St Albans Abbey

Has been described as a Certain Palace (Royal), and also as a Certain Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameSt Albans Abbey
Alternative NamesGreat Gatehouse
Historic CountryHertfordshire
Modern AuthorityHertfordshire
1974 AuthorityHertfordshire
Civil ParishSt Albans

Abbot granted licence to crenellate in 1357. C14 Great Gatehouse survives, but walls and three storey watergate vanished. Retained by Henry VIII, and Abbot's house used as an occasional residence, after the dissolution in 1539.

On the north side stood, and still stands, the great gate built by Thomas de la Mare after the destruction of its predecessor in a great storm of wind, probably in 1363. Its site seems to have been formerly occupied by an almonry built by Richard of Wallingford, (Gesta Abbat. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 282) 1326–35, and a new almonry was built from the foundations, perhaps on the east side of the new gate, as a wall is said to have been built to it from the aula regia. (Ibid. iii, 386. This was part of the boundary wall of the abbey, running from the west front of the church westward towards the great gate, and was probably built in pursuance of the licence to crenellate in 1357.) This, which was primarily intended to accommodate the king on his visits, or people of royal blood, (See the story in Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), sub anno 1252.) seems to have stood on the east side of the great court, conveniently close to the abbot's lodging, from which it would be served. It is probably to be identified with the ampla et nobilis aula cum duplici tecto, built as a guest house by Geoffrey of Gorham, 1119–46, with a queen's chamber (thalamum reginae) adjoining it. (Gesta Abbat. i, 79.) A guest hall built by John of Hertford, 1235–60, of two stories, the lower being vaulted and having fireplaces, (Ibid. i, 314.) is called aula regia in the Book of Benefactors, ('cum thalamis et adjacentibus capellis.') and may have been a rebuilding of Geoffrey's work. In Thomas de la Mare's time it was in bad repair and he built two buttresses against it, and took down its high-pitched roof to lessen the strain on the walls, replacing it by a leaded roof of low pitch. (Gesta Abbat. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 386

The number of buttresses is given in the Book of Benefactors, Cott. MS. Nero, D. vii.). (VCH 1908 p. 509)

The Great Gatehouse, on the N. side of the former court, is an unusually fine example, and now forms part of the Grammar School.

It is a three-storeyed building of flint rubble with stone dressings, considerably repaired with brick, and has an embattled parapet, behind which is a tiled roof. It was built by Thomas de la Mare, probably in 1363. In the middle is a large vaulted passage two storeys in height. On each side of this are two vaulted chambers entered by doorways in the S. archway. One of the chambers on the W. has vaulting made up of re-used 13th-century vaulting-ribs. On the first floor there are three rooms on each side of the archway. Above this on the second floor are two large rooms with a third smaller room over the archway. The N. or outer elevation has two moulded arches of unequal size, one for foot, and the other for horse traffic. The S. elevation has one large arch of two moulded orders which is flanked by the projecting staircase turrets. The windows, some of two lights, other single lights, have cinque-foiled heads under square-headed labels: they are mainly original, but have been considerably restored. Over a fireplace on the second floor are the arms of Charles I. The ceilings of the second floor rooms are carried upon heavy joists on carved stone corbels. The Waxhouse Gate in the High Street still exists in the form of a plastered arch of uncertain date; this gave access from the town to the lay cemetery and the door of the N. transept. There are also some remains of the walls of the Sacristy N. of the N. transept, but though much of the foundations exists, only small fragments of the walls remain above ground. (RCHME)

C14, 3-storey gatehouse of flint with freestone dressings, restored and given its high pitched, tiled roof in C17. Roman bricks set at random in walls. Archway of 2 storeys' height through centre is divided by pier on north side and flanked by half-octagonal turrets on south side. Battlemented parapet with brick coping in outer portions, renewed stone coping in centre. 5 irregularly placed. One- and 2-light, leaded casement windows with hoodmoulds, many renewed. Much repair work in brick on north face. Inside, archway has lierne vault with octagon at centre. 1892 west extension in red brick and flint with tiled, pent roof. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

The licence to crenellate was for a mansum probably the abbots house rather than for the gatehouse although it is possible that many of the abbey buildings were remodelled by Thomas de la Mare including being dressed up with decorative crenellations. The Great Gatehouse does have crenellations. The abbot's house and the other monastic buildings do not survive.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTL143071
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Richard Stocker Source of the image and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Richard Stocker Source of the image and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 275
  • Emery, Anthony, 2000, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 2 East Anglia, Central England and Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 291
  • Thurley, Simon, 1993, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England (Yale University Press) p. 50, 57
  • Renn, D.F., 1971, Medieval Castles in Hertfordshire (Chichester: Phillimore) p. 23, 24 (plan)
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1914, 'Houses of Benedictine monks: St Albans Abbey - After the Conquest' VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 4 p. 372-416 online transcription
  • RCHME, 1910, An inventory of the historical monuments in Hertfordshire (London: HMSO) p. 177- online transcription
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1908, 'St Albans abbey: History' VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 2 p. 483-88 online transcription
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1908, 'St Albans abbey: The abbey church building' VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 2 p. 488-507 online transcription
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1908, 'St Albans abbey: The monastic buildings' VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 2 p. 507-510 online transcription
  • Fowler, H., 1876, The Boundary Wall of the monastry of St Albans (Randall, St. Albans)
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 2 (London) p. 108-25 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 280, 416 online copy


  • Tracy, C., 1992, 'The St Albans Abbey Watching Chamber: A Re-assessment' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 145 p. 104-11
  • Coulson, C., 1982, 'Hierarchism in Conventual Crenellation: An Essay in the Sociology and Metaphysics of Medieval Fortification' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 26 p. 69-100 see online copy
  • Ashdown, C.H., 1903-4, 'The Great Gateway of St Alban's Monastry' Transactions of the St Albans Architectural and Archaeological Society ns.2 p. 100-104 online copy

Guide Books

  • RCHME, 1982 (2edn), Saint Albans Cathedral (HMSO)
  • RCHME, 1952, Saint Albans Cathedral (HMSO) p. 28

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1909, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1354-58) Vol. 10 p. 574 online copy
  • Riley, H.T. (ed), 1867, 'Gesta Abbatum Monastrii Scanti Albani' in Chronica Monasterii S. Albani (Rolls Series 28) Vol. 1 p. 79, 314 online copy
  • Riley, H.T. (ed), 1867, 'Gesta Abbatum Monastrii Scanti Albani' in Chronica Monasterii S. Albani (Rolls Series 28) Vol. 2 p. 282 online copy
  • Riley, H.T. (ed), 1869, 'Gesta Abbatum Monastrii Scanti Albani' in Chronica Monasterii S. Albani (Rolls Series 28) Vol. 3 p. 46, 186, 312, 386-7, 447 online copy