Colchester Roman Circus remains to be open to all

Colchester Gazette

By Wendy Brading »

A DEAL has been negotiated which could allow the public daily access to
the site of the starting gates of Colchester’s Roman circus.

History lovers reacted furiously over plans to convert the
Sergeants Mess and its gardens in Le Cateau Road into 11 houses and
four flats.

The concern was over public access to the mess’s gardens – under which are the historic starting gates to the chariot arena.

The site of the circus, the only one to have been found in Britain, has been granted scheduled ancient monument status.

As part of the planning application for the homes, a proposal was
drawn up to allow the public access to the garden on set days each year
– but protesters claimed it was not enough.

Now, after months of careful negotiations, a new proposal has been drawn up.

The scheme suggests Taylor Wimpey leasing the gardens to Colchester Council for about £4,500 a year.

The council would take on responsibility for marking out the site
of the gates and maintaining the area – and it would allow the public
daily access to the site.

Alistair Day, conservation and design officer for Colchester Council, said: “The area would be policed in so far as it would be opened
from about 9am or 10am and closed at dusk.

“Outside these times there will be access to the residents but not for the general public.

“Taylor Wimpey is firmly of the view you need to try to respect the
Victorian heritage and believe the garden is fundamental to the setting
of the building and that the two should remain together.

“However, they are broadly in agreement with the proposal for a quasi public-private garden.”

The cost of the project is still being finalised. The council would
have to agree to a lease, the cost of maintaining the area and
employing someone to lock and unlock the gates each day.

The proposal is due to be considered by Colchester Council next month.

Colchester Council‘s portfolio holder for culture, tourism and diversity Theresa Higgins met with Robert Taylor, project manager for the
Garrison development with Taylor Wimpey, in June.

She said: I was not happy with the fact the site was only open to the public four times a year. We wanted more than that.

“We have managed to get a deal so we can get 365 day access. It is important to have this.

“I will be asking my colleagues to support this, it is really important for Colchester.

“I am pleased with what has been achieved and Taylor Wimpey should also be congratulated for the turn around.

“We havethe oldest town in Britain and the only circus and we should be letting the public have access to it.

“This is our only chance – I hope we can sort it out.”

Lullingstone Villa – son et lumiere etc

This is Sussex

BTW, if any teacher takes a group to visit Lullingstone and is public-spirited enough to share his/her findings, do use the special School Trips experience-sharing website

Lullingstone Roman Villa



One of England’s most important Roman sites has re-opened after the completion a year long refurbishment project.

Rare decorated glass gaming counters discovered at Lullingstone Roman Villa
around 60 years ago are among the 240 artifacts now on display at the
site near Eynsford.

Working with some of the original excavators who discovered the objects during digs at the site from the
late 1940s until 1961, English Heritage has brought together the varied collection of finds to shed light on the way the affluent Romans who occupied the villa – one of the most important and complete in Britain – are believed to have lived, worked, worshipped and relaxed.

Lively interpretation panels bringing the Roman occupation to life feature a
series of illustrations by award-winning children’s illustrator Jane
Ray and to engage younger visitors, there are interactive objects
ranging from a handling collection of Roman artifacts to tesserae cubes
to make into mosaics.

The highlight of the new interpretation is a sound and light show which
dramatically illuminates the ruined villa from above while telling its
story. Visitors can look down as the lights pick out rooms, from the
bath suite to the triclinium, or dining room, as well as the villa’s
crowning glory, a superb mosaic floor laid during the 4th century which
vividly depicts scenes from ancient mythology.

The majority of the artifacts have not been seen since they went on display
after excavation in the 1950s, including a remarkable collection of
grave goods discovered in a mausoleum containing the bodies of a man
and woman who both died in their mid-twenties. Their above average
heights – she was 5ft 6in tall and he measured 5ft 10in – are
consistent with their high status, reflecting better diets and living
conditions than the norm.

Objects buried with them include 30 gaming counters, which were possibly used
for the game ludus duodecim scripta – a game similar to backgammon –
and placed with the body for entertainment during the journey to the

They were found on the lid of the man’s shell-embossed lead coffin alongside
a head carved into bone. This was believed to represent a goddess
providing protection, or possibly the snake-haired gorgon Medusa – in
Greek mythology, Medusa’s blood was used to revive the dead. Displayed
with his skeleton, other finds from the mausoleum include a glass
bottle with dolphin handles, flagons thought to have contained water or
wine for the journey, silver spoons and a wooden keg.

Improved amenities for visitors have also been installed, including a new shop
and tea bar and an Education Room with floor to ceiling windows
overlooking the villa for the thousands of schoolchildren who visit the
site each year.

Lullingstone Roman Villa was a prosperous working farm, occupied for over 300 years. It went through four phases of development before being abandoned in the early fifth century and contains some of the best evidence for the transition from pagan beliefs to the adoption of Christianity in Britain.

A house-church is located directly above a cult room still containing a
niche with a painted scene of water nymphs for pagan worship,
illustrating that the villa’s occupants came to embrace Christianity,
possibly while still worshipping other gods. A cross-shaped chi-rho
(pronounced ‘Cairo’) found within the house-church is one of the oldest
early Christian symbols ever discovered in Britain.

A vast array of objects have gone on display at the villa, which
represent every aspect of daily life for the villa’s occupants – from
intricate jewellery, tools, coins and pots to dishes and jugs for
holding and storing food, wine and water.

There are harness fittings, suggesting that horses and oxen were kept at the
villa, writing implements and even keys and padlocks which indicate
there were items of value to lock up – further evidence that people of
wealth and importance occupied the site.

One of four skeletons of babies discovered at Lullingstone is on display.
Dating from the late 2nd century, it was found buried south of the bath
suite – children who were still-born or died under 10 days old tended
not to be buried in a proper grave and they were regarded as having no
legal existence.

Although it was known that a Roman site existed at Lullingstone during the 19th- century, the exact location was not found until 1939 and excavations did not begin until 1949.

Archaeologist, author and director of the Roman Building Trust, Dr Tony Rook worked on
the excavations as a schoolboy and was present when the mosaic floor
was discovered.

“I used to cycle from home in Sevenoaks,” he says. “From time to time, my
father would take pity on me and collect me and my bike by car. As a
result he started to get interested. As an artist, he began doing the
drawings recording our discoveries and later my mother too became
involved. When my father retired, my parents became the site’s first

“At that time, the mosaic was covered only by a tarpaulin which we took off
each day. When the Ministry of Works took over, my father suggested
there was little point in advertising the site as open after sunset, so
they gave him a hurricane lamp! They also provided him with a new
police raincoat each year and continued to send one even after a cover
over the site was erected.

“Until then, my father displayed all the objects, which he conserved and
restored, but this was subsequently reduced to just a selection and so
I am very pleased to see so many now going back on view for people to

Open daily from 10am to 6pm until September 30, 10am to 4pm from October 1
to November 30 and 10am to 4pm Wednesdays to Sundays from December 1

Admission: adults £5.50, concessions £4.40, children £2.80, family £13.80, under fives and EH members free

Phone 0870 333 1181

Visit lullingstone