COUNTY NEWS: Biggest Roman find yet for city

An amazing discovery just below the surface of a park is being hailed as the most complete Roman find ever unearthed in a Sussex city.

Local archaeologists carrying out the trial excavation last summer which confirmed the Roman find
Local archaeologists carrying out the trial excavation last summer which confirmed the Roman find

Foundations of three Roman houses have been discovered under Chichester’s Priory Park which have survived virtually intact for more than 1,600 years.

Scans showing two large town houses the size of Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery – most likely lived in by members of the aristocracy – and a third building, of great interest because of its unusual shape, have stunned local archaeologists.

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“For Chichester we have never seen anything like this,” said James Kenny, archaeologist at Chichester District Council. “This is far and away the most complete series of Roman plans that we’ve ever come across.”

Local archaeologists carrying out the trial excavation last summer which confirmed the Roman find

The discovery was made by geophysics specialist David Staveley from East Sussex, using ground penetrating radar equipment to scan the parks in Chichester, on Mr Kenny’s recommendation.

Following the scan results, Mr Kenny and members of Chichester & District Archaeology Society carried out a small dig last year, 30m south of the Guildhall, where foundations were found just 40cm below the ground.

Mr Kenny said: “What’s remarkable about this discovery is that it has survived over 1,000 years in a currently occupied city.

“The only reason they have survived is because they are under a park that has never been built on.

Examining some of the first finds

“It’s almost unique to see Roman houses survive in this type of setting and to be so complete.

“The location marks what may have been one of the more affluent parts of the Roman town, with these houses being the equivalent to a property worth millions of pounds in today’s society.

“The two houses have walls surrounding complete rooms, which are set around a courtyard or atrium.

“There is also a deep masonry building with a rounded end.

Chichester District Council archaeologist James Kenny and cabinet member Susan Taylor showing off the scan of the three Roman structures

“We are intrigued to find out what this building is. It could be a cellar, part of a bath house, or something even more exciting. We can’t wait to find out.”

The astonishing find adds to Chichester’s rich Roman history, which includes the city walls, the Roman Bath House in the Novium Museum and – outside the city – Fishbourne’s Roman Palace.

A community dig is planned for late spring/early summer so people can see the thrilling Roman finds for themselves.

Amateur archaeologists will be involved and future opportunities are being explored for school visits.

“The first excavation proved the finds are Roman, the next trial excavation will hopefully identify what the buildings are and what else survives within them,” archaeologist James Kenny said, adding that any artefacts dug up would go in the Novium Museum.

The district council is identifying funding opportunities to allow more detailed digs next year, to tie in with Priory Park’s centenary year.

After 3D images are made the ground is likely to be completely replaced.

Susan Taylor, CDC cabinet member for planning, said: “This is very exciting. If the find turns out as we hope it will further enhance Chichester’s reputation as a Roman city.

“It’s so important that the community will be engaging in excavations, it will awaken interest in archaeology... and children will be able to see examples of the Roman history that they are learning about in school.”