Roman Colcestrians might have had water on tap, according to evidence uncovered by archaeologists.

During a dig at the former St Mary's Hospital site, members of the town's archaeological trust have unearthed remnants of pipes which could have carried water to houses or public buildings.

If it is Roman, the ancient plumbing was centuries ahead of its time: it was not until the late 1800s that the average Colchester resident had the luxury of running water at home.

Evidence of ancient water mains was found at Gosbecks a couple of years ago and Balkerne Gate in the 1970s, but the new find is unusual because the pipes were surrounded by clay.

They probably ran from a water storage building at the top of a hill and the water could have been pressurised, allowing users to have it running from taps.

All that remains of the wooden mains, which was probably made from ash, is some clay surround and the iron rings which were hammered into the ends of each pipe to join them together.

Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, said: "They show the Romans could have had taps so when they turned them on water came out under pressure.

"Although it was simple, technically it was very advanced. At the end of the Roman period the technology went away and didn't come back for 1,000 years."

He would guess the pipes supplied buildings, with perhaps a public baths about halfway down North Hill, and date from the 1st or 2nd centuries.

The St Mary's site dig, planned to save finds that would be lost during planned development, has revealed several burial sites, buildings and other artefacts.

A Romano-Celtic temple shown on a mystery plan might never be found - if it existed in the first place.

But the mystery of why the top few feet of soil are missing from the site has been solved. A bowling green, which was never used, was dug there in the 1970s.

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