In the crowded and busy thoroughfare of St. Albans in the mid-nineteenth century a Gypsy turned inn-keeper was the landlord of St. Christopher’s, located along a narrow cobbled back street. His name was Neptune Smith, and he had been baptised at Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire, in 1816, the son of William Smith, a brazier, and his wife, Charlotte. The couple had baptised their children around several Hertfordshire villages, favouring Bovingdon and Knebworth, William being variously described as a labourer, brazier, musician and Traveller.
Neptune, however, had chosen to live a settled life and married his wife, Susannah Youngs, the daughter of Isaac, a carpenter, in July 1846 at The Abbey Church, St. Albans, giving his father’s name as Wlliam, his occupation as a licensed hawker. Neptune is described in the local directory in 1851 as a beer retailer, living at Back Street, St. Christopher’s Inn; the couple appear in both the 1851 and 1861 census at the same location, where Neptune is described as a victualler.
The winter of 1961, however, saw Neptune Smith in court, charged with keeping a brothel. Local newspapers covered the story, of course, but the fine imposed did not seem to stop Neptune from continuing this practice at St. Christopher’s Inn, for in the autumn of 1862 he was again in court, charged with having refused the police admission to his house. In fact, the police had been admitted to the house, but not to the upper part of the establishment, Mrs. Smith having absolutely refused to allow the police to go upstairs. Neptune Smith was found guilty and fined.
In spite of these infringements of the law, Neptune Smith was called to the Assizes in Hertford as a jury member in the summer of 1867, where, whilst staying at the Vine Inn, he died suddenly. Local papers recorded it as a ‘shocking case of sudden death’ in which Neptune Smith, an inn-keeper from St. Albans, who was serving on the juries at the Assizes went to bed on Wednesday, after ‘drinking rather freely’ and the following morning came downstairs to obtain more to drink, before being discovered dead in his room at about mid-day.
A subsequent inquest returned the verdict of death caused by an apoplectic fit, and Neptune was buried at St. Peter’s Church, St. Albans, ‘age 52 years.’ Susannah was living in Victoria Street, St. Albans when she was awarded probate.
The world of St. Albans in the nineteenth century was very different indeed to that of the twentieth and twenty-first century, when it is considered one of the most elegant cities in Hertfordshire, but, in the cobbled streets where the St. Christopher stood, there was once a disorderly house . . .