well-built: a very interesting well at East Hill House
A very interesting well was uncovered this week by contractors in the yard between the main house and the coach-house at East Hill House. East Hill House is the large Grade I-listed 18th-century mansion on the south side of East Hill in Colchester, and which is separated from the Minories by the roadway to firstsite. Trust archaeologist Don Shimmin is conducting a long-running watching brief at East Hill House and he started to investigate the well on Tuesday (7th March). The watching brief started in 2014 on works to renovate East Hill House and convert it into an annexe for the Grey Friars boutique hotel over the road. Don also conducted a long-running watching brief on works at Grey Friars. (Interestingly, in 1975-1980, the Trust’s offices were at East Hill House!)
Representatives of the client and Historic England held a meeting on site yesterday (9th March) and they were both very interested in the well. The client is hoping to preserve and display the well in the yard. It was a private domestic well but it is large. The well was completely backfilled and only the upper part of the lining has been exposed by excavation of the backfill. The lining of the well is made of stone and includes re-used Roman material and later peg-tile, which makes it an unusual example from the town. The well was backfilled and capped with brick in the 19th century. Don dates the well to the late medieval or the early post-medieval periods, ie to the 14th-16th centuries. In those days, people living in the town centre at Colchester would have drawn all their water from their own private wells or from public wells. However, wells gradually became redundant in Colchester during the 19th century as private and then municipal water-supply systems were constructed, and these provided nearly all the town’s water by 1899 (see ‘Public services: Water supply’ from the Victoria County History A history of Essex: volume 9, the Borough of Colchester at www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp290-298 ). The small finds from the backfill of the well consisted of 19th-century domestic rubbish, including glass bottles and jars, and two broken chamber-pots…
This well could be 35-40 feet deep. The well at Colchester Castle is 35-40 feet deep, and the Trust excavated a 50-foot deep well at the Cups Hotel site in 1973. Wells were, of course, sunk to the level of the water-table for the extraction of water by a bucket which people would let down and pull back up on a rope or chain. East Hill House would have used large quantities of water, especially for any horses stabled here: the well in the yard would have been surrounded by the offices which used most water, such as the stables, kitchen, scullery and laundry. In 2010-2011, the Trust also uncovered two medieval/post-medieval wells in the precinct of firstsite, next to East Hill House (see CAT Report 599). Over 20 post-Roman wells are known in Colchester town centre. Don likes wells – in summer 2013, during a long-running watching brief on works at Abbey House at St John’s Green, he investigated a well in the garden there!
The watching brief is being funded by OMC Investments Limited, who also funded the watching brief at the Grey Friars boutique hotel.
The Grey Friars hotel was opened in 2015 and its web-site is at http://greyfriarscolchester.co.uk/ . Visit the Grey Friars community web-site at http://greyfriarscolchester.org.uk/ . Read more about the well at Abbey House on this web-site at www.thecolchesterarchaeologist.co.uk/?p=5846 .)
The images show East Hill House in 2010, the well in the yard at East Hill House, the well with contractor Tim, and the upper part of the well.