A world beneath our feet in St Albans
PUBLISHED: 11:36 12 July 2014 | UPDATED: 11:36 12 July 2014
Countryside Management Service project officer Jon Collins goes in search of the deep roots of St Albans’ Verulamium Park, and outlines new projects bringing them to light
The earth beneath our feet holds many stories, few more compelling than the buried walls and ancient streets of Roman Verulamium. Once the third-largest municipality in Roman Britain, the city fell into disrepair when the Roman army departed these shores in the early fifth century and the ruins were salvaged as materials for the growing monastic town of St Albans. . Revealing the Roman city Today, half of the Roman city lies beneath the beautiful, wildlife-rich open space of Verulamium Park.
The Countryside Management Service has been working with St Albans City and District Council on a project that will help remind visitors what lies beneath the park. Interpretation of its cultural and natural heritage has been developed as a two-stage signage project. The first stage has seen the design, production and installation of new welcome panels with watercolour site maps located at all site entrances, and fingerposts positioned at key junctures within the park. These signs have been designed to help visitors find their way to all the fantastic features Verulamium Park has to offer, such as the free-entry mosaic and hypocaust building, and the tranquil corridor of the River Ver. This stage of the project has been funded by St Albans District Council with additional support from Hertfordshire County Council.
Stage two of the project is currently in development and will see a range of interpretation panels produced. The CMS and district council has been working closely with experts from Verulamium Museum and English Heritage (also a funding partner) to create signs that will encourage visitors to find out about Verulamium’s fascinating past. An artist has been commissioned to produce reconstructions of important buildings and events from the city’s history, such as Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe, burning Verulamium to the ground in AD 60. These signs will help support the great work of the museum in painting a picture of the ancient city’s past. . The park’s natural riches No less significant is Verulamium Park’s natural heritage. New interpretation panels will help visitors learn more about the park’s valuable wildlife habitats, including the globally-important River Ver, and to look out for the vast array of birds and animals here. Production of these panels has been supported by the Ver Valley Society, a local group of volunteers concerned with the conservation of the River Ver. One of its members, Ernest Leahy, has been lending his wonderful artistic talents to the signs. Thanks to Ernest, visitors to the park will be able to tell a tufted duck from a poachard, and a juvenile heron from the adult.
The new signs will help to maintain the park’s Green Flag status, which recognises it as one of England’s finest green spaces. In order to maintain this level of quality, improvement works are regularly taking place in the park, many of which are supported by volunteer activity. Over winter, CMS conservation volunteers helped restore a park boundary on King Harry Lane by coppicing back a dense swathe of scrub vegetation, while the Ver Valley Society and sixth-form students from St Albans School teamed up to refurbish an establishing hedgerow, filling in gaps with new plants.
An additional project has been taking place to enhance a section of the River Ver between Abbey Mill Lane and Holywell Hill. This has seen selective coppicing of shrubs and removal of fallen trees and branches in order to open up windows of light that will encourage aquatic and marginal plant species to flourish in the river. Some of the larger willow trees have been pollarded, a traditional management technique that involves removing the canopy of the tree in order to encourage new growth.
It is well worth paying Verulamium Park a visit at any time of year. Combine it with a tour of the museum and a circuit of the archaeological features and you may well find its peaceful surroundings dissolving into the cacophony and aromas of a bustling Roman city.