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Church of St Michael's, Saint Albans

Description: Church of St Michael's

Grade: I
Date Listed: 8 May 1950
English Heritage Building ID: 163415

OS Grid Reference: TL1357207304
OS Grid Coordinates: 513572, 207304
Latitude/Longitude: 51.7529, -0.3561

Location: St Michaels Street, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL3 4SH

Locality: Saint Albans
Local Authority: St Albans City Council
County: Hertfordshire
Country: England
Postcode: AL3 4SH

Incorrect location/postcode? Submit a correction!

There is also a scheduled monument, Verulamium, site of, at the same location as this building or very close to it. This may be related in some way or possibly a different name for the same structure.

Listing Text

08-MAY-50 (South side)

Nave and W part of chancel are C11. N and S aisles added in the C12. The S chapel and nave clerestory were built in the early C13, and the chancel and N aisle rebuilt c.1340. The demolished W tower was probably C13 in origin, remodelled in the late C15 or early C16. The S aisle was demolished at an unknown date. The church was restored by George Gilbert Scott in 1866, who added the S porch. In the late 1890s, the church was extensively remodelled to designs by Lord Grimthorpe. He built a S vestry on the site of the former S aisle, demolished the W end of the church and W tower, lengthened the nave, and built a new NW tower to his own designs. The church was restored again in 1934-5 by J C Rogers, and a NE vestry was added in 1938, also to designs by Rogers.

Flint and Roman brick with stone dressings. The gables of the S chapel are C19 timber framing.

Chancel, nave with N aisle and NW tower, S lady chapel, S porch and SW vestry, NE vestry

A long church with very irregular external massing, dominated by the S chapel and NW tower. The chancel has a Decorated style E window with reticulated tracery. In the N chancel wall is a heavily restored C13 lancet, visible above the low NE vestry. The chancel S wall has a C14 and a C15 window, the C14 window with a contemporary external tomb recess below it. Adjacent to the tomb recess is a small low-side window or former squint. The S side of the church is dominated by the large SE chapel. The chapel E wall has two tall round-headed C13 windows with a circular, possibly C17, window between them. Above the windows, the chapel E gable is tile-hung. There is another similar, but shorter C13 lancet in the chapel S wall, flanked by two C15 windows. Externally the S vestry looks very like an aisle; it has trefoiled Early English-style windows. The C19 S porch is distinguished by a cross gable and has an outer opening in a C13 style. The inner opening is C13 and has two continuous chamfered orders; it is set within the blocking on one of the C12 S arcade arches.

The Roman brick quoining of the former NE corner of the nave is visible in the E wall of the N aisle above the NE vestry. The nave clerestory is C13 and has six windows on each side, originally all lancets, but three on the N were replaced with two-light openings with square heads in the C15. There are no parapets to the nave or aisles. The E window of the N aisle is probably C12, and has a round head; it is barely visible above the vestry. There are four N windows, three of the C15, the other mid C14 with delicate and unusual flowing tracery. Lord Grimthorpe's embattled, four-stage NW tower is in a fanciful, largely Early English Gothic, style with pairs of lancets in the bell stage and foiled pentagons in the stage below. His nave W end has a large, late Perpendicular-style W window.

The interior is plastered and painted throughout. The chancel arch is of two chamfered orders dying into the wall with no responds, probably late C14. A C11 door with Roman brick jambs in the chancel N wall, formerly blocked, was reopened in 1938 to provide access to the NE vestry. Also in the N wall of the chancel near the altar is an early C17 arched recess, probably created from a former window, for the tomb of Sir Francis Bacon, d.1626. The chancel has some C19 decorative painting on the jambs of the S window. The N nave arcade is of three irregularly spaced bays with plain, wide round arches with chamfered imposts. The E respond is very long and has a small C15 door to the N aisle. The S arcade is similar, but had four bays. Only the easternmost bay is fully intact and now opens to the C13 S chapel. The second was underbuilt in the C13 and has a smaller, C13 arch, rebated for a door, to the S chapel. The third bay was also underbuilt in the C13, when an opening, now a doorway opening to the S porch was inserted, and the fourth is blocked except for a C19 door to the vestry. Above the arcades on either side are the remains of blocked pre-Conquest windows with round heads and jambs in Roman brick, and above those, the clerestory. The W end of the N aisle is a C19 door to the tower. There is a C15 rood stair at junction between the S chapel and the chancel. In the S chapel the C13 windows have attached shafts on the jambs. The central window in the chapel E wall, a roundel, is set within a large blind arch, wider than the rerearches of the adjacent lancets, and it probably replaced a former lancet or pair of lancets. In the W wall of the chancel is an unusual, low, round opening into the porch.

