Monument record MCC1544 - Precinct of the Roman Temple of Claudius, Colchester

Summary

Precinct of the Roman Temple of Claudius (MCC1830), orientated N to S (like the Temple itself) and measuring c.150m x 164m. The area of the precinct very roughly equates to, and underlies, the inner bailey of the later Castle (MCC1732).

Location

Grid reference Centred TL 9986 2531 (159m by 174m)
Map sheet TL92NE
County ESSEX
Non Parish Area COLCHESTER, COLCHESTER, ESSEX

Map

Type and Period (5)

Full Description

A large walled precinct belonging to the Roman Temple of Claudius (MCC1830) situated off (and to the north of) the modern High Street and within the Castle Park.

The entrance to the precinct was first trenched by Hull in 1932 (ECC808) on the site of Northfolk's House's when a solid E to W masonry foundation was revealed. The foundation was 28 ft wide from north to south and was faced on the south side. Built on top of this foundation was a smaller masonry wall aligned N to S, c.5-6ft thick and 6ft high. This wall was faced on the west side, broken away on the east, with a face on the north end, 'to which was partly engaged a column, 2ft. 6in. in diameter'. This foundation was interpreted as a monumental entrance to the temple precinct.

Further investigation was undertaken in 1953 (ECC653) on the premises of Kent Blaxill, towards the SW corner of the precinct. This work revealed a massive foundation aligned east-west, 15 ft. wide and 4-5 ft. high. Its flat top appeared to have served as a platform upon which an arcade had been built, facing south to the main street. This was interpreted as being the precinct wall. Unfortunately the arcade had been largely removed by the castle ditch but it appeared to consist of massive piers and short walls set alternatively. From pier to pier there had been tile built arches. The arcade included re-used material which was post-Boudican in date.<1>

Further excavation took place on the site of No's 98-99 High Street in 1964, on a site between the two earlier discoveries. Two trenches were opened and revealed the foundation platform and contemporary arcade forming the southern boundary of the temple precinct. The foundation platform measured 4.57m (15ft) wide and 1.6m (5ft 3in) deep, within a foundation trench cut 1.0m into the natural; the upcast was spread inside the temple court, raising the ground level c.0.40m. A fragment of a limestone block sealed below the blocking (or revetting) wall might indicate the platform was originally paved (but removed before the blocking walls were inserted). Evidence for the arcade took the form of three pier-bases, standing on and contemporary with the foundation platform. The core of each pier was built of septaria rubble; each had been faced with limestone but only two fragments survived later robbing. The span of each arcade arch was c.2.43m (8ft); the two piers entirely exposed measured 3.35m (11ft) N to S x 1.82-2.13m E to W (6-7ft). The arcade was pierced by a gateway at a point 'almost opposite the temple façade'. The arcade was initially separated from the street to the south (MCC1551) by a concrete apron or footway and drain (MCC1559).

At some time after its original construction the arcade openings had been blocked (with blocking walls) to make an unbroken wall. Three blocking walls were defined, built with varying numbers of separtia and tile courses (and both faces plastered), were laid on the mortar finish of the foundation platform. Post sockets in the top of two of the blocking walls suggested that the part of each wall was timber-framed. The arcade probably continued to stand until in the 11th century it was demolished to provide material for the Norman castle and the foundation of the outer rampart bank.<2><3>

A watching brief was maintained during the excavation of trenches for an extension at the north-west corner of the Conservative Club (107 High Street) in 1975. This work revealed a N to S wall foundation (see MCC2334) constructed of mortared septaria with occasional tile fragments in the west face (the width of the wall is not given). To the east of the foundation there was a thick clay loam deposit assumed to be make-up associated with the wall. The wall and clay deposit appear to be Roman and perhaps marks the western boundary of the temple precinct (although the report noted that this wall is 5m west of the projected line of the precinct published in the 1960s (see Drury 1983, Figs. 17-18). The eastern part of the clayey deposit was cut by a large feature with sloping sides, possibly the Castle bailey ditch. A clay layer of similar appearance was noted at the south-west corner of the site where it was present to within 0.4m of the modern ground surface.<4>

