Ever wondered about the stories behind many of St Albans’ buildings as you wander past?
Discover more about the city’s heritage by exploring Talking Buildings - an interactive sound installation which was displayed on the hoardings around St Albans Museum + Gallery and now available online at talkingbuildings.wordpress.com.
A team of 19 fantastic museum volunteers worked on the project for 4 months and researched 35 buildings between them – from the Waterend Barn and Waxhouse Gate to The Old Library and the often-missed mosaic above Forrester House on St Peter’s Street.
The knowledgeable St Albans Town Guides kicked things off with a tour of some of the city centre’s buildings to inspire them, then each volunteer research a building or two. Andrew Parker, a Lecturer in the University of Hertfordshire’s Creative Arts team led a lively workshop to help the volunteers find the “personality” of the buildings so they could lend their voice to them and record short audio clips which passers-by can hear in the wind-up speakers on the hoardings or via the website which also hosts their wider research.
Andrew Lucas, Volunteer
"I researched Waxhouse Gate and 30-32 Market Place as they are both buildings which have a fascinating past and are much older than they initially appear to be. The process has been both interesting and fun. From the guided walk around the city centre to carrying out research in the library and recording the scripts at the museum, it has been a chance to learn more about the buildings of St Albans, meet some interesting people and to learn new skills."
Did you know that the man who designed the mosaic on St Peter’s Street above Greggs also designed the escalator and Egyptian Hall at Harrods? Or that melons were once grown in the gardens around St Peter’s Street?
Did you know that the medieval foundations under Waxhouse Gate are nearly two and half meters thick? Or that the Clock Tower bell was rung at the start of the First Battle of St Albans in 1455?
Many thanks to the Museum Volunteers and team, the St Albans Tour Guides, St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society, the Battlefields Trust, St Albans Civic Society, St Albans Central Library and everyone else who has been involved in this project.
Caroline Howkins, Volunteer
"The brief was to research the history of local buildings, write a one-minute script and record it. Our purpose wasn’t to find out everything there was to know about our buildings but to identify an interesting story connected to it, some fascinating facts or hopefully to uncover a hidden secret.
We spent an enjoyable morning listening to each other’s talks, learning all sorts of interesting stories about buildings that we had passed time and time again, but seldom stopped to think about. It was remarkably hard whittling the research to just a one minute talk. What voice does the Clock Tower speak in? Is it male or female? Grumpy, old codger? Or wise and looking back philosophically?
16 of the recordings were selected to be put onto two kinetic speaker devices which were embedded into the construction hoardings surrounding the Town Hall. Tourists and visitors were able to select a building, wind up the device and listen to the buildings telling their stories."
Marit Gruijs, Volunteer
"My building was the Old Town Hall, also known as the Moot Hall, which is where the newsagent W.H. Smith is now. I always found this an intriguing building and wanted to know more about its history. It turns out at some point in time, the downstairs area was used a a gaol, housing the local thieves and thugs while waiting their trials. Upstairs the local governing bodies of the town held their meetings and their balls, and the court would keep their hearings upstairs too. Two different worlds in one building! Until it became too small and a new Town Hall was built.
I thoroughly enjoyed doing this research and I learned so much about our city. I met helpful people from the St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society (SAHAAS) and at the local library. I hope local residents and visitors alike all enjoy our project!"