ARCHAEOLOGISTS have started exploring the site of the former Odeon cinema in preparation for Chester’s new £40.5 million theatre.
More than 20 trial trenches will be dug on land to be used for the theatre foundations within the Odeon itself, the basement of Commerce House and two buildings in Northgate Street.
The project will last for at least a month and help determine whether the foundations will have to be specially designed to preserve any important discoveries.
Mike Morris, project manager for the historic environment service, said: “It is early days yet but while these are research excavations, the location suggests we will add to our knowledge of Chester’s past.
“The trial trenches are designed to save valuable time later on by giving us an early warning of potential special requirements now.”
So far a section of sandstone wall – thought to be part of a mediaeval town house – has been found near the Odeon boundary with Hunter Street and fragments of Roman and mediaeval pottery have been found in several trenches.
The site lies in the Northern part of the Roman fortress and its footprint overlies an area which included barrack blocks and accommodation which could have been part of the governor’s enclave.
Work on the project is pressing ahead despite the Arts Council’s decision to reject Cheshire West and Chester Council’s funding bid of £5 million.
Project director Graham Lister and Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and recreation, have given assurances the ambitious scheme will go ahead – and on time.
Cllr Parker said: “The excavations will provide the knowledge structural engineers will need to plan the foundations for this iconic development. We are under way.”