On Monday (3rd November), we uncovered part of the foundation of the temple precinct wall at St Helena School in Colchester. Trust archaeologist Ben Holloway and excavator Emma are working on our site there, this week. The school stands on the site of a Romano-Celtic temple, which was the largest of a group of at least four temples in this area.
We started working on the site last week, and uncovered four small Roman pits which were full of fragments of Roman building materials, one being full of roof-tiles. Our site is within the area of the precinct or courtyard of the temple which stood here. On Monday, it was decided to extend the site, and so we were able to uncover this part of the precinct wall foundation. It is exactly where we expected it to be, but it is always exciting to uncover Roman remains, and this foundation is very interesting. It seems to have been a special wall. This part is a few metres long and about 60 cm wide, and constructed of stone. It includes the remains of a series of square buttresses on both its inner and outer sides, so it must have supported a very high wall. We think that it represents part of the precinct wall at the front of the temple, although the precinct had quite a complicated shape. It is doubly interesting for us to uncover the wall foundation, as significant Roman remains, and because, in 1935, the site was excavated using a 19th-century excavation technique, by which trenches were excavated along the lines of structural remains – a technique which is no longer used! So, on this site, we are investigating Roman remains and the 20th-century archaeological excavation, as well.
The site of the main building of St Helena School was excavated in 1935 by the Colchester Excavation Committee under the supervision of M R Hull of Colchester Castle Museum. (The Colchester Excavation Committee was the organisation which was re-founded in 1963 to become the Trust.) The results of the excavation were published in Roman Colchester (1954), which is still an important resource for the archaeology of Colchester. During the excavation, most of the site of the temple was investigated and Mr Hull was able to produce a ground-plan of the temple and its precinct. The temple is identified as ‘Temple I’ in the Colchester listing, and it was founded in the late 1st/early 2nd century. The Trust has undertaken several fieldwork projects at the school over the years, so the location of the surviving remains of the temple complex here is well established. St Helena School is part of such an important archaeological site that any groundworks here must be monitored by archaeologists or preceded by archaeological excavations.
The images show Trust excavator Emma cleaning the top of the wall foundation yesterday, and two illustrations from Roman Colchester: the photo. of an unnamed workman with another part of the precinct wall foundation on the site in 1935, and the plan of the temple complex (both showing the square buttresses of the precinct wall).