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Roman roads discovered at Chester's new theatre site

© LP Archaeology

Archaeologists probing potential foundation areas for Chester’s iconic new theatre have discovered the remains of two Roman roads. Both would have serviced the interior of the original Roman fortress and are described as the most exciting finds in the area in the last 20 years.

Mike Morris, Project Manager Historic Environment, said “At present we have exposed small ‘keyholes’ of what could be islands of survival within larger areas lost to cellar and foundation construction.

"However it is true to say that we are delighted to find more archaeology surviving than was thought to be the case. It could mean that discovery of the roads will also lead to the survival of the foundations of buildings that may well have existed alongside them.”

The theatre site lies in the Northern part of the Roman fortress and its footprint overlies an area which includes barrack blocks and accommodation which could have been part of the Governor’s enclave.

The roads – both created from sandstone rubble, and in one case also gravel – have been discovered yards from the original orchestra pit and running parallel alongside the present Northgate Street.

Already four of the trial trenches being dug to carry out exploration of land to be used for the foundations of Chester’s theatre and library site – have revealed Roman and medieval remains.

A section of sandstone wall – thought to be part of a mediaeval town house – has been discovered near the Odeon boundary with Hunter Street and fragments of Roman and medieval pottery in other trenches.

Added Mr Morris: “Whilst it is still too soon to make definite forecasts the, excavations may well give us a clue to the purpose of a large mystery building believed to have been sited within the area.

Most Roman fortresses across Europe were built to the same pattern, but Chester is certainly larger than most and one theory about the building is that its purpose was to house visiting dignitaries.”

Over 20 trial trenches are to be dug within the Odeon itself, the basement of Commerce House and two adjoining properties in Northgate Street. All are aimed at giving early indication of any potential special foundation requirements needed to protect important archaeology.

It is believed that the road – both around 1ft beneath the surface of the Odeon floor – were not discovered during the original excavations of the Odeon Theatre in the 30’s because archaeologists were working on a restricted time schedule.

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