Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The ongoing Roman Circus saga

Back in 2004 archaeologists realised that the bits of Roman masonry, that they had been uncovering over the years, formed a neat and very long line. What could it mean? The only known Roman Circus in Britain had been discovered. Six years has passed since that incredible discovery. What have we done about it?
Like any unique find of this type, we realised its immense potential for putting Colchester on the heritage map and we took steps to tell the world about what we had found, to display and interprete this fantastic archaeological find, we built a museum and visitor centre to accommodate the thousands of people who came to Colchester to see this remarkable site. Colchester became the No 1 heritage destination in Britain with schools, families, oversees visitors and academics alike, all flocking to the oldest recorded town in Britain - the place where British civilisation began - to see all that we had. Special plans were made to welcome the thousands of vistors who were to come to Britain for the 2012 Olympics; to make Colchester a 'must see' destination.
One can but dream.
What did we actually do? Absolutely nothing perhaps? Surely not?
Surely we made a basic effort of putting up some signs to show visitors and townsfolk where the circus lay? No! Not one sign or road name change.
Surely we took steps to bring the site into public ownwership and to protect it against future housing development. No! If it wasn't for English Heritage hurriedly making the find a Scheduled Ancient Monument, we would have houses built all over it by now. Many of our councillors didn't even know that it had been classified a SAM, such was the lack of interest at the Town Hall. Essex County Council and Colchester Borough Council made no attempts to acquire the site or to assist others to acquire the site. They even overturned a previously set 10 metre exclusion zone ruling that prevented house building encroaching on the circus location, such was their lack of interest.
So, it was left to the people of Colchester to do something about it. A public appeal was set up to work with the Colchester Archaeological Trust, to buy a building known as the Sergeants Mess, the gardens of which held the site of the circus starting gates. Thousands of people contributed. Money that a little boy was saving to buy a rabbit was given to cause. The owners of the building refused to sell the garden land without the building. The building was Grade II listed and had been severely vandalised, yet no enforcement order has ever been made to make the owners repair their building. Anybody who bought the building would have to do the repairs at their own cost, on top of the ridiculously high £750k asking price. Added to that, there were no water or electricity or gas services. All would need to be provided at considerable cost. The public appeal raised the required £250k and various other contributors and partners made the purchase possible. However, the bureaucrats put stumbling block after stumbling block in the way and, after key partners pulled out, the appeal had to finally admit defeat, after working so hard to acquire the site.
What is absolutely clear is that the relevant county and borough councils could have resolved this matter very easily. They chose not to. What other place in the UK would treat such a remarkable heritage site as this, in such a way? The mind boggles at our complete lack of vision! May history judge us.

Interesting times ahead!

I have not written here for some time so I have some catching up to do. So much is going on in Colchester at the moment. The VAF is nearing completion, the Roman Circus campaign has taken a knock, our High Street is on its way to pedestrianisation, the Cultural Quarter plans are awaking, Mile End is threatened with masses of new housing, government cuts are hitting hard and the way of life that we have become accustomed-to is under threat, the Chelmsford/Colchester political divide continues, with Colchester being the loser. As the outgoing government said in a note to the new incumbent of the treasury, 'There is no money left. We spent it all!' Interesting times ahead.

The Romans left these shores in AD410, exactly 1600 years ago. So a group of us walked the walls of Colchester on Boxing Day, some of us dressed in Roman soldier attire. Was this the first time that it had occurred in 1600 years, one wonders? Romans walking the walls I mean!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Officer's Mess Destruction

Another blaze in one of our heritage buildings. Surprise or not? From my recent memory, the Recreation Hotel, Severalls Concert Hall, the Flying Fox pub, the Bell at Old Heath - to name but a few and now joined by the Officer's Mess. What have they all got in common? Are they all owned by people who would have rather liked them to be wiped from the face of the earth so that they could build bigger and more valuable buildings on the site? In the case of the latest example of a suspicious fire, is it a fair assumption that it was fully insured? All these questions. But the biggest question must be, 'Have the police ever caught the person responsible?'

Friday, 9 July 2010

Back Stabbers

I can't help but notice that the back stabbing is still going on at the Town Hall between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Anybody would think that we don't have a coalition of the two in Westminster despite it seemingly working very well. Much to the annoyance of the failed Labour destructionists, they are a happy team. But not in Colchester. Why is that?

Heritage Madness

Well. They all seem to be getting in on the heritage bandwagon at the moment. Yesterday's Gazette was lamenting the loss of the Hythe - only 50 years too late. We have let it all go to the wall, we knocked down the old buildings and built flats all over it, we stopped dredging the river, etc. and then we complain about what has happened. Last night in the Town Hall we had a bunch who want to be friends of the Roman Wall. So what about the rest of Roman Colchester? Another lot of fantasists want to bury Southway and restore our lost historic streets and various other pie in the sky ideas that have about as much chance of happening as finding some rocking-horse poo. That little exercise alone seems to have been at public expense. Then there is another bunch who want the Gosbecks Dog Walkers Park to be turned into an archaeology theme park of some sort. That could have been done 15 years ago when the money was there to do it. Since then the council have spent the money elsewhere and don't like to be reminded of it. It strikes me that we have tried to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. The damage has already been done. Oliver Cromwell started the ball rolling when he knocked big holes in our walls and chunks off our priory and churches. Colchester Borough Council seem to have carried on where Cromwell left off. It's too late. The damage is done. Why bother?

