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The mosaic at the Alban Arena: an update

Posted on: 11th August 2016 By: Verulamium Museum

Following our earlier blog post about the mosaic and its history and conversations we've had with visitors who have popped by to see it at the Alban Arena - we wanted to share an update with further information about its conservation . . .

The mosaic was found in Verulamium Park by the archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s. Other mosaics that were found are currently on display in Verulamium Museum and at the Hypocaust in Verulamium Park.

If you aren't able to go and see it, you can discover a bit more about it on our information sheet here >.

In the 1960s, a decision was made by the former St Albans Council to lift the mosaic and to incorporate it into the floor of a new theatre built in the centre of St Albans, now known as the Alban Arena. From a modern perspective, this might seem somewhat unusual, but 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.

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 whole project of relocation (including restoration work and removing the glue) will be around £50,000 and we will need to source external funding for the project to go ahead.

Earlier this year, the Museum commissioned an independent conservation report for advice on the general condition of the mosaic and the steps entailed if it is moved. The report told us that although unsightly, the glue residue is not causing damage to the mosaic and that it is fairly easy to remove. No other concerns were raised about the mosaic’s condition. The report said it is fine for people to continue to walk over the mosaic if covered with carpet. It advised that moving the mosaic would involve gluing a thin sheet of film or cloth onto it to keep all the pieces in place. The glue is similar to that used for carpet tiles and would then be cleaned off afterwards.

We decided to uncover the mosaic in the Alban Arena for public display during the summer after receiving requests from the public to see it. At this stage, we refrained from cleaning the mosaic beforehand as this work is costly and would have to be carried out again once the mosaic is moved and fully restored.

The mosaic will be continue to be on view until from 10am to 4pm until Friday 12th August. Pop by on Friday 12th to meet David Thorold, our Curator of Collections at Verulamium Museum, who will be on hand to answer questions and explain the mosaic’s history between 2pm and 4pm.

If you have any questions about the mosaic, do drop us a line via the website here >.