***REVIEW BASED ON MUSEUM ONLY***
We have just come back from staying at a family member's house in Wheathampstead close to St Albans and on one of the day's it had decided to unsurprisingly rain particularly hard and wanted to take the children out as they hate being house bound but needed somewhere inside. After a quick phone call to my father he suggested we go to the verulamium museum in St Albans, loving museum's the car was filled and we were off!!
The museum is located in the rather large Verulamium park on the outskirts of the city. The park is built on the old roman city and has many excavations dotted around including the Germain block and hypocaust, across the road there is a beautiful example of a roman theatre which we sadly didn't see as it was too wet to drag all the children. There is also a fosse but this is inaccessible to the public.
There is a café around 100 yards from the museum in the park and also a lottery funded 'wildlife garden' with children's activities etc, again unfortunately we couldn't use as it was too wet.
There is good parking outside the museum with a 'pay and display' system, it cost us around £2 for 3 hours.
The museum itself is a beautiful Roman-esque rotunda building, it was first opened in 1939 and has been extensively redone with help from the lottery and was finished in 1998.
The museum itself concentrates on the 'everyday life'( and death) in roman times. There is also a new interactive tour of the excavations called Veni Vidi Verulamium where you take a hand held device round the park and it shows you what was there in Roman times, again we did not use this so cannot comment.
The museum is open daily from 10AM to 5:30PM Monday to Saturday and from 2PM to 5:30PM on Sunday's.
Admission prices are:
Adults - £3.80
Children, Senior Citizens and Concessions - £2.00
Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 children) - £10.20
Under 5s -
Free Residents of St Albans District - Free
Friends of St Albans Museums - Free
As we were staying near St Alban's and had taken my sister we were able to get in for free which was a bonus.
Entering through the rotunda you come to the reception and the small gift shop. At the reception area you can buy children's educational sheet's with question's find so on so etc for 10p each, these were great and got the children really interested in the museum.
You are then directed down the colonnade to the main part of the museum which comprises of a large round room with corridors and rooms leading off it. The room is dominated by 2 massive mosaic's one on the main wall and one on the floor below it, these are beautiful and definitely photo worthy. As all the rooms are connected we decided to take the first one and work our way round. There is a small separate room off the colonnade with a video playing about the roman city and the excavations. The first room contains 3 adult human skeletons still in coffins, one has had the head reconstructed showing the dead man's face! In this section there are also 3 children's coffins including two babies, this I could not bring myself to look at as it would have upset me too much, although of course it was a very common part of life in Roman Britain. Here there are also artefact's such as the burial offerings and coins jugs etc.
Leading on to then set up of model's doing everyday tasks such as cooking , carpentry and making clothes, these models don't wear 'toga's' but outfits that the people would actually have worn from before the Romans came.
Then it takes you onto the mosaic's all of which I found stunning there are about 6 in total ranging from a small section of a wall to a whole wall and floor each beautifully decorated with dolphins, Oceanus and flowers, although my favourite was the 'sea shell' closely followed by the ' lion and the stag'.
The most interesting part we found was the section dedicated to the customs and beliefs of the Romano people, this section included finds such as statues of Venus and Mercury as well as pre Roman god's, here there are also artefact's of the offerings given such as coins and bowls, there is also photo's of the shrine excavation.
My son's favourite part and indeed my other half's was definitely the section on 'War and Fighting' this section was very interesting and had A LOT of 'finds' these included a folded up set of chain mail, swords and other weaponry even horse riding gear and coin making tools, it also had information on the 'Boudiccan' revolt, (Boudicca had burnt the city down).
This then brings to back to the main hall with the mosaic's hear there is a small picnic area with seating and a dressing up box etc for the children and also a donation box.
Leaving the hall brings you back to the reception and shop area.
The shop contains the usual souvenir type things such as pencils, rubbers and key rings, and also has books on the Roman's and Celt's, as well as informative posters such as one of the bust's of all the Roman emperor's. There is also a section containing jewellery and statues.
The shop overall is quite cheap and good value with a lot of 'pocket money' items.
Overall we enjoyed the museum a lot although we would have liked to see the actual excavations as it would have helped give us a proper idea of the surroundings. The museum does do what it set's out to do and does it very well it was an enjoyable outing and was educational for the children and had something for all ( we took a 8 and 4 year olds).
We will definitely be going again the next time we go down to London hopefully the weather will be good enough to explore the ruins too!!!
The Roman town of Verulamium was the third most important city in Roman Britain, situated in what is now the modern city of St Albans in Hertfordshire. The Verulamium Museum is a compact but fascinating building, standing on the edges of the extensive Verulamium Park (under which the remains of the Roman city still lie) and tells the story of everyday life in Roman Britain, together with the history of the town from the time of the first Roman settlement until the Army departed in 410.