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Cloud Cuckoo Land!

I am pleased that an outside group (Save Britain's Heritage) has seen fit to comment on Colchester's heritage (Essex County Standard 2nd July 2010). Third party opinion, good or bad, should be a good thing and will hopefully stimulate discussion. The crackpot ideas of burying Southway and Balkerne Hill, bringing back trams, allowing historic streets to be reinstated (!!!!!), demolishing the beautiful telecom building, etc, are in cloud cuckoo territory. How many billions would that cost our bankrupt council I wonder? It seems to have ignored our World Heritage Site potential - which is probably a good thing on reflection. Just imagine what they would have made of that! We could rebuild the missing bits of our Roman walls or knock the castle down and re-instate the Temple of Claudius. Where on earth Damacus is, I have no idea. It repeats the word twice so it must be a well kept secret. Wherever it is we compare with it. Sorry but, as you probably guess, I am not impressed. Very amateurish. It could and should have been done so much better.


You kinda know that things are going well when bus drivers complain about the glare from the new cladding of our new arts building, known by me as the visual arts fiasco. Is that the best they can come up with? I hated the thing from the start and was not alone. I hated even more the process that we have been forced to endure during its construction. But now that it is taking shape, I have mellowed. I quite like what I am seeing. It really does look very impressive. The aerial view that I saw in the local rag really shows its potential. Now I cannot wait to get rid of the scruffy bus park and to see the landscaping under way and to join all the other curmudgeons on my first visit to the finished building. Although what they are going to put inside it is quite another matter!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Colchester to be a World Heritage Site?

A bunch of local people known collectively as destination Colchester, working alone for the good of the town, have recently submitted a bid for Colchester to become one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. They have been given the full support of Colchester Borough Council, on the proviso that the council will not be asked to contribute any money towards this. In fact, the bid was completed and sent, with no costs whatsoever. Why is that? Could it be to do with the fact that it was done by volunteers; people who do this sort of thing for the love of their town; to try and make a difference where officialdom would rather do nothing in that direction? No 'consultants' were used. No fees were incurred. No parasites on the public purse. Whatever the reasons, the bid was submitted and now a waiting process has begun. It may be that Colchester doesn't stand a hope in hell of joining such a prestigious list of World locations. But why not have a go anyway? The sadness is that, no sooner has the bid been sent, the backbiting begins to try to discredit the application. A Conservative politician, (presumably jealous of other's achievements) makes a wholly unsubstantiated claim in the local newspaper that it would cost Colchester Borough Council a sum of £400,000 to become a World Heritage Site. It beggars belief! Why don't these people get behind the bid and support their town?


I have just noticed that I have two followers. I thought that I was a lone voice in the ether of time; indulging my ego for the good of my soul. Now that I have company I will have to make more of an effort. Welcome, fellow travellers!

Gosbecks Archaeological Park

I see in the Gazette that the boys and girls at the Town Hall have trousered a gift made to the people of Colchester for the development of Gosbecks Archaeological Park. They are spending the money on mainteneance and appear to have got through £100,000 or so of the original £500,000 given in 1995. So, what has happened to the interest for a start? Who has taken this decision to misuse the money and why? Was it a Tory or a Liberal Democrat? Colchester has more of a story to tell than Stonehenge. Gosbecks may just apppear to some as a few lines on the ground, but that is what the council's view seems to be of the word 'development'. The original intention was a visitor's centre with all the prestige and activity that that would bring to Colchester. Colchester alone fulfils all of the requirements for the Roman part of the school curriculum. The potential for catering for this is immense and could so easily have been enabled at Gosbecks. It has huge potential as part of what could be. Sutton Hoo was just a mound of earth until some people with a vision made a lottery application. Now look at what they have. We should have had those millions. It is negative thinking like that of the council that holds us back. But then, that is probably exactly what some want for Colchester. It appears that our council have trousered a half milion pounds of our money plus 15 years worth of interest, to use for helping itself out over maintenance costs, contrary to what it was given for. That, to me, suggests a dishonest act and one that should be challenged. Who accepted this money on our behalf all those years ago and how do they view what has been done in their name since then?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Dwile Flonking

Whether through despair or apathy, I have not posted here for 6 or so months. The election has been and gone and, despite my hopes, we still have the pc health and safety idiots out there, telling us we cannot put up bunting or banning dwile flonking. The party is over. Labour stuffed the country. Now we need to pay its debts and restore Britain's pride and traditions. We shall see!


I attended a Colchester 2020 event in the park yesterday. How much did that little lot cost the taxpayer? I should like to know what planet these people have been living on for them to believe they could co-ordinate festivals in Colchester any better than is being done already and has been going on for the past many years and will go on in the future, unaided. On past evidence, they would have difficulty running a beer-up in a brewery. What we do need is a town centre manager to run the whole town centre - including funding (not interference) for festivals. What say?