The Roman Amphitheatre of Chester Volume 1: The Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology

Tony Wilmott and Dan Garner with Councillor Louise Gittins

Tony Wilmott and Dan Garner with Councillor Louise Gittins

Archaeologists undertook a major excavation of Chester’s Roman amphitheatre from 2004 to 2006. The Roman Amphitheatre of Chester Volume 1: The Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology was launched last week at Chester’s Grosvenor Museum.  The excavations revolutionised the understanding of the scale and grandeur of these buildings, and of the activities that took place in the arena and around the amphitheatre. The excavations were funded and managed by Historic England (previously English Heritage) and the former Chester City Council.

In addition to receiving interest from residents and visitors to Chester at the time, the excavations attracted national and international attention. BBC Timewatch featured the excavation in the programme Britain’s Lost Colosseum.

Tony Wilmott, Senior Archaeologist with Historic England and Dan Garner (formerly of Chester City Council), are the authors of this first volume and were  co-directors of the excavations. Tony was voted Current Archaeology’s ‘Archaeologist of the Year’ in 2012.

Councillor Louise Gittins, Cabinet Member Communities and Wellbeing said at the launch: “The project provided a fantastic opportunity for local volunteers and the wider community to get involved, they were able to gain experience of working on site and in finds processing, whether experienced or new to archaeology.

The vast and complex task of analysing what was discovered over the course of those excavations has been carried out by Historic England, by our skilled and hugely knowledgeable archaeologists from Cheshire West and Chester Council and by specialists across the UK.

This has all come together in this fantastic volume, which is a landmark moment for Chester, not only is it the definitive publication on the largest amphitheatre in Britain but it also puts prehistoric Chester on the map.”

The book describes the elaborate structure of the amphitheatre and includes some amazing reconstructions of how it almost certainly looked. It also provides a fascinating study of early Roman occupation of Chester, and tells the story of the site from the around 6,000 BC to the end of the life of the Roman amphitheatre.

The Roman Amphitheatre of Chester Volume 1: The Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology is available from the Grosvenor Museum and from Oxbow Books.


Talking Walls

Chester’s walls have just got chatty!

Pass a ‘Talking Wall’, swipe your phone on a nearby plaque or type the short url, and presto: your phone rings.  It could be Chester Cathedral on the line, or the Booth Mansion, or the Grosvenor Museum!

Using drama, off-the-wall humour and mobile technology, Talking Walls breathes new life into the walls that surround us all.

Talking Walls Chester is brought to you courtesy of CH1ChesterBID who represent over 500 city centre businesses. The project is produced by Sing London – the people who brought Talking Statues to the world.

For more information see the Talking Walls website


Two new displays at the Grosvenor Museum

Two thousand years of urban life

Archaeological excavations in 2001 and 2002, in advance of an extension to the Debenhams store, uncovered a wealth of evidence for 2,000 years of Chester’s history. The site was behind the shops on Bridge Street Row and Eastgate Row, in the heart of the medieval city and the Roman legionary fortress. A wide range of artefacts were found, including rare types of Roman roof tile, Spanish mackerel bones, glass goblets and an elephant bone!

Slipware pot on display in Debenhams, Chester

A late 17th century slipware dish – one of the items on display. It has been skilfully decorated using dark brown, orange and white slips. It could have been made by one of the well-known slipware potters of Staffordshire.

A small selection of the artefacts is now on display in the Newstead Gallery at the Grosvenor Museum.

The work on the excavation and study of the artefacts, combined with documentary references, has enabled us to build up a detailed picture of Chester’s urban history and the trades, lifestyle and status of the people who lived in the area. If you would like to know more, we have
published the results of the work and the report is available from the shop in the
Grosvenor Museum, Grosvenor Street, price £30, or it can be ordered from the
museum, tel 01244 972112 or e-mail:

The excavations were carried out by Gifford and Partners in association with Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Historic Environment Service. The work was generously funded by Debenhams plc


Excavations in Grosvenor Park, Chester

Since 2007 archaeologists from Cheshire West and Chester’s Cultural Service, in partnership with Chester University, have run an annual training dig in Grosvenor Park, Chester, for the second-year archaeology students. The dig aims to find out more about the area surrounding the Roman amphitheatre, to explore the past of the park and to give students the important excavation experience they need to gain their degrees.

Some of the thousands of artefacts recovered during the excavations are now on display in the Newstead Gallery at the Grosvenor Museum.

A seventeenth-century spur with a star-shaped rowel - found during this year's training excavation.
A seventeenth-century spur with a star-shaped rowel – found during this year’s training excavation.

 The excavations have made some significant discoveries about the Roman, medieval and later remains that still survive underground. Over the course of the last ten years the excavations have uncovered:

*  a Roman road running westwards across the park to the amphitheatre

*  a very large ditch running north-south across the park

*  dumps of demolition debris from a sixteenth or early seventeenth-century building and

*  the thick stone walls of a medieval building.

