Students Staff

05 June 2013

Delve into Marks Hall history after enjoying The History Boys at the Mercury Theatre

The history of one of Essex's ‘lost’ great mansions is being reconstructed by an exhibition at the Digby Gallery at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester until Monday 10 June.

The exhibition looking at the history and archaeology of Marks Hall Mansion coincides with the Mercury Theatre’s latest hit production The History Boys by Alan Bennett.

The great country house was formerly at the heart of the Marks Hall Estate near Coggeshall and is now the focus of a major research project led by the Department of History at the University of Essex showcased in the Digby Gallery display.

Marks Hall, which was demolished in the 1950s, is one of the lost great mansions of Britain. The Jacobean hall fell into disuse after being used as a military base in the Second World War and before being demolished its entire contents from roof tiles and floorboards to its Jacobean panelling, staircases and fireplaces and family portraits were sold off by auction.

The gardens of the estate were eventually restored and are now open to the public and the Marks Hall Estate, the charity which manages the estate, is keen to reconstruct the history of the site for visitors.

Knowledge Exchange Officer for the project Edward Taylor said: “Many people visit Marks Hall to see the gardens. We are helping people find out so much more about the history of the site. Our work is all about bringing the building back to life for people.”

The research project led by Professor James Raven is supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is looking to find new ways of reconstructing a site’s history to ignite the imagination of the visiting public. The local community and general public are being encouraged to work with academics and heritage, archaeology and horticultural professionals to help develop a virtual recreation of the lost heritage site.

Since last year historical researchers have been looking through records and gathering personal recollections, while members of the Colchester Archaeological Group (CAG) have been searching for physical traces of the Hall and the evidence left behind by its occupants over many centuries. Community dig days, which allow members of the public to visit the site to learn more about the work of the archaeologists, have also been incredibly popular.

So far the archaeological dig has made several important discoveries including the site of the brick cellar, the drains which help outline the layout of the now demolished buildings and a substantial cistern for water storage. Individual artefacts have also been found including the remains of a pot thought to date back to the 13th century, a ceiling rose, the servant bell system and an iron fireguard.

The exhibition will feature details of some of the finds and pictures of the house during its different phases.

To find out more see the project's Facebook page and Twitter feed.

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