Archaeologists have moved onto the Odeon site to carry out exploration of land to be used for the foundations of Chester’s iconic theatre and library site.

Over twenty trial trenches will be dug within the Odeon itself, the basement of Commerce House and two adjoining properties in Northgate Street.

The project will take at least a month and will help determine whether structural foundations will have to be specially designed to preserve any important finds which may be made.

A section of sandstone wall – thought to be part of a mediaeval town house – have been discovered near the Odeon boundary with Hunter Street and fragments of Roman and mediaeval pottery in several trenches.

The theatre 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.

Said Mike Morris, Project Manager, Historic Environment: “It is early days yet but whilst 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.”

Work on the Odeon project is pressing ahead despite the Arts Council’s decision to reject the Council’s funding bid of £5m.

Both Project Director Graham Lister and Culture and Recreation Executive Member Councillor Stuart Parker have given firm assurances to the Chester public that the ambitious project will go ahead – and on time.

Said Councillor Parker: “The excavations will provide the knowledge that structural engineers will need to plan the foundations for this iconic development. We are under way.”

Added the Director: “It would be a big mistake to think that the Arts Council was not impressed with every aspect of our business case. They most certainly were.

“This will be a theatre for every section of the community in West Cheshire. It has a tremendous fund of goodwill and a £29m in the bank. We will build on both these tremendous advantages.”

An archaeological desk-based assessment report on the theatre site was undertaken by the Council’s Historic Environment Service earlier this year.

It concluded: “The foundations of Folliott House and Commerce House undoubtedly damaged Archaeological remains in these areas but ‘significant’ remains probably survive beneath and around both of them.”

Says the report: “The concentration of buildings in this area highlights the complexity of the potential archaeological remains.

“There is a high potential of encountering Roman remains which would be of national significance.”