Monument record MCC760 - Via principalis of the Legionary Fortress, Colchester


Main N to S Roman street, via principalis, of the Legionary Fortress and later incorporated into the street grid of the later colonia, investigated between Insulae 34 and 35 at Culver Street, Insulae 10 and 11 at the Telephone Exchange Site, and Insulae 18 and 19 at 147-151 High Street (see MCC2363 for the later street).


Grid reference Centred TL 9950 2518 (11m by 331m) (6 map features)
Map sheet TL92NE


Type and Period (6)

Full Description

The via principalis of the Roman Legionary fortress at Colchester. This was laid out during the planning and construction of the fortress (AD 44-49) but its alignment continued in use after the construction of the pre-Boudiccan colonia (AD 49-61) and after Boudiccan fire of AD 60/1 (see MCC2363 for later street).

At Culver Street, in the 1980s, limited excavations (ECC337) revealed that the pre-Boudiccan metalling of the street was either thin or missing altogether as if it had been worn away in use or removed during post-Boudiccan clearance / re-building operations. In one section a thick layer of metalling down the central line of the road was defined as a distinct strip 6.7-7.5m wide with the thin metalling on the margins. Following the military abandonment of the fortress (c.AD 49), a timber drain was built on the west side of the thickly metalled strip and was possibly matched by another on the other side. However, at the southern end of the street the western drain appeared to be contemporary with the pre-Boudiccan metalling. Continuity of the street between the period of the Roman fortress and the foundation of the colonia was demonstrated at the Culver Street site by the floors of the building (s) (MCC786) which seemed to have stopped in roughly the same position as the west side of the earlier military building (MCC776), suggesting that the via principalis was unchanged during the changeover from fortress to colonia.<1>

During excavations at the Telephone Exchange site (West Stockwell Street) in 1966 (ECC657), the street surfaces of the fortress and early colonia were discovered, sealed by a thick deposit of burnt daub which had been scraped up and dumped on the road as extra make-up for a new, post-Boudiccan surface.<2>

Excavations ahead of an extension to the Telephone Exchange at St. Martin's House (ECC872) revealed street metalling only 1ft. beneath the surface and a full section was obtained. The road was nearly 6ft. thick and consisted of a sequence of 26 layers many of which represented road surfaces. The line of the street had remained unaltered from the earliest phase which was laid without bedding or foundation. This earliest phase of the road had two surfaces covered by Boudiccan destruction debris.<3>

Excavations at 147-151 High Street (Fenwick, formerly Williams and Griffin) in 2014 (ECC4088), identified the remains of the via principalis in Areas A and B. In Area A, the remains of the street were identified in two small areas near the eastern limit of excavation. In both locations, a compacted-gravel metalled surface (AL60 and AL107) overlay a layer of silty-sand make-up (AL61/AL113). A layer of probable metalling (AL109), observed next to the eastern limit of excavation, could have also been part of the via principalis. Further to the north in Area B, the remains of the N to S Roman street (BF68) was also encountered. A trench was hand-excavated through the Roman street in a location where minimal damage had been caused by medieval and post-medieval pit digging. This afforded the opportunity to record the sequence of resurfacing events which had occurred during the Roman period (Phases 1-6). Constructed from compacted gravel layers interspersed with mixed layers of stone, sand and clay make-up, the street was c.1.1m thick in the centre. The earliest metalled surface in the street sequence, overlaid a series of layers of stony sand make-up that was c.0.12m thick. This surface is the Period 1 via principalis (Phase 1). The make-up material had been laid directly onto the natural sand (BL32), indicating that the topsoil had been removed from the area of the street prior to its construction. The second compacted gravel street layer was notably thicker than the first (c.0.2m) and once again overlay a layer of stony-sand make-up c.0.15m thick (Phase 2).<4>

Sources/Archives (4)

  • <1> Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1992. CAR 6: Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in Colchester 1971-85. 6. pp.49 & 59.
  • <2> Article in serial: Dunnett, B.R.K.. 1971. Excavations in Colchester, 1964-8. Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society Vol. 3, Part 1. p.12.
  • <3> Monograph: Hull, M.R.. 1958. Roman Colchester: Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. No. XX. pp.70-72.
  • <4> EXCAV REPORT: Wightman, Adam and Crummy, Philip. 2017. DRAFT An archaeological excavation and watching brief at Fenwick Colchester (formerly Williams & Griffin), 147-151 High Street, Colchester, Essex. CAT Report 1150, p.13 & pp.23-27.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Events/Activities (4)

Record last edited

Oct 3 2017 2:46PM

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