Monument record MCC332 - Roman Legionary Barrack Block 1 (CAT Building 131), the Gilberd School, Colchester


Roman Legionary Barrack Block 1 (CAT Building 131) of the Legionary Fortress at the Gilberd School Site, 1984-5.


Grid reference TL 99261 25279 (point)
Map sheet TL92NE
1848 Parish ST PETER


Type and Period (26)

Full Description

During the excavations at the Gilberd School site in 1984-5, the men's quarters (contubernia) of a barrack block from the Legionary Fortress were discovered (CAT Barrack Block 1/CAT Building 131). The men's quarters of this freestanding barrack block measured 52m by 7m externally and faced southwards across an east-west street (MCC335).

Prior to the construction of the building, the pre-Roman vegetation and topsoil had been removed from much of the area and the site of the barrack block was terraced, especially at the eastern end (see MCC341).

Traces of an initial construction phase were indicated by deposits beneath the earliest floor make-up for Rooms 10 and 13 including three probable hearths which sealed the clearance horizon (see MCC341).

The well-preserved mortared plinths of the external walls were set within foundation trenches dug into the natural sand. No upstanding remains of the superstructure survived although associated deposits suggested that the external walls had been constructed from daub blocks and that the roof had been tiled. Traces of decayed timber, probably from a double ground-plate, were also recovered.

The contubernia were divided by internal partition walls, set in narrow slots which probably supported internal walls of timber framing infilled with small daub-blocks. The internal walls seemed to have been spaced at regular intervals so that there was room for a suggested total of 14 contubernia within the building. However, only 13 appear to have been built as two of the rooms occupied the space intended for three.

It was not possible to clarify the arrangement between the men's quarters and the centurion's block to the west as this was outside the limits of the excavation and had probably been partially destroyed by terracing into Balkerne Hill and a large WWII air raid shelter. The plinth forming the west wall of Room 13 was observed and recorded in a contractor’s trench.

Internal features of the contubernia included: make-up material sealed by sandy or sandy clay floors which had often been resurfaced; internal partition walls set within shallow slots and over pile holes; hearths ; pits, one of which contained a neonatal human burial (MCC355); a north-south timber drain (perhaps for a latrine) and occupation lenses. Finds inside the barrack suggest that the repair and finishing of military equipment were taking place on a small scale in the building or in the immediate vicinity (see MCC338).

The remains of Room 1 and 2 and much of Room 3 had been destroyed by the digging of a post-medieval pit (AF42; MCC341). The floors of Rooms 10-13 had been largely destroyed by later activities. Parts of Room 6 and 10 and all of Rooms 7-9 were destroyed by the construction of a building (see MCC340, CAT Building 133) during the early years of the Roman colonia.

Outside the building, the existence of a veranda was suggested along its south edge between it and an east-west street (see MCC335). The evidence for this veranda took the form of a raised area along the barracks southern edge which appeared to be surfaced with patches of gravel. A timber drain (MCC342) extended along the north side of the street with extensive traces of decayed timber suggesting the drain had been left to rot in situ. Along the southern edge of the drain was a line of post-holes which were offset to the alignment of the internal walls forming the contubernia suggesting that timbers extended from the barrack building and butted timber uprights set within the post-holes.

An alternative explanation is that the posts supported a structure built across the street and tied into the barrack blocks roof trusses. Other features which may have been associated with such a structure included a north-south slot across the east end of the street and a series of occupation layers extending over the area between the eastern two contubernia of Barrack Blocks 1 and 2. Three small pits and a group of three hearths were associated with these deposits which appeared likely to have been the result of some industrial activity (MCC338). Other features adjacent but external to Barrack Block 1 included a group of three small pits AF254 (probably baking ovens) outside Room 6 with a large rubbish pit immediately to the west (AF252). (see MCC341)

Evidence for secondary occupation of the barrack block took the form of post-holes, pits, hearths, post holes, gullies and floors with some modifications to the internal layout. This together with the fact that Rooms 10-13 were burnt in the Boudican destruction of AD 60/1 suggests that at least part of the building was utilised during the early years of the Colonia, despite the fact that parts of Rooms 6 and 10 and all of Rooms 7-9 were destroyed by the construction of MCC340 (CAT Building 133) during this period of use. The nature of this occupation appears to have been secondary military or more likely early colonial reuse.<1>

Sources/Archives (1)

  • <1> Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1992. CAR 6: Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in Colchester 1971-85. 6. pp.127-139.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

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Record last edited

Oct 18 2016 3:17PM

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