Two C15 piscinas, one in the chancel the other in the S chapel. C15 octagonal font with quatrefoils on the bowl. Part of a late C15 timber tympanum, with part of a Doom painting showing the newly awakened dead rising from their coffins. Most of the rest of the Doom on the E wall of the nave was destroyed during the C19 restoration, but traces of paint survive on the splay of the SE nave window and on the nave roof. Late C15 or early C16 linenfold panelling is worked into the fronts of the C19 nave benches. C15 S door with original wrought iron strapwork hinges. Am imposing, heavily carved late Elizabethan or early Jacobean hexagonal pulpit, complete with its tester, bookboard and hourglass. The fine altar table is probably contemporary, and there are matching chairs. Royal arms of 1660. Some C19 and C20 glass.

Late C15 nave roof, low-pitched with moulded wall plates, short curved braces and beams on carved stone corbels. There is open tracery in the spandrels between the braces and the tie beams. The S chapel roof is of uncertain, possibly C17, date and is very plain with posts on wooden corbels, plain crown posts and queen struts. The timber framing in the chapel E gable is exposed internally.

Monuments: Several very good brasses, including John Pecock and his wife, c.1330; a C14 floriated cross with a figure of a civilian, the inscription lost; a knight c.1400, and an inscription for Henry Gape, d. 1558 and his wife. Of greatest note is the widely known monument to Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor, d.1626, an excellent, life-sized seated figure in a relaxed pose (of Dean Boys, Canterbury Cathedral) said in the inscription to represent him sitting in life, within a wall recess. Its sculptor is unknown, but its singularity and historic importance are each high. Possibly by Nichols Stone. A number of C17 and C18 ledger slabs in the floor, and outside, a very fine C14 ogee cusped tomb recess on outside of chancel S wall, with a coffin lid, probably not related, set within it.

The church of St Michael was founded in the mid C10 by Wulfsin, abbot of St Albans, who also founded St Stephen's and St Peter's at the same time. The extensive use of Roman brick and the simple character of the early work at St Michael¿s point to an early origin for the building, although the walls are unusually thick for an Anglo-Saxon church, and it is possible that the present building is a rebuilding of the late C11. The first church would have consisted of a small chancel and a nave approximately 60' long. It was greatly extended in the late C12 with the addition of N and S aisles, and in early C13 when a clerestory and SE Lady chapel were built.

The former W tower was probably also C13 in origin, and had an embattled parapet and a polygonal SE stair turret taller than the tower. It was unbuttressed, but had substantial projections up to the level of the nave roof to N and S. The W window was probably early C16 and had a depressed head and three cusped lights. The late C15 or early C16 bell openings were of paired, cinque-foiled lights in a square surround. Although usually dated to the C15, during its demolition in 1896, remains of an older tower are said to have been discovered within it, and it may have been C13 in origin.

Structural concerns about the stability of the S aisle led to the S arcade being partially underbuilt in the C13. Work in the C14 included enlarging the chancel arch, presumably originally only a small, narrow arch. In the C15, a number of anchorites (hermits) were associated with the church; their presence may explain certain external features like small squint in the S chancel wall. There was significant work to the church in the C15, including the installation of a new rood screen, from which the rood stair survives, with an associated doom, that also survives in part. Other work included new windows, a new nave roof, and the installation of new furnishings including the font. The church was refurnished in the late C16 or early C17, and the pulpit and altar table are of this period. The SE chapel E wall may have been rebuilt in the early C17. A W gallery, removed during the restorations by Scott in 1866, apparently dated to the late C17. Also removed in 1866 were box pews, including 3 with their own fireplaces. Scott rebuilt the chancel E wall and E window, reroofed the chancel, rebuilt the SE chapel buttreses, and repaired the (now demolished) W tower.

The most significant changes to the church came at the very end of the C19, an exceptionally late date for drastic demolition and alteration of medieval fabric. The instigator, designer and patron was Lord Grimthorpe (Edward Beckett, 1816-1905) who was a wealthy barrister, ecclesiastical controversialist, and amateur architect, among other things. Described by one contemporary as a man of 'arrogance and bile', he is best known for his controversial restoration and alteration at his own expense of St Alban's Cathedral. His work at St Michael's included the complete remodelling of the western part of nave, including the demolition of the W tower and its rebuilding at the NW corner of the church to his own designs. There was further restoration including the rebuilding of the western part of the N arcade in 1935, and the NE vestry was added in 1938.

Pevsner, N., Buildings of England: Hertfordshire (1977), 312-3
Rogers, J., The Parish Church of St Michael, St Albans (rev. ed.1982)
Dictionary of National Biography, qv Beckett, Edmund (Lord Grimthorpe)
VCH Hertfordshire II (1908), 392-405
RCHME Hertfordshire (1910), 191-2

The church of St Michael, St Albans is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* It retains extensive and legible very early (C11) fabric, as well as evidence of its progressive expansion during the High Middle Ages.
* Its fittings of note include a good C15 nave roof, part of a painted Doom, and a fine Jacobean pulpit.
* The monument to Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Albans (d. 1626) is of the highest interest.
* The restoration by Lord Grimthorpe (of huge interest to the City of St. Albans for his work to the cathedral) is expressive of C19 approaches to restoration.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.