Historic Roman Circus for sale

THE people of Colchester have been given a unique historical opportunity - the chance to buy part of the town's Roman Circus.

Roddy Ashworth

THE people of Colchester have been given a unique historical opportunity - the chance to buy part of the town's Roman Circus.

Yesterday Phillip Crummy, director of Colchester Archaeological Trust, called for help in raising �750,000 to purchase the former Sergeants' Mess at Colchester Garrison, in whose gardens the eight gates of the huge chariot racing track once stood.

Mr Crummy said that developer Taylor Wimpey, which owns the land above the scheduled ancient monument, has agreed to allow the trust a six month period in which to raise the cash.

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He added he believed that around half of the money could be raised by the trust and from other grants, but that about �400,000 would need to come from elsewhere.

If all went according to plan, the archaeological trust - which is looking for a new home in any case - would purchase a quarter of the substantial building, on the edge of Abbey Field, while another quarter would be funded by lottery money to act as a Roman Circus information centre.

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Meanwhile, the remaining half of the building would be purchased by an individual or consortium for later development.

Mr Crummy said: “We came up with this idea and we are pleased that Taylor Wimpey have kindly agreed to it.

“It would provide us with a new home, an information centre for the circus, and it would secure public access to the area where the gates for the chariots would have been.”

Because of the location of the gates in the garden of the Sergeants' Mess, public access would have been limited once the building had been renovated and sold as homes by Taylor Wimpey.

Although the underground remains would not have been disturbed, they would have effectively been in somebody's private garden.

However, the new plan would allow the trust to highlight the foundations - which are only around 1ft below the surface - as well as provide interpretative information around them.

The underground remains of the Roman Circus were discovered by the trust in late 2004 during archaeological investigations for Taylor Wimpey as part of the works for the redevelopment of Colchester Garrison.

Built in the 2nd century AD, the chariot racing track is the only one of its kind known in Britain, the nearest example being 800 miles away in southern France.

The giant building was a quarter of a mile long and capable of accommodating about 15,000 spectators.

Originally, part of the site of the circus was to be built over, but its discovery resulted in Taylor Wimpey changing their plans so as to leave the remains undisturbed.

The site was later given formal protection when the entire footprint of the Roman building was designated a scheduled ancient monument by English Heritage.

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