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The Victoria Playing Field

Kingsbury Castle - Part 2

The following extract is reproduced from the St. Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Transactions 1905 pp. 149-157

Kingsbury Castle By William Page, F.S.A

Before I refer to the few notes I have to lay before the Society upon Kingsbury Castle, I want to say a few words about early castles generally. To most people probably a castle is a great stone building with massive towers and battlements, walls and gates. This, however, was not always the case; until the end of the eleventh century there were very few, if any, masonry castles in this country. The castles in England before that date, were constructed of earthen banks and ditches defended generally by stockades, but sometimes by water. A castle (castrum or castellum) meant merely a fortified enclosure, and applied equally to the village or town surrounded by a bank or ditch as to the purely military camp with earthen defences 1.

The first reference we have to Kingsbury is in the tenth century, when it is mentioned as a municipium, or fortified town or village 2. It was then inhabited by the King's ministers and fishermen, who plied their trade in the fishpool "great and deep" which existed to the south of Fishpool-street [sic]

There little doubt that the castle, or fortified village, occupied the hill to the west of St. Albans, surrounded approximately by New England Fields, Fishpool-street, Branch-road and Verulam-road. A few years ago for the purposes of constructing a new road (now called Kingsbury-avenue) from the Verulam-road to Mud-lane (now Harley-street), a cutting was made through the bank on the south side of Verulam-road, and the section then exposed clearly shows that the bank was artificial. It also shows that the bank here, and probably all the ramparts or banks around Kingsbury, had not been formed in the usual way by throwing up earth while forming a ditch outside the camp, but were made by lowering and levelling the higher land on the inside and throwing the soil outwards to form a steep bank, about 12 feet to 20 feet in height 3.

It may be well to describe the ramparts or banks which form the boundary of the castle. Beginning on the north side, along the Verulam-road, it would seem that if the Clay Pits now called the Victoria Playing Fields are, as by tradition they are said to be, the site of the Roman brick fields 4 they would have formed a most effective defence...

The road from Lower Dagnall-street to Mount Pleasant seems to pass into Kingsbury by an original entrance...

It is curious...that the site of Kingsbury was a part of a Roman cemetery. Roman burials and two coins of Diocletian, were found during the making of the new road from the Verulam-road before referred to, and while the drainage works were in progress some years ago a considerable number of Roman potsherds and urns were found in Mud-lane...

1 Round, Geoff. de Mandeville, p. 328, etc.

2 Gesta Abbatum Monasterii S. Albani, (Rolls Series) III., 365, etc. Kingsbury is here (1381) described as Castrum de Kyngsbury

3 I am indebted to Mr. W. H. St. John Hope for pointing this out. The theory was strengthened by finding in the middle of the site a Roman burial by inhumation only just below the surface, indicating that the surface had been lowered since the burial was made.

4 The Clay Pits are marked on Benjamin Hare's Map of St. Albans of 1643. Mr. Woodman informed the society that when some of the houses on the south side of the Verulam-road were being built the remains of tree trunks were found in the bank, possibly these were the stockades defending the banks.

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