(/ˈkəʊltʃɛstə/) is a town, and the largest settlement within the borough of Colchester
, in Essex
It has a population of 104,390. As the oldest recorded Roman town, Colchester claims to be the oldest town in Britain. It was for a time the capital of Roman Britain and also claims to have the United Kingdom's oldest recorded market.
Colchester is 56 miles (90 km) northeast of London. It is connected to the capital by the A12 road and the Great Eastern Main Line.
Colchester is claimed to be the oldest recorded town in Britain on the grounds that it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in AD 77. Its Celtic name was Camulodunon, meaning 'the fortress of (the war god) Camulos'. Following the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, a Roman legionary fortress was established and the name Camulodunon was modified to the Roman spelling of 'Camulodunum'. Camulodunum served as the first Roman capital of Britain, but was attacked and destroyed during Boudica's rebellion in AD 61. Sometime after the destruction, London became the capital of the province of Britannia but it would seem that 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, when the Roman frontier moved north (c. AD 49), Camulodunum became a colonia known as Colonia Claudia Victricensis.
Sub-Roman and Saxon Colchester
There is evidence of hasty re-organisation of Colchester's defences around 400AD, including the blocking of the Balkerne Gate
. Archaeological excavations have shown that public buildings were abandoned, although the 8th-century chronicler Nennius
mentioned the town, which he called Caer Colun
, in his list of the 30 most important cities in Britain.
Dr. John Morris (1913 - June 1977) the English historian who specialised in the study of the institutions of the Roman Empire and the history of Sub-Roman Britain, suggested in his book "The Age of Arthur" (1973) that as the descendents of Romanised Britons looked back to a golden age of peace and prosperity under Rome the name "Camelot" of Arthurian legend was probably a reference to the capital of Britannia (Camulodunum ) in Roman times.
The archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler was the first to propose that the lack of early Anglo-Saxon finds in a triangle between London, Colchester and St Albans could indicate a 'sub-Roman triangle' where British rule continued after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. Since then however, excavations have revealed some early Saxon occupation, including a 5th-century wooden hut built on the ruins of a Roman house in present-day Lion Walk. The Saxons called the town Colne ceaster, the Roman fortress of 'Colonia'. The tower of Holy Trinity Church is late Saxon work. Vikings from East Anglia overran Colchester and most of Essex in the late 9th century; the town remained in Viking hands until 920 when it was besieged and recaptured by the army of Edward the Elder.
Medieval and Tudor Colchester
Medieval Colchester's main landmark is Colchester Castle, which is an 11th century Norman keep, and built atop the vaults of the old Roman temple. There are notable medieval ruins in Colchester, including the surviving gateway of the Benedictine abbey of St. John the Baptist (know locally as "St. John's Abbey”), and the ruins of the Augustinian priory of St. Botolph (known locally as “St. Botolph's Priory").
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 borough celebrated the 800th anniversary of its charter in 1989.
Between 1550 and 1600, a large number of weavers and clothmakers from Flanders emigrated to Colchester and the surrounding areas. They were famed for the production of Bays and Says cloth. An area in Colchester town centre is still known as the Dutch Quarter and many buildings there date from the Tudor period. During this period Colchester was one of the most prosperous wool towns in England. The old Roman wall runs along Northgate Street in the Dutch Quarter.
In 1648, during the Second English Civil War
, a Royalist
army led by Sir Charles Lucas
and Sir George Lisle
entered the town. A pursuing Parliamentary
army led by Sir Thomas Fairfax
and Henry Ireton
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
. A small obelisk marks the spot where they fell.
Daniel Defoe mentions in A tour through England and Wales that the town lost 5259 people to the plague in 1665, "more in proportion than any of its neighbours, or than the city of London". By the time he wrote this in 1722, however, he estimated its population to be around 40,000 (including "out-villages").
Colchester is noted for its Victorian architecture. Significant landmarks include the Colchester Town Hall
and the Jumbo Water Tower
In 1884 the town was struck by the Colchester earthquake, estimated to have been 4.7 on the Richter Scale causing extensive regional damage.
The Paxman diesels business has been associated with Colchester since 1865 when James Noah Paxman founded a partnership with the brothers Henry and Charles Davey ('Davey, Paxman, and Davey') and opened the Standard Ironworks. In 1925 Paxman produced its first spring injection oil engine and joined the English Electric Diesel Group in 1966 - later becoming part of the GEC Group. Since the 1930s the Paxman company's main business has been the production of diesel engines.
The £22.7m eight-mile A120
Colchester Eastern Bypass opened in June 1982.
Colchester and the surrounding area is currently undergoing significant regeneration.
Colchester Town Watch was founded in 2001 to provide a ceremonial guard for the Mayor of Colchester and for civic events such as the Oyster Feast. The historic re-enactors wear a livery based on late Elizabethan dress. Colchester Town Watch is accompanied by the musicians of the Colchester Town Waits - a musical tradition dating back to the 14th century.
Colchester has been an important military garrison since the Roman
era. The Colchester Garrison
is currently home to 16 Air Assault Brigade
The army's only Military Corrective Training Centre, where servicemen and women from all three services serve periods of detention
, in the UK is based on the outskirts of Colchester.
The Member of Parliament for the Colchester is Bob Russell (LibDem). The Mayor of Colchester is Councillor Peter Crowe (Conservative).
Colchester Borough Council is the local authority. Control of the borough council has passed between Tories and LibDems in recent years. The political composition of the council is (2008 election results):
The town is also represented on Essex County Council. Individual villages within the borough boundaries are also represented by parish councils.