Though most of the stone had been robbed out from the medieval building, it is believed to be part of the north-eastern corner of the precinct of the church of St John the Baptist; perhaps the hospital and chapel of the Fraternity of St Anne which was acquired by Sir Hugh Cholmondeley in the late sixteenth century and converted into a large house, later destroyed in the Civil War. The ditch may be the early boundary of St John’s Precinct. The students have made a blog that relates their experiences and discoveries over the years and includes photographs of the archaeological remains.







New publication on Chester’s amphitheatre

Archaeologists from Cheshire West and Chester’s Cultural Service are pleased to announce the publication of The Roman Amphitheatre of Chester Volume 1: The Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology.

The amphitheatre and fortress, looking from the east. (Reconstruction by Julian Baum)
The amphitheatre and fortress, looking from the east. (Reconstruction by Julian Baum)


This is the first of two volumes dealing with the major research excavations on Chester’s amphitheatre which took place between 2004 and 2006, funded by English Heritage and Chester City Council. We know that the first amphitheatre was built in the 70s AD. It had a stone outer wall with external stairs and timber-framed seating but more fascinating is the fact that the second amphitheatre was built around the first. The second amphitheatre, probably built in the later second century, was the largest and most impressive amphitheatre in Britain, featuring elaborate entrances, internal stairs and decorative pilasters on the outer wall. Beneath the seating banks evidence for prehistoric settlement was recovered – the first substantial prehistoric archaeology to be found anywhere in Chester.

We are now working on Volume 2, which will deal with the robbing and reuse of the amphitheatre after the Romans, and the development of the medieval and post-medieval urban landscape of the site.

Volume 1 can be ordered from Oxbow Books.




Future-proofing Chester’s archaeological resource

A Roman bowl from the legionary kilns at Holt (c 90-135). Found at Abbey Green, Chester, 1975-8.

A Roman bowl from the legionary kilns at Holt (c 90-135). Found at Abbey Green, Chester, 1975-8.

Chester is one of Britain’s most important historic towns and is the product of nearly 2,000 years of activity. Its history survives both in its buildings and as complex archaeology.

Between 1970 and 1990, the local authority carried out a large number of excavations, some of which have been published and the archives put in order. However, not all of these meet current standards of packaging and storage, so a project has been set up to address this, with museum archaeologists carrying out the work.

The Historic England-funded project is designed to secure the future of Chester’s archaeological resource. This includes documents, objects, drawings, photographs and digital files. It is not only a research resource of major significance; it will also help inform the future management of the city’s archaeology.

During this process, we have ‘rediscovered’ some fascinating objects. Look out for some of our favourites on Twitter and also on the Grosvenor Museum’s Facebook page


Student training dig in Grosvenor Park, Chester

Late 16th/early 17th century ‘Facon de Venise’ wine glass with a lion mask moulded stem, found during this year's training dig.
Late 16th/early 17th century ‘Facon de Venise’ wine glass with a lion mask moulded stem, found during this year’s training dig.

Since 2007, second-year students from the University of Chester, along with archaeologists from Cheshire West and Chester Council Cultural Services have undertaken a training excavation in Chester’s Grosvenor Park.

Since the project began the students have uncovered a Roman road that probably led to the east entrance of the amphitheatre that lay outside the Roman fortress. They have also found traces of timber-framing believed to be from Cholmondeley’s Mansion which was destroyed during the Civil War, and a medieval building relating to St John’s Church, which could have been part of the hospital and chapel of St Anne acquired by Sir Hugh Cholmondeley in the late 16th century and incorporated into his mansion.

The training dig is a joint project between our Cultural Service archaeologists and the University of Chester and is an important part of the students’ degree course.


“Hillforts of the Cheshire Ridge” published

“Hillforts of the Cheshire Ridge” by Dan Garner and others has now been published and is available to purchase from the  Archaeopress website

The Cheshire hillforts are some of the most conspicuous features of the prehistoric landscape in Cheshire, located on the distinctive Cheshire Sandstone Ridge. They have been subject to years of archaeological research and investigation, however this has delivered only a limited understanding of their chronology, function, occupation history, economy and status. These hillforts are major elements of the prehistory of the region, but the lack of information about them is a major gap in our understanding.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Habitats and Hillforts Landscape Partnership Project focused on six of the hillforts and their surrounding habitats and landscapes. The aim of the project was not only to develop archaeological understanding, but also to raise awareness of these special assets in the landscape and the management issues they face. The Habitats and Hillforts Project was a collaborative partnership, led by Cheshire West and Chester Council, with Historic England, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission, as well as private landowners. These landowners and land managers came together to share approaches to managing heritage assets on the Sandstone Ridge. The project core team was assisted by university specialists and archaeological contractors in surveying, excavating and researching the hillforts. A range of techniques including archival research, geophysical survey, earthwork survey, lidar, fieldwalking, excavation and palaeoenvironmental analysis, was employed to develop our understanding of these significant sites. A large and dedicated group of volunteers and students joined in this work, which encouraged more people to enjoy these assets and take an active role in their management.

