the Trust reveals Roman water-main on the Williams & Griffin site

Today (4th August), Trust archaeologist Steve Benfield – who is our finds officer – brought a huge amount of archaeological material back to Roman Circus House from our excavation site at the Williams & Griffin store in the High Street at Colchester. The material arrived in crates in several car-loads. Steve manhandled it all into the building, and stowed it in various store rooms ready to be processed by the Trust’s archaeology volunteers. The material included fragments of a Roman water-main, which Steve treated with some initial cleaning.

The fragments consist of the remains of two corroded iron collars and mineral-replaced wood (possibly oak) which once formed a water-main on the site. The Roman town of Colchester was provided with all the usual utilities of a Roman town, ie metalled (gravelled) streets, a drainage system for surface water, and a pressurised water-supply system*. Today’s fragments represent a water-main which was part of the fresh water-supply system. Trust archaeologist Adam Wightman, who is supervising the site, says that the remains of the water-main were found in the bottom of a straight-sided trench, which was the water-main trench. Five collars have been uncovered so far, all lying on their side. The trench was cut into the Roman street, slightly towards one side, and the top of the trench was overlaid by some of the later street surfaces.

A Roman water-main was constructed in lengths, each about 1.5 metres long, with each being cut from a single log. The log would have been cut with a square section on the outside and with a circular section on the inside, to form a hollow pipe, and the lengths would have been joined together with an iron collar at every join. We have found other evidence of water-mains in Colchester town centre, ie at our Balkerne Hill site in the 1980s and at our Head Street site in 2001, and the water-main at the Williams & Griffin site is similar to those. Trust director Philip also thinks that there may have been a wooden aqueduct carrying water from springs on the Hilly Fields into the west side of the Roman town. The water-mains carrying fresh water into the town were laid under the streets and so passed through the gateways in the town wall and into the town, as with the water-mains which we excavated at Balkerne Hill, which passed through the Balkerne Gate.

The town’s Roman drains, however, were incorporated in the structure of the town wall itself. This incorporation of elements of the drainage system is a characteristic of Colchester’s Roman town wall. At the end of every street within the walled town, a drain arch in the wall allowed the draining away of surface water inside the town to the outside. Some of the  drain arches are still visible, ie one near St James’ Church. The drain arches were constructed of bricks and passed under the earth rampart. A large brick-built Roman drain survives in Colchester Castle Park, near the remains of Duncan’s Gate, and you can look down into it from ground-level.

* reminiscent of the Monty Python film The life of Brian: ‘… “All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?” …’

The Trust’s excavations at the Williams & Griffin store are being funded by Fenwick Ltd.

The images show Steve with some of the material which he brought to Roman Circus House, today; Trust excavator Nathan excavating a water-main collar; and three joining fragments of a collar at Roman Circus House, today.




collar x