Site Event/Activity record ECC4088 - Archaeological excavation at Fenwick Colchester (formerly Williams & Griffin), 147-151 High Street, Colchester, 2014


Location Fenwick Colchester (formerly Williams & Griffin), 147-151 High Street, Colchester
Grid reference Centred TL 9950 2524 (23m by 54m)
Map sheet TL92NE
County ESSEX



Colchester Archaeological Trust Ltd


April to August 2014



An archaeological excavation and watching brief was undertaken by Colchester Archaeological Trust at Fenwick Colchester (formerly Williams and Griffin) in 2014 in advance of the redevelopment of the eastern part of the store (CBC planning application 121902). The development site was roughly rectangular in shape, measuring 85m N to S x 27m E to W (c.2300m²). The new department store building was designed to minimise the damage caused to the archaeological deposits using piled foundations. In the southern half of the site, the pile caps and groundbeams were cast above the existing ground level to protect the below ground heritage assets. In the north of the site, where modern deposits had been shown to continue to depths of below 1m, the pile caps and ground beams were constructed below ground. Deep archaeological excavation was required in three areas (utilising trench boxes) - for the construction of a lift shaft (Area C), the escalators (Area B) and the access to the basements of the High Street properties and the western department store building. The fieldwork was undertaken whilst the demolition of the existing department store buildings was taking place and prior to the construction of the new building. Due to unforeseen difficulties encountered during the demolition process, the excavations occurred in a piecemeal fashion, as the land required became safe for work. The piling, the construction of the new ground beams and pile caps and the upgrading and replacement of services to the building, were all monitored during an archaeological watching brief.<1> The main N to S street (via principalis) of the legionary fortress was identified and the floors of a military building which fronted onto the eastern side of this street street were observed in section just below the developer's formation level (Period 1). Based on its location within the fortress, this building would have been the accommodation of a junior officer (a tribune) in the Roman army's Twentieth Legion. The military building was replaced sometime after AD 49, when the colony was established (Period 2). The new building burnt to the ground soon after, during Boudicca's assault on the town in AD 61 (Period 2b). Unfortunately, only one wall of the Period 2 building was located in the excavation area, but several small areas of the floor survived. Lying on the surface of the floor, was the distinctive layer of burnt debris generated when the buildings of Colchester were razed to the ground. Amongst the destruction debris was a variety of domestic resources attesting to a Mediterranean style of living. These finds included copper-alloy vessels, ceramic kitchen and tablewares, lamps, balls of Egyptian blue pigment and a remarkable collection of carbonised foodstuffs. Cereals, pulses, exotic culinary herbs and spices and fruits such as figs, dates and grapes were amongst the foods identified in the assemblage, many of which were present in large quantities. The bulk of the finds were found on and adjacent to the charred remains of an oak shelf in what must have been a kitchen or storeroom. Dug into the floor of the same building, personal items belonging to the occupants had been placed in a bag and buried just before or during the attack on the colony. This bag contained precious metal jewellery and coins apparently belonging to both a man and a woman (Insula 19 hoard or The Fenwick Treasure, see FCC6210-FCC6223). Further evidence of the Boudiccan revolt was uncovered towards the eastern edge of the N to S Roman street where the remains of collapsed tiled roofs covered a timber-lined roadside drain, burnt during the fire in AD 61. Spread over the roof tiles was Boudiccan destruction debris that had been removed from the adjacent buildings during the post-revolt demolition and clearance operations (Period 3a). This debris contained fragments of human bone. Isotope analysis has revealed that a mandible recovered from the debris belonged to a man who may have grown up in eastern France or northern Germany. He was most likely one of the small number of troops in the town or one of the veteran soldiers who had settled there after his discharge from the army. The same mandible, along with part of a tibia, exhibit damage which could have been caused by wounds sustained during fighting. On the western side of the north-south Roman street, the remains of a sizeable Roman building was identified. Most of the building was located to the west of the development area. However, two substantial foundations, a fragment of wall and a thick sequence of mortar floors were recorded during the excavations. Part of the building appears to have been constructed during the military period, before being significantly altered. Based on its location, it is possible that the remains could belong to a covered walkway along the eastern edge of public building. A hand-excavated section through the Roman street identified five phases of street metalling. The uppermost and latest phase was cut by numerous medieval and post medieval pits, but in between the pits it was notably well preserved. The remains of a 4th century Roman water-pipe was found in the base of a trench cut into the uppermost surface of the street. The 11th and 12th centuries saw the extensive robbing of building materials from the later Roman buildings on the site. The Roman public building on the western side of the street was probably robbed during this period, as was a 2nd-century town-house constructed on the site of the Period 2 Roman building containing the hoard. Some of the robbed materials may have been used to construct an early medieval stone house which stood in Foundry Yard (behind 147/148 High Street) until it was demolished in 1886. A medieval stone wall foundation and a significant quantity of medieval building material, which included numerous medieval roof slates, were uncovered close to the High Street frontage. These suggest that a second early medieval stone building may have been located to the west of the Foundry Yard stone house. In the 12th or 13th century, a kiln, used to roast marine mollusc shells to produce quick lime, was constructed on land to the north of the stone house. Slightly later, in the 13th or 14th century, a large quarry pit for sand and gravel extraction was dug into the Roman street just behind the High Street frontage. In the post-medieval period, a significant number of pits, many of which were very large and deep, were dug across the development area. Although the purpose of most of these pits is unclear, many contained large quantities of domestic refuse and others were probably used to dispose of human waste or excess water. Three such pits were located just behind the High Street properties and had been brick-lined. A fourth brick-lined, subterranean structure, appears to have been a covered tank for storing rainwater. A complete ceramic storage vessel had been deliberately placed up against the external face of this structure during its construction. In the late post medieval period, an industrial yard occupied the land to the north of the High Street properties. In the late 18th century, this yard was home to a stonemason. Waste stone associated with this industry was recovered from modern contexts across the north of the development area. In 1792, the first iron foundry in Essex was established on the site. The remains of a warehouse belonging to the foundry and a smithy, which later replaced it, were identified during the investigations. The work followed a desk-based assessment by Mills Whipp in 2011 (ECC2990) and evaluation by test-pitting in 2011 (ECC2989).<2><3>

