Monument record MCC7474 - Romano-British theatre, Gosbecks Farm, Colchester


The Romano-British theatre lies on the eastern edge of a 30 acre area which was covered in the Roman period by numerous buildings, the large Gosbecks theatre standing within its own temenos. Number issued by Essex CC for the theatre. See also MCC2831.


Grid reference TL 968 222 (point) (FCE)
Map sheet TL92SE


Type and Period (2)

Full Description

The Romano-British theatre lies on the eastern edge of a 30 acre area which was covered in the Roman period by numerous buildings, the large Gosbecks theatre standing within its own temenos. It is 125 yards south of the temple.
The cavea today is visible as a roughly D-shaped mound 4.5ft high with marked depressions over the orchestra and entrance.
Trial excavation here in 1948-50 by M.R. Hull established that a south-facing theatre, in part masonry built, had occupied the site.
The 1967 excavations were undertaken in the face of long term threats to the site as a whole from gravel extraction and building. Annual deep poughing was also destroying the cavea. In both 1948 and 1967 traces of timber features were found beneath and apparently predating the later cavea. There were a number of features beneath the later structure (the visible mound) in the orchestra, stage, entrance and cavea. Under the stage, entrance and cavea wall these features followed lines similar to those of the later building. It is suggested that the early timber features were part of an entirely timber buiding adhering closely to the plan of the later theatre. The later theatre was broadly symmetrical about a north-south axis, the early free-standing auditorium was replaced in this second phase by a more permanent turf built cavea. In addition, the external appearance of the theatre from the north was made more dignified by the addition of a masonry wall adorned with decorative plasters, an arched entrance and four prominent external staircases. Finds from the excavation include coins of Trajan, Hadrian, Marcuc Aurelius, Domitian and Constantine a small bronze object that may be either a harness pendant or an amulet fragments from heavy iron bolts; a fragment from an iron strap; and pottery of variuos fabrics including a rim of a mortarium and colour coated ware.<1>

Excavation by Hull uncovered the wall enclosing the south-east end of the eastern part of the hemicycle which was traced over a length of 74 feet west from the south-east angle of the building. The walls are 3 feet thick, built with foundations of rough lumps of Kentish Ragstone, the upper masonry being of shaped blocks of the same stone. Among the rubble were many snail shells of both large and small garden snail. The semi-circular periphery wall was also found, also 3 feet thick and which when traced showed the diameter of the theatre overall to be 270 feet. The outside was not examined for buttresses but 'three feet seems small for the foundation trench for the retaining wall for a large earth bank'. The only finds were pieces of C2 pottery.<2>

Excavation was undertaken in 1977 on Cheshunt Field to ascertain the condition of the archaeological remains; investigation of the temple portico and theatre.<3>

APs in SMR.<4>-<10> Cropmark plot.<11><12>

Site Assessment = Beneath the ploughsoil were ploughmarks and chennels made by subsoilers. The age of those marks could not be established but the fact that the theatre mound was not appreciably lower than when excavated in 1967 suggests that recent ploughing damage is not serious.<3>

Sources/Archives (14)

  • <1> Article in serial: Dunnett, Rosalind. 1971. The excavation of the Roman theatre at Gosbecks. Britannia, Vol. 2 (1971), pp. 27-47. Vol 2, pp.27-47.
  • <2> DESC TEXT: Hull, MR. unknown. Gosbecks Farm, Colchester. No 8, copy in SMR.
  • <3> DESC TEXT: Smith, N in Couchman, C. 1978. Excavations in Essex 1977. Vol 13, p.89.
  • <4> AP: NMR. 1974. TL9622/10/155, 158, 161.
  • <5> AP: NMR. 1974. TL9622/4/330.
  • <6> AP: NMR. 1975. TL9622/15/123.
  • <7> AP: CUCAP. 1978. CGZ 023.
  • <8> AP: CUCAP. 1979. CJF 19.
  • <9> AP: CUCAP. unknown. CCS 20, CGZ 022.
  • <10> AP: unknown. unknown. TL92-003. 2 frames.
  • <12> AP: unknown. unknown. Gosbecks Roman Temple.
  • <12> DESC TEXT: Cott, Peter J. 1996. ESMR Summary Sheet.
  • <13> DESC TEXT: Cott, Peter J. 1997. Magnetometry Survey report: Gosbecks Romano-Celtic Temple.
  • <14> Map: Ingle, CJ, Strachan, D, Tyler, S and Saunders, H. 1993-2012. NMP Cropmark Plot - 1:10,000.

Finds (8)

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (11)

Related Events/Activities (4)

Record last edited

Nov 11 2016 12:25PM

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