the Colchester Archaeological Trust review of 2017


The Trust enjoyed a very busy and successful 2017, completing the most projects which we have ever undertaken in one year! Our fieldwork projects range from watching briefs, continuous monitoring and recording, and evaluations, to full-scale excavations, but we also conduct historic building recording projects and desk-top (research) studies such as heritage asset assessments and desk-based assessments. Although we are based in Colchester and are the archaeological specialists in Colchester, we have conducted fieldwork as far afield as Acton, Southminster and Much Hadham. We have undertaken projects for a large number of clients ranging from large national companies to local government and private individuals. (This information on our fieldwork projects is taken from Trust senior archaeologist Howard Brooks’ fieldwork summaries for 2017, which he has compiled for the annual journal of the Essex Society for Archaeology and History: this is Essex Archaeology and History no 8, of the new series, due for publication next year).

Our sites in Essex were like an A-Z of the county, being at Alresford, Asheldham, Ashen, Barling Magna, Birdbrook, Boxted, Elmstead Market, Goldhanger, Great Chesterford, Great Leighs, Great Wakering, Hatfield Peverel, Little Canfield, Little Oakley, Little Waltham, Newport, Rowhedge, Southminster, Stansted, Stanway, Stock, Thundersley, Tollesbury, Wethersfield, White Colne, White Notley, Wickham Bishops, Willingale, Weeley, West Mersea, and Writtle! In Suffolk, our sites were at Acton, East Bergholt, Great Cornard, Lavenham, Stratford St Mary, and Tattingstone, with one at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. (Our online archive includes a Googlemap with pins marking the sites represented by our reports.)

The ceramic finds which Trust pottery specialist Steve Benfield has selected from 2017 as being the most memorable are (in no particular order): the fragments of a Roman cantharus* from the Butt Road water-tower within the old Colchester garrison; prehistoric pottery fragments and two flint scrapers from Great Bentley (see ); a ‘fishy’ Roman glass cup sherd decorated with ‘fins’ from a site at St John’s Green in Colchester; the fragment of modern ‘witch cauldron’ from a site at Asheldham (see ); the medieval tile kiln and pottery wasters from Mile End (see ); and the three (unusually) complete Roman roof-tiles from our site at the former Arena Club in Colchester – these may derive from the Roman circus and one of the tiles is now on display in the Roman circus visitor centre. We also excavated the remarkable Roman horse-hoof bone on the same site (see .

We were able to further investigate the site of the Roman circus in 2017, at the former Arena Club and at the Flagstaff House complex, both within the old Colchester garrison (see two images below). The Trust’s HQ and Roman circus visitor centre are housed in a former military building in the former Artillery (Le Cateau) Barracks within the old garrison. It is always interesting to investigate the site of the only known Roman circus in Britain…













We developed the Roman circus visitor centre even further to improve the experience for our visitors and it was open from April through to September, with a new manager and staff in our tea room. We presented several public events, especially the Heritage Open Day 2017, although the highlight of the year has to be the open weekend which featured the Roman Ermine Street Guard and which was presented by the Friends of the Colchester Archaeological Trust (FCAT). Our volunteer guides and Trust archaeologists provided guided tours thoughout the summer and we enjoyed numbers of visitors and school or group visits. The team of Trust volunteers continued all their good work in our archaeological processing and in renovating and maintaining the Roman circus visitor centre. We are pleased to host some local groups here at the Roman circus visitor centre, ie the weekly winter lectures of the Colchester Archaeological Group (CAG), and the monthly meetings of the Colchester Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) and, this year, we also welcomed Colchester Recalled (CR) to the visitor centre (they now hold their monthly lectures here). We were pleased that the Roman circus visitor centre was also a designated destination in this year’s Essex schools Cultural Passport scheme. It was great to see the Roman circus and visitor centre featured in Pudsey Bear’s quest for this year’s ‘Children in Need’ special on BBC 1 and in an edition of the ‘Celebrity Antiques Road Trip’, while Trust director Philip – with the remains of the Colchester Roman arcade – featured in an episode of ‘Eight days that made Rome’ with Bettany Hughes. We continued to relentlessly maintain the blog on this web-site and our online report archive!

Trust archaeologists undertook a number of talks to local groups in their own venues, including the annual FCAT ‘tea and talks’ event. FCAT launched their new web-site and the Trust re-launched our web-site in a new format. 2017 also saw the final issue of the Trust’s annual magazine and this has been replaced by a series of monthly articles which we will publish in a new subscriber area on our web-site (more information to follow on Monday).

All our fieldwork reports are published online at . Please visit our Roman circus visitor centre web-site at and see our events calendar on the home page of this web-site for events.
The Roman circus visitor centre and tea room will re-open on the 27th March 2018 at 11.00 am (full details of opening times are on the Roman circus visitor centre web-site).
Visit the CAG web-site at , the CR web-site at , and the FCAT w-s at . The Colchester YAC posts its reports on this web-site. Follow the Trust on Facebook at and on Twitter at .

The Trust would like to thank everyone again for all your support in 2017 – and we are looking forward to a great 2018! We look forward to working with you or to welcoming you to the Roman circus visitor centre – come along and see what’s new…

The images below show Trust excavators Adam Tuffey and Sarah Carter working on site at the Flagstaff House complex; and the reconstructed cantharus.



. * Our social media (Facebook) post on the 19th August 2017: ‘… The image shows the fragments of a Roman pottery vessel, a cantharus, which we have reconstructed. A cantharus is a two-handled drinking-cup.
The Trust recovered the fragments a few weeks ago from the site at the former water-tower off Butt Road, where we undertook an archaeological watching brief. The water-tower stands in the former Artillery (Le Cateau) Barracks of the old Colchester garrison.
Last Friday, Trust pottery specialist Steve Benfield wrote a report on the cantharus. He dates it to the late 3rd-4th centuries. The cantharus is an oxidised fine ware product of the late Roman Hadham potteries in Hertfordshire.
The cantharus derives from a feature which also produced a sherd of a Roman pottery beaker and part of a corroded iron nail which had stuck to the wall of the cantharus. The site also produced a Roman cremation burial in a pottery jar, along with sherds of a bowl. Further fragments of Roman pottery vessels, ie a flagon and two other jars, were recovered from the site.
A cantharus (plural ‘canthari’) is a relatively unusual vessel and so they would have been notable objects in their day. Fragments of a ‘red ware’ cantharus were recovered from the Abbeygate area of Colchester before 1930 and, in October 2015, the Trust excavated fragments of a samian ware cantharus at the Flagstaff House complex site, not far from the Butt Road water-tower site.
The water-tower stands in an area where the Trust has excavated a number of Roman cemetery areas, including the Butt Road police station site, the Butt Road car-park site, and the Abbey Field, which may suggest a link between canthari and cemetery areas and funerary feasting.
In the Roman world, canthari were associated with wine drinking and the god Bacchus, and had symbolic and ritual aspects, relating to wine, celebration, rebirth and immortality…