Date issued: 25 October 2018
The actions of criminals who ram-raided the East of England Co-op store in the heart of historic Dedham in December 2017, have unwittingly revealed the building to be an architectural gem and shone a light on the outstanding quality of the region’s best merchants’ houses from the age of Henry VIII.
Major structural damage caused to the shop’s façade by ram raiders who made off with the ATM machine, prompted the Co-op to commission archaeologists from Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) to undertake a dig beneath the shop floor, and an architectural historian to prepare an ‘Historic Architect’s Report’ to support its planning and listed building applications to repair and stabilise the building.
Now complete, the report reveals that the timber-framed structure, built in 1520, is home to timber joisting and beams of the ‘finest ever seen by the Historic Architect’ and ‘almost certainly the best example of this type of ceiling in Dedham’. In addition, the archaeologists revealed a medieval hearth that predated the surviving buildings and remnants of an internal porch – a common feature in the Low Countries, in the 15th century, but rarely found in England before the Elizabethan period.
Other archaeological finds included a whole pot discovered buried close to the location of one of the original entrances. This was a type of pot known as a two-handled tripod cauldron dating from the late 16th to early 18th century and, according to CAT, may be an apotropaic deposit intended to prevent evil influences entering the house.
Councillor Tim Young, Portfolio Holder for Business & Culture, said: “This is a very positive story about something great for the heritage of the Borough, coming out of an apparent disaster. I am really pleased and grateful to the East of England Co-op for their collaborative working with our Planning Service, which has revealed so much about the history of this fascinating building and gives us so much insight into the past lives and economy of Dedham and the borough.
“Celebrating our heritage is part of our commitment to making a Better Colchester and I am pleased that a hidden piece of our heritage has come to light through this initially unfortunate incident.”
Although the ram-raid badly damaged the shop front, this section of the building dated only from the 1950s. Originally built in 1520, the timber-framed structure would have been a high-status merchant’s house occupying one of the most conspicuous locations in the village, immediately opposite the parish church.
Dr Jess Tipper, Colchester Borough Council Archaeologist, added: “We are delighted with the evidence these reports have revealed about the rich history of this important part of the borough and the wealthy merchants who lived and traded there.”
The borough’s planners are working with the Co-op’s consultants to ensure that this important community facility is brought up to 21st century security standards with the historic early 16th century roll moulded joists and beams better revealed for shoppers. This includes work to strengthen the building with concealed steel embedded into the shopfront to make any attempts at forced entry much harder in the future.
Nick Denny, Joint Chief Executive for the East of England Co-op, said: “We worked cooperatively with Colchester Borough Council to ensure that the secrets of this fantastic building could be recorded for future generations. We are delighted that the findings have helped give a further insight into this historical and wonderful village.”
The East of England Co-op store on the High Street, Dedham, will reopen on Tuesday 30 October at 9am.