Eight trenches were dug by contractors during renovation of the Castle Inn in 1985. A watching brief was held during the operation, the site being visited on three separate occasions. On the 5/11/85 the site was visited after a 1.8 x 1.75m trench had been filled with concrete. Mark Davies from Colchester Museums is reported to have observed a robber trench which he took to be the precinct wall and noted that the sand was very high up on the north side, though this may have been the rampart. During a second visit on 18/11/85 four trenches had been dug to depth of about 1 m and showed in section about 40 cm of modern disturbance with dark earth below this. At the east end of Trench B was an area of mortared wall foundation. This was surrounded by dark loam with mortar rubble, septaria and tile suggestive of a robber material which may have derived from the precinct wall? <5>

A masonry wall was examined by R.M. Smith during a visit to excavations by Rev. J. Round within the grounds of his garden opposite the Castle. Rev. Round carried out the excavations to ascertain the nature of a wall reported beneath the castle ramparts. The portion observed by Smith was on the 'near' side of the castle and was about 6ft. wide, 12ft. deep and 2ft. thick. The interior side had been broken down so that the original thickness could not be ascertained. The wall was composed of cut stone 'resembling the facing of the Roman (town) walls near the river with offsets about four feet apart'. The interior included fragmentary Roman tiles and soft mortar. In addition large quantities of broken Roman tiles, fragments of fresco paintings, and lump of mortar, were discovered 'proving that the site at a more remote period had been occupied by Roman buildings'. Following Mr. Smith’s visit another part of the rampart was excavated revealing a coarse pavement of limestone and a wall 6 ft. thick with intervals or doorways 6 ft. wide.<6>

Morant notes a wall situated beneath the Castle ramparts 'the buttresses and other parts of which wall have been lately discovered'.<7>

An abortive excavation (ECC763) was undertaken by the Morant Club in search of the castle ditch and forum wall in 1921. A single trench was cut northwards from the north kerb of High Street, on the site of the War Memorial, opposite All Saints Church. This revealed a wall which Hull believed to be Roman.<8>

In the NE corner of the precinct, excavations in 1950 (ECC932) revealed that the outer wall of the precinct was also the outer wall of a large masonry building which appears to have been contained within the confines of the precinct. The wall of the building was sited just below the crest of the slope of the Norman bailey bank and was built up against an artificially levelled area to form a terraced structure. The wall in the NE corner had been robbed but still stood 10ft. above the footings level. It was faced in red bricks with a few facing stones of dressed septaria blocks. The core of the wall was rubble. At the corner there were two offsets and at the top of the wall was the corner of a yellow concrete floor. 32ft. west of the corner the north wall of the building turned south for 9ft. and then west again forming a re-entrant angle, two internal concrete floors were revealed on the inner face of the wall and these were bounded by traces of internal partition walls. To the south of these walls was another 6ft. length of Roman wall, which, on its southern plastered face, had been built against timber shuttering. This wall had been destroyed and its lower courses pertly incorporated into a wall of later build. To the south of the earlier wall was a spread of mortar lying on the old turf line which may have been a builder’s mortar dump. To the north of the earlier wall there were two successive concrete floors. These were cut through by the wall trench for the later wall. The later wall had been demolished like the earlier one but survived for two courses above floor -level. The evidence from this excavation suggested to Hull that the structure was a terraced building with three rooms which formed part of the precinct enclosure.<9>

The walls in the NW corner of the precinct were noticed in Morant’s time <10> and Jenkins published a sketch plan in 1861.<11><12>

Wire records Roman remains seen in workmen's trenches north of the Castle.<13><14>

In 1892, Roman walls were encountered when a path was made through the Castle Rampart at the NW corner (where it is postulated that an entrance may have existed in Norman times).<15> F.M. Nichols writes, ' At the north-east corner of the ramparts in Mr Round's garden, about half way up the external slope, the removal of a small quantity of earth has exposed the corner of a wall very substantially built in concrete and faced with bricks laid in a very regular fashion'.<16> Henry Laver notes, 'A wall fragment which had not been observed before (at the NW angle of the Bailey), had during the excavations been traced round three sides of the Castle. The fourth side had probably been destroyed at the end of the 17th century, when the houses on the north side of that part of High Street were built. The wall was evidently of Roman construction'.<17>

