The Colchester Roman Circus was discovered in 2004 which is when I first visited it – along with thousands of others. The circus is where thousands of locals went for a good day out to watch the chariot racing. It would have been a raucous place to be, a chance to lay bets, meet friends, drink and eat. And finding the remains of the circus was a major event.
On that visit we were shown some of the walls of the circus and told the amazing story of how it was discovered by the archaeologists from the Colchester Archaeological Trust. It’s the only Roman Circus to have been found in Britain, and no matter how many times I visit I’m amazed by the fact that it’s in Colchester, even though Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town, and was important during the Roman period, with a theatre, the Temple of Claudius, a strong town wall (to keep the locals out when they were cross), and all the facilities that a Roman citizen would need.
Since my first visit in 2004 I’ve been to the Circus quite a number of times, and each time there have been new developments to see. My latest visit was for the grand opening for the summer visitor season in March 2015.
There is now an Interpretation Centre in what was an Army NAAFI building, This is also now the home of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, who found the Circus, and are now carrying out the interpretation work so that it’s story can be told to visitors.
For the opening there was a host of special events. There were Roman and Ancient Briton re-enactors, displays of some of the incredible artefacts that have been over the years in Colchester, including Roman bowls, a seventeenth Witches Pot and my favourite, a wooden paddle from a coracle, which pre-dates the Roman period, found near Colchester Institute.
A lot of work has taken place over the winter months to tell the story of the Circus, and the role it played in the social life of Colchester. There are interpretation boards, short films, a highly detailed and intricate model of the Circus made by one of the many volunteers who work at the centre, lots of finds from around the town, plus the all important cafe – known as “De-Licious”.
It’s amazing to see how much the centre has changed in just the few years since the Archaeological Trust moved in to the old NAAFI.
The Circus is on Roman Circus Walk just off the St. Johns Green area of Colchester to the south of Southway – so you could have a look at St. Johns Abbey Gate if you walk from the town centre. I’d really recommend a visit, especially if you have children who are studying the Romans at school. Here are some photo’s that I took on the day, – just a taster of what there is to see. Check their website for opening times and special events.