Hidden East Anglia:
The Puddingstone Track: Deconstructed
Along the Track: HERTFORDSHIRE
Part 2: St. Albans
"Cellbarnes Hospital Garden" (first mention 1954):
Dr. Rudge described this as "a large boulder lying among the crops" of the hospital's kitchen garden.1 Cell Barnes Hospital formally closed in 1998, with most of the buildings later demolished. Across the site of this and another nearby hospital (Hill End) Highfield Park was created, stretching around an extensive new housing estate, also known as Highfield. Rudge placed the kitchen garden at TL175060, which is a quarter of a mile ENE of where it actually was (at c.TL17120587, in the south-western corner of the Park.)
The nearest building was a separate unit later named Monkstone House, the staff of which saw themselves as 'guardians' of the puddingstone. According to a 1985 press release, "local legend has it that many years ago, when a certain Sister Bernia had a cell in the vicinity, the stone was used by monks coming on pilgrimages to mark their campsites".2 Cell Barnes was originally a farm that belonged to the 12th century Sopwell Priory, more than a mile away to the north-west. The tale of 'Sister Bernia' seems to be a jumbled memory of Dame Juliana Berners, thought to have been a prioress of Sopwell in the 1400s.
The puddingstone was almost certainly unearthed when the foundations of the hospital were being dug out in the 1920s. A little plaque was placed beside it in 1987, proclaiming it to be "A conglomerate originating from the Iocene era 60 million years ago." After the hospital's closure, both boulder and plaque were relocated to Highfield Park, where they can still be found a little way along the main entrance drive, beneath a tree near West Lodge, at TL1719306119. This is a true Herts Puddingstone, and measures 1.35m x 1.12m x 55cm high.
1. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper): 'The Lost Trackway' (1994), p.16.
2. Cell Barnes Hospital press release, 26/4/1985 (information from Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies.)
"Cunningham Hill Farm" (first mention 1954):
The 17th century farmhouse and two converted tithe barns still stand, now hemmed in by houses of the 1970s Barncroft Way development. The puddingstone was a fairly small one, which was embedded in a grassy verge just outside the main six-barred gate to the farmhouse, at c.TL16380662. A 'cut-through' from Cell Barnes Lane is a remnant of the track that approached the entrance. Both gate and stone have now gone, but a 1963 photograph (left) shows them still in place at that time, when the boulder was described as "a particularly good specimen".1 The space has been concreted over to serve as garage access, with just a narrow solid gate remaining as a side entrance to the house and gardens. This is about two-thirds of a mile north-west of the former kitchen garden at Cell Barnes Hospital, with the next point on the Track less than half a mile further in the same direction.
1. T.P.C. Mulholland: 'An Ancient Track in St. Albans' in 'Hertfordshire Countryside' June 1963, p.18.
"36 Breakspear Avenue, on rockery" (first mention 1955):
A problem with this stone is that there is not, and never has been, a No.36 Breakspear Avenue. The closest that Dr. Rudge's map reference of TL158069 gets is the modern bungalow at No.32 (TL15780693), which has always been the last house in that street. His phrase "broken to make a garden rockery" suggests that once again he assumed that a whole boulder had existed here; but of course rockery stone could have come from anywhere. The area was still only fields and allotments in 1924, but the Avenue and other nearby roads had been constructed by 1937. Assuming that he meant No.32, all I can say is that there is no rockery there today.
"142 Victoria Street" (first mention 1955):
A quarter-mile further north-west reaches Victoria Street, where a stone was reportedly set in the pavement outside a shop. It was seen to be an obstruction, removed in about 1945, and presumably destroyed. Nos.140-144 are now occupied by an Iceland store, on the south side of the road at TL15340708.
"51 Lattimore Road" (first mention 1954):
None of the three map references that Rudge gave were particularly accurate, but No.51 actually lies at TL15170706, about 175m west of the last stone site. The house is part of what used to be called Park Terrace, a row of narrow dwellings built in the 1870s. A puddingstone used to nestle in a flower bed in the tiny front garden, just to the right of the door. A photo from 1963 (left) shows that it was small enough to pick up with one hand - hardly the size of boulder needed as a 'sighting marker' on an ancient trackway.1 The stone is long gone now, as the garden has been tarmacked over to allow off-road parking.
