Roman circus proves popular with public

HUNDREDS of enthusiasts descended on Colchester this weekend for a rare chance to see ancient history unveiled.After uncovering what archaeological experts widely agree are the remains of a Roman chariot racing arena or circus at a new housing project on the Garrison, developers opened the historical site to the general public on Saturday.

By Sharon Asplin

HUNDREDS of enthusiasts descended on Colchester this weekend for a rare chance to see ancient history unveiled.

After uncovering what archaeological experts widely agree are the remains of a Roman chariot racing arena or circus at a new housing project on the Garrison, developers opened the historical site to the general public on Saturday.

The sunny weather helped ensure a constant stream of people, some of whom had travelled across East Anglia to attend. About 2,350, from toddlers to pensioners, queued patiently to join a tour throughout the day. There were so many visitors the refreshment stall sold out of burgers by about 1.30pm.


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And the day certainly proved a hit with the public. Comments in the visitors' book included "we can now see why Colchester is so special"; "this has put Colchester on the map" and "fantastic, a really well-run open day".

The remains of the circus at Abbey Field were discovered by developers Taylor Woodrow, which is behind the Abbeyfield housing development, RPS Planning Transport and Environment, which has designed and managed the archaeology, and Colchester Archaeological Trust, which has conducted the works.

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Peter Andrew, Taylor Woodrow eastern region managing director, said: "We have been overwhelmed by the interest in this fascinating discovery. We thought it only appropriate that the people of Colchester who have long appreciated the historical significance of this area be given the opportunity to get up close to the remains of the circus."

A team of experts from RPS and the trust were on hand to escort small groups along a section of the remains of the walled structure, thought to have been more than 350m long and 70m wide. A Roman soldier on horseback helped set the scene and afterwards every visitor had the chance to view some of the discoveries unearthed by the team and receive an information pack.

Head of the archaeological trust, Philip Crummy, said: "It was a very successful day, normally for these sorts of events in the past we have had a maximum of 1,500 people. We were very pleased as events like this always give us a buzz and we have these days because they are such positive feedback and there is a lot of public interest in what we do.

"We believe our programme of works for Taylor Woodrow has increased our understanding of Roman activity at this site enormously."

Robert Masefield, senior archaeological consultant at RPS, added: "It is just incredible the amount of people who have turned up, there must have been thousands."

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