June 24 – St Albans Festival and St Albans Tower Tour


Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic-

Today was the Festival of St Alban. The whole street was filled with huge numbers of food stalls with food from many different regions and we got our lunch there. One of the things I promised myself on this trip was to try new foods and I have not really done much of that yet. I had a special hamburger which turned out to be not very special and very expensive but then all burgers in the UK seem overpriced and underfilled, I am looking forward to a good one from Geraldine or Oxford when I get home. Mike had a Turkish wrap with chicken which was nice. There were also other stalls and also various entertainments. There was a skateboard park set up for Team Extreme who demonstrated their prowess on skates, bicycles and scooters which was excellent. I liked the skates and bicycles best. There was a group of ladies doing dance/exercise routines on mini trampolines which were extremely energetic for such a hot day but they performed in unison excellently. There was also a mobile stage set up and there was a group of people performing and singing with ukeleles some popular songs so the audience was swaying and singing to the music. There were also other street entertainers dotted around the place. The day was hot and there were a lot of people attending with everyone enjoying themselves. The Cathedral had set up stalls with pastimes for children where they made paper stained glass windows, sand paintings and other things. Also, there were ladies doing face paintings for the children. It was all a lot of fun.

The exhibition was not too busy as most people were outside enjoying the festival. In the afternoon we saw Jean, the guide who took us on our first tour of the cathedral last year, and he was about to take a group up the tower and he invited Mike to go as his guest. They do three tower tours every Sunday as they can only take limited numbers of people at a time. We thought if Mike went first he would be able to see if I should go too on a later trip. As it turned out there was one spot which was a tight squeeze even for him and lots of steep, narrow steps so knowing how I am on steps he suggested that this tour was not for me. The tour initially went up some steps from behind the North Transept and the group came out above, near the rose window and Mike took a photo of me waving. I seemed very far away.

The tower and crossing were the first parts of the Norman church built in 1077 by Paul of Caen’s master mason Robert. The walls are very thick, in some places seven feet thick, and made from Roman brick and tile. It is the only Norman great crossing still standing in England at 44.5 metres tall with its 5000-ton weight supported on four great piers. The tour took them very close to the tower ceiling which depicts the red and white roses associated with the Houses of Lancaster and York. The ceiling may commemorate the first Battle of the Wars of the Roses, fought in St Albans in 1455 and won by the Yorkists, and the second battle of St Albans fought in 1461, won by the Lancastrians. The ceiling panels were refurbished in 1951-1952 and painted by Jane Lenton. They are a copy of the 15th-century originals which remain above them. The shields painted on the wall below the tower ceiling commemorate the lying in of state in 1290 of the body of Edwards I’s Queen Eleanor, on its journey to London.

They also walked above the Quire ceiling which was probably painted in the 14th century and shows the arms of Edward III and his sons together with supporters and religious symbols. The ceiling was rediscovered in 1875 beneath poor 17th century painted panels. The painted panels continued the length of the nave until the restoration of 1870.

The Ringing Chamber and Bell Chamber are above the painted ceiling and have a new peel of 13 bells installed in 2010. The largest is named “Alban” and the rest bear the names of the twelve apostles. The bell ringers have to climb right up to this level in order to ring the bells. The carillon workings can be seen in the photos.

There are 62 anticlockwise steps in the northwest turret of the North Transept. This leads onto a gallery along the north transept clerestory and then to a further flight of 98 clockwise steps within the northwest corner of the tower. Another 55 steps give access to the roof and the finest views of St Albans and the surrounding countryside.

From the top of the tower, the views are spectacular and this was an excellent day to ascend as the sky was clear. The Shard, the tallest building in London, set beside the River Thames could be seen 18 miles away.