St Albans: A tale of two cities (in one)

Jay Grenby enjoys life in St Albans, a relaxed community where sheep, shul, shops — and London links — are all on hand


St Albans was named by the Sunday Times last year as the best place to live in the South East. Which is not surprising, when you consider what it has to offer. Not only does it have a long history — with Roman remains and handsome buildings dating back to the Norman, Tudor and Georgian periods to prove it — but it is today a modern cosmopolitan city, amid glorious countryside but with ready access to London, just 20 miles away (and, on a train, 20 minutes away, too). Thameslink takes commuters direct to the City, travellers straight to Gatwick and Luton airports, beach buffs to Brighton and, with a quick change to Eurostar, on to Paris, Brussels or even further afield, Covid restrictions permitting. The M1, M25 and A1(M) are on the doorstep. 

The area boasts more than its fair share of league table-topping schools, both state and independent — and you’re not too far from Jewish schools in locations such as Shenley and Borehamwood. 

For shopping, there are high street names and independents, as well as one of the largest outdoor street markets in the country. And who needs Brent Cross, when you can choose between malls in Watford, Welwyn Garden City, Luton and the Galleria in nearby Hatfield, all within easy reach? 

For kosher shopping, a limited range of groceries is available from supermarkets (it’s worth a trip to London Colney Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer), while kosher delis and butchers are just a short drive away in Radlett or Borehamwood, and these days, they’ll deliver, too. 

For days out, you can enjoy two outstanding museums — the Verulamium Museum, focusing on the city’s Roman history, and the new St Albans Museum and Art Gallery. And there are leisure centres, gyms, health clubs, spas and swimming pools galore; open spaces such as Verulamium Park; pubs and restaurants and countless cultural opportunities, among them an independent cinema, a small theatre and a thriving music scene. 

Best of all, the pace of life is noticeably more relaxed. This relaxed feel is also reflected in the Jewish life of the city, which centres on two synagogues, one United and the other Masorti. There were Jewish families living and working in the city from the early 1900s, but the St Albans Hebrew Congregation was formally established only in 1933, with services in members’ homes. By the beginning of the Second World War, numbers had swollen, as more families found refuge from London in the relative peace of St Albans; by 1942, the growing community had raised funds to purchase a large house to be converted into a synagogue as well as a home for the rabbi. Well-attended High Holy Day services were held in the Town Hall. 

In 1948, the community became affiliated to the United Synagogue, becoming a full US member in 2011. More than 300 people attended the laying of the foundation stone for a new synagogue in March 1950 and exactly a year later, the building, on its present site in Oswald Road, was consecrated. Two of its stained-glass windows are rarities by artist and Hebrew scholar David Hillman. 
During the next few decades, the size of the community fluctuated, as older members died or moved back to London — and then a new wave of young married couples moved into the area in the 1980s. Regular Shabbat morning services were reintroduced in 2001 on the eve of the shul’s 50th anniversary celebrations —when the then Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, visited the synagogue to open its biblical garden. 

In 2013, St Albans United Synagogue made history — and headlines — by electing the first female chairman of a United Synagogue community. The following year witnessed a major landmark in the synagogue’s history: the appointment of a new minister after a gap of 50 years. The arrival of Rabbi Daniel Sturgess, together with his wife, Rebbetzin Alli, ushered in a new lease of life for the shul. St Albans is now a thriving, community, still growing by leaps and bounds, with an array of lively services, social and educational activities and with a justified reputation as a particularly warm, caring and friendly community. Membership — around 300 at present — once heavily weighted towards the older end of the spectrum, now increasingly embraces young families, with programmes and activities to appeal to all ages. Yet, while the community is large enough to provide everything needed to enjoy the richness that Jewish life offers, it is still able to involve and care for each individual member. Plans are currently in hand to celebrate the synagogue’s 70th anniversary as far as pandemic precautions allow. 

St Albans Masorti Synagogue started in 1990 with three families, originally meeting in people’s houses, writes Gina Benjamin. Since then it has grown rapidly and membership is now approaching 500 people. For its first 20 years it was a nomadic community, but in 2011 it moved into its own building, where it celebrates Shabbat, High Holy Days and other festivals throughout the year and runs many social and education events. 

