Monument record MCC2080 - Roman Theatre, Maidenburgh Street, Colchester
|Grid reference||Centred TL 99736 25373 (71m by 39m)|
|Non Parish Area||COLCHESTER, COLCHESTER, ESSEX|
Type and Period (1)
The Roman historian Tacitus records of the Boudican attack on Colchester, 'the theatre had echoed with shrieks' (Annals XIV).<2> Although not conclusive proof of an early date for the theatre, the reference lends weight to the suggestion that it was established as part of the Annexe of the Colonia in the period prior to the AD 61 revolt. There is currently no archaeological evidence to confirm the existience of a structure at this date but the theate is aligned with the fortress grid street, rather than the realigned grid of the colonia (which may suggest the presence of an earlier, wooden, theatre on this site.<1><13>
St Helen's Chapel sits over the east side of the theatre and incorporates the wall of the Theatre in its foundations (MCC374).
In the Museum, there is a 'tinted plan made in August 1891' by Mr H. Goodyear, then Borough Engineer, showing remains of massive walls revealed when cutting trenches for drains in Maidenburgh Street.<3>
The museum has mortar collected from 'the continuation of the wall' of St Helen's Chapel, collected in 1924 (COLEM 1927.6271).<4>
In June 1940 part of a wall 3ft 2in wide running N-S near the NW corner of the chapel, and 18in from it, on the west side, a small pier (of tiles) 18in square, were observed by Mr Rudsdale, who also reported that many fragments of thin slabs of finely finished Purbeck marble (or similar stone) were found in the digging, all indicative that the site was of importance.<5>
On April 8th 1957 the Corporation men renovating the houses just south of St Helen's Chapel cut trenches for drains. These came from approximately in the middle of the street. Hull observed large foundations, presumably those of the theatre. See Hull's notes for full description<6>
Hull records, 'On January 22nd 1958, thanks to an urgent call from Mr H.C. Calver, I went to inspect a shaft sunk by the Borough Engineer in Maidenburgh Street. The south edge of the shaft was 18" north of the north face of the Chapel, and the shaft had cut away 18" of solid masonry all across the south side'. This was presumably the Roman Theatre, see Hull's notes for further information.<7>
In September 1981 excavations began on the site of a small car park south of No 72 Maidenburgh Street, which was to be redeveloped as part of the Borough Council's 'Dutch Quarter Phase Three' housing scheme. The aim of the excavation was to ascertain the nature of the Roman remains found on the site in the past (see ECC193, ECC424 and ECC425). The site concerned (Site A) lay directly in line with the curved foundation discovered in 1891, which were conjectured to be the remains of a Roman theatre. During excavation the top of the curved wall was found to be within 0.2m of the modern ground-level and survived to a height of 0.3m above foundation. On the west side of the wall was a mortar corridor. A second trench (Site B) was dug to the south-west and sited so as to lie on the line of the foundations and corridor. Despite limited space for excavation, partly due to the depth of deposits (1.8m to the top of the floor), sufficient could be uncovered to enable the overall shape and dimensions of the theatre to be established.<8>
A small trial trench was dug at the north-west corner of St Helens Chapel in 1984 in an attempt to clarify the alignment of the Roman wall at the base of the north wall of the medieval chapel. A second trial trench was dug by the south-west corner if the chapel. This failed to reveal traces of the foundations. A third trench was dug about 1 metre to the west but also failed to produce any traces of Roman masonry.<9>
A watching brief was undertaken at the Quaker Burial Ground at St Helen's Lane during the replacement of a boundary wall. A 1.4m wide foundation trench for the 12.8m long wall was dug to a depth of 50cm, stopping at the same depth of the foundations of the existing wall. The entire west section was composed of a dark brown sandy loam. The soil at the bottom of the trench was of similar appearance, but with small brick or tile and mortar inclusions (possibly impressed into the surface by the earlier removal of the former wall's foundation courses). Two weeks prior to the main trench excavation, a small trial pit was dug against the east side of the existing wall. This was excavated to a depth of 75cm with the uppermost 50cm consisting of dark sandy loam. However, the soil from 50cm to the bottom of the pit was dominated by small fragments (5-7cm) of septaria and occasional mortar with no later inclusions in evidence. The trial pit was too small to allow any firm conclusions to be made but one possibility is that the lower material is Roman destruction debris.<10>
A short length of ancient walling, of septaria surmounted by a triple course of Roman tile, is visible under the north wall of St Helen's Chapel, of which it forms the foundation.<11>
During re-surfacing of Maidenburgh Street in 1984, the foundations of the theatre were found to lie just beneath the surface. No Roman floor levels or other layers survived in this area, so that the modern street make-up directly overlay the Roman foundations, the natural sand into which they had been cut and backfilled service trenches. The Roman foundations had been extensively cut by a mass of service trenches. South of the auditorium, the large north-south wall first observed in 1891 (ECC193) by H. Goodyear, Borough Engineer. Two other foundations were discovered by Goodyear, one of which lined up with a stump of north south wall found during the excavations of 1982.<12>
A small museum on the west side of Maidenburgh Street (no. 74) displays a section of the theatre foundations. Picked out in the paved road surface outside the museum are paving bricks of different colour to mark the location of the theatre foundations below ground (defined in 1984).
