Carpet glue on ‘priceless’ Roman mosaic to cost St Albans council £50,000

PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 August 2016

Adhesive residue left on the Roman mosaic after carpet tiles were glued over the top.

Adhesive residue left on the Roman mosaic after carpet tiles were glued over the top.

Archant

St Albans’ city chiefs have a sticky problem on their hands – where to find £50,000 to get rid of carpet glue which has left an unsightly patchwork pattern on a priceless Roman mosaic.

Did you know?

• The stone mosaic has many wavy lines and “slight pattern errors”, possibly because several workmen of varying ability created it. The black and white wave pattern was seen on a number of mosaics discovered at Verulamium.

• On display for less than a fortnight, the mosaic was the smaller part of a design that ran through two adjoined rooms, divided either by curtains or a folding wooden screen. Its neighbour remains underground.

• Pieces of limestone, sandstone and Purbeck Marble feature alongside bits of terracotta or disused roof tiles.

The district council has been criticised for allowing a nearly 2,000-year-old piece of history to be scarred by carpet adhesive in the first place, and then failing to do anything about it for decades.

The mosaic, once the floor of a wealthy Roman’s villa, was found by archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler during a dig in the early 1930s, on the site of the ancient Roman city of Verulamium.

In the late 1960s the 3.6 square metre mosaic was dug up and laid in the foyer of the then newly-built City Hall theatre – since renamed the Alban Arena.

If that was not bizarre enough, it was initially put on display for just three months then covered over with a temporary wooden floor, and later with carpet tiles.

The Roman mosaic on show in the Alban Arena.The Roman mosaic on show in the Alban Arena.

Described as this area’s “hidden gem”, because it has been tucked away for decades under the nondescript carpet tiles in the theatre’s bar area, the mosaic has recently been uncovered for a rare - and brief - public viewing.

This prompted Eric Roberts, of the Civic Society, to say: “It’s great to see the mosaic but it’s a shame there have been marks left by the carpet tile glue.

“Whoever thought of covering it up like that in the first place?”

Richard Shwe, the district council’s head of community services, said that from a modern perspective it seemed “unusual” for the previous local body to lift the priceless piece out of the ground and incorporate it into the floor of the theatre.

The Roman mosaic on show in the Alban Arena.The Roman mosaic on show in the Alban Arena.

But, he added, “people in the 1960s had different views on heritage protection than we have today.

“We understand that at the time the intention was that the mosaic would form an attractive centrepiece at the entrance to the theatre when it opened in 1968. However, some months later, a bar was opened next to the mosaic, reducing the space available in the entrance. Back then the mosaic was simply covered by carpet to protect it from people walking over it.”

Richard went on: “We are now looking at moving the mosaic to a more suitable location and restoring it by removing the glue marks. The cost of the work will be around £50,000 and we will need to source external funding for the project to go ahead.”

He said a conservation report commissioned by the authority on the historic floor’s condition said that although unsightly “the glue residue is not causing damage and it is fairly easy to remove. No other concerns were raised about the mosaic’s condition”.

A photo showing the Roman mosaic where it was excavated in Verulamium.A photo showing the Roman mosaic where it was excavated in Verulamium.

Richard said the mosaic was “not of the same quality as those that are currently on display in Verulamium Museum and at the Hypocaust in Verulamium Park”.

• Tomorrow, August 12, is the last day people can see the priceless decorative flooring before it is covered up yet again.

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CountryPhile

I should probably have taken the hint! Walking out into the garden recently an unprecedented flock of thirty or more crows raucously greeted me from the treetops at the bottom of my garden. Cawing and croaking these big, black birds clung clumsily to the top most branches and twigs, jostling and flapping to stay balanced in a constant flurry of feathers. There is always something ominous about crows – they are after all carrion crows, the vultures of the bird world – always watching for scraps and weakness that might mean their next meal.

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