The Habitats and Hillforts Project has shed new light on the Cheshire Hillforts. Their chronology can now be seen to have developed from middle/late Bronze Age origins, much earlier than traditionally accepted. The possible development of distinct architectural styles in their construction can be suggested and an enhanced understanding of their surrounding landscape has been achieved. This volume details the results of the four year project, and sets out how these contribute to a deeper understanding of the ordering of the landscape in western Cheshire during the later prehistoric period and beyond. It should form a vital resource for informing future research priorities regarding the late Bronze Age and Iron Age of both Cheshire and the wider North West


Day of Archaeology

Have you ever wondered what archaeologists really get up to? Is it all just digging or is there a lot more to it? The Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world.  The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate with us in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video. The results demonstrate the wide variety of work the profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe, and helps to raise public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world.

The project is run by a team of volunteers who are all professional archaeologists and this is the sixth year that the project has been running. Take a look at Senior Archaeologist Alison Heke’s Day of Archaeology.


The secret history of Grosvenor Park

Council archaeologists have once again been working with students to uncover the history of a Chester landmark.

The Historic Environment Team have been working in Grosvenor Park with second year students from the University of Chester as part of their annual training dig.

Over the years there have been few digs in the park. This was partly due to it being on the outskirts of the city and it was thought that there could be nothing there of importance. This recent work has proved, however, that the park has a very interesting past.

During the excavation evidence for Roman, medieval and later history, including a medieval ditch, a medieval building and a Roman road that once led to the east entrance of the amphitheatre was uncovered. The team also found traces of a timber-framed building, part of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley’s mansion, which was destroyed during the Civil War siege of 1645. This mansion incorporated the impressive stone walls of a medieval building that was once part of the precinct of the Church of St John the Baptist.

Said Cheryl Quinn, Senior Archaeologist for Cheshire West and Chester “Besides the digging, the students had a full programme of work, learning how to record the site, clean and identify the finds as well as engaging with the public. They might have found it very daunting at the start, but they ended up enjoying it tremendously”.

If you would like to find out what the students thought of training to become archaeologists of the future then visit their Dig Blog


Archaeology Planning Advisory Service – Summary of the Review March 2015


The Archaeology Planning Advisory Service (APAS) is a sub-regional service which provides advice on the archaeological implications of development for Cheshire West and Chester (CWAC), Cheshire East (CE), Warrington and Halton Borough Councils. The service operates as a shared service between CWAC and CE, and provides services to Halton and Warrington via service level agreements. The service to Halton also includes the provision of advice on the implications of development on the built historic environment. The service is hosted by CWAC.

The service was reviewed in 2014 to consider the ongoing viability of the current service provision, the potential for future service delivery and the opportunities for increased efficiency through growth or retraction of service delivery.

The review process consisted of staff consultation, key stakeholder consultation with services users and national bodies such as English Heritage, public consultation and soft market testing.

Key findings

Key finding from the consultation were: 

  • High levels of satisfaction with APAS and the advice provided across the four authorities served.
  • Successful sub-regional working already in place – a good base on which to build for future service delivery.
  • Good performance with a track record for budget efficiency and securing external funding.
  • Limited market for externalisation and potential for conflict of interest.

It was anticipated that the review would also be informed by a Ministerial Inquiry in to the archaeology sector carried out in 2014, but this report is still outstanding.  However English Heritage has recognised the issues faced by local authorities and has identified collaboration with local authorities to explore alternative models for providing heritage advice in the Historic England Action Plan 2015-2018.


Following approval of the review recommendations by the Cheshire West and Cheshire East Shared Service Committee on 27 February 2015, the Archaeology Planning Advisory Service will: 

  1. Be retained in-house in an enhanced form of the current sub-regional service, through closer partnership working with other heritage agencies.
  2. Remain within the Total Environment Service.
  3. Explore closer partnership working with Chester University, English Heritage and neighbouring authorities and income generation through project working.
  4. Explore opportunities for income generation through introduction of charges for selected archaeological development management services.

Future staffing structure

The current Service Manager post will be deleted, with service management being transferred to the Total Environment Manager. The archaeological professional lead will devolve to the current Principal Development Management Archaeologist, who will still lead on development management. Other staff members will be: one development management archaeologist and two historic environment record officers. This staffing structure will take effect from 1 April 2015.

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