There was considerable excitement among archaeologists when, in 2005, a firm of housing developers unearthed the only Roman chariot-racing track in Britain, on a site in Colchester, Essex.
Five years later, residents have less than a month to save the site. The racetrack is still hidden beneath local roads, gardens and old army buildings, but campaigners are hoping to buy a large Victorian garden which covers the key part of the circuit.
Buried beneath are eight stone enclosures, originally having been fitted with wooden double doors, like giant greyhound racing traps. The land is the garden of a listed but derelict sergeants’ mess, which will become an exhibition if the campaign succeeds. If it fails, however, the building will become apartments, and the garden will be the apartment block’s private land again.
For almost 2,000 years, the 350-metre outline of the track has remained intact. The site lay undiscovered until the Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) began excavating after the Ministry of Defence sold the barracks for housing in 2005. Archaeological digs suggest the racetrack was built in the early 2nd century, and lasted about 150 years before falling out of use, perhaps because a day at the races became prohibitively expensive for the local gentry – crowds received free admission and also expected to receive gifts.