overwhelming attraction is the sense of community.
Most residents are friendly, chat happily in the street, gather together socially and participate in local events. The street seems more like a village and this is largely due to the diversity of the population in terms of age, wealth, interests and status. This diversity of people is helped by the variety of properties.
The Fishpool Street Residents’ Association (FSRA) is a key element in furthering the interests of the community. Most residents already belong but there’s always room for an even larger membership and more involvement in our activities. These include:
Organising events, both social and practical
Monitoring planning applications to highlight those of local interest and, where appropriate, encouraging residents to comment on them
Representing local interests in relation to local authorities, providers of infrastructure services and other civic organisations
Acting as a local lobbying group
Co-operating with neighbouring residents’ groups
Communicating via newsletter, email, the web and social media.
A common misconception is that the fish pool was made to supply fish for the monks of St Albans Abbey, but it was almost certainly there long before the monastery was founded by the Saxon King Offa in AD793.
Offa’s town was centred on a fort at nearby Kingsbury and his fishermen worked in the fish pool, which they or their predecessors – possibly the Romans – had formed by damming the River Ver. Once the monastery existed, Fishpool Street became a country lane connecting it to Kingsbury.
In the tenth century the then Abbot diverted Watling Street, the Roman road that ran through Verulamium – the Roman town on the other side of the River Ver – so that travellers had to climb Holywell Hill, pass the Abbey and then go down Fishpool Street to re-join the original Watling Street where it continued along what is now the Gorhambury drive.
At about the same time the fish pool was drained because the Abbot considered the inhabitants of Kingsbury to be pagan and undesirable competition for the new settlement adjacent to the Abbey.
From then, for 900 years, Fishpool Street became a section of the main road from London to the north-west and the ferries to Ireland.
There were many inns and ale houses – and doubtless traffic congestion. In 1825 it’s recorded that 72 coaches a day passed along the street, as well as countless goods waggons and private carriages. The new Verulam Road was opened a year later, and the fortunes of the street then gradually declined.
Victorian and Edwardian villas were built along the new road while Fishpool Street degenerated into a poor area where genteel people feared to go. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that the street began to revive, and people realised that the old buildings could be restored and the old Manor House was converted into a smart hotel.
On the wall of No 52 is one of the unique St Albans street memorials, one of 10 in the Abbey parish. Each commemorates those from the adjacent streets who died during the First World War. Temporary street memorials were common, but this is the only parish where permanent street memorials survive.
More information is available in the archives of the St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society library.
Read more about the life and times of the people of Fishpool Street over the centuries through a series of insightful articles written by our resident historian, Stuart Macer.
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
Fishpool Memories – Ruth Pickles, by Maggie Douglas (2007)
Who lived in your house 100 years ago?, by James Evans (2007)
NEW: A book charting the social history of Fishpool Street’s neighbouring community, St Michael’s village, has been written by author Kate Morris, a local historian and a former Mayor of St Albans, and published by the St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society (SAHAAS) in its Concise Histories series.
St Michael's Village, from rural settlement to residential suburb, 1700-1930 has plenty to say about Fishpool Street.
The full-colour book costs £7.00, ISBN 978-0-901194-24-4, and contains a map showing the location of building and places mentioned in the book. It is available from the SAHAAS online bookshop at: https://www.stalbanshistory.org/store