A Publication by Chris Reynolds

A Short History of

Bernards Heath

St Albans


[The following review, of a 24 page illustrated booklet by the moderator of this forum, was published in the Herts Advertiser at the end of December. A minor historical error in the review has been corrected.]

History of a heath under threat

Short history of Bernards Heath, St Albans, by Dr Chris Reynolds, price 3.50 [and 50p post and packing in the UK], published by CODIL Language Systems Ltd, 33 Buckingham Road, Tring, HP23 4HG.

THIS is a rather timely look at one of St Albans green lungs which is currently under threat of being concreted over with more homes.

This short history is a hors d'oevres to the main course which will appear when Dr Reynolds produces his complete book on Bernards Heath and its environs.

It is a very interesting chunk of local history and one looks forward to the whole saga, which is written by someone whose family has been connected with the area since the 1860s.

Today Bernards Heath is a green and lightly wooded area and makes a picturesque entry into the northern side of the city, but it has seen all sorts of happenings in the past.

Take for example its northern boundary of Beech Bottom, built before the Romans came, and a mile long and 30-feet deep in places. The Romans used the heath for agriculture and hunting.

Then the Abbots of St Albans took over and extracted their share of its produce. On to the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and the second Battle of St Albans in 1461, when the Lancastrians were the victors. Artefacts from the battle have been found on the heath.

It is probable that the town gallows were moved on to the Heath, as there is a reference to Gallows Field in 1752. There was also a certain amount of crime on the heath, including theft and other misdemeanours.

There are early references to brick making and cottages on the Harpenden Road side were known as "brickmakers' cottages".

There were several calamities with small boys falling into the pits and drowning, but this all came to an end in 1905 when the workings were infilled with town rubbish much to the disgust of the residents.

The next nasty smells came form the tallow factory, which finally closed in the 1960s, and it subsided into the pleasant area it is today.

However it may not stay like this for long. Herts County Council wants to close the present fire station on the heath and build a new one towards the southern end of the city. To finance this it wants to build homes on the Heath. So at present there is another little bit of Bernards Heath history being made.


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