st albans, 2006

St Albans is a nice little town. Just north of London, and easily reached by train, it's filled with medieval buildings, pubs, a market and a large cathedral in honor of St Alban.

Alban was a Roman citizen of Verulamium, a town along the ancient Watling Street that ran from Dover to Wales (and is best known in London as Edgware Road). He was the first British martyr, as Christianity was illegal in ancient Rome and the authorities decided to take him to a nearby hill and behead him.

It would have ended there, but Christianity was eventually legalized and a shrine to Alban was built on the hill above Verulamium, reasonably close to the site of his death. The shrine became an abbey, and a destination of pilgrimage from other places in England. The town of St Albans grew around the abbey while Verulamium declined, so the people of St Albans mined its ancient buildings for stone and brick to build the new town. Now Verulamium is a big field.

Andrea and I went there at the beginning of March.

Update: Oops, I had a spelling error here. I have been corrected for using the spelling "Abby," whereas the correct spelling is "Abbey." Thanks to my boss's friend Percy (or perhaps Percey) for this correction.

St Albans - Market Place looking south
There has been a market in the center of town for centuries.
St Albans - Medieval clock tower
Next to the pub where we had lunch was a medieval clock tower that offers a spectacular view of the city, but unfortunately we can't vouch for it because it was closed for the season.
St Albans - Door on medieval clock tower
A sign on the tower door suggested we not complain about this.
St Albans - Andrea on George Street
Andrea window shops on George Street across from a medieval pub. There were quite a lot of buildings of this period throughout the city.
St Albans - Abbey
The abbey is a cathedral, but prior to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monestaries it was a home to monks.
St Albans - Detail of relief sculptures on Abbey
The relief sculptures on the front of the abbey featured this creepy guy.
St Albans - Abbey south transcept
The south transcept of the abbey.
St Albans - Abbey details
Many of the columns were romanesque, but there were also gothic details as well.
St Albans - Abbey tower
The abbey tower is made largely of brick. Medieval Britain didn't have brickmaking, so all bricks used in buildings of that period were taken from Roman ruins. The bricks in this tower were carted up the hill from Verulamium.
St Albans - Roman wall
Down the hill from St Albans are a few parts of the Roman town wall. Some sections of it appear to be underground, where long mounds mark its presence. Here you can see a section of the wall, center, plus a tree-lined mound to the left.
St Albans - Andrea at Roman wall
More of the Roman wall ...
St Albans - Roman wall
... and more.
St Albans - Roman wall
I caught it at sunset and got carried away, but the photos came out beautifully.
St Albans - Foundations of London gate on Roman wall
Anyone headed to Londinium (London) would have passed through the Watling Street gates. This is the foundation of them. You can see the large curved battlements, with the bases of four columns between them. In the distant background is the valley that was once a necropolis (cemetery) but is now a pond.
St Albans - Andrea at Roman wall
Andrea at Roman wall. Quite a long section is on the southwest side of the old city, facing old Watling Street.
St Albans - Roman wall
More of the Roman wall.
St Albans - Andrea on remains of Roman wall
We hiked into the woods south of the old roman city and found a long mound that ran through the woods and that, were it to be excavated, would presumably reveal more of the wall. Here Andrea is on the top of the hill with a bit of rock and mortar peeking out in front of her.
St Albans - Exposed brick in remains of Roman wall
An exposed brick in the remains of the Roman wall still shows a scrape left when the clay was wet, about two thousand years ago.
St Albans - East Verulamium
This is East Verulamium, near the wall remains, and it's now basically a big open field with occasional mounds.
St Albans - Hypocaust containing mosaic floor from Verulamium
A building called the Hypocaust in the center of the field contains an excavated mosaic floor.
St Albans - Roman theatre
Across the street, though still within what used to be Verulamium, is the Roman theatre, which is being excavated.
St Albans - Pano of Roman theatre
I put together four photos to make a single panorama of it. Quite a few details, like the dressing rooms and the stage, are marked. But in general it's easy to see what used to be where.
20060304-105 - St Albans - Six Bells Pub
On our way back from the theatre we stopped into this local pub for dinner. They had a rather tart cider that the locals enjoyed watching us drink.