ARCHAEOLOGISTS have moved onto the former Chester Odeon site to investigate land to be used for the foundations of Chester’s iconic theatre and library site.

More than 20 trenches will be dug within the Odeon itself, the basement of Commerce House and two adjoining properties.

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

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

An archaeological desk-based report says there is ‘a high potential of encountering Roman remains which would be of national significance’.

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.

Mike Morris, project manager, historic environment, said: “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.”

Project director Graham Lister is confident the theatre will be delivered on schedule in 2016 despite being turned down for a £5m bid from the Arts Council, who were impressed with the business case, but oversubscribed with applications.

Mr Lister, who lives in Leicester, cautioned: “I come from a city where they’ve just dug up Richard III in a car park so who knows, and you are working with a listed building so archaeology and all of those things, I can’t legislate for that.

“But what I can do is get us in a place where right now we’ve got our funding in place so we can hit the ground running once that design team are in place and ready to go.”