In the early 1840s, while deepening a ditch, workmen uncovered a great quantity of broken Roman bricks, tiles, and pottery at Gosbecks. Learning of this the Reverend Henry Jenkins decided to investigate. In 1842 he undertook the first known excavations at Gosbecks and uncovered parts of the temple, which he believed to be a villa. He also investigated the large mound, on the theatre site, though was unable to ascertain its nature.<1>
“In the autumn in 1842 the foundations of an extensive Roman villa were laid open on the farm of Gosback, in the parish of Stanway, near Colchester, in a field called Cheshunt. Some labourers, during the preceding winter, in deepening the ditch of an adjoining hedge, had dug up a great quantity of broken Roman bricks and tiles, and fragments of coarse Roman earthenware, and amongst other articles was a part of Roman patera, inscribed Marti. On commencing the excavations, as soon as the corn was removed from the field in the following autumn, the ploughmen on the farm mentioned that at a particular spot their ploughs often struck on what appeared to them to be the foundations of a building: and on removing the earth at that spot, a stone wall was discovered, not more than six inches under the soil. This spot is at the north-west end of the villa, and the foundation was followed on the exterior wall on the northern side. Afterwards the foundations were traced on the other sides; in some parts they were four or five feet under ground, and in some parts the stones had been altogether removed, but the space in which the foundation stood could still be plainly traced, because it had been filled up to a certain height with the rubble, and the mortar thrown in from the walls, when removed. These foundations walls were three feet thick, and consisted of septaria and Kentish rag. All the exterior walls were two hundred and eighty feet in length, except on the western side, where the wall was traced up to the hedge, and then it goes into an adjoining field, which was not touched; but no doubt, the wall is of the same length on that side also. There were four interior walls at the distance of fourteen feet throughout from the exterior wall; the whole building therefore formed a large square, having a spacious cloister around the whole interior, of fourteen feet in breadth. On the east and the west there were traces of rooms adjoining the walls, and in the centre of the square were discovered some very strong and thick foundations, four feet thick, built of septaria and Kentish rag; and adjoining these had been rooms of great depth, for the earth was opened to ten feet, and found filled with an admixture of earth, broken tiles, bricks (some, apparently, from their rounded form, having been the pillars of a hypocaust); there were also large quantities of Roman stucco, of various colours, chiefly red. At a short distance from these walls were found a very large quantity of Roman tessellate, of various colours, but all separate, and in single pieces. The building, at some previous period, probably centuries ago, appears to have been completely broken up, and the materials removed, to erect other buildings in the neighbourhood. The excavations therefore were discontinued, and the farmer who occupied he field broke up the greater part of the foundations laid open, and carried away forty loads of stones.
On the south-western end, and along the southern exterior wall, to the extent of sixty feet, and at the distance of twelve feet, was discovered the foundation of a wall only two feet in breadth, and composed of the chippings of Kentish rag-stone, laid in alternate layers with concrete or coarse grouted mortar.
In the same field, and almost parallel with the eastern side of the villa, but at the distance of 170 feet from it, was discovered the foundation of a long wall, about two feet thick, except in one part, where it was three feet thick, with a return wall, apparently proceeding as far as it was opened along the northern side of the villa. In two spots near this wall, and in two other parts of the field, where the return wall probably came on the opposite side, large quantities of oyster shells, boar’s tusks, and broken earthen-wear, were discovered to a considerable depth in the ground, in pits or cess-pools.
At the south-western extremity of the field is a very large artificial mound, at present not more than six feet high, but the top has evidently been lowered. The bottom, on the western side, was full of loose stones, and Roman bricks; but in the centre of the mound nothing but earth was found, to the depth of the original soil. The earth of which the mound is formed differs from the soil of the field.
About thirty Roman coins were found in making the excavations. Amongst these was a Titus, second brass, reverse “Judea Capta”; Helena, in third brass; and a Carausius, third brass, in fine preservation: reverse “Pax Auggg.,” struck by that usurper to give a shew of his legal right to Britain, by the implied acknowledgement of the emperors of Rome.”
Stanway, March 26, 1846 <2>