Literary St Albans 6 Apr 2019
The country’s first book printed in colour
In 1479, situated within the Abbey Gateway, the St Albans Press was just the third printing press set up in England. It is believed that the first colour book in the UK was printed here. It was recently lent to the St Albans Museum and Gallery by the University of Cambridge for its opening exhibition.
The library of St Albans Abbey was one of the finest in Europe, but the collection was broken up by the dissolution of the monastery in 1539. The Cathedral Library has since been re-founded and is housed in the Hudson Room, which is now a modern theological lending library.
St Albans has been home to many famous authors throughout the years.
- Sir Michael Morpurgo, best known for children’s novels such as War Horse, was born in 1943 in St Albans.
- Professor Stephen Hawking spent much of his early life in St Albans where he attended St Albans School from 1952 until 1959. His bestselling book A Brief History of Time sold more than 10 million copies.
- Bestselling Bartimaeus Trilogy author, Jonathan Stroud, grew up in St Albans and attended Wheatfields Junior School and St Albans Boys’ School.
- Matt Arlidge, better known as MJ Arlidge, is the best-selling author of the Detective Inspector Helen Grace novels. Matt is based in St Albans and is also a successful screenwriter, co-writing Innocent, ITV’s highest rated drama of 2018.
- Historical novelist Katharine McMahon was a very active member of The Abbey Theatre. She has published nine books including The Rose of Sebastopol which was shortlisted for the Best Read Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2008.
- Other local authors include FJ Campbell, Clar Ni Chonghaile, Lissa Evans and Rachael Blok.
The perfect setting for a novel
St Albans has often inspired authors and in some cases, has been the perfect setting for a novel. The winding streets, rickety terraces, picture-postcard houses and the beautiful architecture are the backdrop for many stories.
It is speculated that Charles Dickens’ ninth and critically exclaimed novel, Bleak House is named after the Grade II Listed Building in St Albans. Jo Platt was also inspired by her time in St Albans and placed the bookstore in her debut novel, Reading Upside Down, on Holywell Hill.
Lissa Evans’ Crooked Heart, a story about a young evacuee, is set in St Albans during World War 2. Whereas both crime fiction novels Under the Ice by Rachael Blok and Broken Doll by James Carol are set in present day St Albans. Our idyllic city also made a surprise appearance in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and in Dolly Alderton’s Everything I know about Love she reminisces about a ‘weird pub’ in St Albans, the name of which she kept anonymous.
Five places to buy and borrow a book in St Albans
St Albans Library situated on the second floor of The Maltings has recently undergone a refurbishment and is not only home to a fantastic array of books but is also host to a variety of events. You can also find Marshalswick library on The Ridgeway.
Mile House Lane Little Free Library really symbolises the great community spirit of St Albans. People are free to take or contribute books at no cost, whenever they like.
Waterstones St Albans is a delightful two-floor shop which stocks the area’s widest range of literary delights. Plus, they often host book signings and author talks.
Oxfam Bookshop is located on Catherine Street and has a wonderful collection from children’s favourites to cookery books. A great place to donate your books for other book lovers to enjoy.
The Cathedral Gift Shop is located in the iconic St Albans Cathedral and sells a great range of books including local history and titles by our clergy and local authors.
Jennifer Jacobs writes The Alban Way Blog