The next stone in Rudge's sequence was in New Kent Road 300m further to the west, which makes his statement at this point both confused and confusing. He said that the Lattimore Road puddingstone was "opposite a lane, a right-of-way leading to a footpath along a street of small houses. New Kent Road took its line along the footpath..."2 No.51 is on the west side of Lattimore Road facing east. The only lane opposite (or virtually so) is Alexandra Road, which runs east from here. Not only is it on the wrong side, but it isn't even on the same alignment as New Kent Road.
1. T.P.C. Mulholland: 'An Ancient Track in St. Albans' in 'Hertfordshire Countryside' Jun 1963, p.19.
2. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper): 'The Lost Trackway' (1994), p.16.
"27 New Kent Road" (first mention 1952):
According to Dr. Rudge, St. Albans "has produced some of the most remarkable evidence of the extraordinary persistence of the trackstones, nearly all of which are still in position. The most remarkable one lies in a tiny front garden at New Kent Road, where we found it had rested unnoticed and undisturbed for more than fifty years".1 The road itself was built in 1886, and entirely populated with houses by 1913. The puddingstone was brought to Rudge's attention by Mrs. D. Sharp, daughter of one of the men who built the terraced housing here. She apparently told him that, along the footpath that the new road followed, "he found a conglomerate boulder - quite a small specimen - and, feeling that it possibly had an unknown significance, he carefully replaced it, in the tiny frontage of No.27".2 Mrs. Sharp actually became one of his 'adherents', and helped Rudge discover the complete line of stones through the city. From Rudge's own photograph (left) we can see that the stone was indeed quite small, lodged beneath the side of a bay window next to the front door, in the almost non-existent 'garden'.
The stone was still there in 1963, but unfortunately, even while he was compiling the manuscript to his posthumously-published book, most of New Kent Road was being obliterated by progress. It culminated in 1983 (the year before Rudge's death) with the building of the Maltings shopping centre and a multi-storey car park, which eradicated more than half the street. Only the easternmost end of the road still exists. I've managed to determine that No.27 was on the south side of the road, with its front door (and thus the puddingstone) at TL1492607106 - a spot which is now right in the middle of the car park.
The notion that New Kent Road was built "along the course of a footpath" (specifically a non-existent one from Lattimore Road) was used by Rudge to demonstrate the survival of his Track's alignment.3 There was never any such footpath. The 1840 tithe map shows that the fields upon which the street was built were the "Gardens and Pightle" belonging to the Brewery Cottages and Bell Inn. The whole area beyond that was St. Alban's Brewery, said to have been there since 1776.
1. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'A Stone Age Trade Route in East Anglia' in 'Discovery' magazine Vol.13, No.7 (July 1952), p.209-10.
2. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper): 'The Lost Trackway' (1994), p.6.
"Moot House, corner of Dagnall Street" (first mention in print 1952; read 1951):
250m to the north-west, the "massive boulder" (as Rudge called it) which once stood here isn't actually all that big. A.E. Salter measured it in the early 20th century at 92cm x 51cm x 1m high.1 Standing as it did at the corner of Upper Dagnall Street and Market Place (TL1471907236), it was removed as an obstruction round about 1900, and placed near the entrance to the County Museum in Hatfield Road. This became the Museum of St. Albans, which closed in 2015, reopening in 2018 in a new home (the Town Hall) as the St. Albans Museum and Gallery. Before the old museum was demolished, the boulder was moved in early 2017 to the Verulamium Museum just off St. Michael's Street. It stands now about 25m south of the rotunda entrance, at TL1365807252. The most important fact to note about it is that it's NOT a puddingstone. It's actually a sarsen, heavily mammilated on two sides, with a few patches and narrow 'strings' of subangular pebbles in it. It looks nothing whatsoever like actual puddingstone, as can be seen from the old photo, left. According to Rudge its original site was on "the summit of the hill on which St. Albans has been built". This isn't true however: the stone stood at an elevation of 118.8m, while the summit is 500m to the NNE around St. Peter's church, at 131m.
