More remains of chariot racetrack found

FURTHER well-preserved remains of Colchester's Roman chariot racetrack have been discovered by archaeologists working on the town's garrison redevelopment.

By Roddy Ashworth

FURTHER well-preserved remains of Colchester's Roman chariot racetrack have been discovered by archaeologists working on the town's garrison redevelopment.

Experts have uncovered an intact piece of the Roman Circus's wall foundation beneath Napier Road, to the South of Flagstaff Road in Colchester.

The wall, which is approximately 12m long, was discovered while developer Taylor Woodrow was undertaking excavation work as part of the redevelopment of the area.

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The curving section forms part of the semicircular eastern end of the stadium, which would have been opposite the gates near where the chariots started their races.

The first of the remains of the Roman Circus - the name given to chariot racetracks of the time - were discovered on late 2004, when archaeologists were carrying out exploratory digs before the undeveloped Abbey Field site was built on.

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New findings indicate that the track itself had been lowered to provide a firmer surface to race on, and that the removed topsoil was used to provide the banks on which the spectator seating was built.

Philip Crummy, director of Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT), now estimates that the circus could have held up to 15,000 spectators.

Following the recent discovery a meeting was held between Taylor Woodrow, English Heritage, Colchester Borough Council, RPS and the Colchester Archaeological Trust, to discuss the best way in which the wall could be preserved.

Construction of utility services along Napier Road would have, with normal construction methods, destroyed the wall.

However, a method of tunnelling underneath will ensure that the remains are preserved for posterity.

Yesterday Mr Crummy said: “You can see quite a clear curve. It is all foundations - there is nothing above ground.

“Some of the foundations in certain parts of the circus were removed in the medieval period. But here they are intact almost all the way across the width of the street.

“We haven't quite sorted out exactly where the gates at the east end were, but we think we have found the central barrier, which was a partition in the middle of the arena.

“We do, however, know it is 450 metres long which makes it one of the largest outside Italy.”

Peter Andrew, Taylor Woodrow Eastern regional managing director, said: “It is fantastic to unearth another piece of the Roman chariot track and discover more about the Roman Circus which is such an important part of Colchester's history.

“We will endeavour to preserve the wall as much as possible for future generations.”

Robert Masefield, archaeological consultant from RPS said: “This latest find helps us to understand the extent to which Colchester and indeed Britain itself was Romanised.

“The circus foundations we unearthed last year were generally poorly preserved, so to find this section of surviving wall is particularly important and helps us to increase our knowledge even further.”

Information on Colchester's Roman Chariot track and artefacts discovered last year are currently displayed for public viewing at the Bryant Homes marketing suite on Flagstaff Road.

Anybody wanting information on opening times can call 01206 578492 for details.

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