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(Background image - gold coin of Cunobelin minted at Verulamium)

The Six Bells

St. Michaels Street
St. Albans


Six Bells Sign

The Six Bells

Providing hospitality for over 400 years.
The only licensed house within
the walls of Roman Verulamium.

Plan of Verulamium showing modern roads in black and the location of The Six Bells


Beneath the Six Bells

The Six Bells is the only modern licensed premises situated within the walls of the Roman City of Verulamium. Before the construction of an extension in 1974 and an enlargement of the Kitchen in 1991 archaeological work revealed some very interesting results; most notably the remains of a Roman Bath House which had been burnt down by the followers of Queen Boudicca (Boadacea) in the revolt of A.D. 60/61.

Prehistoric Hunters

The earliest evidence of human activity was a scatter of worked flints left by Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) hunter gatherers in the period 6,000 - 4,000 B.C.. The valley of the Ver, then much wetter than today, provided a rich source of game, wildfowl, fish and other food.

A Celtic Mint

A large quantity of fired clay moulds used in the production of blanks for Late Iron Age Celtic coins of the local tribe, the Catuvellauni has been recovered from the Six Bells. Analysis has shown that they were used to mould gold, silver and bronze. Tasciovanus was certainly minting coins at his capital, Verulamium, but these moulds relate to his successor, Cunobelin (the Cymbeline of Shakespeare). He was the most powerful ruler in Southern Britain and died in A.D. 40 not long before the Roman Invasion of A.D. 43.


The Roman Bath House

With the establishment of Roman Verulamium around A.D. 50/55, a public bath house was constructed alongside the street leading from the "Colchester Gate" to the town centre. This was necessarily built of flint and brick, and is the earliest known masonry building at Verulamium. Unfortunately only a very small portion, part of the frigidarium or cold room, of what must have been a large building is known. Its quality was shown by fragments of finely painted plaster one of which displayed a tortoiseshell lyre, a bow and a quiver of arrows, the attributes of the god Apollo. Some plaster remained at the bottom of an internally buttressed wall and this was stippled to imitate panels of marble. This plastered wall flanked a walkway around a substantially built plunge bath which when in use held a depth of 1.2m (4ft.) of cold water. In the revolt of A.D. 60/61 the building was seriously damaged by fire but was subsequently reused, although in a rather tatty condition, while a new public baths was constructed elsewhere in Verulamium.


Plan of the Bath House

Plan of the Roman Bath House


"Le Bell in St. Michaels"


In 1543 an entry in an Estate Roll of the Manor of Gorhambury refers to a Bell Croft and in 1596 there is reference to "Le Bell in Saint Michaels". It would seem that the house originated as an alehouse with land attached, the tenants making a living from some form of agriculture as well as from the victualling trade. Part of nearby Verulamium Park is still called by some local inhabitants, Bell Meadow and this no doubt formed part of the landholding. The present building is of late 16th or 17th century date and has been altered over the course of time. In 1628 the St. Michaels churchwardens accounts record "For bread and beer at the sign of ye Bell in St. Michaels Street the first day we went on procession 2s. 11d". (14.6p). The £1-10-0 (£1.50) parish rate paid by the Bell in the 18th century was 6 times more than the sum paid by the next valued licenced house. This may mean that it was of higher quality than its rivals in the parish, or perhaps it still owned an amount of land. In 1756 The Six Bells could provide 2 beds for travellers and stabling for 9 horses, for like other alehouses at this time food and accommodation were provided although it never obtained the full status of an inn. At some time between 1769-86 the number of bells in the nearby St. Michaels Church was reflected by a change in the name of the house to The Six Bells. In the early 19th century it bore the nickname "The Ringers".

St. Michaels Church Bells

When the church first had bells is unknown although a "new bell" was recorded in 1428. In 1552 there were 4, and also a sance or sanctus bell. In 1628 one of the main 4 was recast to form a "Great Bell". A church inventory of 1638 recorded 5 bells, with ropes to them, one of which was presumably the sance. In 1700 the church had only 4 bells. In 1739 these were recast into the 6 bells from which the pub gets its name: 2 of these 6 were recast in 1897/8. If the name of the pub had kept up to date it would now be The Eight Bells for in 1953, to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, two new bells were hung.

St. Michaels Street

The street once formed part of one of the busiest roads in England&emdash;the London/Chester/Holyhead road. By the 9th century the Roman Watling Street had been diverted from its course through Verulamium to pass around St. Albans Abbey, effectively creating the road from the town to St. Michaels - George Street, Fishpool Street and St. Michaels Street. The road then continued along part of what is now Gorhambury Drive and then along its old Roman course to Dunstable and beyond. In the 12th century a new way from London became favoured and entered St. Albans via Sopwell Lane. With the improvement of roads with the turnpikes of the 18th century the present London Road was cut into the town in 1796.

On the St. Michaels side of the town it was not until Verulam/Redbourn Road was opened in 1826 that the "circuitous narrow and low state of the road" from St. Michaels Bridge was bypassed, as part of Telford's improvement of the Holyhead Road. So the constant stream of traffic was removed from St. Michaels Street. It was estimated in 1815 that 70 mail and stage coaches coaches passed daily through St. Albans and that these along with travellers on foot accounted for over 1,000 people passing through the town each day. Most of these would have travelled on this road. The St. Albans Turnpike Trust, established in 1715, had built in 1765 at a cost of £280 St. Michaels Bridge over the River Ver and this is now the oldest extant bridge in Hertfordshire.

In the earlier Middle Ages the street was called Kingsbury Street but was known by its present name by the end of the 15th century. It was not until 1835 that this area was incorporated into the Borough, later the City, of St. Albans and even today is still referred to locally as "the village".

map of St. Mchaels locating Six Bells

Map showing the Location of The Six bells


Go to the Verulam Arms, the Tudor Tavern,The Boot. or the White Hart  

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