Roman basilica and portico uncovered beneath St Albans primary school

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 March 2018

Verulamium Museum staff at the site of the dig.
Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Verulamium Museum staff at the site of the dig. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Archant

Historically significant Roman ruins have been discovered underneath a primary school in St Albans.

The basilica.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyThe basilica. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Archaelogists discovered coins, fragments and ruins dating back to the late Roman period during a dig at St Michael’s School, near the Verulamium Museum, earlier this month. The school is undergoing redevelopment work to expand to a one-form entry school in September, and the archaeologists were called to oversee the dig alongside the builders.

The archaeologists, led by James Fairbairn from Oxford Archaeology, unearthed the corner of the main facade of the basilica, dating from 79AD, and the late Roman portico.

The basilica entrance.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyThe basilica entrance. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Oxford archaeologist Clemency Cooper shared the finds with the St Michael’s children, which included six Roman coins, the handle of an amphora (Roman vase) and a tile revealing the paw print of a Roman dog.

Over the next week, the children will be taken onto the site to see the basilica and portico for themselves.

A bracelet fragment found at the site.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyA bracelet fragment found at the site. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

These discoveries add to the small amount information already known about the site from the 1955 excavation by Sheppard Frere, which unveiled fragments of the inscription stone from the Forum, now on display at the Verulamium Museum.

St Michael’s headteacher Alison Rafferty said: “We are delighted that our project at St Michael’s has unearthed such amazing secrets of national significance. It is incredible to think St Michael’s children have been playing football on top of a Roman basilica for years!

A roman coin found at the site.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyA roman coin found at the site. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

“We are working closely with Historic England, our architect and builders to ensure that the sensitive construction of the classrooms can help to preserve these finds ‘in situ’.

“We are also looking at ways to incorporate a viewing area within the classrooms to bring this living history into the educational provision at St Michael’s for future generations.”

A roman coin found at the site.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyA roman coin found at the site. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Cllr Annie Brewster, portfolio holder for sport, leisure and heritage, said: “These are very exciting and extraordinary discoveries, made only a few yards away from our Roman Museum. It is especially pleasing that St Michael’s school children have been involved as it will educate them about the amazing history of their city.”

The school plans to hold an open day this Saturday between 10am and 3pm so members of the public can view the site.

A colonnade wall.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyA colonnade wall. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Archaeologist Lerai at the dig.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyArchaeologist Lerai at the dig. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Archaeologist James Fairbairn. 
Picture: Andrew RaffertyArchaeologist James Fairbairn. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

The paw print from a Roman dog.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyThe paw print from a Roman dog. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Pottery fragments found at the site.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyPottery fragments found at the site. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Pottery fragments found at the site.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyPottery fragments found at the site. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Roof tiles found at the site.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyRoof tiles found at the site. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

Archaeologist James Fairbairn with headteacher Alison Rafferty.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyArchaeologist James Fairbairn with headteacher Alison Rafferty. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

An amphora handle found at the site.
Picture: Andrew RaffertyAn amphora handle found at the site. Picture: Andrew Rafferty

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