Element Group record MCC3062 - Robber trenches defining the Medieval Abbey Church of St John's, Colchester


None of the original church structure survived, but the west end of its ground-plan is defined by the position of robber trenches. Four east/west-aligned walls were defined by robber trenches in Evaluation Trenches T2, T3, T4 and T5. From N to S across the site, it is proposed that these were: • the N nave wall (robber trench F20) intercepted by the N end of T2 and T5. • the south wall of a N aisle (robber trench F18) in T2 and the centre of T5 • the north wall of a S aisle (robber trench F4), in T2. • the S nave wall (robber trench F1), in T2 and T3. Further to these, another very large N-S aligned robber trench in T4 (F33 and F39) appears to define the W nave wall, although it remains to be established why it was not quite at right angles to the S nave wall (ie, robber trench F1).


Grid reference TL 998 247 (point)
Map sheet TL92SE
County ESSEX


Type and Period (3)

Full Description

F1: the south nave wall, and F6: continuation of south nave wall. <1>
A large, wide, straight-sided. So large was this robber trench that the three machine-cut sections of T3 (sx 1- sx3) only exposed its fill, and not its sides.

F6 was a continuation of F1, the main difference being that F6 was much deeper - 1.4m deep as opposed to F1 which was 0.7m deep. The fill was the same as F1 - lots of mortar, stone and CBM. The difference in depth may imply that the wall robbed by F6 was of a much more substantial build than that robbed by F1.

F4: the north wall of the south aisle
Another massive E-W aligned robber trench in the centre of Trench 2. Cut through dark soil (L2/L3) and through natural. Fill of soft yellow sand with soil (more sand than soil). Very little CBM or stone (though some big pieces of stone-greensand). More finds associated with church (worked stone painted window glass etc.).

Another large E-W robber trench. SX1- Some very solid bits, in particular beneath pit F17 (stone, and brick set in a solid mortar- still quite a bit of sand!). Quite a lot of soft orange/yellow sand but overall lots of stone, CBM and mortar. Certainly most solid (in places) of all the robber trenches, possible solid foundation survived further down.

F20: the north wall of the nave
The furthest north of the large E-W robber trenches. T2 (SX 1)- Considerably more soil in this robber trench than the others. May have been truncated by a later dark soil feature- why it was not observable until much further down and under a load of dark soil (dumped?, lots, or one large, pit).

F24: south nave wall buttress?
Probable buttress, or an extension of the southern aisle?

F33: southern end of west nave wall
N-S robber trench in the southern end of Trench 4. This robber trench was different to the other in that it was mainly mortar fill and contained a large flint nodule (not retained).

F39: main west nave wall
The superstructure had been robbed down to a c.3.5m wide, flat, and solid surface consisting of undressed stone in a pale yellow lime mortar. There was little or no true robbing debris lying over the foundation because it had been truncated by the construction of the large modern foundations which overlay it and hindered access to parts of F39.

A further robber trench of the church foundation was encountered to the east. See ELM60016. <2>

F3: robber of internal nave structure?
Almost parallel to and 00m north of south nave wall, this straight-sided and flat-based trench may have been a robber trench. Cut from high up, and had a sandy dark fill.

F5, F16, F22: circular mortar features
F5 was a shallow, circular feature, filled almost entirely with mortar. Not solid or substantial. One of a series of three, the other two (F16, F22) were extremely shallow and mostly beyond loe. Fragmentary mortar and occasional building material including Roman and post-Roman CBM, and glazed floor tile which looked notably later than the glazed tile from the robber trenches. Possibly column bases, but spacing not regular, and perhaps too insubstantial. May be patches of mortar from construction phase of church, or (because cut from high up) from a later building?

An E-W feature cutting F12 Roman pit F12 in pit complex A. Quite straight sided and quite square ended. Not bottomed, excavation stopped at a depth of 1m below modern ground level. Robber trench?

Possible robber trench in approximate alignment of west church wall (ie, robber trench F33 and solid masonry F38).

Originally suspected of being a robber trench, but more likely to be a deposit of demolition material (lots of mortar) adjacent to and west of the robbed west wall of the church (ie F39).

Sources/Archives (2)

  • <1> Evaluation Report: Wightman, Adam (CAT). 2011. St Johns Abbey church: An evaluation at the Garrison Officers Club, St Johns Green, Colchester, Essex.. CAT report 601.
  • <2> Watching Brief Report: Wightman, Adam (CAT). 2013. Archaeological monitoring during the installation of floodlights at the Colchester Garrison Officers’ Club, St John’s Green, Colchester, Essex.. CAT report 737.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Jan 10 2017 9:42AM

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