Discovery of hidden chamber in Chester thought to be remains of Roman gate tower

Reporter:

Staff reporter (Chester Standard)

HUGE stone foundations have been unearthed in Chester, thought to be the remains of a Roman gate tower that led to the former fortress.

They were revealed during work to repair the 19th century access steps leading up onto the Walls at the North Gate.

The discovery has led to a great degree of excitement among archaeologists eager to learn more about the city's history.

A secret chamber has also been discovered within the wall, which experts say are the remains of two 18th century cottages.

Cheshire West and Chester Council has vowed to ensure the remains will not be disturbed by the urgent repair work on the steps, and has plans to show off the new finds to the public.

Cllr Louise Gittins, cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said: “The foundations for the new steps will be designed to leave the important archaeological remains undisturbed. Indeed, imaginative ways of displaying the Roman tower remains beneath the new structure are currently being explored.”

The project is the result of detailed discussions between council engineers and their team of specialist advisers and contractors.

During the controlled removal of the steps, archaeologists have been monitoring and recording the work. The archaeological remains were exposed beneath the footprint of the stairs.

The area of the North Gate has a complex history and archaeologically is a very sensitive location, experts say.

On the spot once stood a main gateway - porta decumana - to the Roman fortress. The subsequent medieval North Gate also housed a gaol, but this was demolished in 1808 and replaced with the current neo-classical structure in the early 19th century.

Archaeologists discovered massive stone foundations, thought to be the remains of one of a pair of Roman gate towers that once flanked the northern entrance to the Roman fortress.

There is also evidence to suggest that 1st century timber gates and towers preceded the stone towers.

Evidence suggests the Roman foundations that ran back at right angles from the current line of the City Walls were chopped through, recycled and incorporated into later fabric of the Walls, possibly during the early 19th century.

However, several courses of Roman gate tower masonry were left untouched, sealed beneath the current steps – until now.

Cllr Gittins added: “Little is known about the four gates each side of the Roman fortress and any surviving evidence is considered vitally important for our understanding of this site.”

To the west of the steps a chamber was also found to be all that remained of a pair of cottages built up against the inner face of the wall in the 18th century.

Current dismantling work has revealed evidence to show this section of the wall may also be moving. Further investigation will now take place to determine how best to halt the movement and repair the wall. This section will remain closed to the public until it is secured.

As a Scheduled Monument all alterations and repair work at North Gate are being carried out under the guidance of Historic England.

See full story in the Chester Leader

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