“The St Albans Masorti community has seen pretty much constant growth,” says Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet, originally from Phoenix Arizona. St Albans is “a very religious city” he says — as well as the two synagogues, there is the abbey, 37 churches and two mosques — with excellent cooperation between the congregants of each, and a keen interest in inter-faith events. 
A case in point was last Rosh Hashanah, when Covid prevented any gathering for shofar-blowing. Rabbi Zagoria-Moffet contacted the canon of the abbey for help. The rabbi does a lot of teaching at the abbey’s adult education classes and in return welcomes visitors from the abbey. The canon was excited to be able to assist the Jewish community by making the Norman tower available. 
“On Rosh Hashanah, we climbed up to the top of the abbey to blow the shofar,” Rabbi Zagoria-Moffet recalls. This ensured it could be widely and safely heard. “St Albans has a great balance of all the best things England has to offer,” adds Rabbi Zagoria-Moffet, who feels lucky to have this city as his UK base. “It has the countryside but also access to London. You can go five minutes one way and be in fields full of sheep, five minutes the other and you are on a train to London. 
“We can do programmes outdoors; take advantage of the beauty of nature around. It’s a really appealing balance. “I live in St Albans and about a third of our congregation does but the majority doesn’t; we’re the only Masorti community outside the M25 so we have people come large distances. We have a much broader outlook because of that.” He also says that both United and Masorti communities are “more informal” and that St Albans Judaism is “relaxed”. 

For schooling, he says there is a “half and half split” — with some attending Jewish schools in places such as Shenley and Borehamwood and the other half at local schools. This, says Rabbi Zagoria-Moffet, reflects the two personalities of St Albans, with the M25 forming “a magic barrier”— it’s in one sense a dormitory town for London, but in another, it’s countryside — “a really interesing balance, making for a really strong community”. 

Happily for homebuyers, writes Charlie Jacoby, St Albans is as popular with property developers as it is with its residents — making for a good choice of prospective home. The city’s affordability and lockdown-friendly green open spaces, combined with the short commuting time into London, have given it the advantage over Surrey favourites such as Guildford and Woking. 

Crest Nicholson is preparing to launch 74 apartments at its Verla scheme. The development will offer studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments within walking distance of St Albans city centre. The first completions are due by the end of the year. 

Among local green spaces, Verulamium Park offers 100 acres of outdoors including a lake, play areas and the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. Verulam Golf Club is also within walking distance for golfers, while the Alban Way, a 6.3-mile bike route, offers cyclists a scenic connecting route between St Albans and Hatfield. 

Developer Taylor Wimpey is offering Oaklands Grange, which consists of two, three-, four- and five-bedroom homes. Currently for sale are three-and four-bedroom homes priced between £570,000 and £980,000.

Research by the National Childbirth Trust indicates that St Albans is also a good place to start a family. It is in the top five locations in the UK for parenting purposes, based on its number of NCT classes, breastfeeding support groups, baby massage services and baby yoga classes. 

Properties sell fast in St Albans. Phase one of Kingsbury Gardens, Charles Church’s development of four- and five-bedroom homes, has sold out. Estate agent Hamptons is offering the last remaining apartment at Chequers House, Chequer Street, for £449,950. Chequers House, by Jaspar Homes, is a development of ten one- and two-bedroom apartments. It is within walking distance of St Albans train station. 

At the top end of the market in St Albans, estate agent Northwood is advertising a home in New House Park for £2,999,000. The newly-built house boasts more than 4,500 sq ft of living space, with a 22ft reception room and six double bedrooms. 

St Albans saw more prime property purchases over the past year than almost anywhere outside London, research has revealed. Enness Global analysed £3 million-plus property transactions across England between March 2020 and February 2021, and found that 886 such homes were sold, at an average of almost £4 million. 

Finally — the average St Albans home earned more than its owner over the past year, according to research carried out by It found that the cathedral city is one of 92 areas of Britain where house prices climbed by more than the average net annual salary in the year to February, increasing in value by £44,935 to £554,595.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive