Verulamium Park History

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Set in over 100 acres of beautiful parkland, Verulamium Park, purchased from the Earl of Verulam in 1929 by the then City Corporation, is a popular attraction throughout the year.

The Park is named after the Roman City of Verulamium on which it stands. The City walls and outline of the London Gate can still be seen. Verulamium Museum displays hundreds of remarkable objects that have been excavated from the ground.Verulamium Park Lake being dug ciorca 1930

A main feature of the Park is the ornamental lake. Construction started on this project during 1929 and gave much needed work to the unemployed during the depression.The lake is home to a wealth of waterbirds including Great Crested Grebes, Coots, Pochards and Tufted Ducks. The islands in the lake support one of the few heronries in Hertfordshire, whilst on the River Ver you may be lucky enough to see a Water Vole.

In addition to the lake and river, the wildlife habitat is enhanced through the use of trees and grass meadows, which are important for insects and birds. From the Park you can admire the magnificent view of St Albans Cathedral and Abbey Church which is built on the site of Saint Alban's execution.

Roman Verulamium

Today’s Park covers approximately one-half of the Roman town of Verulamium.  The other half lies beneath land owned by Lord Verulam on the other side of Bluehouse Hill and includes the Theatre. Roman Verulamium became the third largest Roman town in Britain, and was given the formal title and status of municipium in the first century AD, possibly around AD 70.

However, the Roman town lies on an earlier, late Iron Age site which had been founded in the second half of the fifth century BC, possibly some time around 15 BC, or as early as 25 BC.  The site may have been moved from the earlier site at Wheathampstead, which may have connections with the incursions under Caesar in 55 and 54 BC. By the early 1st century AD, Verlamion (the Iron Age name) had become a major tribal centre for the Catuvellauni. It is here that coins were minted for the tribal kings such as Tasciovanus and Cunobelin (Old King Cole) and have the inscription ‘Ver’ on them. The large ditch or dyke on the south-east side of the town may date from this period or slightly earlier in the Late Iron Age. They probably partly define the oppidum (Iron Age town) of Verlamion (‘the place by the marsh’). This will have extended from the valley floor up to the crest of the ridge on the south side and beyond, and would have encompassed modern day Prae Wood, Gorhambury, Waitrose, the Verulam and King Harry estates and St Stephens.

The Romans formally invaded Britain in AD 43 under Claudius, although the possible idea of invasion in emulation of Caesar had occurred at several points under the Emperors Augustus and Caligula. The town of Verulamium probably developed slowly for several decades until the Revolt of Boudicca in 60/61 AD, the consequences of which reached the town when it was ransacked in 61 AD. After this setback the town probably developed along more formal ‘Roman’ lines with the dedication of a Basilica, and the construction of a road network. Sometime around AD 140 the Roman Theatre was constructed and just in time for another major fire c. AD 155, which may have burnt and destroyed upwards of 40% of the town. The Roman walls, which date from the later 3rd century AD, are still visible at various points around the town and can be seen as grass marks in the summer where they have been robbed and covered by soil elsewhere. The best preserved part of the walls, including towers, is along the Causeway down to London Gate. This is a Ministry of Works reconstruction of what was found in the early 1930’s by Mortimer Wheeler.

The heart of the Roman town was the forum Basilica complex which lies underneath St Michaels Church. This was an open space forum for display, with public announcements, religious activity and market stalls. The Basilica was the administrative heart of the town and the region where the town council would have been based. The church only covers one-third of the Roman Basilica and it was probably at least as high.

Roman Verulamium probably began to decline in the later fourth, if not the early fifth century, although a possible visit in AD 429 by St Germanus suggests organised activity at least to this date in the town. Later Anglo-Saxon activity probably did not begin until the seventh century, as evidenced by a cemetery on King Harry Lane. The focus for the Roman town probably moved in the late Roman and post-Roman period to the site of the later Abbey on the Hill. It was here that Alban was possibly martyred. The site of a church was turned into a monastery by King Offa in AD 793. Verulamium continued as a Royal site, albeit in decline, into the medieval period with the site of Kingsbury (‘the defended place (burh) belonging to the King’).

Date of last review: 20 December 2017