The case of the re-appearing Roman houses

A part of Roman House 1 in the Castle Park, left permanently exposed since 1920.

In 1906, museum curator Arthur Wright nipped out into the Castle Park to eat his lunch. This was not surprising since that summer was truly a scorcher. In fact September of that year saw temperatures in the UK reach a corking 36 degrees, which for that month is still the highest ever recorded in the country.

We’ve no idea what he had for lunch but we do know he spotted something that got him very excited – rows of cracks and strange lines of parched grass. Did he remember to finish his lunch? We’ll never know but a little investigation on his part quickly revealed the tops of some mysterious foundations just under the surface. The penny dropped – he had just stumbled on the remains of a Roman house right under his ham sandwich!

Local artist Major Bale was called in to make a measured plan of the marks before the rains came and made them disappear. The fruits of his labours were then stored safe and sound in the bowels of Colchester Museum (fortunately the world’s largest Norman castle). Fourteen years later archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, later of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? fame, got the plan out and did some serious digging. And the result? Part of not just one Roman Roman house but a row of three alongside a well-preserved Roman street.

As we all know, 2018 was another scorcher. The prolonged heat and the absence of rainwater caused strange patterns to emerge in fields and even parks all over the country mirroring remains of the past normally hidden below.

Google Earth proved a good and unexpected place to look for these revelations. And in Colchester just such a little treat for us was in store – a kind of re-run of what had happened 102 years earlier. Back they came once more – the parch marks in the Castle Park. But this time we know what they are….

Plan of the three houses excavated by Mortimer Wheeler in 1920.
Old friends return… !
2018 photograph from Google Earth taken in 2018 showing the parchmarks seen and planned in 1906 (above) with the plan of Mortimer Wheeler’s discoveries of 1920 superimposed on it (below).
The photograph is © 2018 Google Earth.