Discovery of the Fenwick Treasure

Over 70 people attended a talk on the 13th March 2015 organised by the Wivenhoe Society. Adam Wightman of the Colchester Archaeology Trust talked about the excavations at Williams and Griffin.  When Fenwicks acquired W&G they decided on some reconstruction of the building. Most of the new building is being constructed on piles to minimise damage to archaeological remains beneath but it was necessary to dig some large holes to accommodate firm foundations for a new lift and new escalators. Three holes were dug, two of them under parts of the building still in use, which made the excavation tricky. Adam explained that this took them down to the earliest Roman layer, over three metres below the present High Street surface. These three metres have been built up over the past nineteen centuries from spoil from demolished buildings and assorted rubbish and detritus. Very near the bottom was a layer of burned material from the destruction of Colchester, the first Roman town, by Boudicca’s rebellion in AD 61. Digging down through history the remains of a Victorian kiln used to turn seashells into lime was unearthed and the remains of an iron foundry dating from 1792. Lower down an original Roman road surface was uncovered. Very little stone was found. The Romans has used a lot of rag-stone from Kent but in later centuries this was all recycled, pieces of it being present in numerous later buildings, especially in the lower parts of Colchester Castle, itself built on the site of the Roman Temple of Claudius.

 The discovery which caused the greatest excitement was made by Adam himself. Under the floor of a house burned down in 61 AD a bag full of jewellery and coins had been buried under the floor of a store room and never retrieved. The find included coins and gold and silver jewellery. The golden items are thought to have belonged to the lady of the house and the silver to the master. One of the items is a medallion which had been attached to an armband. It is currently being cleaned by the restoration team. It is speculated that it might be a commemorative piece from the original Roman invasion in 43 AD. In the remains of the collapsed store room carbonised dates, figs and peas were found. The nature of the jewellery and the presence of Mediterranean fruits suggest that possibly the house belonged to former Roman officer who had retired to the Roman “Colonia” in Camulodunum.

 This treasure has laid hidden for almost two millennia. It might have been discovered when the lime kiln was built or when a nineteenth century drain was dug but on both occasion the earthworks missed it by a few feet. Who knows what archaeologists might find in another couple of thousand years when a hole is required for some as yet undreamt of technology?

 The finds have become known as the Fenwick treasure. Fenwicks funded the excavation and have agreed that the find, once cleaning has been completed, should go on display in the Castle Museum in a special showcase which they will provide.

We were lucky to have a talk from somebody who had taken such a major part in the excavations, and was a fluent, entertaining and knowledgeable speaker: Thank you Adam.

 John Black