Spring Cleaning Roman Mosaics In Aldborough, North Yorkshire

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 01 May 2006
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  • Archived article
photo of a woman lying on a floor mosaic and working with a brush

Conservator Beth Stanley carrying out some delicate cleaning. © English Heritage

Spring cleaning the English Heritage way is going on at Aldborough Roman Town near Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire. It’s time for some of the area’s finest in situ Roman mosaics to be spruced up by conservators.

The magnificent relics have miraculously survived for 1800 years since they adorned the floor of an opulent Roman townhouse. Now work to remove lichen, plant growth and debris is underway at the hands of skilled conservators using brushes, water and detergent.

photo of an intricate mosaic in geometric patterns

The geometric pavement mosaic that will hopefully last another 2000 years thanks to conservators. © English Heritage

“We regularly remove loose dirt and leaves from the surface of the mosaics,” explained English Heritage Conservator for the North, Beth Stanley, “but this more intensive cleaning is only done when absolutely necessary. Our policy is to keep such procedures to a minimum to avoid possible damage.”

“The key thing is to keep the mosaics as dry as possible to prevent salts being deposited on the surface, and also free of organic growth which may stain them,” she continued. “Given their age, they are in good condition and still absolutely stunning to the eye. Careful maintenance helps ensure they remain that way.”

photo of various Roman pottery urns and vessels

Other artefacts on display at the museum. © English Heritage

Discovered in 1832 and 1848, the two mosaics are thought to be unique designs. The first one, depicting a lion, was discovered by an innkeeper digging a hole to bury a dead calf. Unfortunately, he damaged parts of the mosaic in the process. The other mosaic is better preserved and features a star and geometric patterns.

Stone shelters were constructed to protect them and have recently undergone £5,000 worth of repairs to improve drainage.

The mosaics have been admired by tourists ever since they were discovered and are now joined by a museum with other artefacts from everyday Roman life – hair combs, shoe buckles and surgical instruments for example. There is also another mosaic on display, believed to depict Clio, the Greek goddess of creative inspiration.

Aldorough was first inhabited by the Romans in about AD100, prospering quickly and having excellent communication links via Dere Street – known today as the A1.

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