In 2012, the Trust moved into our new premises, Roman Circus House at the site of the Roman circus in Colchester. Roman Circus House was built in 1937 as the Regimental Institute of the Artillery (Le Cateau) Barracks in Colchester garrison, and it originally housed the barracks NAAFI. The NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) is an organisation which provides catering, social and retail services to the British Services. In 1947, the garrison’s NAAFI club was built just up the road from Roman Circus House (the NAAFI club is now the Arena Social Club).
We wanted to take part in this year’s national Heritage Open Days event on the 11th-14th September, so we will be opening Roman Circus House to visitors on Saturday 13th September for a NAAFI day, with the theme of 1937-1947. Roman Circus House is the only building in Colchester’s old garrison which is open to the public. It was also a bit of a wreck when we moved in, and it has undergone a major programme of renovation. Most of the original elements of the 1937 NAAFI survive, such as the men’s restaurant with stage and servery archways, the two front doors and the two staircases, and all the original Crittall windows with brass fittings. The barracks NAAFI was built in 1937 and the barracks dining hall next door was built in 1935. Both were built as part of the national programme to recruit more men into the Services by improving their conditions, in the build-up to WW2. The NAAFI would have been a very sociable place, with its restaurant, bar, shop counter, games room and reading room, where the men could enjoy their tea breaks and free time. During WW2, the NAAFI would probably have been staffed wholly by women. As far as we know, this is one of only two surviving, original NAAFIs in England which is open to the public: the other is the Regimental Institute at Dover Castle in Kent, and which is also, now, used as a cafe.
Roman Circus House will be open 10.30am to 4.30pm, with cafe, and there will be a small exhibition, guided tours of the building (including areas which are not usually open to the public), an Artillery Barracks trail (NEW), and vintage military vehicles including a WW2 Jeep and a WW2 motorbike. There will also be a new slideshow of photo.s of a gunner who was stationed at these barracks in 1937. The cafe will be offering a special NAAFI-inspired menu for the day of corned beef hash, meat and potato pie, treacle tart, bread pudding and jam tarts… Most of the renovation of the building has been undertaken by a team of dedicated volunteers, and visitors will be able to chat to some of the volunteers on the day.
Entry is free. We look forward to seeing you!
Visit the Heritage Open Days web-site at www.heritageopendays.org.uk/
See the Colchester HOD events list at www.heritageopendays.org.uk/directory/laa/colchester – the weekend of free events includes guided tours in the town centre; the Audley Chapel will be open at Berechurch; a craft fair at Bourne Mill; Colchester Cemetery will be open to visitors; Colchester Castle Museum will have free entry on the 13th; the Quaker Meeting-house will be open to the public, as will the former Angel Inn in West Stockwell Street, the Town Hall, Peake’s House and Colchester Royal Grammar School; the historic town-centre churches will be open, along with St John’s abbey gateway; and there will also be a vintage bus service operating between some of the venues.