Plans unveiled for Roman 'circus'

AMBITIOUS plans to transform the remains of a rare Roman circus - the only one of its kind in the UK - into a state of the art attraction have been unveiled.

Elliot Furniss

AMBITIOUS plans to transform the remains of a rare Roman circus - the only one of its kind in the UK - into a state of the art attraction have been unveiled.

Archaeologists discovered the foundations of the giant circus - or chariot racing track - in Abbey Field, Colchester, in 2004.

Proposals have now been put forward for the best way to use the historic site, which is one of only six in the world and the only one in the UK.


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The plans, created by Headland Design Associates for Colchester Borough Council, feature an “interpretation centre” that could bring the circus to life through a virtual reality gateway.

Also included in the designs, on show at Colchester Central library yesterday as part of a public consultation process, are sculptures, information points and signs directing visitors around where the stadium once stood.

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Llewela Selfridge, who is handling the consultation, said the public had been largely supportive of the proposals, which will form part of a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding later this year.

After showing library users around the exhibition, which featured ancient Roman artefacts, she said: “The feedback has been very, very positive.

“People like the idea that they can see the exposed archaeological remains and then get the feel of what a race might have been like.

“They are very proud of its importance and that it is the only one around.”

The virtual reality element of the interpretation centre will allow visitors to “pass through the entry gate” to the circus and experience the thrill of a chariot race as it crashes past, with the shouts and screams from the audience, the hawkers selling their wares and the rumble of the wheels and hooves.

One interested visitor, 58-year-old Mike Wilson from Shrub End, said he felt anything to promote the town's heritage was a positive move.

He said: “Anything like the circus should be for public viewing, not just for a few people to see. We've got some nice history here and the ideas for the site are good.”

Parts of the site - including the starting gates - are set to remain buried and form part of a private garden when a nearby former garrison building is turned into housing.

Speaking about the plans last night, Philip Crummy, of the Colchester Archaeological trust, said he was encouraged by the proposals.

He said: “I'm certainly very glad that the borough council is trying to do something. There's no right or wrong way of displaying the circus - there's the matter of doing as best as possible.”

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