Photo: a reconstruction of how the Roman theatre at Verulamium might have looked. © English Heritage
Verulamium, a site treasured by archaeologists for years as a unique monument to Roman Britain, is now safe from destruction by the plough, thanks to an important agreement between English Heritage and the local landowner.
The agreement, announced on October 22, will ensure that fields covering part of one of the country’s most important archaeological sites, near St.Albans, are taken permanently out of cultivation and converted to permanent pasture. Ancient hedgerows that had been removed to facilitate cultivation will be re-instated.
"I am pleased to announce the completion of these important negotiations. It is wonderful to know that the internationally important archaeology of Verulamium is safe at last,” said English Heritage Chief Executive, Dr Simon Thurley.
Photo: how the theatre site looks now. It adjoins the land now saved from the plough. © English Heritage
There has been vociferous public concern for many years about the future of the internationally important remains at Verulamium. Three years ago it was agreed that the fields should have minimum levels of cultivation pending a permanent solution for the site.
English Heritage, working with the landowner, Gorhambury Estates, has now reached a solution that will save the archaeological remains while helping to ensure that the farmland remains viable and productive.
“This is a landmark achievement in English Heritage’s campaign to curb the damage done to our heritage by intensive ploughing,” said Dr Simon Thurley. “But Verulamium is only one site. Earlier in the year, with the launch of our Ripping Up History campaign, we drew attention to the fact that many more sites, including nearly 3000 nationally important scheduled monuments, are being put at risk by ploughing.”
Photo: another view of the theatre site today. © English Heritage
“English Heritage’s campaign; Ripping Up History, calls for a new strategy - one which has the support of farmers and which in return, will properly reward them for their good management of historically important sites. English Heritage will continue to campaign for changes in heritage legislation to ensure that Verulamium is the first of more good news stories."
The remains of Verulamium have been ploughed almost continuously since the 1940’s and represent a major part of a farm on the outskirts of St Albans. Although the ploughing was permitted under ancient monument legislation, many important finds were brought to the surface and highlighted the need to do something to prevent any further destruction of the remains of the ancient town.
Heritage Minister, Andrew McIntosh said: “It is important to all of us to understand our heritage through historic remains of past civilisations. I welcome this significant agreement to protect Verulamium for the learning and enjoyment of future generations.”
Photo: has this already happened at Verulamium? dramatic plough scars on a fourth century Roman mosaic in Dinnington, Somerset. © English Heritage.
Founded about AD 49, a few years after the Claudian invasion of Britain, Verulamium has been key to our understanding of Roman civilisation and urban development in the Empire. Eventually covering about 200 acres, the town had a full range of public buildings, including a temple, forum, theatre and amphitheatre. More than 30 mosaics have been found.
Verulamium was never subsequently built over and is therefore especially important to archaeologists. Over the years it has been at the centre of many hot archaeological debates and much archaeological innovation. It was here at Verulamium that the famous early C20th archaeologist, Sir Mortimer Wheeler made his name.