Home / Your Visit / Clock Tower

CLOCK TOWER

St Albans Clock Tower.

St Albans Clock Tower.

The site of the Eleanor cross which once stood in St Albans lies opposite Waxhouse Gate. This was one of the entrances to the medieval Abbey. In 1290, the funeral procession of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I rested here on its slow journey to Westminster. Neglected, the cross was pulled down in 1703 to be replaced by the town pump. Later, in 1874 a fountain was put in its place. This is now in Victoria Place, where the gaol used to be.

Detail from Map of St Albans c.1700. by John Oliver showing the area around St Albans Abbey, the Abbey Gateway ("the Gaol") and St Albans Clock Tower.

Behind the cross and built between 1403 and 1412, is the Clock Tower, the only medieval example in the country. The map on the right shows the centre of St Albans around 1700 including the Clock Tower. From the beginning it had a mechanical clock, a great rarity at that time. As the Abbey also had one, this was probably the reason for having the same. Indeed, the Clock Tower itself seems to have been intended as a visible statement of St. Albans' civic ambitions against the power of the Abbot. It was both a look out as well as a curfew, ringing out the times when people had to be indoors "covering the fire".

 

St Albans Clock Tower c. 1812 Aquatint by Sutherland

From 1808-1814 during the Napoleonic war, it was used by the Admiralty as a semaphore station. This was operated by a shutter system and could help relay a message to or from Yarmouth in 5 minutes.

By the 1860's the Tower was in a bad way and was nearly demolished. The restoration in 1864 was supervised by Sir Gilbert Scott. In 2004, the roof was rebuilt with improved public safety and access. It is planned to re-display the exhibition in the near future.