Building record MCC9191 - Building at 38-40 Crouch Street, Colchester


The east end of the church of the Crouched Friars was defined during a watching brief and excavation in advance of redevelopment at 38-42 Crouch Street, Colchester, on the site of the former Crouched Friars friary. The investigations demonstrated that Colchester Building 181, excavated to the west of this site in 1988 (ECC380), is part of the west end and cloisters of the same church. The central tower and cruciform plan could be early medieval, and it is presumed that this church is contemporary with the first documentary reference to the presence of the Crouched Friars here in AD 1251 (although there is no archaeological evidence to directly support this contention).


Grid reference Not recorded
Map sheet Not recorded
County ESSEX


No mapped location recorded.

Type and Period (3)

Full Description

The remains of the E to W wall foundations of the church building on the west side of this site were all cut into the dark soil L2. The foundations consisted of an upper part of mortared rubble resting on a lower part formed from layers of sand or mortar interleaved with earth, all placed into a foundation trench. The rubble mix in the lime-based mortar of the tops of the foundations included occasional pieces of slate. In the centre of the west side were the remains of two large mortared foundations (F11, F24). In contrast to the sections of wall foundations, these appeared to be of solid mortared rubble throughout and did not rest on a layered foundation below. This could be seen during the contractors’ reduction of the site levels. At that time approximately the upper 500 mm of these features was removed by machine and it could be seen that the foundation of mortared rubble clearly continued for some depth below this, although the base of these foundations was not reached. The surviving tops of F11 and F24 had been damaged by later features so that their original shape was not well preserved at this level. Of the two foundations, the one to the south (F11) was more intact. This foundation can be seen to be a rectangular construction about 3.5 m across north-south and about 5.0 m east-west, although the foundation stepped in from the south by about 1.0 m for the last 1.5 m on the east side. The north foundation (F24) is of about the same dimension as F11 north-south, although the east side had been removed at this level by a modern cellar. However, the remaining part of F24 suggests that this is a pair with the foundation F11 to the south, and its form would have originally mirrored that of F11.
The foundations F11 and F24 are central to interpreting the other wall foundations on the west side of the site as part of the church of the Crouched Friars. They were clearly designed as a pair, and were built so as to be able to support considerable weight. They are located at the centre of the other lengths of wall foundation which form three groups around them. To the south of F11, F7 and F9 are mirrored, to the north of F24, by F27, F30, F33 and F29. To the east the wall foundation F17, attached to F11, is paired, in relation to F24, by the foundation F70, (recorded during the watching brief). Overall the plan is that of the east end of a church building. The foundations F11 and F24 can be seen to be pier bases, supporting a the north-east and south-east corners of a masonry tower over a crossing. The wall foundations form a north (F7, F9) and a south (F27, F30, F33, F29) transept, while the two wall foundations to the east (F17 and F70) form the south and north walls of a chancel.
On the north side of the chancel small sections of wall foundation (F71, F74) of the same construction as the other wall foundations, were located during the watching brief. These can be seen to be parts of a small chapel. A small section of layered foundation (F5) appears to the corner of a buttress on the north-east corner of this chapel.
There were three places on the line of the walls where there were original gaps in the foundations. These were between F9 and F11, between F24 and F27/F30 and between F70 and F71. At two of these points, where the walls of the transepts approached the pier bases, the ends of the mortared tops of the foundations (F9, F27/F30) were found to be faced. In all three places the lower, layered, part of the foundation was absent. These gaps appear to correspond with original door ways and must have been set out when the foundation trenches were being dug.
A number of short lengths of foundation were located projecting from the east sides of the east transept walls. Against the east side of F9, the south transept wall, were a projection at the south end (F8) and two of slightly different build to each other (F14, F18) at the north end. F8 was of the same construction as the other wall foundations, with a mortared rubble top and a foundation of layered gravel and soil. It could only be traced for a short distance to the east, but could have extended further. Only the top of F14 could be recorded. This feature did not seem to extend further to the east than the exposed length, as it appeared that there was a finished face at its east end. Just to the south side of F14, and butting against F9 was an unmortared collection of stone and tile (F18). These features do not appear to extend as far as the contractors’ excavations (just to the east) and so they appear to
represent the remains of buttresses. Two similar buttresses (F28 and that formed by the north end of the wall F30) were located at the north-east corner of the north transept.
Apart from where there were gaps in the foundations or the ends of the buttresses, only the edges of the top of the wall foundations F7, F9 and F17 had coursed stones indicating a finished face. Inside the church building there were only two areas where parts of floors survived, one in the south transept (F10) and one in the chancel just east of the crossing (F20, F21, F22). The small patch of floor in the south transept, F10, consisted of a thin layer of white mortar, about 20 mm thick, set on a thin sand bed, also about 20 mm thick. This sat directly on the dark soil L2. The top of the white mortar preserved the impressions of tiles set in a diamond pattern, with their longest axis set parallel with the main axis of the church building. Whole late medieval glazed floor tiles, recovered as loose finds, fitted approximately into the square impressions outlined in the white mortar, indicating that these glazed tiles probably come from tiled floors in the transepts (and possibly the crossing). The area of surviving floor in the chancel preserved two mortar floor surfaces, an earlier floor F22 and a later one F21. There was also a small patch of a mortar floor, F20, adjacent to the south chancel wall. All were of pale yellow-brown mortar about 20 mm thick. None showed any sign of impressions from tiles surviving in their surfaces. The later floor, F21, appeared to be a replacement for the earlier one F22 rather than a repair. This is because between these floors was a layer of mixed make-up consisting in one place of gravelly sand, in another stony soil with some tile fragments. The later floor had been laid directly on the top of this make-up material.
Several small areas of loose mortar and building rubble were located inside the area of the church building (F12, F13, F31/L7), representing demolition material. The two rubble areas in the south transept, F12 and F13, appeared to have survived as they had sunk into rectangular shaped depressions. These are probably the result of settlement into graves below. The rubble area in the north transept, L7, was more extensive. It is possible that light coloured mortar associated with this, F31, is part of a floor, however, this could not be examined further. This rubble material also appeared to have sunk into an earlier feature, also probably a grave or graves.

54 burials were defined, all considered to be of medieval or early post-medieval date and part of a cemetery post-dating the construction of the church of the Crouched Friars. Most (if not all) the burials were clearly part of a cemetery, and were not interments made within the church during its life (although that possibility cannot be entirely excluded). The burials are clearly related to the area of the church crossing and transepts. However, it appears unlikely that the area of the chancel contains burials relating to this cemetery, because no burials associated with the cemetery were found east of the line of the east walls of the transepts, and there are areas of intact floors surviving within the south west area of the chancel (F21, F22) which do not appear to have been cut through by inhumation graves.

Foundations of the same building, aligned E to W and N to S, were defined in the 2006 evaluation. <2>

Sources/Archives (2)

  • <1> EXCAV REPORT: Benfield, S. and Brooks, H.. 2007. Crouched Friars: the medieval church structure and its associated cemetery. 38-40 Crouch Street, Colchester: January-April 2007. CAT Report 434.
  • <2> Evaluation Report: Shimmin, Don and Gorniak, Mariusz I. (CAT). 2006. An archaeological evaluation at 38-40 Crouch Street, Colchester, Essex. September-October 2006. CAT Report 390.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Dec 7 2015 1:43PM

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