SOUVENIR cups from chariot races have been found during an excavation of a key town centre site.

Fragments of “chariot cups”, which attendants would take home from chariot races as souvenirs, have been discovered by the Colchester Archaeological Trust during its investigations of the Essex County Hospital site.

The old hospital in Lexden Road closed in the spring of 2018 but the subsequent housing development set to take its place has allowed archaeologists from the trust to piece together more evidence of what it was like to live in Roman Colchester.

Trust director Philip Crummy said the chariot cups show how Colcestrians from 2,000 years ago were entertained by going to the races at the chariot circus near Roman Circus Walk, only a few hundred yards from the hospital site. 

He said: “What the glass cups from the Essex County Hospital excavations tell us is that people were very keen on chariot racing in Colchester.

“They’re like souvenir cups, so it seems were a lot of fans of chariot racing in Colchester.”

Gazette: Colchester Archaeological Trust dig at a site close to where Cants of Colchester was..Philip Crummy (left) show Cllrs Tim Young and Anne Tyrrell pottery found at the site.

Although the cups aren’t thought to have been made in Colchester, it was common for such items to be buried with people when they died.

Mr Crummy explained: “When people died, it was common practice for the remains of objects to be buried with their loved ones – generally objects that contained food and drink so that the spirit of the dead person could drink and eat on his way to the afterlife.

“That’s what the cups are doing buried with people.”

Remains of the Roman Circus were first found by Mr Crummy and the archaeological trust in 2004 and it is the only one ever found in Britain.


Fragments from a public Roman bath were found during the excavation under Jacks Hardware shop in 2019 and beautiful jewellery was found during the dig under Fenwick department shop in Colchester High Street.

About 120 homes are due to be built on the Essex County Hospital site, although some listed elements will be retained.

The hospital was considered to be outdated and not fit for purpose and all services were moved to other sites including Colchester Hospital before the closure.


  • Colchester Castle is currently running an exhibition Decoding the Roman Dead, which seeks to examine evidence to give an insight into how the Romans in Colchester lived 2,000 years ago.