St Albans (or Verulamium)


Verulamium has been a Celtic settlement, a Roman Town, Saxon town, taken over by the Normans after the conquest of England. It has also been the scene of some major battles in the War of the Roses as well as the English Civil War. It is a place steeped in a lot of history and is a very pretty town to boot (leastwise it is in the rain).

Verulamium’s origins are pre Roman. In the first century B.C., a Celtic tribe known as the Catuvellauni established a settlement on the south side of the river Ver. This was believed to have occurred around 20 to 15 B.C. The Celtic place name for the settlement was Verlamion. It is believed that this means ‘the place above the marsh’. There was an earlier settlement at Wheathampstead which is suggested as the capital settlement of Cassivellaunus and which was also the scene of Cassivellaunus’ defeat by Julius Caesar in 54 B.C.

Later, Cunobelin (perhaps the son of Tasciovanus) extended his power eastwards and ended up ruling the Trinovantes. By 10 A.D. his capital was at Camulodunum (Colchester). Verlamion continued to prosper, possibly as the royal residence of Adminius, Cunobelin’s son, before he was forced to flee to Rome as the result of losing a political struggle.

In 43 A.D., Rome invaded Britain again and constructed a fort at Verlamion (in St. Michael’s village). The fort was short lived but eventually replaced in 49 A.D. with the city of Verulamium. The founding of the city was a deliberate act and the town was most likely created to be the administrative centre of the Civitas Catuvellanorum (the tribal capital) and at the same time, it was also given the status of municipium or chartered town.

The city was planned from the outset with a grid of streets laid out and reflects the assistance and influence of military architects in the initial layout.

The city grew until 69 A.D. when the Celts rebelled from Roman rule. This rebellion was led by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. Verulamium was razed to the ground and the city destroyed by fire. After the Romans put down the rebellion, the city was rebuilt again. It continued to grow until another fire destroyed over a third of the city in 155 A.D. Again, the city grew after this period, doubling in size.

In the period 265 to 270 A.D., Verulamium was given new defences with the city wall enclosing new areas but still based around the London and Chester gates along Watling Street. The walls were constructed by using bricks and flint and this rebuilding made Verulamium the third largest city in Roman Britain. The city continued to prosper in the fourth century although towards the end of that period (390 A.D.) the theatre was closed and used as a rubbish dump. This may have had something to do with the rise of Christianity although that is purely speculation.

The most notable event to occur to the city (apart from being destroyed in Boudicca’s rebellion) was the martyrdom of Alban, sometime in the third century. Alban became Britain’s first martyr. Verulamium however, appears to have survived into the fifth century, well past the end of imperial rule in 410 A.D. and its demise as a city seems to have resulted more from economic factors (with the breakdown in long distance trade after the dissolution of the western empire) than other reasons. However, the settlement and town lived on as a shrine for Christian pilgrimage, with pilgrims visiting the shrine for St. Alban constructed in the area.

Mind you, this whole area around St. Albans was also scene of much fighting during later periods of history with battles in the Wars of the Roses (First St. Albans and Second St. Albans). I will add details of those here at a later date. Some brief information is below, however:

22 May 1455 – The 1st Battle of St. Albans in which Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was slain before the Castle Inn.

Well, OK, I haven’t got around to it yet – too many tasks, too little time, too many books (must read). I’ll get around to it eventually, I promise I will.

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