Immediately next to where the stone used to stand in the market place is a building commonly known as the Old Moot House. The overhanging, timber-framed first floor is 15th century, while the whole structure was heavily altered in the 18th. A branch of W.H. Smith currently occupies the ground floor. According to Dr. Rudge, "the records clearly indicate that it [the boulder] was the nucleus around which the Saxon city of St. Alban arose. In earliest times the Moot was held beside it, later the Moot House was built and the Market Place developed around it, and later still the seat of local government was transferred to the nearby Town Hall".2 Rudge was evidently keen to emphasise the importance and antiquity of the stone and its location in this way - but there are two major problems with this scenario.
Firstly, research has shown that the Old Moot House wasn't the moot house at all. The building that currently has that name was originally called the Charnel House, home to a guild named the Charnel Brotherhood. It was granted to the borough in 1553 for their use as a town hall. Ironically, the 'genuine' moot house was on the site of the courtroom in the present Town Hall, about 25m away.3
Secondly, excavations in the Market Place have revealed nothing earlier than the 12th century. It seems to have been a planned part of the Norman town, not the Saxon. Rather than the early town developing around the 'nucleus' of the boulder, the Saxon settlement and market are now believed to have been much further to the south-west, beyond the abbey cathedral.4,5
1. A.E. Salter: 'Sarsens and Other Boulders in Hertfordshire' in 'Transactions of the Herts Natural History Society' Vol.14, part 2 (Jan. 1911), p.137.
2. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'The Conglomerate Track' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.22 (read 24/11/51.)
3. G.P. McSweeney: 'The Moot Hall and Early Topography of St. Albans' in 'Herts Archaeology and History' Vol.13 (SAHAAS, 1997-2003), p.89-92.
4. David Dean: 'Alban to St. Albans, AD800 to 1820' in Terry Slater & Nigel Goose (ed.) 'A County of Small Towns' (Hertfordshire Publications, 2008), p.308.
5. John Steane: 'The Archaeology of Medieval England and Wales' (University of Georgia Press, 1985), p.124.
'Confirmatory evidence': covered passage on line of Track:
This piece of 'evidence' crops up several times in Dr. Rudge's articles. In 1951 he wrote "a remarkable confirmation of the original track may still be found, in the form of a 'right-of-way' (called Coronation Walk) between the shops, leading eastward across the Market".1 The following year he and his wife said that "the path of the track is preserved as an ancient passage known as Sovereign Way, leading east to west between rows of modern shops".2 And in his book, he wrote that the Market Place boulder "must have been a strikingly prominent object, particularly if approached from the direction of the New Kent Road footpath, so, to preserve this view of the stone, a short covered pedestrian passage named 'Sovereign Way' was constructed in the crowded lines of shops erected when this area became a market".3
Directly opposite the end of Upper Dagnall Street there is indeed a short alley called Sovereign Way, between Nos.32 and 34 Market Place. It leads not across the market, but eastwards from it, to Chequer Street. It used to be called Old Police Station Alley, so I have no idea where 'Coronation Walk' came from. The photo is a shot from Google Street View, showing the alley ahead from beside the Moot House. Rudge seemed to be giving the impression that this is the only such passage there, but in fact this is just one of nine surviving alleys leading from the market, on both sides of the road. The block of buildings that contains it used to have three, and they are all simply remnants of the medieval growth of the market place.
According to Rudge, the building line of New Kent Road (with its puddingstone formerly at No.27) followed a pre-existing footpath (which didn't exist) directly along Sovereign Way to the Old Moot House boulder. If so, the Track-builders did a poor job, as the line projected in that way misses both alley and stone by more than 50m.
1. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'The Conglomerate Track' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.22 (read 24/11/51.)
