Hey everyone! I felt like it might be time for a small change today, and thought I’d reminisce with you all about my trip from 2012, when I spent some time in the Home Counties. It was pretty good, actually, I got to see lots of new, interesting stuff, probably by far and away the best being St Albans!
A cathedral city just north of London, the place still largely has the medieval town feel that I so love (if you hang around for future blogs where I mention history and/or my trips, you’ll come to realise this). The cathedral is pretty stunning, I don’t mind telling you – originally a monastery, St Albans is dedicated, obviously, to St Alban, who was one of the first Christian martyrs during the Roman occupation of Britain.
The cathedral has the longest nave in England, at 275.5ft:
The supporting pillars in the nave still have traces of medieval painting on them:
The tower of the cathedral is, the guidebook proudly proclaims, the oldest standing tower of any English cathedral, being built in 1077 out of Roman bricks that were already over 600 years old when they were used:
However, St Albans’ history stretches much further back than the medieval period. Back when the Romans were in Britain, the town of Verulamium was one of the largest in the province. Just a short walk out of the city across the fields, you come to the Roman Verulamium museum and park – the vast space it occupies gives the sense of scale involved.
The museum is really first-rate. In addition to all of the small finds that you would expect to have been unearthed over the last hundred or so years, there are a series of quite stunning mosaic pavements that I found stupendous!
I think what makes them so visually arresting is their complete-ness, which is something we don’t seem to have a lot of in this country.
Certainly, the Roman House mosaic that is preserved under a shelter in the park pales in comparison:
Also in the museum, there is something that I found really striking – wall paintings! I wouldn’t say I was an expert, but I know a few things about the Roman history of Britain, but I hadn’t realised that such stunning survivals existed outside of, say, Pompeii!
The museum is definitely worth a visit!
Just a short walk further on, there is one of the most significant survivals from Roman Britain – the Theatre. Dating from roughly AD140, the theatre is the only surviving Roman theatre visible in Britain (as opposed to amphitheatres, of which many dot the country).
Theatre was important to the Romans, and alongside animal shows and wrestling matches, plays could be staged here. At its height, the theatre at Verulamium could seat up to 2000 spectators.
Nearby, there are also the remains of some shops and a Roman town house:
The whole trip was pretty good, as I said – I stayed at High Wycombe, and got to see Windsor, Hughenden Manor (the home of Benjamin Disraeli, one of my personal heroes), and Oxford. Perhaps the most bizarre moment, though, came at Hemel Hempstead and the so-called ‘magic roundabout‘ there! But I survived, and can highly recommend a visit to St Albans if you happen to be in the area – for both the Roman museum and the medieval city!