Carpet glue on ‘priceless’ Roman mosaic to cost St Albans council £50,000
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 August 2016
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.
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.
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”.
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.