River Ver

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River Ver in St Albans

The Ver is a river in Hertfordshire. The river begins in the grounds of Markyate Cell, and flows south for 12 miles alongside Watling Street through Flamstead, Redbourn, St Albans and Park Street, and joins the River Colne at Bricket Wood.

In St Albans the river has been canalised to run a the foot of the hill, its old course just a few feet away across a footpath turned into the broad lake which beautifies Verulam Park beneath the ruined walls of Roman Verulamium.

Nature and course

Verulam Park

The Ver is a chalk stream, which is partly a seasonal winterbourne north of Redbourn. However, many of its natural features have been compromised in St Albans: it was canalised in the 1930s following the archaeological excavations of Verulamium by Sir Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa, when during the lakes at Verulamium Park were created.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Ver suffered serious problems as a result of water extraction upstream. Although these abated temporarily after the closure of one of the pumping stations, the upstream part of the river does dry up completely on occasion during the summer month. This is a dramatic change from the days of the "great flow of water" that was reported to exist in 1885, with a depth of 12 feet at Dolittle Mill on the Redbourn Road.[1]. In 2004 a proposal for remedial work was being developed for the St Albans lakes.

Disused watercress beds can be seen at various points along the river's length (most notably in the unspoilt stretch between Redbourn and St Albans): the entire Ver valley was a national centre for the watercress growing industry. The poplar and willow plantations around Pre Mill and The Pre Hotel on the A5183 (just west of St Albans on the edge of the Gorhambury Estate), which are a significant feature of the landscape, indicate a more modern industry: that of the making of cricket bats.


The Martyrdom of St Alban (13th C)

The Ver was a greater river in the days before water extraction from bore holes reduced it to its current size. In the legend of the martyrdom of St Alban, the saint was led to his death from Verulamium and where he came to cross the River Ver it dried up and let him walk dry-shod up the hill (to the site of the today's cathedral) Gildas describes the event, though he called it the River Thames: presumably due to a limited geographical knowledge, unless the Ver bore a similar name in ancient times.

Today, Alban would barely get his feet wet, but in its day the river supported several watermills.

Redbournbury Mill

The river south of Redbourn has been the site of several mills down the centuries, mainly for grinding corn but also put to such diverse uses as paper making, fulling cloth, silk spinning and diamond lapping. Eleven mills are known to have existed, of which a number can still be seen today, either as mills (working or otherwise), or converted (for example into private homes or parts of public houses). Particularly worthy of note are:

  • Dolittle Mill. Closed in 1927 and since demolished. It is reputed to have been the site of a miracle. The early 15th century chronicler Thomas Walsingham, a monk at St Albans Abbey, records that a child fell into the mill race and was thrown out by the wheel, apparently dead. The child's mother prayed to Saint Alban, offering money if the child's life were restored, and her prayer was answered.
  • Redbournbury Mill, between Redbourn and St Albans. A recently restored flour mill, still producing flour. Periodically open to the public.
  • Kingsbury Mill. A 16th century mill in St Albans which was previously a malt mill belonging to St Albans Abbey. Its origins are known to go back to at least 1194; indeed, it may be one of the three mills in St Albans recorded in the Domesday Book (1086). Today it is restored and open as a museum, with gift shop and waffle house (open every day).
  • Moor Mill, in Smug Oak Lane, Bricket Wood. Now a public house and conference centre. The water wheel and other workings can still be seen inside during normal opening hours.

The bridge in St Michael's Street, adjacent to Kingsbury Mill, dates from 1765 and is believed to be the oldest extant bridge in Hertfordshire. According to a contemporary account of the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461, another bridge existed on this site previously (recorded in 1505 as Pons de la Maltemyll - Malt Mill Bridge). It is thought that the Romans had built a bridge here by the 3rd century AD.

The ford alongside the current bridge, which is known to have existed for 2,000 years and is traditionally believed to be where Alban crossed the river on his way to his execution. The ford was substantially restored in 2001 by local residents' associations.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks claims to be the oldest pub in England, one of many to do so. It was moved in 1539 to the side of the Ver next to the Abbey Mill at the bottom of the Abbey Orchard, and remains in this location today.

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