the archaeology of firstsite

In March, the Trust completed a watching brief which began in December 2010, within Insulas 31 and 32 of the Roman town (Lewis Gardens). Adam Wightman of the Trust monitored the installation of services and landscaping works associated with firstsite in Colchester. Roman remains were encountered and two medieval/post-medieval wells were uncovered just below the surface. Archaeological remains identified during the 2006-8 archaeological investigations at firstsite (CAT Report 477) were encountered again in this watching brief. A gravel surface was identified in a position coinciding with the expected line of the east-west Roman street on the southern edge of Insulas 31 and 32. A wall foundation was also recorded in an area where a Roman building had been previously identified (Building 215 in the Colchester Buildings series). A red tessellated floor was identified in section in the northern access road to firstsite. The floor is believed to be previously unknown and is from a Roman building (Colchester Building 220), perhaps a town-house. Two medieval/post-medieval wells were also uncovered during the groundworks. A stone-lined well was uncovered in the back garden of 15 Queen Street and a brick-lined well was recorded in the northern access road to firstsite. The brick-lined well had been constructed in the back yard of a property which once fronted onto the High Street.

Considerable archaeological fieldwork has been undertaken in the area over the years, and the evidence indicates that this was a residential area in the Roman town. The fieldwork includes work by Rex Hull and the 1955 and 1958 excavations by Richardson, work by os Dunnett, and work by the Trust (CAT Reports 234, 295, 305, 372, 385, 477, 520). A combination of chance finds of tessellated pavements (floors), both decorated and plain, together with evidence from archaeological investigations by the Trust in advance of the construction of the Mulberry Tree Family Centre to the east (in 1983-8) and the bus station to the west (in 2003; CAT Report 234), show the existence of Roman buildings in this area.

This Roman residential area appears to have included a number of houses with stone-in-mortar foundations dating probably to the 2nd century AD. Some of the houses were probably large and well appointed, with hypocaust (under-floor) heating, and decorated with painted wall-plaster and mosaic floors (eg the Berry Field mosaic, now displayed inside the firstsite building). The presence of at least one principal east-west street is known, extending beneath the former Keddies department store fronting onto Queen Street to the west and crossing the northern wing of the Mulberry Tree Family Centre to the east. Its projected line should cross the southern half of the D-shaped garden of East Hill House.

See CAT Report 599 at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/reports/CAT-report-0599.pdf

.