Tuesday 28 April 2020

Brick walls – they go up, they come down

It’s been rather too long a time since I have written anything for the Sopwell blog. All I can say is many apologies. It’s not as though there has been nothing to report. There has, but I have not been able to get down to writing anything. Now, being in lockdown from the dreaded virus, I have made an effort to get going.

Sopwell’s landscape has changed over the last few years. Betty Entwistle House has been pulled down and a larger more functional dwelling for the elderly has been built in its place, called Eywood House. Also our only pub for years – until the Hare and Hounds became part of Sopwell – the King Offa, has also been demolished. As yet, nothing has been built on its footprint but it looks like it will be replaced with housing. For years the SRA had hopes that Sopwell might get a community centre out of it. Not so, although, it looks like the Marlborough Pavilion will be given this role thanks to the sterling work undertaken by the Cottonmill and Sopwell Hub (CASH) team to raise awareness and money to make this happen. And out of the gasworks site, we will have an Aldi and other retail outlets.

The most exciting thing to report is that some of us have become involved in another research project: St Julian’s.

Now some of you will say that St Julian’s is part of Sopwell. True, but St Julian’s boundaries start outside of Sopwell. Much of it is on the other side of Watling Street in Verulam ward and stretches as far as Greenwood Park in Chiswell Green.

If you recall Abbot Geoffrey, who was the Abbot of St Albans, founded a leper hospital c.1130 and dedicated it to St Julian (or St Gillian as it given on the 1666 map). The hospital was described as being built by the side of Watling Street and near the wood called Eye Wood. We know that it was situated almost opposite the entrance to Vesta Avenue in Watling Street.

After the dissolution of the monasteries, the land was granted to Sir Richard Lee and remained with his descendants until 1649. Then it was taken over by John Ellis who demolished what remained of the hospital and built himself a house, also called St Julian’s. This house had a walled garden and it was part of this wall that kicked off our research, as part of it still exists today as the boundary wall to some of the properties in Gillian Avenue on the Tithe Barn Estate.

A team of researchers from SAHAAS (St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society) has been investigating all of the St Julian’s area. This includes, the leper hospital, St Julian’s Mansion and St Julian’s farm, St Stephen’s Church and surrounding lands etc. It’s very exciting. We are discovering lots of new information. One of the tenants of St Julian’s Mansion was a lady called Mrs Ashurst who stayed there for 50 years. She kept an account book in two volumes of all her purchases of goods and food from 1738 – 1785 until she died. All the pages have been photographed and we are kept very busy transcribing all the data. So far we have found out that she seemed to consume an awful lot of meat and was always buying mops!

The outcome of the project will be a publication, so watch this space.

Sandy Norman


  1. Reading this excellent article brought back some early memories of living in Wallingford Walk in the 50’s .Before the Offa was built it was just a piece of wasteland which we called The Patch but it was good enough for us to turn into a cricket pitch in the summer and a football pitch in the winter with coats as goal posts and a tin can as a wicket. Opposite the road they were building flats and we played on the sight a game called Tin Can Tommy. Before the Abbots Avenue railway bridge was widened the 325 bus route used to terminate at the end of Wallingford Walk & the drivers took a rest before starting off again . They were always double deckers and red ones used to cause excitement when used instead of the usual green ones. We had to be on our guard from them when playing in the street although there were few cars. People’s I played with were Stuart Howe Peter Howells William Hathaway Larry Meagher Maurice Dorrington Richard and Derek Sykes Raymond Dixon Alan Bendelow The Norton Brothers The Evans Twins Norman Edgar whose family emigrated to Australia Billy Brindley The Hodson Brothers The Newman Brothers The Toms family Bob Dunn The Toogood Brothers The Wisbeys Ian Wright Michael Freeman great memories of an enjoyable childhood in a good area

    1. Just found this article, yes good memories. I am one of the Norton brothers (Tony). Have you seen Wallingford Walk recently, cars everywhere.