Posted by: Rachel | July 21, 2013

St Albans, the silver screen and the golden age of British television

Last night we went to see the newly released film, The World’s End, in which five middle-aged men return to their home town with one aim – to try to finish a pub crawl across town finishing at ‘The World’s End’.  For Gary, the gang’s former leader, this is an unfulfilled ambition, something which he looks back on as the crowning moment of his youth.  The others, who have moved away and on to far more successful lives, are far less certain that they want to return, either to their boring home town or to relive that disastrous evening.  Not unexpectedly, they find that everything has changed, even the beer, but just as they decide to leave Gary to carry on the pub crawl on his own, they discover that their town has been taken over by alien robots and they find themselves in reality at ‘The World’s End’.  Curiously, just as the gang begin to realise that something strange is happening, so I began to realise that the film was set somewhere very familiar, and in fact most of it was shot on location in Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth.  As a comedy exploring the nature of nostalgia and the dangers of trying to revisit former times, they couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate setting than the Garden Cities with their unique architecture drawn from Arts and Crafts and medieval styles.  The tree-lined streets of houses and cul-de-sacs with little ‘greens’ were all part of a vision of town planning that was based on nostalgia for an Arcadian past.  If anyone wants to explore the locations, the pubs in the film are all real pubs (with the names changed)!

fire-at-the-regent-cinema

The Alpha Picture Palace

alpha-clean3

The Odyssey cinema, now under restoration

Many places locally have been used as locations for films or TV series because of the proximity to the studios at Elstree, Levesden and Pinewood. This inspired the route of our walk to Childwickbury on June 14th.  Setting off from the former St Albans jail near the station (used in the series Porridge) we walked down Alma Road towards the old cinema, now happily being renovated to its former glory.  The original cinema on this site, The Alpha picture palace, was founded by Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, an early pioneer of film animation who was born in St Albans.  The present building dates from 1931 and is being faithfully restored by James Hannaway, who successfully resurrected The Rex cinema in Berkamsted, one of the finest art deco buildings in the area.  The Odyssey is due to open in 2014. Carrying  on along London Road to the Peanhen junction, we then walked down George Street to the cathedral, which was used as a substitute for the nave of Westminster Abbey in the film Johnny English.  The area around the Abbey gateway and St Albans School appear as part of an Oxford college in Inspector Morse and as we walked down one of the most picturesque streets in St Albans, Fishpool Street, we were reminded that the area around St Michael’s Manor was recently used as the location for scenes in the next series of Silent Witness.

View from Batchwood Lane to the Redbourn Road A5183 woods surrounding The Pre Hotel

View from Batchwood Lane to the Redbourn Road A5183 and woods surrounding The Pre Hotel

White Bryony

White Bryony

We joined some of our friends on the steps of Verulamium Museum, and walked through St Michael’s Village, over the River Ver at Kingsbury Water Mill, along Branch Road and across the park at the bottom of Verulam Road towards Batchwood Drive. Taking the single track road towards Batchwood Hall we walked gradually uphill, with views over the fields to either side.  Entering an avenue of lime trees, we then crossed the golf course behind Batchwood Hall, close to the clock tower built by E D Denison, who later became Lord Grimthorpe. This clock is known locally as Little Ben as it is a smaller version of the clock tower in Westminster, commonly known by the name of the its bell, Big Ben.

English: St Albans Cathedral, from the west

Lord Grimthorpe was responsible for restoring St Albans Abbey and saving it from ruin. It is said that he built the house and kept the trees trimmed so that he could observe the restoration work from his window, and there is certainly a fine view of the cathedral from this point.  Without his intervention, and the work of other Victorian architects, the old Abbey church and other churches in St Albans would probably not have survived until today.  Almost without exception, however, architectural historians take a dim view of his work. Part of the problem may be that, just as with film, or any artistic endeavour, the past is always viewed from a particular perspective, and the prevailing fashion at the time was for a pseudo Gothic style which resulted in some truly magnificent buildings.  At St Albans the restoration changed the west end (which he could see from his house) to create the longest nave in England, in a style uniquely its own, which is much loved in the context of a building which bears testimony to every period in its long history.

strawberry cultivation in troughs on raised structure

Watering and picking problems solved – how about the slugs?!

Gateway to Childwickbury

Gateway to Childwickbury

Following the footpath through Batch Wood, we eventually emerged onto the playing fields in Toulmin Drive and walked behind Townsend School. This area was once part of the estate land of Childwickbury, and remnants of old iron estate fencing can be seen alongside the path. Reaching the fruit farm on Harpenden Road, we were impressed by the rows of loganberries, gooseberries, and strawberries grown on raised self-watering structures supporting long polystyrene troughs – no back ache picking fruit here!

Childwickbury drive

Childwickbury drive

Passing out onto the Harpenden Road, we walked the short distance to the gates of the Childwickbury Esate, and were treated to a wonderful prospect of a driveway of rhodedendrons and azaleas in full bloom, with shades ranging from fiery crimsons, purple and magenta through to pale pink and ice white. Notwithstanding all my reservations about rhodedendrons, this was a beautiful show and makes a magnificent entrance to the estate.  The estate village, neatly set out with model cottages, well, church and white painted iron fences precedes the house, home of the late Stanley Kubrick, the internationally renowned film director who lived and worked most of his life in England.

Following the road back towards Batch Wood, we took the left hand fork near the Childwickbury Goat Farm, and continued along the path until it re-joined the lane from Batchwood Hall to Batchwood Drive. We finally reached The Six Bells in St Michael’s Village just as a few spots of rain began to fall.pink rhodedendronRhodedendron

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Responses

  1. Very interesting – I was reading an article in the local paper today and found that some more things have been filmed in St. Albans recently. Not forgetting early last year, the filming of ‘Eastenders’ in St Peters church at the top of the High Street which certainly attracted a crowd!

    Last week, ITV were spotted filming for four days around St. Albans for finishing up their last days of filming for new medical drama ‘Breathless’. It is said that Fishpool Street was one of the locations (surprise there!).

  2. I’ve learn some excellent stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how so much attempt you set to create this type of fantastic informative web site.


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