Steeped in Roman history, should one more piece of Chester ’s past be revealed?
Half of the city’s amphitheatre is open to be enjoyed by Cestrians and visitors, but the other lies buried beneath the earth.
The debate over what to do with that uncovered half has reemerged as a decision must be made on the future of the derelict Dee House , which stands above the remains.
A petition to uncover the amphitheatre has hit its target of 5,000 signatures and continues to grow.
Local businessman Adam Dandy, owner of Dandy’s Topsoil and co-founder of the Share Shop on Northgate Street, set up the online campaign.
The petition states: “We believe the derelict Dee House should now be de-listed and demolished.
“And if successful, the southern half of the amphitheatre should be finally uncovered and rebuilt if needs be, creating a world class tourist attraction for generations to see, learn from and enjoy.
“This would finally unearth one of only a handful whole Roman amphitheatres left in the world today and would create a unique global tourist attraction, right here in our city of Chester.”
History of the site
The amphitheatre off Little St John Street dates back to the late 70s AD. It was only discovered in 1929 and excavation did not begin until the Second World War.
It was opened to the public in 1972 and is still enjoyed to this day.
Built around 1730 by the former mayor of Chester James Comberbatch, Dee House is also protected by its Grade-II listed status.
Historic England said they ‘could not support the demolition’ of the 18th century building, which retains many of its original features. But it has been empty since 1993.
The heritage body are also worried about disturbing the amphitheatre during the excavation.
Historic England said: “We believe Dee House is a building of national importance in its own right.
“There’s a strong preference now for preserving archaeological remains undisturbed for future generations.
“This way technological advances may well allow for the recovery of classes of evidence which are currently poorly understood or are even unknown.
“Further excavation would not reveal the complete plan of the amphitheatre.”
The Cheshire West and Chester Council cabinet opted to look further at finding a developer for Dee House at their cabinet meeting on July 20. Rumours have suggested it could be turned into a hotel or state-of-the-art offices.
Part of the amphitheatre site is also covered by the Trident House county court. At the time the decision to construct it received intense opposition from campaigners.
Cabinet member for communities and wellbeing councillor Louise Gittins said: “There’s no doubt a redevelopment of this site offers a really exciting opportunity in that part of the city.”
'A true Roman experience'
A decision on the future of Dee House has been ‘called in’ by CWaC’s Conservative opposition, with a final decision due to be made in September.
Councillor Jill Houlbrook said: “How does refurbishing a building over an ancient Roman amphitheatre equate with bringing the story of England to life? I’m not sure.
“How many towns and cities can offer the prospect of a true Roman experience?
“We have a responsibility to make the most of this heritage and to challenge the short-sighted opinions of Historic England.”
What do you think of this story? We want to know your thoughts on excavating the amphitheatre. Let us know in the comments below.