Monument record MCC5375 - WWII Ammunition Dump, Roman Wall, Holly Trees Meadow, Colchester


Ammunition Dump.


Grid reference TM 0000 2556 (point)
Map sheet TM02NW


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

Contemporary records state, "Ammunition Dump. Part of Roman Wall, Holly Trees Meadow. Map ref. ?46347". (Mil. Ed.). The first figure is obliterated but must have been a "4." The digits "3" and "4" have been transposed. The correct map reference is therefore "446437". <1>

Holly Trees Meadow is the field immediately to the E of the Castle which runs down to the Roman Wall. There is a large "Nissen-type" hut, with an asbestos roof, at the bottom of the meadow alongside the Roman Wall, but aerial photographs show this to have been erected post-war between 1946 and 1960. <2> <3>

May 2010: Additional information in the form of extracts from a diary by E J Rudsdale have been brought to our attention. Rudsdale was the Assistant Curator at Colchester Castle Museum from 1928-1944 but was seconded to the Essex War Agricultural Committee during the Second World War.
These extracts concern the location of a secret wartime dug out at Duncan’s Gate or the north-east postern of the Castle wall in Colchester Castle Park.

April 8 1941
Hull [the Curator of Colchester Castle Museum] went down the park today with two army officers and Inspector Barricoat of the police, to examine Duncan’s Gate to see if a safe, secret hiding place can be found for army purposes, I suspect for a secret wireless transmitter to be used in case this town falls into enemy hands. Hull mentioned this to me some time ago.

April 16 1941
Hull went down to Duncan’s Gate again today, with two officers and two soldiers. There is certainly some plot being hatched down there. I only hope it will not involve damage to either the Gate or the [Roman] Drain.

April 21 1941
Work began today on the “secret” dug out at the North East Postern [Duncan’s Gate in Castle Park]. I have known for some time that Hull had been consulted as to the whereabouts of a “very safe place”, in which a certain amount of material could be kept, and from which “two men could get in and out”, after the Germans have occupied the town. Hull has given them the Gate, to do as they like with, alter or change as suitable for their purpose. If I see the slightest damage to any of the original work I shall send a telegram to the Office of Works.

This “secret” dugout has been arranged in a blaze of “secrecy”. Hull walked up and down the field on several days with Inspector Barricoat and army officers (the Borough Police are something to do with this as well as the army) and it was decided that the men doing the actual work should be disguised. The result is that four men arrived today “disguised” in blue ARP dungarees, but unfortunately they were brought into the Park in a large army lorry, which rather gave the game away.

May 23 1944
Called to see Poulter [Curator of Hollytrees Museum in Castle Park]. Told me that there had been an amusing set-to about the “secret” place at the N.E. Postern. Duncan Clark [a member of the Museum Committee] had brought up the matter of repairs to the gate fabric, which is now very bad, and Poulter told him that nothing could be done there owing to the existence of the “secret chamber”. Duncan Clark calmly brings this forward in Committee today, and wants to know whether or not the military paid any acknowledgement for this place? This was taken up with the Claims people, who denied all knowledge of the place, and it was only after much enquiry that it was found that only one officer in the whole garrison knew about it. He, poor man, is now shaken to the roots to find that his “secret” is known to dozens of people, and is in fact no secret at all. Apparently the real purpose of the place is as a store of explosives, to be used by “saboteurs” after Colchester had been occupied by the Germans. The army were going to leave some picked men behind to do this work. The fact that each subsequent explosion would result in the summary execution of several of the inhabitants of the town would worry no one (except the persons executed).

September 21 1944
To Holly Trees [Museum], where Poulter told me with much laughing that the famous “secret place” which the army dug 3 years ago by Duncan’s Gate has been found, broken into, and some hand-grenades stolen.
Poulter told the police, who had forgotten all about the place, and they told the army, who had never heard of it – the people who dug it and stocked it with explosives having long since disappeared into limbo. Apparently it was full of bombs and ammunition, to be used by saboteurs after the Germans had occupied the town, but nobody knows how much there was nor how much is stolen. A heap of army blankets shows that somebody has been sleeping there.

Rudsdale’s journals are held at Essex Record Office (ERO D/DU 888 / A2308). For more information see Eric Rudsdale’s wartime blog: <4>

May 2011: This "ammunition dump", in fact, still survives. In the corner of Holly Tree Meadow, by Duncan's gate, is a sunken, virtually roofless, chamber. Built with concrete sides but earthen floor, it is slabbed over, forming a rectangular "room" at ground level. It measures 20' x 8' x 5' 6" high. In the roof there are three recently grilled openings, one of which lifts to reveal metal rungs set in the end wall to allow descent. Surprisingly, a tiled Roman drain bisects the floor of the chamber, from end to end. This is 4' 3" high x 2' wide, forming a long "ditch" which then continues as a tunnel into the end wall for 40' before ending in a 19th/20th century brick wall.

A photograph, apparently taken in 1922, exists in a Colchester Borough Council publication. This shows the site, above ground, looking very much as it does now.<5>

There are no physical features to suggest that it was used as an "Auxiliary" hide, no toilet chamber, not enough headroom, no stove flue, Roman drain causing problems, etc. If the date of the photograph is correct it was built pre - 1922. Rudsdale, Assistant Curator at Colchester Castle Museum from 1928-1944, states in his journal entry for 23 May 1944 that "the real purpose of the place is as a store of explosives, to be used by saboteurs" after Colchester had been occupied by the Germans". <6>

Photos taken of site.<7>

Site Assessment: The Castle and Grounds are Scheduled Monument (NHLE 1002217) and the Roman Wall is Scheduled Monument (NHLE 1003772). This site falls within the Scheduled area.

See also <8> & <9>.

Sources/Archives (9)

  • <1> LIST: unknown. 1968. War Time Contraventions 1968. Colchester.
  • <2> AP: RAF. 1946. 106G-UK 1492-4195. May 1946.
  • <3> AP: Hunting Surveys Limited. 1960. Run 14-061.
  • <4> CORRESPONDENCE: Pearson, Cathy. 2010. E-mail - Information for Fred Nash.
  • <5> Photograph: unknown. 1922. Photo in the collection of Colchester Borough Council. print.
  • <6> DIARY: Rudsdale, EJ. 1941. Journals of Wartime Colchester.
  • <7> Photograph: Nash, Fred. 2011. Ammunition Dump, Roman Wall, Holly Trees Meadow. 18/05/2011.
  • <8> Unpublished document: Nash, Fred. 2007. SURVEY OF WORLD WAR TWO DEFENCES IN THE BOROUGH OF COLCHESTER. VOLUME 1. Volume 1.
  • <9> Unpublished document: Nash, Fred. 2007. SURVEY OF WORLD WAR TWO DEFENCES IN THE BOROUGH OF COLCHESTER. VOLUME 2. Volume 2.

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Record last edited

Jun 18 2020 7:57AM

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