In 1892 during the making of the new Castle Park a vaulted drain was observed, c.20 inches wide and 2ft. 5in. high, built of tiles and septaria and lined throughout with mortar. Laver comments that 'It runs under both (Roman Precinct) walls, curving away to the north as if to cross under the Roman street and take up a line along the west side of it' Stretches of concentric walls (of the Temple Precinct) were recovered to the west of the castle. Anglo-Saxon? Burials (see MCC2121, MCC2122, MCC2123) were found on one of two Roman red concrete floors identified in the north-west corner of the Precinct.<18><19>

In May 1929 a shaft was sunk on the predicted line of the precinct's outer wall, 100ft. east of the NW angle. This established a middle wall, found to be standing 10ft. high.<20>

Plan of Colchester Castle and park showing archaeological discoveries.<21> Museum Reference T 155. Shows location of precinct walls and drains NE of the castle, also location of two sets of inhumations abutting western precinct wall.

Excavations on the west side of the Castle Bailey (5 Maidenburgh Street) by Ros Niblett in 1964 defined the possible remains of the precinct wall (MCC2465); a narrow wall (no. 8), aligned N to S, shown on the east edge of the Castle bailey ditch could possibly be the remains of the precinct wall but this wall is not discussed in the site report.<22>

See Gascoyne and Radford 2013 for a brief summary of the evidence.<23>

Sources/Archives (25)

  • <1> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. pp.169-175.
  • <2> Article in serial: Hebditch, Max. 1971. Excavations on the south side of the temple precinct at Colchester.. Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society Vol. 3, 115-130. pp.115-130.
  • <3> Article in serial: Drury, P. J.. 1983. 'Aspects of the origins and development of Colchester Castle'. 139. pp.339-341.
  • <4> Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1992. CAR 6: Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in Colchester 1971-85. 6. p.808.
  • <5> Unpublished document: Colchester Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1985-1995. Colchester Archaeological Trust Unpublished Archive. pp.96-100.
  • <6> Serial: British Archaeological Association. 1846. Vol. 1 (Old Series) Journal of the British Archaeological Association. Vol. 1. pp.53-54.
  • <7> Monograph: Morant, Philip. 1768. The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex. Volume I. 8.
  • <8> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. p.171.
  • <9> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. pp.181-182.
  • <10> Monograph: Morant, Philip. 1748. History of Colchester (Wire's copy).
  • <11> Monograph: Jenkins, Henry (Rev). 1861. Colchester Castle once the Temple of Claudius. Facing page 25.
  • <12> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. Insula 22, No 35, p.177.
  • <13> DIARY: Wire, William. 1842-1857. Journal of William Wire. 10/1/1845, 15/1/1845/19/5/1845.
  • <14> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. Insula 22, No 35, p.177.
  • <15> Serial: Hawkes, Christopher, F. C. & Crummy, Philip. 1995. CAR 11: Camulodunum II. 11. p.137.
  • <15> Serial: The Essex Society for Archaeology and History. 1906. Vol. 9 (New Series) Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society. Vol. IX. p.121.
  • <16> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. p.179.
  • <16> Serial: Colchester Royal Grammar School. 1953. The Colcestrian (December 1953).
  • <17> Serial: Colchester Museums. 1962. Colchester Museum Reports 1934-1962. p.14, 1st April 1954-March.
  • <18> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. p.178.
  • <19> Serial: The Essex Society for Archaeology and History. 1906. Vol. 9 (New Series) Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society. Vol. IX. p.122.
  • <20> Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. p.179.
  • <21> COLLECTION / PARENT: Bale, J. E. (Major). 1837-1913. Bale Collection. A13 A15.
  • <22> Article in serial: Drury, P. J.. 1983. 'Aspects of the origins and development of Colchester Castle'. 139. Figs. 17-18 and S14.
  • <23> Monograph: Gascoyne, Adrian and Radford, David. 2013. Colchester. Fortress of the War God. An Archaeological Assessment. pp.143-145.

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Record last edited

May 29 2018 10:14AM

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