Ancient bones unearthed during £7.75 million museum conversion in St Albans

Portfolio Holder for Sport, Leisure and Heritage for St Albans council Cllr Annie Brewster shows The

Portfolio Holder for Sport, Leisure and Heritage for St Albans council Cllr Annie Brewster shows The Herts Advertiser's Debbie White around the St Albans Art Gallery and Museum project. - Credit: Archant

Animal bones dating back to the 14th Century have been discovered during the transformation of St Albans’ Town Hall into a showpiece gallery and museum.

Builders busy converting the landmark Grade II* listed building into a state-of-the-art visitors’ attraction unearthed jawbones during excavation work for a new basement gallery.

St Albans district council’s portfolio holder for heritage, Cllr Annie Brewster, and construction manager Jon Allworth, Willmott Dixon, gave the Herts Advertiser an exclusive tour of the site this week.

Jon said: “We found some perfectly preserved bones – a mix of pig and sheep jawbones, and ribs as well, four metres deep in the basement.”

Cllr Brewster said that St Albans district archaeologist, Simon West, had examined the findings along with a centuries-old leather shoe, dating back to medieval times. It was found in a historic cesspit.

She added: “Before the Town Hall was built, it was an empty site, and residents used to bring their animals here.”

Both Jon and Cllr Brewster reported that the transformation work on the £7.75 million St Albans Museum and Art Gallery was on schedule, with the attraction due to open in next year.

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To allow the major revamp to be carried out, considerable protective work has already been undertaken ahead of the changes, to maintain its historic features.

This includes encasing the stairs, ironwork and decorative pieces - temporarily - in timber.

Underpinning of the former café at the front of the building is currently being carried out in a careful and gradual way, with Jon explaining, “we are underpinning the whole room, which will eventually be the entrance gallery”.

Cllr Brewster is particularly keen to see the courtroom restored to its former glory.

The former clerk’s horseshoe-shaped timber bench are still covered in very old copies of the Herts Advertiser, which were apparently used as an underlay for a leather-style top.

Last used to hear a case about 50 years ago, the courtroom, at the centre of the former Town Hall, was used for the filming of biographical film Wilde in 1997, starring Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde.

Near the courtroom are the former cells, some of which will be preserved in their original condition and used as an educational tool, while others will be converted into toilets.

Cllr Brewster said: “You can imagine people saying ‘we have been to that museum where you can have tea in the Georgian courtroom, and visited the loo in the prison cells!’”

• In a fundraising update, £1.1 million of the £1.7m match-funding target has now been reached. Trusts, corporate entities and other benefactors have helped support the major project, while there is still a limited amount of space on the oak panel honours board.