Roman ‘Ritz’ uncovered under St Albans pub

PUBLISHED: 09:43 05 December 2011

The Pub Dig team at work in one of two trenches at The Six Bells

The Pub Dig team at work in one of two trenches at The Six Bells


COULD the Roman Britain equivalent of London’s posh Ritz hotel be buried under a historic St Albans pub?

Television presenter Rory McGrath recently joined forces with archaeologist Paul Blinkhorn to delve into buried treasure underneath the tarmac of The Six Bells, St Michael’s Street.

The results of the four-day dig, conducted in two trenches in the pub’s car park, were broadcast in Pub Dig, which started on the History channel last Friday, November 25.

The series, which started with The Six Bells exploration, shows a team of experts deducing past uses of various pub sites as they uncover what lies beneath Britain’s boozers.

At the St Albans dig, comedy writer and performer Rory was shown quizzing St Albans district archaeologist Simon West about the pub, which sits within the walls of the Roman city of Verulamium and dates back to the 15th Century.

One pit revealed that the site had been used about 400 years ago to burn chalk to form quicklime, which was then used for making mortar.

However a more exciting discovery was unearthed in the second trench, where the remains of pottery from the first and second century and a collapsed Roman wall were found.

While the Pub Dig team was excited about the find, they admitted it presented a logistical nightmare as they only had four days to explore the buried remains.

As the experts pondered the history of the artefacts, Rory indulged his love of a good brew by helping brewer Kevin Yelland concoct some Roman beer. According to Kevin it was safer than drinking water 2,000 years ago.

The pair used nettle, as hops were not used in beer making until the 15th Century, and water from the River Ver.

Rory sipped some river water and said it tasted “fruity,” to which Kevin responded: “It’s the ducks from around the corner.”

Meanwhile, Paul had come to the conclusion that the fragments of wall were from, “a big posh Roman building,” possibly a high quality hotel.

Rory asked: “Have we stumbled on the Ritz of Roman Britain?”

After the dig Simon said the excavation gave an opportunity to look at a significant structure believed to date back to the late Iron Age.

It is thought that the building may be a 2nd or 3rd Century Roman mansio, effectively state-run hostels that provided short-term accommodation for state officials, with an attached bathhouse.

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