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A History of Royston


A History
of Royston

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Romans built Ermine Street running south to north, from London to York. It became one of the most important Roman roads in the country and Royston grew at its intersect with Icknield Way, a prehistoric highway running east to west, from East Anglia to Salisbury Plain.


The custom of erecting crosses at crossroads developed early in the Christian era. The origin of Royston’s cross is unknown, but it has been widely attributed to a Lady Roisia. Records, dating from just after the Norman conquest in 1066, mention several noblewomen by the name of Roisia. The earliest was the wife of William the Conqueror’s steward, who owned extensive land in the area. It is possible that she erected Royston’s cross or restored an existing monument. At that time, no town existed and the area was known as Crux Roisae or Roisia’s Cross.


Following the establishment of the Augustinian Priory here in the 12th century, a market was formed from which a town developed. By the early 14th century, Roisia’s Cross had become Roisia’s Town which eventually contracted to Royston. Dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Thomas of Canterbury, the church and priory buildings gradually expanded until the dissolution of the monasteries nearly 400 years later during the reign of Henry VIII. The stone that formed the base of the cross now stands at the northern end of the High Street.


Royston was also an important place during the reign of King James I. On his journey from Scotland to London to be crowned King in 1603, he stopped in Royston to hunt. The following year he built  palace here and returned frequently. His hunting lodge in Kneesworth Street still partly exists and is now known as the Old Palace.

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Discover Royston


Discovered by accident in 1742, Royston Cave is man-made, bell-shaped and cut 8 metres into the chalk that lies beneath Royston’s ancient crossroad.


Its walls are decorated with low-relief wall carvings which are mostly Christian is depiction and medieval in style. They include representations of the Crucifixion and notable saints such as St Catherine and St Christopher. Elsewhere are figures of a horse and an Earth Goddess, believed to be Pagan fertility symbols.


Royston Cave remains an enigma. No records of its age or purpose exist. Some theories suggest it was used by the Knights Templar while others believe it was a private chapel or hermitage. The cave also attracts Pagan and Earth energy visitors who claim it to be the site where two ancient Ley lines meet. They believe that Royston Cave has been a sacred site for thousands of years. 

1 April - 24 Sep 23

£8 Adult / £2 Child

£6 Concession

Melbourn Street

Royston, SG8 7BZ


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A Site of Special Scientific Interest and local nature reserve, wander the woodland footpaths and chalk tracks of Therfield Heath and explore its open views.

Once the hunting ground of King James I, today Therfield Heath is a popular spot with dog walkers, birdwatchers and sports teams. 

In late March to early May, discover the rare Pasque flower which grows on the well drained chalky soil of Church Hill. Legend tells that it springs from the blood of dead Vikings!

The Heath contains a long barrow, thought to be Neolithic, and several bronze age round barrows, all of which Historic England classes as scheduled ancient monuments. The Neolithic long barrow on Therfield Heath is the oldest standing monument in Hertfordshire.

King James
I's Palace

On 29 April 1603, while travelling to London to be crowned King of England, James I stopped overnight in Royston. Attracted by the suitability of the area for hunting, in 1604 the king returned to build a hunting lodge in the town. 


The buildings were never extensive enough to cater for a full court but it provided a suitable spot for hunting, near enough to London for convenience and sufficiently far away to deter intrusion. He returned almost every year to hunt and shoot.


It was here in Royston that Lord Monteagle lived, the man who warned James I of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, and it was here in Royston that James I famously signed Sir Walter Raleigh's death warrant in 1618.

King James' successor, Charles I, visited less frequently. Charles last visited Royston in 1647, as a prisoner of the Parliamentary army during the Civil War. Afterwards, the buildings fell into disrepair.

Parts of King James' Palace can still be seen today on Kneesworth Street. The King's Lodging is privately owned.



A priory of Augustinian Canons in Royston in c.1184. Dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Thomas of Canterbury, the priory buildings gradually expanded until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 by King Henry VIII. Today, Royston Parish Church sits on the site of the original priory.

The attached Priory Gardens have won multiple awards. Seasonal displays of perennials, mature woodland and bedding plants make this an attractive place to walk through or sit and relax. Younger children can also enjoy the junior and toddler play areas.


Royston was first awarded a charter to hold a market in 1189 by Richard I, and it's still trading today! From fruit and veg, to fish, flowers and baked goods, drop by our medieval market and shop its fresh, local produce every Wednesday and Saturday, 8 am - 3 pm.

Heritage Trail


Discover Royston's past on this guided walk around Royston Town Centre.  


Starting at the church, a medieval priory until its dissolution by Henry VIII, follow 31 trail markers around town, taking in sites such as: Dead Street, named after the number of people living there who died from the Plague; King James I hunting palace; the ancient crossroad; and site of the medieval leper hospital.

The full trail lasts approx. 1.5 hours. A shorter trail is also available and lasts approx. 45 minutes. Physical copies of the trail are available from the museum welcome desk.

Or collect a printed guide from Royston Museum

Maps & Resources

Maps &

Town Map

Our town map shows the location of our car parks, Information Centre and attractions.

Information Centre

Located within Royston Library, discover what to see and do in Royston at our Tourist Information Centre.

Community Toilets

Located within Royston Library, discover what to see and do in Royston at our Tourist Information Centre.

Eat, Drink,
Shop, Stay

Feeling peckish? Stop for coffee, lunch or beer at one of Royston's many eateries, including the 15th century Bull Inn. In fact, why not stay the weekend? Make the most of your visit and give yourself time to explore.

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