new coffee house in Colchester displays remarkable Roman remains

Today (30th June), a new coffee house was opened near the east end of Colchester High Street – this is the Claudius Gateway. It is built over the remarkable exposed remains of the monumental Roman arcade which fronted the precinct of the Temple of Claudius. The Trust investigated and excavated the remains in 2012, 2014 and 2015. The coffee house was launched at a reception on the 27th June, which was attended by Trust director Philip and Trust archaeologist Don Shimmin.

Trust director Philip says: ‘… Three 3 metre-square windows in the floor reveal the remains of part of the base of the giant Roman arcade below. These remains are in three parts, ie the bases of three piers which supported four of the 26 arches making up the arcade, the remains of four low walls which blocked the lowest part of the arches, and part of the massive foundation on which the arcade was built. Interpretation for visitors and customers is provided by a large screen showing animated computer-generated imagery (cgi) of the arcade on a loop. This is supplemented by various graphics and a presentation on a loop on a monitor giving more details about the nature of the arcade and the transition of the Temple of Claudius into the Norman castle keep and then to Colchester Castle Museum.
The Trust is delighted to have been involved in the project, both at the excavation stage and the subsequent interpretation and preparation of the graphics. The main cgi was produced by Roger Massey-Ryan (RMR Freelance Art) in collaboration with the Trust. The developer, the Flying Trade Group, is a major food importer into Britain. They have given over the ground floor of their new building as a heritage-focused visitor centre with complementary coffee house where all donations and profits will be given to the charity World Food Aid. All food sold in the coffee house will be donated and it is hoped that it will be run by volunteers …’.

The monumental arcade would have had a special association with the Roman circus. On race days, a long procession or pompa – rather like a modern carnival – would have led from the Temple of Claudius, through the central archway in the arcade, to the Roman circus and through its ceremonial archway at the curved end. The pompa would have included the figures of Roman gods and goddesses carried on litters and the racing-chariots and horses, as well as musicians, dancers, and stilt-walkers representing the gods and goddesses. The figures of the gods would then have presided over the races at the Roman circus. The gods and goddesses associated with the Roman circus were some of the most powerful in Roman mythology, ie Sol, the sun; Luna, the moon; Cybele, the great mother goddess of the earth; and even Neptune, god of the sea. The Temple of Claudius was dedicated to the deified Roman emperor Claudius.

The temple and monumental arcade may have both been built in the AD 50s. The Colchester Roman circus seems to have been built in the early 2nd century AD and gone out of use towards the end of the 3rd century. The structure seems to have gradually deteriorated and been ‘robbed’ for building materials. Parts of the monumental arcade, however, seem to have been still standing in the 11th-12th centuries, and then demolished. The temple in Colchester was dedicated to the deified Claudius because his forces invaded Britain in AD 43 and began the conquest of southern Britain, starting at Camulodunum, the precursor of Roman Colchester. The temple and monumental arcade with its central archway, which may have been a triumphal arch, would have functioned as massive statements of Roman power and control in Colchester which, at the time, was the capital of the Roman province of Britannia…

Why not start your next visit to the Colchester Roman circus visitor centre from the new coffee house?
The entrance to the coffee house is at the rear of the building and facing the Castle Park and the new park gate, which is opposite the entrance to Colchester Castle Museum. The coffee house includes several information panels which are about the remains of the monumental arcade with being one about the work of the Trust and the Roman circus visitor centre.
The Roman circus visitor centre is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11.00 am-4.00 pm, April-September. It also includes a tea room! Admission is free. The Roman circus visitor centre, site and tea room are pushchair-/wheelchair-accessible.

Trust director Philip was interviewed by BBC Radio Essex today (30th June) about the coffee house and the monumental Roman arcade.

You can read more about the monumental arcade in other posts on this web-site by searching for the word ‘arcade’. Our full report on the remains of the arcade is in preparation and will be published in our online archive at .

The images show photo.s of the coffee house and the monumental remains, and the launch, all taken on the 27th June; the information panel about the Trust and the Roman circus visitor centre; and the front of the coffee house from the new park gate. [Images to follow.]