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Date issued: 1 August 2019
The renovation of the former Jacks store is a project close to the heart of many Colcestrians, due to the history of the building and memories of the hardware store established there for many years.
Jacks has been undergoing a facelift, since early 2019, to enable its new lease of life as an expansion of Three Wise Monkeys bar and as a new home for Other Monkey Brewing. The project to renovate the building is being managed by specialists from Colchester Amphora Trading on behalf of Colchester Borough Council.
During excavation work by the Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT), several important archaeological discoveries were made beneath the 15th Century building – the major one being the remains of a significant Roman bath house. Hollow ceramic flues were found that would have been used to line the walls and floors of the 'hot room', the 'warm room' and sauna-like room – all essential components of substantial Roman baths – so that hot air could circulate and heat the spaces. Several other artefacts were also discovered, confirming the nature of the buried building remains as a bath house.
Due to the cramped nature of the excavations, deep underground, it has not been possible to provide public access to the remains in situ. Works on site have revealed the poor condition of much of the fabric of the Jacks building, and complex remedial works are currently underway to stabilise it and make it safe.
However, the Colchester Archaeological Trust will be creating a temporary exhibition of these historic Roman artefacts at the Roman Circus Centre, commencing on Tuesday 6 August, with the objects on display until the centre closes for the season on Saturday 28 September 2019.
This will include a selection of objects from the site and a giant life-size paper reconstruction of Shaft C, one of six shafts dug by CAT which reached down over three metres in depth. There are plans to permanently house the artefacts elsewhere later.
Deputy Leader of Colchester Borough Council, and Portfolio Holder for Culture and Performance Councillor Julie Young, said: “This is a hugely important discovery for Colchester, as another piece of the fascinating jigsaw puzzle that is our wonderful Roman history falls into place with the significant discovery of this ancient bath house.”
Philip Crummy of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, commenting on the significant discoveries, added: “Major Roman towns across the Roman Empire shared the same suite of public buildings and services. We already knew that Roman Colchester had a theatre (two in fact), many temples, a forum, a circus, town walls, a pressurised water supply, and a robust public drainage system. To this impressive list, we can now add a major public bath house.
“A lot more work in future will be needed to find out about the layout and development of the building but, thanks to Jacks, we can now at least be sure where it stood (immediately south of the famous Temple of Claudius) and where its main heated rooms were located. This a very exciting step forward in the exploration of Britain's earliest Roman town!”
Dr Jess Tipper, Archaeological Advisor at Colchester Borough Council, said: “The keyhole investigations have provided a rare opportunity to investigate the important archaeological remains in the centre of the town. Deep (2.5m), well-preserved archaeological deposits that have accumulated over 2000 years of occupation have been recorded, including evidence of a Roman bath house, as well as evidence of the Boudiccan revolt that resulted in the destruction of Colchester in AD 61. The earliest phase of timber-framed building that is Jacks dates from the mid-15th century and the remains of a later brick cellar, built on top of an earlier Roman wall, was also discovered during the renovation works.”