The museum benefits from a very smart exterior, but inside it has a rather dated and quaint feel. There is a attempt to provide an interactive experience for children, but these push button activities merely show visual information, or play a voiced tape. Although this does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the museum itself, as the information is fascinating - it does feel as if a sharp shove into the 21st century is needed to keep technologically aware young people engaged with the experience.
The museum was granted Heritage Lottery Funding in the 1990s which enabled a beautifully designed Roman style rotunda to be built onto the back of the old 1930s building. This now forms the entrance into the museum, with shop and ticket desks. A winding corridor then takes you into the entrance to the museum, and makes the whole experience vibrant and mysterious.
As you enter the museum, the sound of the introductory video greets you. A small seating area allows you to sit and discover the way in which the Romans arrived in the area, and built their city. Covering the rebellion by Boudicca as well as the development of the settlement, this video is a slightly dated but very comprehensive introduction to the subject which uses computer animation, photographs and footage film to transform the parkland and the fields around the museum into the ancient city. City walls and huge Roman villas are superimposed over the modern replacements. This turns a walk through the park after the visit into a voyage of discovery as you remember the villas, theatres and forums that were shown on the video.
Walking further into the museum, you find yourself in the central area, which houses the magnificent Shell Mosaic, dating from AD 150 and one of the best examples in Europe. Other mosaics and original plaster walls that have been recovered from the local area surround this and many of them are unbelievably intact, making Roman buildings come to life with huge impact. Benches around these major mosaics make it possible to sit and imagine the Roman sandals walking across them.
Various galleries lead from this centre well from all angles in a rather maze-like way. Each one is concerned with some aspect of everyday Roman life. These galleries are called Discovery Areas, and each has some kind of interactive element. The Areas are:
Recreation and Rites. This includes bathing, religion and various forms of entertainment. Hands-on activities complement the vast range of artefacts and include three panels depicting scenes from these areas. A push button activates a voiceover, describing the experience in the first person. In the corner, there is a typical Roman board game with wooden board and marbles so that visitors can try their hand.
Merchants and Markets. This area depicts trading and shopping in Roman times.
Food and Farming. A wide variety of tools around this area can be seen, many of them hidden away in pull-out drawers beneath the cabinets.
Making a Living. This area includes some of the jobs that Roman citizens did to earn their living. Tools of the trades are on display. This area has a large coin collection with a microscope available to get a close-up look. Every other weekend a Roman citizen is available to give background information and to let visitor handle original Roman coins.
~~Reconstruction of Roman Houses~~
This long corridor area contains little recessed areas, each depicting small scenes from everyday Roman life, reconstructed from the evidence found at Verulamium. Scenes include a carpenter (complete with sawing noises), a kitchen (with clucking hen sound effects), a wall painter, a shrine, a merchant and a room from a wealthy household.
Life size manikins in authentic dress are frozen at their everyday work, all in re-created surroundings. Each display has a screen with interactive push button information; the visitor can find the item in the display and then click on appropriate item to get a photo and some written information about that item.
In my opinion this is the most memorable display in the museum. Three skeletons lie intact in their coffins. One of them has a very ornate and complete coffin; decorated lead with its lid still intact. Another push button video display tells his story - the discovery of his burial chamber and the work of the archaeologists who pieced his life together from the evidence. He describes where his coffin was found, with old footage of the discovery and clean up. He then describes the re-creation of his face, as seen in the nearby model - how his features were re-created from bone structure, how they ascertained his age from his good teeth and his pituitary gland.
Other rather tragic photos on the wall show how less fortunate citizens were dumped together in a ditch - their skeletons are photographed as they were found, sprawled or in the foetal position in a mass grave.
The museum is an exciting place for children due to its size and maze-like qualities. Activity sheets are provided and this can add interest to the visit. Events throughout the year include Roman legionaries in full costume, demonstrating army techniques.
There is an NCP car park just outside the museum, cost £1 for 3 hours. If arriving by train, the museum is a good couple of miles from the train station (about a 40 minute walk) The number 300 bus goes from the station to the museum.
There is no café in the museum, but the Inn on the Park provides light meals, snacks and drinks during the day. The Inn is located just inside Verulamium Park, 5 minutes walk away from the Museum.
For those with mobility problems, there is full wheelchair access to all areas of the museum, including a lift to disabled toilets.
The museum is open every day of the week from 10.00-5.30pm, except for Sunday mornings. Admission charges are £3.50 for adults, £2.00 for children, and under 5s go free. There is also a family ticket available for £9.00
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