To @firstsite! …on a rather wet Saturday afternoon to shelter from the inverse Sunny Colch weather. It wasn’t quite a Colne overspill occasion, but any continuation of the rain may have washed away what lies beneath at the Golden Goose.
See what’s been done there?
firstsite may have been a fantastic sheltering opportunity, but it was also timed to coincide with an afternoon lecture by the good Philip J. Wise of the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, grandly entitled:
“What Lies Beneath? An Insight into the History and Archeology of firstsite.”
Or put simply: what the chuffers is under your feet, as you sip away on your cappuccino at the marvelous MUSA cafe?
There’s quite a history to this particular patch of Sunny Colch. You don’t say. It didn’t all start around 2003 when all of a sudden the groundwork started on constructing the Golden Goose.
Cattle fairs, tennis courts and some minor architectural marvel called the Berryfield mosaic. All can be found below the Golden Goose, if you allow your mind to take a psychogeographic tour of What Lies Below with Philip J. Wise.
Packed into just under an hour of public speaking was the Roman traces up to the present day. Plus something of a firstsite exclusive that was dropped into the talk, which genuinely allowed the psychogeographic hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
As is the case with most psychogeographic explorations, we started off with where we are now, in order to get a sense of the past. Which just happened to be the fine firstsite auditorium. It was all fields around here when I was a lad, etc. Actually it was, right up until 2003 when the overgrown school playing field provided the possibility of accessing the site ahead of the firstsite construction.
Skip back a couple of thousand years or so, and the Roman grid of Sunny Camulodunum appeared on the auditorium screen. They liked their symmetry, these Roman types. Why is it do you think that the town centre still represents something of a rectangle nature?
Two quadrants remained relatively underdeveloped as late as 1998 – the North Gate and the South East corner. Here now stands the Sixth Form College and firstsite. The decision to build the Golden Goose in this quadrant meant that archeological types now had the opportunity to dig an unexplored part of the town.
Careful what you might find down there, friends…
The major surprise was that the Roman world of Sunny Colch survived so close to the current ground surface. This old meets the new meant that the patch of land was unsuitable to sustain modern buildings.
But here we were on Saturday afternoon, sitting in what appeared to be possibly the most modern building in all of Britain’s Oldest Recorded, and with the past apparently still surviving right below our feet.
Or even in the firstsite gallery space itself.
Crushed concrete is what it all comes down to apparently. It may not sound like the most aesthetically pleasing way in which to preserve the past, but this method enabled firstsite to rise, right under the nose of the Romans looking up from down below.
Best seats in the house, etc.
Fast forward to 1923, post-Camulodunum, pre-cappuccinos, and the Berryfield mosaic is uncovered. Philip J. Wise’s talk then took a psychogeographic twist that would lead those neck hairs to rise, with the Roman past confronting those in the auditorium head on.
There is a story within a story here. The sub-text of the overall search for Roman Camulodunum leads to a similar contemporary historical quest. It may have been part of the very recent past in our town’s history, but to date, no one has produced any substantial evidence to state precisely where the Berryfield mosaic was first uncovered.
They weren’t very good at keeping records back in the Roaring 20′s. The iconic photograph of Mr William Lewis uncovering what would become the symbolic heart of contemporary Sunny Colch contained few clues.
We know that Mr Williams was digging a pit for his garden weeds in the Berryfield. Two possible locations were identified by Philip J.Wise:
The old market garden, around thirty yards East of Queen Street, or slightly further east of this patch.
Now would be a good time for those hairs on the back of tour neck to stand to attention.
Philip J. Wise then strode purposefully to the auditorium exit, pulled up on screen the iconic image of Mr Lewis digging for victory and finding a Roman mosaic, and then proudly declared that this was the exact spot where the 1923 photograph was probably taken.
There is evidence to suggest this is that this is exactly where the market garden once stood. If you were digging a pit for your weeds then you would probably want to place them in a market garden.
Philip J. Wise concluded by stating:
“I feel that a lot of me is personally contained within this building. I have been working on the plans for so long. I am delighted with the final outcome. firstsite respects our Roman landscape.”
It was the type of sweeping statement that psychogeographic types are inclined to make. But the evidence was so compelling, and so wonderfully woven together, that you left the Golden Goose on Saturday afternoon with the genuine feeling that Sunny Colch history is not just below you, but all around.
Betcha it never rained in Roman Britain…