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Historic sites near London : St.Albans medieval cathedral and Roman town

Updated on December 19, 2012

St. Albans lies just 20 minutes of train ride from London and is 5 miles from Luton airport. Known as Verulamium it was the second largest town of Roman Britain. During the Middle Ages St. Albans was an important market town dominated by the magnificent cathedral and monastery. The excavation of the Roman town unearthed a great number of artefacts which tell the story the Romans in Britain.


A markerSt.Albans -
St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK
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How to get there.

By car

St Albans is close to the M1 (Junction 6 for the A405) and M25 motorways (J21a for the A405, J22 for the A1081). The short M10 also links from the M1 (J8 southbound).

By train

St.Albans is easily accessed by train from London St. Pancras station. The train journey takes only 20 min. and the train arrives to the main St.Albans station. St.Albans station also can be reached from Luton Airport ( 10 min.) and from Gatwick Airport ( 1hour 10 min).

St.Albans Park - the site of Roman Verulamium
St.Albans Park - the site of Roman Verulamium

Roman Town

The Roman Town, Verulamium occupied an area of 7.2 sq km and was situated in the present-day St.Albans Park. The excavations of the town started in the 1930s unearthed a large amount of Roman artefacts as well as the remains of Roman structures – houses, bathhouse, theatre, temples and public halls. Many of the excavated artefacts are now shown in the Verulamium Museum which is devoted to everyday Roman life in Britain.

 Roman Helmet  from Verulamium Museum
Roman Helmet from Verulamium Museum

Roman Army

A Roman detachment was stationed in Verulamium which helped to protect the area from the attacks of local Celtic tribes and supervised the building of a road to the major Roman town and port Londinium (London) The Roman Army consisted mainly of foot soldiers or legionaries with the cavalry being less important in their forces.

Replica of Roman mask from Verulamium Museum
Replica of Roman mask from Verulamium Museum

Roman Theatre

Verulamium’s theatre was built between 140-150 AD. To enter the theatre the public had to climb wooden staircases built against its outside walls. In front of the stage there was an open area called “the orchestra.” It is likely that the theatre was used for religious ceremonies as well as for drama.

 Strigil from Verulamium Museum
Strigil from Verulamium Museum

Roman Baths

Baths were an important part of Roman recreational and social life. The main bath in Verulamium had several rooms including hot steam room, cold room with cold bath and a warm room for socialising and massage. The baths had a under-floor central heating system. An outside fire heated the air which spread under the baths through a complicated system of channels or “hypocaust.” The same fire heated a boiler from which hot water passed through pipes to the hot bath room. Romans did not used soup in the baths, instead they scraped off the dirt with a treatment of oil, using a special tool called “a strigil.”

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Amphorae from Verulamium MuseumGlass jar from Verulamium MuseumSilver brooch from Verulamium MuseumEnamel brooches from Verulamium MuseumSamian pottery from Verulamium Museum
Amphorae from Verulamium Museum
Amphorae from Verulamium Museum
Glass jar from Verulamium Museum
Glass jar from Verulamium Museum
Silver brooch from Verulamium Museum
Silver brooch from Verulamium Museum
Enamel brooches from Verulamium Museum
Enamel brooches from Verulamium Museum
Samian pottery from Verulamium Museum
Samian pottery from Verulamium Museum

Everyday objects

The Roman civilisation enjoyed Mediterranean way of life. Romans drank wine and used olive oil imported in amphorae. Mediterranean goods were carried overland to Britain across France (Gaul) For dining Romans imported the red-coloured Samian pottery made in Gaul. Roman clothes was decorated with silver brooches of different designs. For writing they used wooden tablets coated with wax.

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Roman Mosaic from Verulamium MuseumRoman mosaic from Verulamium MuseumMosaic floor from Verulamium museum
Roman Mosaic from Verulamium Museum
Roman Mosaic from Verulamium Museum
Roman mosaic from Verulamium Museum
Roman mosaic from Verulamium Museum
Mosaic floor from Verulamium museum
Mosaic floor from Verulamium museum


The Roman houses

Wealthy Roman citizens of Verulamium lived in houses heated by hypercausts.

The walls of houses were decorated with painted plaster and the floors with mosaic made of ceramic cubes set in mortar. The roofs were made of clay tiles.

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St.Albans Cathedral

The present building of the cathedral was erected in 1077 by the Normans to replace an earlier Anglo-Saxon Benedictine abbey and monastery founded by King Offa in 792.The cathedral was considerably extended during the Middle Ages and underwent considerable restoration during Victorian times. A large amount of Roman bricks taken from the remains of Verulamium was used during the building of the cathedral.

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    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Christine,

      A well written and interesting article. I always enjoy studying our rich historical past

      Voted up,awesome and interesting

      Kind regards Peter

    • Christine Wade profile image
      Author

      Christine Wade 4 years ago from UK

      Peter, Thank you very much for your nice comment. I love to find out about historical sites too.

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      An interesting, potted, ancient history you've here presented M(r)s. Wade, and thank you for your kind and uplifting words. I'm no snob, but that architecture of St. Albans looks pretty impressive; if you enjoy this kind of thing, then a visit to Lincoln Cathedral will reveal probably the finest example you'll ever see in Great Britain ( if you haven't already been ).

      With Kind Regards,

      Romeo's Quill

    • Christine Wade profile image
      Author

      Christine Wade 3 years ago from UK

      Romeos Quill, thank you very much for this wonderful comment. I am very glad that you found my article interesting. I've already been to Lincoln Cathedral, but now I feel inspired to come back, make some photographs and write about it too!

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