Roman circus foundations uncovered at Flagstaff House

On Tuesday (21st July), the Trust began an excavation at the Flagstaff House complex of buildings on Napier Road, within the old garrison at Colchester and just up the road from Roman Circus House. The Flagstaff House complex used to be the HQ of the garrison’s commanding officers and of the British Army’s Eastern District. Our archaeological project here is being undertaken ahead of the redevelopment of the site. Most of the historic military buildings in the complex are being retained in the new development, which has also been designed to minimise any impact on the remains of the Roman circus which survive on the site.

On Tuesday, we machined off the modern concrete surface on the site and removed the layer of modern rubble below. Yesterday, we began the real work of cleaning off the archaeology – the remains of the Roman circus, which are exactly where we expected them to be. (We have been able to plan the site of the circus based on the evidence from a number of investigations which we have conducted in this part of the old garrison, including investigations at the Flagstaff House complex in 2004-5.) The remains of the circus are not far below the modern ground-level here, starting at a depth of 400 mm. Today (23rd July), we were able to investigate the remains more fully.

We have uncovered part of the wide foundation of the outer wall of the circus’ northern cavea (seating-stand) and part of the narrower foundation of the inner wall of the cavea. Parts of the foundations seem to be well-preserved, and not robbed out, although they have been cut by a large number of modern services. We observed the same damage by modern services when we investigated the remains of the circus in the front garden of Roman Circus House in 2013. The remains at Roman Circus House and the remains at the Flagstaff House site are both parts of the circus’ northern cavea. At the Flagstaff House site, we have already noticed traces of pink opus signinum (a special Roman mortar) on part of the foundations of the cavea, which we have not previously observed while investigating the foundations of the cavea on other sites.

We are at the very start of the excavation at the Flagstaff House site, which will continue for a couple of months. Next we will excavate out the modern service trenches, and then we will be able to fully investigate and record the remains of the circus here. Then we will be excavating a 1.8 metre-wide ‘corridor’ through the foundations of the circus for the installation of services for the new development. Finally, we will backfill the surviving remains of the circus so that they can be preserved under a new ground surface. The developer, Taylor Wimpey, is going to mark out the lines of the circus’ cavea and spina (central barrier) on the ground in the open space within the new development.

Volunteers from the Colchester Archaeological Group are currently conducting an excavation in another part of the Flagstaff House grounds, adjacent to the Officers’ Club, under the direction of the Trust. We also recently undertook an evaluation at the Arena Leisure Centre, just across the road from Flagstaff House (April-May 2015). Trust archaeologist Mark Baister supervised the evaluation at the Arena and is supervising the excavation at the Flagstaff House site.

You can view the exposed remains of part of the Roman circus – including the outer and inner wall foundations of part of the northern cavea – in the garden of Roman Circus House. The circus site, centre and cafe are open Tuesday-Saturday, 10.00am-4.30pm. Admission is free.

The excavations in the Flagstaff House complex are being funded and supported by developer Taylor Wimpey via their archaeological consultants RPS Ltd.

The image shows one of the buildings of the Flagstaff House complex facing Napier Road, next to the Napier Road car-park, and a plan of the Flagstaff House complex (grey), showing the site of the Roman circus (red) and previous archaeological investigations (black) in the area.



circus plan w-s