Living in St Albans and Harpenden so close to London it can be easy to forget its ancient history. St Albans has a host of Roman remains and one exciting modern building houses the hypocaust and mosaic floor in Verulamium Park. If you haven’t explored the history on your St Albans’ doorstep make sure you get out and visit the Roman Mosaics in St Albans this autumn.
The Roman mosaic in St Albans was once part of a suite of rooms built around 200 AD near Watling Street, the major Roman road that ran past Verulamium. The 1800-year-old hypocaust and its mosaic floor were uncovered during excavations in Verulamium Park in the 1930s by Sir Mortimer & Tessa Wheeler. It was decided to leave these in their original Roman location, where they formed part of the reception and meeting rooms of a large townhouse.
The amazing engineering of Roman hypocaust systems allowed hot air to circulate beneath the floor and through the walls of buildings. Floors were raised on brick columns (pilae) or, as in this case, trenches were cut below the floor to allow the hot air through. The mosaic covering the hypocaust was made of tesserae (small cubes) of cut stone or tile. These were set into a thin layer of fine mortar which was spread over a concrete floor. The tesserae were grouted with a mortar and polished with abrasive stones. The floor may have also been polished with beeswax to enhance the colours.
Today, the St Albans Hypocaust is housed within a sleek modern building and is free to visitors, during the Winter months from 1st October to 31st March it is open Monday to Saturday 10 am - 3:45 pm and on Sunday from 2 pm - 3:45 pm at Verulamium Park, St Albans AL3 4SW.