2. E.A. and E.L. Rudge: 'A Stone Age Trade Route in East Anglia' in 'Discovery' magazine Vol.13, No.7 (July 1952), p.210.
3. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper): 'The Lost Trackway' (1994), p.6.
"Spicer Street Chapel graveyard" (only mention 'The Lost Trackway', 1994):
An Independent Congregational Chapel was erected in this street in 1812, traditionally on the site of a former Baptist chapel. The adjoining land for a graveyard was purchased in 1838, but closed to new burials in 1897. It can be found 180m west of the Market Place, at TL14530725, behind what is now called Spicer Street Church. Dr. Rudge learned that a single puddingstone boulder had been unearthed here in 1962, when the graveyard was being made into a garden. Unfortunately, the church now has no record or knowledge of the stone.1
1. Information from Wendy Upton, Spicer Street Church Office, 2/11/2016.
"19 Wellclose Street, in garden" (first mention 1954):
Although this stone gets a passing mention in two of his 1950s articles, it's only in 'Lost Trackway' that Rudge says anything substantial, namely "TL143074 number 19 Wellclose Street, where a large stone decorates the rockery of an old garden. The house differs from all the others in the street, being built well back from the road, suggesting that it was unique in some way."
We have to ignore Rudge's map reference, as it takes you to an empty field more than 250m away. No.19 is actually at TL14380729 on the west side of Welclose Street (its modern spelling), which is only 140m west of the old chapel graveyard in Spicer Street. A large stone - even if it was a puddingstone - on a rockery gives no information whatsoever on the antiquity of that stone, nor on its provenance. And he seemed to have forgotten that in 1954 he described it as no more than "fragments in garden".1 No rockery, and no puddingstone, exists at the property today.
As for the house being "unique in some way" (suggesting some reverence for, or folk-memory of, the stone and Track) - there is no evidence. No.19 is actually attached to No.21, and together they are a pair of Listed villas built c.1830. A map of St. Albans in 1822 shows no buildings in the northern half of that side of the modern street at all, so they were probably the first dwellings there, set back from the road simply as a sign of status.
1. E.A. Rudge: 'The Statistical Evidence for a Conglomerate Alignment in Essex' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 3 (1954), p.182.
"Ver ford stone, in Jones' Yard" (first mention in print 1952; read 1951):
A third of a mile north-west of Welclose Street is the next stone, which Dr. Rudge maintained marked the old ford across the river Ver, next to St. Michael's Bridge (about 32m away.) The Herts Puddingstone still exists at TL1387307467, against a corner of the back wall of No.2 St. Michael's Court, part of a small group of 17th century workmen's cottages. It has been moved very slightly since Rudge first saw it, as the brick wall behind has been repointed and the stone now leans against it, but it remains 66cm x 45cm x 60cm high. Between the cottages and the former Blue Anchor Inn was Jones' Yard, later becoming the pub car park, and more recently, gated access for what is now the residence called Blue Anchor House.
Less than 30m away across St. Michael's Street is a massive block of HPS set upright in the grass in front of Kingsbury Mill. It was dragged from the river bed between bridge and mill, and put in place to mark Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1887. Dr. Rudge knew of this stone and others nearby back in 1949, when he said "Westwards the track has not yet been investigated, but a number of vague clues lead to St. Albans, and it is true that at Kingsbury Mill ford over the River Ver, at Verulam, there are typical conglomerate blocks".1 There is a photograph taken c.1900-1910 showing two more puddingstones against the mill frontage, though they are no longer there.
In 1911 A.E. Salter wrote: "Another, larger, boulder is still in the river bed on the mill side of the bridge. Standing by the side of the mill is a smaller boulder of Herts Conglomerate composed of small flint pebbles. I was informed by Mr. Waller at the mill that similar boulders to this are often come across in the water-cress beds near. He also stated that other large boulders occur in the bed of the Ver less than a quarter of a mile up the stream by the Common Meadow".2 There are yet others nearby in the gardens of Kingsbury House and Kingsbury Lodge.3,4
With all these conglomerates in the vicinity, and knowing full well that the river Ver through the city is a significant source of puddingstone, Rudge still chose to claim the little boulder against St. Michael's Court as evidence for his Track. Placed as it is against the corner of the cottage, it was almost certainly put there in the last two centuries as a wheel-guard, when Jones' Yard was open to carts and carriages - not in prehistoric times.
1. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'Evidence for a Neolithic Trackway in Essex' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.28, part 4 (March 1950), p.179 (read 29/10/1949.)
2. A.E. Salter: 'Sarsens and Other Boulders in Hertfordshire' in 'Transactions of the Herts Natural History Society' Vol.14, part 2 (Jan. 1911), p.136-7.
3. 'The Puddingstone Pow-Wow' in Hertfordshire Geological Society Newsletter, Winter 2011, p.15-16.
4. David Turner & Ros Smith: 'In Search of Puddingstone' in Essex Rock & Mineral Society visit report, October 2013.
"Ruins of arch, Roman Theatre" (first mention in print 1952; read 1951):
Another third of a mile west (and just into the civil parish of St. Michael) is the ruined Theatre belonging to the Roman town of Verulamium. According to Dr. Rudge, "It is significant that one, and only one, puddingstone boulder was found in the ruins of the Theatre, on the site of the Triumphal Arch".1 Later he added that "It may still be seen among the ruins - the only puddingstone found there".2 The remains of the Arch are located at TL13420744, on the northern side of the amphitheatre. Nowadays the public are restricted to viewing the ruins from a raised walkway that encircles them, but I was able to see that there is indeed a conglomerate boulder perched on the base of the Arch. However, it's not the only puddingstone ever found there.
In the above quotes, Rudge was even contradicting himself. In 1949, before he had traced his Track in this direction, he said that "Others [puddingstones] stand in the gateway leading to the Roman Theatre site, and another was incorporated in the Theatre building itself and can now be seen among the ruins".3 A geologist visiting the Verulamium excavations in 1931 noted two Herts Puddingstone boulders, each over a metre long, on the debris heap. Smaller specimens were built into the floors and walls of houses, and two larger blocks formed part of the 2nd century city wall. The geologist thought it quite natural that the Romans would use puddingstone in their structures, as Verulamium is only six miles from a well-known outcropping of the stone at Radlett.4
But of course, as already seen, there was another source of HPS even closer to hand, in the river Ver which flowed past the Theatre site only 200m away. The northern part of the city itself, and Bernard's Heath in particular, was always known for this type of stone, as was declared by John Pinkerton in 1811: "From personal inquiries and observations, it appears that the fairest pudding-stone is chiefly found at the ancient and venerable town of St. Albans, where masses often occur in the pavement; and its northern environs, as far as Market Street, where it also forms a great part of the pavement".5 More specifically, "St. Peter's church stands on an outlier of Reading Beds which includes Bernard's Heath. Much pudding-stone was found in the gravel pits formerly worked at Townsend Farm".6 And again, "Earlier in the [20th] century in some fields east of St. Albans masses of pudding stone formed a pan so near to the surface that it had to be broken up by cultivators and the lumps removed before satisfactory crops could be grown".7 Dr. Rudge merely selected a few survivors to construct his Track, and ignored others that didn't fit his thesis.
1. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'The Conglomerate Track' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.22 (read 24/11/51.)
2. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'A Stone Age Trade Route in East Anglia' in 'Discovery' magazine Vol.13, No.7 (July 1952), p.209.
3. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'Evidence for a Neolithic Trackway in Essex' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.28, part 4 (March 1950), p.179 (read 29/10/1949.)
4. H.G. Mantle: 'Note on Glacial Boulders at Verulamium (St. Albans)', in 'Geological Magazine' Vol.70, Issue 7 (July 1933), p.331-4.
5. John Pinkerton: 'Petralogy: A Treatise on Rocks' (White, Cochrane & Co, 1811) Vol.2, p.102-4.
6. H.W. Gardner: 'A Survey of the Agriculture of Hertfordshire' (Royal Agricultural Society, 1967), p.100.
7. Ibid, p.92-3.