By Lydia Carr
In my last blog post, I looked at my research into the inter-war archaeologist Tessa Verney Wheeler (1898–1936) and the biography it led to. Today I’d like to present something she might have penned herself. Tessa and Rik Wheeler were both preoccupied with making the British past accessible, interesting, and even familiar on a local level. They used children’s activities, lectures, concerts, contests, newspaper articles, and even fiction on occasion to accomplish that.
This pastiche of an ad for a ‘new housing development’ at Verulamium (St Albans) around 275 AD when the great city gates were built plays on that idea. It reflects the view of Roman Britain the Wheelers wanted to present in the early 1930s: a modern-minded province, whose people (like the Londoners of the interwar period) commuted from outer towns into the greater metropolis. It also takes inspiration from the endless new housing development advertisements common in England today, particularly the new condos built along the old canal networks in modern bedroom communities like Oxford and Brentford.
The illustrations (by Victorian artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who also wanted to depict the universality of some human experiences across time) show a nicer lifestyle than the Wheelers really imagined the inhabitants of Verulamium enjoying. The proximity to London is also a bit exaggerated, but that’s what the fine print at the end is for!
Verulam Garden Development Ltd is proud to present its latest offering:
Verulamium, the Garden City!
Londinium — wonderful, vibrant, and wealthy — has never held a better place economically in the Empire. But that growth has come at a price. It’s never been easy maintaining a comfortable household in the metropolis, perfect as it is for trade and business. What’s a paterfamilias to do, if he wants to ensure his family lives in the comfort they require as Romans, while still maintaining his links to Londinium networks?
Now, there’s an easy answer. Verulamium has always been known as a pleasant provincial capital, well-built and attractively founded on the banks of the sparkling Ver.
Today, it’s something more. With the growth of exciting new living developments and the increasing ease of road and river trade, more and more households are settling permanently in Verulamium. Pater travels swiftly to Londinium for work when necessary, keeping an eye on those investments and trading opportunities only the Smoky City can offer. But we’re more concerned with his family. What of Mater, Julius, and little Soror?
At home, Mater rules a house equipped with every modern convenience for master and slave. Modern kitchens — freshly stocked with the latest designs in cooking braziers, under-floor tiled heating that rivals the best in Gaul, and well-proportioned triclinia — are a given. Add a wide choice of fresco and mosaic decoration, and it’s clear that Verulamium can provide the ideal domestic setting for those official dinners and parties that mean so much to a husband’s military or civilian career.
When not entertaining, Mater and Soror may be found enjoying the town’s wonderful bathing and worship facilities, taking in a show at the excellent local theatre, or perhaps browsing the charming shops of local craftsmen. The town’s
enameled jewelry is justly famous and residents enjoy a special discount that will enable every lady to become the envy of her friends. For more practical concerns or a change in service, why not visit the slave market or take in provisions drawn freshly from every corner of the Island at the daily food stalls? You may not see the sea at Verulamium, but you’re still able to dine on the freshest oysters Neptune can provide thanks to the town’s convenient river.
As for young Julius, he’s enjoying the most elite education in the town’s academies, well-built institutions boasting the most erudite Greek masters and the most pleasant playing fields. He’ll be ready to join Pater in a few years on those weekly trips into Londinium, where they’ll camp out uncomfortably in City lodgings and think enviously of Mater and Soror back home. Don’t worry, lads, thanks to the excellent Imperial road system that trip back is nothing to a good chariot! You can almost travel it daily, but who’d want to leave Verulamium more than they have to?
Disclaimers: All depictions of facilities are artists’ renderings and may not resemble final structures as completed in some or any respects. Road condition and commuting time not guaranteed. Residential jewelry discount not guaranteed. Frescos, mosaics, and kitchen equipment provided subject to a further financial payment over and above freehold cost. While the city of Verulamium has been subject to no major tribal attacks in recent memory, and is fully protected by the latest urban military technology, no financial or moral liability is assumed by Verulam Garden Development Ltd in the event of the settlement’s full or partial destruction by rebellion and/or any other aggressors including, but not limited to, Imperial conflict, fire, storm, plague, flood, local gods, harpies, Picts, Northern longships, and/or wrath proceeding from an undetermined or specific divine figure or figures.
Lydia Carr was born in New York City in 1980, and took her D.Phil at Oxford in 2008. She is the author of Tessa Verney Wheeler: Women and Archaeology Before World War Two. She is currently Assistant Editor at the Chicago History Museum and in her spare time, she writes light, bright mystery novels set in the 1920s.