Digging up St Albans’ past to preserve it for the future
DUSTY archaeologists recently invaded St Albans and, armed with diggers and delicate brushes, they have been spending the past few weeks unearthing ancient secrets that lie beneath the city’s soil.
Eager to discover some treasure myself, I headed down to the site just outside Westminster Lodge for a closer look.
Wessex Archaeology was in charge of the dig and fieldwork director Jon Martin heads a modest team of two archaeologists, Ben and Mark.
Excavating the proposed site and checking for ancient remains is a vital part of any development process and, funded by the St Albans district council, it is up to Jon and his team to photograph, draw and record everything they discover.
When I visited the site, the archaeologists had already been there for two weeks and the site was dotted with what looked like giant, dusty potholes.
You may also want to watch:
Jon, who has been in the trade for over 10 years, told me that the solitary keyhole-shaped one was probably a Roman corn-dryer (or kiln), an indication perhaps that Westminster Lodge was once a buzzing area of industry.
I counted six plastic bags jam-packed with bits of Roman tile and Jon, who guessed that an excavation of almost any St Albans garden would reveal Roman artefacts, surprised me with his top fact of the day: did you know that our very own Abbey was built from Roman stone?
- 1 Teenager strangled in attack in St Albans park
- 2 The latest court results for the St Albans area
- 3 St Albans nursery given six weeks' notice warning of potential closure
- 4 Oaklands College being investigated for breach of planning over nursery closure
- 5 In Pictures: Harpenden Farmers' Market back on the Common
- 6 Do you remember when The Inbetweeners came to St Albans?
- 7 St Albans violent crime: Teen drugs gang behind spate of attacks on rivals found guilty
- 8 Urgent care services at St Albans hospital could become appointment only
- 9 Revealed: The areas of Hertfordshire with the most consistent house price growth
- 10 St Albans violent crime: 'Intervention needed to break the cycle of grooming'
Apparently, our lazy medieval ancestors preferred to recycle Roman materials, rather than source their own.
A very tanned Mark, who loves digging his way around the country, had spent over a week excavating the (possible) corn-dryer, and his job was to plan it and record any interesting finds before the diggers filled it in with soil a couple of weeks later.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Ben was also nearby, and he was using a total station (a tripod-esque piece of equipment used in modern surveying) to pinpoint the precise shape and location of the hole.
Ben, who had to take 50 readings for just one hole, was momentarily disrupted by an intrigued bystander, who wanted to know if he had found any treasure.
“The public usually show interest in what we do,” Jon said. “We’ve actually been really well received in St Albans to be honest – it’s nice that people are so interested in where they live, especially because St Albans is a goldmine for unearthed history.”
But despite finding a Roman corn-dryer, medieval pits and countless shards of Roman pottery and part of a large Roman brick wall during a dig last winter, nothing the archaeologists have discovered so far would stop further development on the Westminster Lodge site.
Although that may come as a relief to the council and developers alike, Jon explained that the aim of the game was not to discover something incredible; instead, his job was to record our city’s rich heritage, so it never lies forgotten again.