Colchester is England's oldest recorded town, with a population of approximately 150,000 people. The town boasts a mixture of historic buildings, a thriving town centre, beautiful countryside and nearby coastline. The estuary areas and the Dedham Vale are both recognised as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Situated in North Essex, there are convenient road and rail links to London with Stansted Airport and Harwich and Felixstowe ports being nearby.
Colchester has excellent shopping facilities, combining big name stores with smaller independent shops and boutiques as well as Williams and Griffin, Colchester's award winning department store.
A Brief History of Colchester
Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town. The earliest reference to it’s existence is a reference by Pliny The Elder, a Roman Writer, in AD77. In describing the island of Anglesey, he wrote that ‘it is about 200 miles from Camulodunum, a town in Britain’. Colchester’s pre-Roman name was Camulodunum, meaning “the fortress of Camulos” and this is the first known reference to any names settlement in Britain. Camulodunum served as the first Roman capital of Britain, but was attacked and destroyed during Boudica's rebellion in AD 61. Sometime after this, London became the capital but the council of the provincial natives still met at Colchester, where the Temple to the Divine Claudius served as the seat of this council.Later, circa AD49, when the Roman frontier moved north, Camulodunum became a colonia known as Colonia Claudia Victricensis.
Colchester Castle, an 11th century Norman keep, was built atop the vaults of the old Roman temple. There are several significant medieval ruins in Colchester, including St John’s Abbey, the surviving gateway of the Benedictine Abbey of St. John the Baptist, and St Botolph’ s Priory, the ruins of the Augustinian Priory of St. Botolph.
In 1189, Colchester was granted its first Royal Charter by King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart). The charter was granted at Dover with the King about to embark on one of his many journeys away from England.
The Dutch Quarter
Between 1550 and 1600, a large number of weavers and clothmakers from Flanders (the Dutch-speaking community spread over Belgium, France and the Netherlands) emigrated to Colchester and the surrounding areas. These weavers were noted for the production of Bays and Says cloth. This is where the area know as the Dutch Quarter, gets it’s name from and many buildings in the Dutch Quarter date from the Tudor period. During this time Colchester was one of the most prosperous wool towns in England.
During the Second English Civil War in 1648, a Royalist army led by Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle entered the town. They were followed by a pursuing Parliamentary army led by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Henry Ireton, who surrounded the town for eleven and a half weeks, a period known as the Siege of Colchester. The Royalists surrendered in the late summer and their leaders Lucas and Lisle were executed in the grounds of Colchester Castle. An obelisk monument in Castle Park marks the spot where they fell.
Colchester has significant Architectural Landmarks dating from the Victorian period, including the Town Hall and “Jumbo” the Water Tower.
The Colchester Earthquake
On 22nd April 1884 at 09.18 am, Colchester was struck by and Earthquake, estimated to be 4.7 on the Richter scale. It caused considerable damage to the town and it’s surrounding villages and is the most destructive earthquake to have hit Britain in the last 400 years. The Earthquake’s epicentre was in the neighbouring village of Wivenhoe and damage was caused to around 1200 buildings, including almost very building in Wivenhoe, Abberton. Significant damage was caused to villages all the way to Ipswich.
Colchester has a had a long Military association and has been an important military garrison since the Roman era. Colchester Garrison is the home of the 16th Air Assault Brigade and is one of the major bases of the British Army. The Army’s only Military Corrective Training Centre in the UK is based in Colchester. This is where servicemen and women from all three services serve periods of detention.
Colchester is said to be the origin of three of the best known English Nursery Rhymes, Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Old King Cole.
Colchester is thought to be the source of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. Although there are different versions of the actual origin, they all date back to the English Civil War and the Siege of Colchester.
One version is that during the siege of Colchester in the Civil War, an attack that lasted 12 weeks, a Royalist sniper known as One-Eyed Thompson sat in the belfry of the church of St Mary-at-the-Walls (St Mary‘s). Thomson was nicknamed Humpty Dumpty, which was colloquial term used in the 15th Century to describe someone who was obese. He was shot down and shortly after, the town was lost to the Parliamentarians.
Another, slightly different but more famous version says that Humpty Dumpty was a cannon. In 1648, Colchester was protected by a wall, remains of which can still be seen today. Standing adjacent to the wall is the Church of St Mary’s. During the Civil War in the Siege of Colchester, a huge cannon that was known as Humpty Dumpty was placed on the wall and fired by One-Eyed Jack Thomson. The Royalist fort within St Mary’s is blown to pieces and their main cannon (Humpty Dumpty) is destroyed. A shot from a Parliamentary cannon then destroyed the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty, causing it to tumble to the ground. The Royalists (all the King’s Men) then attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty onto another part of the wall but because it was too heavy “All the Kings horses and all the Kings men, couldn’t put Humpty together again!“ And shortly after the Royalists were forced to surrender to the Parliamentarians. The church of St Mary-at-the-Walls still retains its Norman tower, with the top few feet having been repaired in Georgian times.
The Nursery Rhyme, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, was written by Jane Taylor who lived in the Dutch Quarter. It was published in 1806 with the title “The Star”.
Legend places Colchester as the seat of King Cole, the legendary King of Britain. It has been thought that the name Colchester means Coles Castle.
Colchester has also been suggested as one of the potential sites of Camelot, on account of it’s name Camulodunum and having been the first Roman Capital of Britain.
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