ST ALBANS Forget the villages around St Albans. The attractions of the town itself, with its medieval centre focused around the cathedral, are such that it has become one of the smartest places to live north of London. Georgian and Edwardian town houses snuggle against quaint old cottages and 15th-century coaching inns. In the cramped but charming streets in the town centre conservation area you could buy a two-up-two-down cottage for around £250,000 to £300,000.
St Albans has excellent communications. It lies roughly equidistant from the M1 and A1, and only a few miles from the M25. The train journey into London is so fast that, in terms of time, it’s hardly further from the City than Clapham. In the last two decades some of the country’s biggest accountancy firms have moved here, including PwC, Deloitte Touche, KPMG and others.
The shopping centre feels reassuringly traditional with a bi-weekly street market in St Peter’s Street and a farmers’ market. There are traditional independent shops in George Street and Holywell Hill, and Christopher Place has a variety of smart shops and restaurants, including Carluccio’s. The town has several theatres – the Albans Arena, the Maltings, The Sand Pit theatre and the Abbey Theatre, where the formidable local dramatics society, The Company of Ten, performs. There are also frequent concerts and recitals in the Cathedral, and in a converted chapel the Trestles Arts Base hosts exhibitions and performances. The annual St Albans festival of music, theatre and entertainment, organised by the town council, takes place in summer.
Schools are another of St Albans’s particular attractions. The local state schools all have good reputations, and there are private schools for those who want them. Lyricist Tim Rice and astro-physicist Stephen Hawking attended St Albans School.
The stylish 15th-, 16th- and 17th-century houses are on Fishpool Street, where a Grade II listed two-bedroom cottage will sell for £250,000–£300,000 but you could spend £1m something larger. A two-up-two-down cottage in the heart of town will sell for around £250,000. The main residential area is Marshalswick. Three-bedroom semis here cost £300,000 to £350,000. Large detached houses in Marshal’s Drive, with tennis courts, come with price-tags in the region of £1.2m–£2.5m. Marshalswick has its own small shops, library and free car park. Further out of St Albans you will find roads of semi-detached houses where a three-bedroom Fifties home will cost around £250,000.
For more modern, executive-style houses, the eastern corridor towards Hatfield, around the Hatfield Road, is the place to look. Three-bedroom semis sell for around £380,000 upwards; four- to five-bedroom detached houses will break £450,000.
Villages in the St Albans catchment include Chiswell Green – home of the Royal National Rose Society – Shenley and London Colney, former home of Samuel Ryder, founder of the Ryder Cup, where the development of flats at Napsbury Park has proved an attraction.