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Official Opening of Verulamium

Posted on: 8th May 2015 By: David Thorold

The photo above was taken on 8th May 1939 at the official opening of Verulamium Museum.  The Earl of Harewood, accompanied by his wife Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, declared the Museum open in the presence of 150 invited guests.  The official party included; the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, local Councillors, the Town Clerk, the Bishop and Dean of St Albans, the local MP, the Mayor & Mayoress, and the museum’s first curator, Phillip Corder.

The Museum opened following five years of excavations by one of Britain’s premier archaeological teams, Dr (later Sir) Mortimer Wheeler and his wife, Tessa Wheeler.   The discovery of the Roman city of Verulamium attracted enormous public interest.   During the excavations there were frequent guided tours of the site and the media-savvy Mortimer Wheeler was filmed recovering finds by Pathé news.   The excavations led to the first detailed history of Verulamium being published, and produced an enormous amount of finds.

St Albans City Council had bought the 104 acre site from the Earl of Verulamium in 1929 with the aim of investigating the archaeological remains.  Spurred on by the significance of the finds and the level of public interest the Council decided to invest in a permanent museum to display the finds.

The new Museum cost £8,748 to construct.  The original building was smaller than the current Museum.  There was a single large gallery (80 foot long by 45 foot wide), an office and a laboratory for the curator on either side of the entrance and stores for the reserve collection on the first floor.  In the gallery the archaeological finds were displayed in cases made out of Nigerian Golden Walnut wood.

After the official opening, VIPs were given a tour of the museum by Mortimer Wheeler, and a tablet to Tessa Wheeler – still on display in the museum - was unveiled, while tea was held in a marquee in the car park, followed by a conducted tour. The Herts Advertiser reported that a large crowd of hundreds of citizens attended, while many more who had lined George Street and Fishpool Street to view the arrival of the Earl and the Princess Royal were disappointed when the driver approaching from London Road mistakenly drove along Branch Road.  However, according to the newspaper, many waited to see the couple after event.

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