Another work assignment, another historic city of irregular walls and roof-lines, another voyage of discovery.
Though medieval structures are easy to find, let us begin with something more modern. A restaurant in the Cafe Rouge chain. A restaurant in an Art Deco building, is perhaps not surprising; such architecture lends itself to an evening of indulgence, but there’s more of a story here than just the white walls and coloured glazing. Avid horticulturalists will doubtless have bought seeds by mail order; receiving their dormant flora in small paper packets. Whilst Samuel Ryder was not the first to prosper from such a business, his innovation of packing seeds at a penny a packet made him more competitive than others. This building was once his seed hall where his wares were packaged and despatched, yet the striking edifice and his entrepreneurial streak are not the reasons he is now remembered. Later this year Gleneagles will see aTransatlantic golf tournament fought over the trophy he donated.
But let us step back further in time, past the 18th Century evidenced by fire insurance marks on bijou cottages by the river Ver,, past the disputed holder of the title for being the oldest pub in Britain; Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, and past the 15th Century Clock Tower, which marks the former site of an Eleanor Cross. We could stop and speculate on the reason behind the naming of the adjoining French Row (a Gallic garrison, or a captive King?), be distracted by the longest nave and a headless martyr, but there is older masonry than all of this that points to this town’s earliest history.
Wander through the beautiful park by the river and you will find a run of masonry that has certainly seen better days, and a great many of them, for this stretch of wall is one of the few remnants of Verulamium, the second most important town in Roman Britain (after Londininum) almost two millennia ago. What’s more the Romans’ decision to invade during the reign of Claudius almost a century after Caesar gave up, and to settle here, were provoked by the “royal family” of a tribe known as the Catuvellauni who operated from a location nearby known then as Verlamion. Names that flood back from my school day Latin and Ancient History classes such as Togodumnus, Cunobelinus, and of course Caratacus (or Caractacus as some suggest) were all key players in the geopolitics of the day.
Walking the streets here in St Albans I was amused to see that some Roman imports have continued to flourish here; the grape and the fig, as the climate is so much kinder than that on the windswept Roman Wall that I know so well in Northumberland.
The birds I spotted seemed far less aggressive than those which gave the Fighting Cocks its name, however the bulldog I saw taking on one of the park’s oak trees seemed willing to take on the job!