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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 477: summary

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Roman houses and streets in Insulas 31/32 of Roman Colchester: excavations in advance of the construction of the Visual Arts Facility, East Hill, Colchester, Essex November 2006-December 2007 and June 2008
by Howard Brooks, with Kate Orr and Will Clarke

Date report completed: March 2011
Location: Visual Arts Facility, East Hill, Colchester, Essex
Map reference(s): TM 0013 2520
File size: 9323 kb
Project type: Excavation
Significance of the results: **
Keywords: Roman, street, house, tessera, dump, clay tobacco-pipe, manufacture, Victorian

Summary. The site lies in Insulas 31/32 of the Roman town. In advance of the installation of services to the new Visual Arts Facility in the grounds of East Hill House and on the site of the former bus station, test-pitting and a combination of machine-dug and handdug trenches revealed parts of a Roman building, presumably a town-house. The metalled street on the southern side of Insulas 31/32 was exposed in three places, and thus we were able to plot the line of the street more accurately, ie its eastern end is now approximately 3m to the north of the earlier projection. In this new position, medieval Bastion 1 on the external face of the Roman town wall now aligns precisely with the northern side of the Roman street. An interesting group of finds was 1.07 kg of unused Roman stone tesserae. These were found in a redeposited layer of Roman debris sandwiched between post-medieval topsoil layers, where they were presumably dumped during modern landscaping. These may indicate the presence of a workshop which produced or stored tessera for use in mosaic floors.

Interpretation of some of the later strata on the site is complicated by the fact that there has been much movement of soil here, mainly due to landscaping associated with the grounds of East Hill House. After the Roman period, there is no evidence of any activity until the 13th century, when fragments of pottery may be associated with the medieval robbing of the Roman buildings. Finds of 15th- to 16th-century pottery may be associated with houses to the north which fronted onto the southern side of East Hill. Three clay tobacco-pipe ‘wasters’ indicate that a clay tobacco-pipe maker was at work nearby in the later 17th century. The kiln site could have been on the open ground south of the East Hill frontage, and the maker was presumably resident or tenant of one of the East Hill houses which were subsequently demolished for the construction of East Hill House in the mid 18th century. Later finds - both cut features and loose finds in soil layers - are associated with East Hill House. Of particular interest is a group of cess-pits in which sewage from East Hill House was disposed of until the later 19th century.