St Albans Town Defences

Has been described as a Possible Urban Defence

There are no visible remains

NameSt Albans Town Defences
Alternative NamesMonk Ditch
Historic CountryHertfordshire
Modern AuthorityHertfordshire
1974 AuthorityHertfordshire
Civil ParishSt Albans

Town ditch mentioned by Burne as being dug during the Barons War, c1265, & surmounted by a palisade. He shows it enclosing the town on the N & E of the Ver. (Hertfordshire HER)

(Course sited from plan from TL 149069 - TL 150074). A defensive ditch known as Monk Ditch is attested from documentary sources and was in existence by the beginning of the 15th century. Its course is not known for certain, but it almost certainly ran parallel to, and to the west of, Tonman Ditch (TL 10 NW 14) between Sopwell Lane and New Lane (now Hatfield Road). (PastScape ref. Saunders and Havercroft)

The city of St. Alban now comprises the whole of the parish of St. Alban, and extends into the parishes of St. Peter, St. Michael, St. Stephen, and Sandridge. The bounds of the borough were first recorded in 1327, (Gesta Abbat. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 166.) although as early as 1142 its limits appear to have been defined by a ditch, (Matt. Paris, Hist. Angl. (Rolls Ser.), i, 270.) afterwards called Tonmans Dike, which can still be traced. Crosses were at an early date erected at important points in the line of boundary, and at each of the entrances to the town, namely, the Stone Cross or North Gate Cross (Wills, Archd. St. Albans, Wallingford, 167) at the north on the Sandridge Road, the Red Cross in Sopwell Lane, at the entrance by the old road from London, the Cross with the Hand in Eywood Lane, the Black Cross, probably at the angle where Tonmans Dike goes from the boundary of the houses in Fishpool Street towards the Claypits, and St. John's Cross at an angle of the boundary in what is now known as Harley Street, but lately as Mud Lane. (Trans. St. Albans Arch. Soc. 1893.)

There seems to be no evidence that the town was ever walled. In the time of Abbot Roger de Norton it was secured with bars at the various entrances, (Gesta Abbat

(Rolls Ser.), i, 426.) which continued under the name of the barriers or burglays, (Aug. Off. Decrees, xiii, 75.) and are described in the charter of Edward VI as the Bars in Sopwell Lane, the Bars at Kingsbury Lane, the New Bars on the north—that is, at the Sandridge Road, and the New Bars near the house of Sir Ralph Rowlatt, which stood at the bottom of Holywell Street. The boundaries described in 1327 were again ascertained in 1635, and continued unchanged as regards the municipal boundary till 1835. (VCH)

Gatehouse Comments

The Saxon defences of Kingsbury may not have had post Conquest use or may have been entirely used by Kingsbury castle

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTL146071
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  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 40, 104, 207, 262
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of The Thames Valley and The Chilterns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 48
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 222
  • Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 plan p. 66 download/view online
  • Burne, A.H., 1951, Battlefields of England (Methuen) p. 79
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1908, VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 2 p. 469 online transcription


  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Château Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86
  • Hunn, J., 1993, 'A note on the medieval defences of Saint Albans' Hertfordshire's Past Vol. 11 p. 2
  • Youngs, S.M., Clark, J. and Barry, T.B., 1983, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1982' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 27 p. 181-2 download copy
  • Saunders, C. and Havercroft, A.B., 1978, 'Excavations in the city and district of St Albans 1974-76' Hertfordshire Archaeology Vol. 6 p. 1-77
  • Page, W., 1893, 'The Marian Survey of St.Albans' Transactions of the St Albans Architectural and Archaeological Society p. 8-24 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Riley, H.T. (ed), 1867, 'Gesta Abbatum Monastrii Scanti Albani' in Chronica Monasterii S. Albani (Rolls Series 28) Vol. 1 p. 426 online copy
  • Riley, H.T. (ed), 1867, 'Gesta Abbatum Monastrii Scanti Albani' in Chronica Monasterii S. Albani (Rolls Series 28) Vol. 2 p. 166 online copy