Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Ordnance survey map of CHURCH OF ST STEPHEN
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

St. Albans (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 14136 06074


575/16/122 WATLING STREET 08-MAY-50 (East side) CHURCH OF ST STEPHEN


Probably C11 or very early C12 in origin, and consecrated c.1101-18. A N aisle, now demolished, was added in the late C12. The chancel was lengthened and the S aisle and S chapel added in the C13. The E bays of the S arcade were rebuilt in the C14. The chancel was remodelled in the C15, and a wooden belfry added over the W end of the nave. The N aisle except for its W wall was demolished at an unknown date, possibly in the late C15. The church was restored in 1861 by George Gilbert Scott. The bell turret was restored in 1913, and a large opening between the chancel and S chapel was created in the 1960s. Parish rooms complex added to N in 1989-91.

MATERIALS: Flint rubble with stone dressings and Roman brick. Weatherboarded bell turret and shingled spire. Tiled and leaded roofs.

PLAN: Chancel with S chapel, nave with S aisle, S porch, NW heating chamber and belfry over the W end of the nave. Attached parish rooms complex to N.

EXTERIOR A small church with evidence externally for phases from the late C11 or early C12 onwards. There is also considerable work of the C15. The chancel has a C19 Perpendicular style E window and two C15 windows and a C15 door in its N wall. The S chancel chapel E wall has two early C13 lancets with a C19 foiled roundel between them; there is a similar lancet in the chapel S wall, as well as two C15 windows and a C15 doorway. The S aisle has C15 style windows, heavily renewed, and the clerestory windows are similar. The S porch is C19 and has a timber outer opening with arch braces forming a pointed arch and open diagonal bracing above.

One bay of the former C12 N nave arcade is visible in the exterior N wall; it had a single plain order and is similar to the contemporary arcades at St Michael's church in St Albans. A formerly blocked C15 doorway set within the arch has been re-opened to connect to a timber and glazed passage to the parish rooms of 1989-91, and was partially renewed at that time with new headstops. Above it is a small, late C11 or early C12 window with brick jambs and head. The other N windows are C15, as is the clerestory above it; the two rows of windows give the N side an almost domestic appearance. The W wall of the N aisle, with a small, probably C12 window, survives and is incorporated into a C19 lean-to extension. The W end of the nave has two similar late C11 or early C12 windows flanking a good C15 W door and W window, and the brick quoins of the original unaisled C11 or early C12 nave are also visible. The substantial timber bell turret with a shingled broach spire, the turret largely, and the spire entirely, C19, stands over the W bay of the nave.

INTERIOR: Like the outside, the inside has good evidence for the development of the building from the late C11 or early C12. The interior is dominated by the very unusual timber chancel arch, a tall, wooden frame with curved braces forming an arch with open, traceried spandrels. The lower part is C15, the rest is C19. The S arcade has five irregularly spaced bays. The alignment of the arcade shifts at the west end, presumably as a result of a setting out error. The western three bays are C13 and have chamfered arches on polygonal piers with moulded capitals and bases; the eastern two bays are early C14 and have moulded capitals of a different form. Part of the former C12 N arcade is visible internally and above it is a late C11 or early C12 single splayed window discovered during C20 restoration work. The S chapel opens to the chancel through a large, square two-bay arcade with a stylised Perpendicular pier. Inserted in the early 1960s, it replaced a small, C15 arch and a squint, which is partially preserved. The rerearches of the S chapel windows are roll moulded. The bell turret at the W end of the nave is supported on three massive, arched-braced and steel-reinforced trusses.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: Fine C15 octagonal font. The bowl has a deep, plain rim with much graffiti; its lower part has alternating shields and large demi-figures of angels. The stem has carved figures of saints and the Virgin in trefoiled niches. C13 double piscina in the S chapel. Early C20 panelling with stencilled flowers in the chancel. Pulpit probably C20 in an C18 style pulpit, with a sounding board and good staircase. Some good late C19 and early C20 glass.

The brass eagle lectern is a recent copy of the Dunkeld lectern of c.1524, formerly in this church and now in a museum in Edinburgh.

The chancel and the S chapel have C15 roofs. That in the chancel is low pitched and has moulded beams and purlins; the spandrels of the braces are carved, and the E bay is panelled. The chapel roof is plainer but has some moulding. The C19 nave roof is similar to the chancel roof, and the S aisle has a plain, low pitched roof.

HISTORY: The church of St Stephen was founded in the mid C10 by Wulfsin, abbot of St Albans, who also founded St Michael's and St Peter's at the same time. The present building was built in the very late C11 or early C12 and was consecrated by Gilbert, bishop of Limerick c.1101-18. At this date, the church would have consisted of an unaisled nave and short chancel. The N aisle was added in the late C12; the work is of similar character to the contemporary arcades at St Michael's. The S chapel and S aisle were added in the early C13, and the S arcade was partially rebuilt in the C14. There was considerable remodelling in the C15, when the belfry at the W end was added, the chancel remodelled and the N aisle apparently pulled down. It is possible, however, that the N aisle was demolished in the post-Reformation period and the C15 features set into the remains of the arcade were reset from the former aisle wall.

The superb C16 Dunkeld lectern was discovered in 1750, buried in a tomb under the chancel floor. It is inscribed 'Georgius Creichtoun Episcopus Dunkeldensis' between two lions and a mitre, for George Crichton, abbot of Holyrood (1515-22) and bishop of Dunkeld 1524-43, and is thought to have been given by Crichton to Holyrood in 1524. It was probably stolen in 1544 by Sir Richard Lee, Surveyor of the King's Works, who took part in the sacking of Holyrood in 1544, and who held the rectory of St Stephen's after the Reformation. It may have been buried during the Civil War.

The church was in a poor condition by the mid C19, and there was a proposal to demolish it in 1840, but a new church (now Holy Trinity, Frogmore) was built elsewhere instead. St Stephen¿s was restored in 1861 to designs by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who rebuilt and raised the bell turret and added the broach spire, replacing a small spike. Steel girders were inserted under the bell turret in 1913. The wall between the chancel and S chapel was removed in the early 1960s, and a parish room complex was added in 1989-91, re-opening the formerly blocked N door.

SOURCES: Pevsner, N., Buildings of England: Hertfordshire (1977), 314-6 VCH Hertfordshire (1908), 424-32 RCHME Hertfordshire (1910), 195-6

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Stephens, St Albans is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Founded late C10 by Wulfsin, abbot of St Albans, rebuilt in the late C11 or early C12 and consecrated in c.1101-18. * Good surviving evidence for the late C11 church, including windows in the N and W walls. * Evidence for former C12 N arcade similar to that at St Michael's of the same date. * Excellent C15 font. * Extensive C15 work including W belfry on massive, timber supports; timber chancel arch and S chapel and chancel roofs. * Restored in 1861 by the noted Gothic Revival architect, George Gilbert Scott, who rebuilt the belfry and added the spire.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 15 Apr 2004
Reference: IOE01/11991/05
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr A. Gude. Source Historic England Archive
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