How it was founded
On 21 October 1845, a group of men including many local clergy met at the home of the Archdeacon of St Albans, Dr Charles Burney, to form the St Albans Architectural Society. Reflecting the concerns of the Archdeacon, it was hoped that the Society would be instrumental in helping to preserve and restore the crumbling fabric of the Abbey. The local press was informed that the object of the Society was
promoting a more general acquaintance with those memorials of past ages which tend to illustrate the history and principles of Architecture in England.
The Society was one of several such organisations formed in the early Victorian period to learn more about the history of the England, particularly its churches. Indeed, both its early publications and later Transactions reflect the Society’s interest in ecclesiastical architecture.
The Society’s changing interests and name
Its broadening interests were reflected in subsequent amendments to its name, first in 1850 to the St Albans Architectural and Archaeological Society and then in 1897 to the St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society (SAHAAS), or as it is popularly known, the ‘Arc and Arc’.
The Society has made significant contributions to the preservation of several of the town’s key historic features, particularly the Abbey and Clock Tower, and this work continues. The Society also played a leading role in the establishment of the first history museum in Hertfordshire in 1898.
It initiated the important series of excavations led by Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler at Verulamium in the 1930s and many members were involved in the extensive digs in the town centre as it was re-developed after 1945.
That the fortunes of the Society have waxed and waned can be traced in the sporadic history of its publications. While similar societies produced Transactions of their activities on a yearly basis, it took nearly 40 years for the Society to publish its first Transactions in 1883. During the First and Second World Wars, and for some years after they finished, the Society suspended its activities altogether.
Rising costs in the 1960s brought the run of Transactions to an end with a new journal, Hertfordshire Archaeology (now Hertfordshire Archaeology and History), replacing it. The cost and risk of this is shared with our partner, the East Herts Archaeological Society (EHAS).
As the level of archaeological activity started to drop in the late 1900s, the study of the area’s local history gathered pace with the Society continuing to publish members’ research under its own name.
Two publications are particularly noteworthy, one garnering a national award and the other receiving academic praise, namely the St Albans c.1820 Map Project and the book, St Albans 1650-1700: A Thoroughfare Town and Its People respectively. This book was co-edited by JT Smith, a pioneer in the history of vernacular architecture and one of several experts in their fields who have been members of and contributed to the society.
Others have included Rev. Charles Boutell, archaeologist and heraldry expert; Prof. Thomas Donaldson, architect; Sir George Gilbert Scott, architect; Sir John Evans, archaeologist and geologist; William Page, historian; and Prof. H.R. Loyn, historian.
Our current constitution (see below) sets out the purposes of the Society as follows:
- to promote public interest in, and improve public knowledge of, the architecture, archaeology and history of St Albans and Hertfordshire,
- to work to secure the protection of monuments, structures or other features of architectural, historical or archaeological interest in the area,
- to maintain its own library,
- to encourage the preservation, and the deposit in suitable collections, of written documents, in any format, and material of historical interest.
To these ends, the Society undertakes a wide range of activities, including:
- organising lectures, visits and exhibitions for its members and the general public (see ‘Events’);
- research into the history of St Albans and Hertfordshire, both by individual members and groups, and publication of the results;
- maintaining and developing of an extensive library of primary and secondary resources at the Society’s premises in Sandridge Gate Business Park;
- assisting with a range of archaeological research projects; and
- facilitating public access to the Clock Tower, in conjunction with the Civic Society;
- co-operating with a wide range of organisations with which we share objectives.
There are many ways to become involved as a member of the Society, and we hope that you will join us in promoting the wealth of historical interest that St Albans provides. Take a look at the Research section to see if something piques your interest, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply come along to one of the lectures – see ‘Events‘.