- <1> SCC573 Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1997. City of Victory. p.58.
- <2> SCC591 Serial: Tacitus translated by J. Jackson. 115. Tacitus, The Annals, Books XII-XVI. XIII-XVI. XIV, 32.
- <3> SCC48 Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. Insula 13, No152, p.105.
- <4> SCC48 Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. Insula 13, No30, p.105 & Fig. 44.
- <5> SCC48 Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. Insula 13, No30, p.105.
- <6> SCC111 Unpublished document: Hull, M. Rex. Roman Colchester: Walls and Within. p.541.
- <7> SCC111 Unpublished document: Hull, M. Rex. Roman Colchester: Walls and Within. p.539.
- <8> SCC261 Article in serial: Crummy, Philip. 1982. The Roman Theatre at Colchester. Britannia Volume 13 (1982), pp.299-302. pp.299-302.
- <9> SCC101 Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1992. CAR 6: Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in Colchester 1971-85. 6. p.1037.
- <10> SCC340 Evaluation Report: Benfield, Stephen (CAT). 1999. An archaeological evaluation at St Peter's House, St Peter's Street, Colchester, in 1998. 8/98c.
- <11> SCC48 Monograph: Hull, M. Rex. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. Insula10, No14, p.97.
- <12> SCC101 Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1992. CAR 6: Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in Colchester 1971-85. 6. pp.385-386.
- <13> SCC72824 Monograph: Gascoyne, Adrian and Radford, David. 2013. Colchester. Fortress of the War God. An Archaeological Assessment. pp.115-116.
- None recorded
Related Monuments/Buildings (1)
Related Events/Activities (10)
- Event - Intervention: Excavation at St Helen's Chapel, Colchester, 1984 (Ref: ECC571) (ECC571)
- Event - Intervention: Excavation of Roman theatre, Maidenburgh Street, Colchester, 1981 (Ref: ECC1448) (ECC1448)
- Event - Interpretation: Masonry South of St Helen's Chapel, Colchester, 1957 (Ref: ECC424) (ECC424)
- Event - Interpretation: Mortar from St Helen's Chapel, Colchester, 1924 (Ref: ECC191) (ECC191)
- Event - Interpretation: Plan of walls in Maidenburgh Street, Colchester, 1891 (Ref: ECC193) (ECC193)
- Event - Interpretation: Roman masonry south of St Helens Chapel, Colchester, 1958 (Ref: ECC425) (ECC425)
- Event - Interpretation: Roman wall under St Helen's Chapel, Colchester, 1958 (Ref: ECC190) (ECC190)
- Event - Interpretation: Wall under St Helen's Chapel, Colchester, 1940 (Ref: ECC192) (ECC192)
- Event - Interpretation: Watching brief at Maidenburgh Street, Colchester, 1984 (Ref: ECC2382) (ECC2382)
- Event - Survey: Watching brief at Quaker Burial Ground, Colchester, 1998 (Ref: ECC1915) (ECC1915)
Record last edited
Nov 9 2016 3:24PM