The future of Britain’s only chariot racetrack is looking a lot brighter this week, as the public funding needed to save Colchester’s Roman circus was reached yesterday. The 200,000 raised by Colchester Archaeological Trust and Destination Colchester will join 30,000 from the local council and 550,000 in loans and grants. The total will go towards buying the Sergeant’s Mess, a Victorian building which stands upon the circus’ gates. To see an in-depth blog on the campaign itself, click here.
Campaign spokesperson Wendy Bailey tells the BBC this funding is merely one of many obstacles the team faces, if Colchester is to see the circus in its former glory: “We have a very strong position now in order to complete the package which has to be put together. It’s a very big building that we’re trying to buy and now we’ve got part of it, we’ve got to lock in all the other partners.”
Celebrities such as Roman Mysteries author Caroline Lawrence, Time Team presenter Tony Robinson and TV historian Dan Cruickshank have lent their voices to the campaign, which has even seen Roman centurions visiting Colchester United FC matches. Local actress Millie Banks, who played the character of Pulchra in the CBBC adaptation of Lawrence’s books, also starred in a presentation about daily life at the circus on February 19, which raised a substantial part of the final 200,000 needed by the end of the month.
Now that target has been achieved, Ms Bailey is confident it will provide a springboard to the city’s lofty plans for the circus. “This means we can apply for heritage lottery funds and other funding,” she says. “We’re now looking at how to put this complicated financial package together.” The plans will see part of the Sergeant’s Mess transformed into an ‘interpretation centre’ and Colchester Archaeological Trust offices. The rest of the space will be divided up between private investors.
The circus, discovered in 2005, is the largest known circus outside Rome. Plans for the site include excavating the gate area of the quarter-mile-long track and installing interactive screens showing what a day at the races would have been like 2,000 years ago. Acclaimed writer Lawrence hails the circus as a “real national treasure…well worth saving for the thousands of schoolchildren (and their parents) who love learning about Britain’s Roman heritage.”
Colchester, Britain’s first town, is already rich in Roman, Saxon and Medieval history. Surrounded by a Roman town wall, the Essex city counts Colchester Castle, the Roman theatre and Holy Trinity Church among its many attractions. Heritage Key recently visited Colchester as part of our Ancient World in London video series – see how much fun we had below.
You can still help save the Roman circus: just visit the fund’s website and submit a donation. Keep up-to-date with all of our Ancient World in London content via the special homepage. Heritage Key – Unlock the Wonders.