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Roman fountain found beneath the Odeon cinema has been destroyed, it has been revealed

PUBLISHED: 13:19 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:19 07 September 2018

The water feature was discovered on the site behind the Odeon cinema and old Post Office in 1998 and excavated two years later. Picture: PATRICK DENNEY

The water feature was discovered on the site behind the Odeon cinema and old Post Office in 1998 and excavated two years later. Picture: PATRICK DENNEY

Archant

A Roman garden water feature salvaged from Colchester town centre during an archaeological dig was left out in the elements because it was ”too big” for the council storage units.

A one-of-a-kind metal frame was constructed to remove the feature as safely as possible at the time. Picture: PATRICK DENNEYA one-of-a-kind metal frame was constructed to remove the feature as safely as possible at the time. Picture: PATRICK DENNEY

The relic was discovered during a dig in Head Street, Colchester in 1998, before the Odeon cinema was developed.

It represented the importance of gardens in Britain’s oldest recorded town but sadly the fountain was damaged during excavation and it has now been revealed the council later destroyed it because it was too expensive to carry out repairs.

Historian Patrick Denney, who photographed the discovery 20 years ago, recently enquired about the fountain and discovered the stonework was left outside because it was too large for any of the borough council’s storage facilities.

Further damage was caused by the weather and, due to the cost of repairs, the council made the decision to destroy it in 2006.

Former MP Sir Bob Russell said: “It is outrageous that such a unique part of our Roman heritage has been lost, particularly after the efforts made to save it.

“The garden water feature should have been put somewhere safe, and a covered location found where it could have been put on display as a rare example – certainly the only example in Colchester – of how Roman civilisation clearly involved people having a love of gardens almost 2,000 years ago.”

Archaeologists were aware of its existence beneath the surface because it had first been identified during an excavation in 1934 when work was taking place for an extension to the Post Office.

In the autumn of 2000 the garden feature was removed from the site using a one-of-a-kind iron frame made by another local historian, Jess Jephcott.

A Colchester council spokesman said: “Unfortunately, because of its fragile state, the water feature suffered significant damage while it was being lifted – notably a major crack – which presented a considerable conservation challenge when it arrived at the former museum stores.”

He explained that it could not be restored without adding new materials, which would detract from its historical authenticity.

The spokesman added: “Efforts were made to try to preserve the remains but it proved impossible to adequately protect the artefact from the weather and by the time the museum service moved from the site 12 years ago, in 2006, it was in a very poor state indeed.

“The decision was taken to dispose of it – except for a small number of stone tiles that were retained for research purposes.

“While we recognise the importance and value of maintaining our heritage assets, we do at times also have to strike a balance with the level of public funding and storage space available.

“Unfortunately, on very rare occasions, exceptionally difficult decisions like the one involving the Roman water feature over 12 years ago do have to be made.”


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