Sources/Archives (3)

  • <1> EXCAV REPORT: Wightman, Adam and Crummy, Philip. 2017. An archaeological excavation and watching brief at Fenwick Colchester (formerly Williams & Griffin), 147-151 High Street, Colchester, Essex. CAT Report 1150.
  • <2> Desk-based Assessment: Mills Whipp Projects Ltd.. 2011. WILLIAMS & GRIFFIN, 147-155 HIGH STREET, COLCHESTER DESK BASED ASSESSMENT - ARCHAEOLOGY.
  • <3> Evaluation Report: Wightman, Adam (CAT). 2011. Report on an archaeological evaluation by test-pitting at Williams & Griffin, 147-155 High Street, Colchester, Essex. CAT Report 622.

Related Monuments/Buildings (22)

  • Boudiccan destruction horizon, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Colchester High Street (known as) (Portable Antiquities Scheme)
  • Early post-medieval features, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Early Roman building, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Early Roman building, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Early Roman pits, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Group of stake-holes, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Later Medieval features, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Later post-medieval features, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Medieval building, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Medieval lime kiln, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Monument)
  • Medieval pits, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Possible Roman roadside ditch, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element)
  • Post-holes cutting Roman Street, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Roman building, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Roman building, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Monument)
  • Roman drain, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element)
  • Roman street, Colchester (Monument)
  • Roman water pipe, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element)
  • The Fenwick Hoard, 147-151 High Street, Colchester (Element Group)
  • Via principalis of the Legionary Fortress, Colchester (Monument)
  • Wallis and Coleman Iron Foundry, 147-155 High Street, Colchester (Industrial)

Record last edited

Jan 8 2018 1:11PM

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