Colchester houses several museums. The Castle Museum, found within Colchester Castle, features an extensive exhibit on Roman Colchester. Nearby are Hollytrees Museum, a social history museum with children's exhibits in the former home of Charles Gray
, and the town's Natural History Museum, located in the former All Saints' Church. Tymperley's Clock Museum, located in the town centre in a 15th century timber-framed house, once home to William Gilbert
, now houses the Bernard Mason
Opened in 1972, the Mercury Theatre is one the region's leading repertory theatres. Next door is Colchester Arts Centre, a multi-function arts venue located in the former St Mary-at-the-Walls church, and home of the Colchester Beer Festival. Headgate Theatre is also in Colchester.
firstsite is a contemporary art organisation, currently housed in the Minories, near the Castle. A new gallery, designed by Rafael Viñoly, is currently under construction nearby.
Other than the Arts Centre, live music venues in Colchester include The Twist and Charter Hall.
The town has a professional football
club, Colchester United
, who compete in the Football League One
and play home games at Colchester Community Stadium
. Colchester United Ladies
play in the FA Women's Premier League Southern Division
. Other sports teams based in the town include Colchester Rugby Football Club, Colchester Gladiators American Football Club, Colchester Weight Lifting Club and Colchester & East Essex Cricket Club. Essex County Cricket Club
play some of their home games at Castle Park Cricket Ground
, home of Colchester & East Essex.
Sports facilities in Colchester include the sports centre, Colchester Leisure World, Colchester Garrison Athletics Stadium (a co-operative facility used by both the army and civilian population), and a skatepark.
is a large zoo
based on the outskirts of the town.
Colchester competes in the Twin Town Games
, and Siena
Colchester's twin towns are:
Primary and secondary
As is the case for the rest of Essex, Colchester's state schooling operates a two-tier system. Two of the town's secondary schools are selective, Colchester Royal Grammar School
and Colchester County High School
, the remainder being comprehensives. Comprehensive secondary schools include Alderman Blaxill School
, Gilberd School
, Sir Charles Lucas Arts College
, Philip Morant School and College
, St Helena Media Arts College
, St. Benedicts College (Roman Catholic)
, The Stanway School
and The Thomas Lord Audley School and Language College
Private schools in Colchester include Colchester High School
, Holmwood House Prep School
, Oxford House School
and St Mary's School
The University of Essex
is located to the east of Colchester in Wivenhoe Park, in the civil parish of Wivenhoe
. Other tertiary institutions include Colchester Sixth Form College
and Colchester Institute
Colchester has a bus system (run by First Essex
, Network Colchester
, Hedingham Omnibuses
and other smaller operators) which mainly centres around Colchester Temporary Bus Station
in the town centre. The temporary bus station will be replaced by a permanent one further down the street by 2010.
Colchester North station is served by National Express East Anglia services on the London - Norwich mainline and the Colchester - Clacton line.
Colchester Town railway station, still referred to by some as St Botolph's, is on a spur from the Colchester - Clacton line, and Hythe station is also on the Clacton line.
References in literature
mentions Colchester (Camulodunum) in The Annals of Imperial Rome
. In the Chapter Nero and his helpers
he describes how '...the Roman ex-soldiers...had recently established a settlement at Camulodunum', later burned down in the Iceni rebellion.
It is the only town in Britain to have been explicitly mentioned in George Orwell
's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four
as being the target of a nuclear attack
. The Atomic Wars took place during the 1950s. Colchester, England is the only city that was specifically mentioned as being bombed, but the book does say that many cities were destroyed in North America, Europe, and Russia.
Colchester in popular culture
Colchester is reputed to be the home of three of the best known English nursery rhymes: 'Old King Cole', 'Humpty Dumpty
' and 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'.
Local legend places Colchester as the seat of King Cole (or Coel) of the rhyme Old King Cole, a legendary ancient king of Britain. The name Colchester is from Old English: the place-name suffixes chester, cester, and caster derive from the Latin word castrum (fortified place). In folk etymology the name Colchester was thought of as meaning Cole's Castle, though it actually means the Roman fort 'Colonia'. In the legend Helena, the daughter of Cole, married the Roman senator Constantius Chlorus, who had been sent by Rome as an ambassador and was named as Cole's successor. Helena's son became Emperor Constantine I. Helena was canonised as Saint Helena of Constantinople and is credited with finding the true cross and the remains of the Magi. She is now the patron saint of Colchester. This is recognised in the emblem of Colchester: a cross and three crowns. A local secondary school – St Helena's – is named after her, and her statue is atop the town hall, although local legend is that it was originally a statue of Blessed Virgin Mary which was later fitted with a cross.
Colchester is also the most widely credited source of the rhyme Humpty Dumpty. During the siege of Colchester in the Civil War, a Royalist sniper known as One-Eyed Thompson sat in the belfry of the church of St Mary-at-the-Walls (Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall) and was given the nickname Humpty Dumpty, most likely because of his size, Humpty Dumpty being a common insult for the overweight. Thompson was shot down (Humpty Dumpty had a great fall) and, shortly after, the town was lost to the Parliamentarians (all the king's horses and all the king's men / couldn't put Humpty together again.) Another version says that Humpty Dumpty was a cannon on the top of the church. The church of St Mary-at-the-Walls still retains its Norman tower until the top few feet, which are a Georgian repair.
The third rhyme to come from Colchester is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which was written by Jane Taylor in the town's Dutch Quarter, and published in 1806 with the title "The Star".
Colchester has also been suggested as one of the potential sites of Camelot, on account of having been the capital of Roman Britain and its ancient name of Camulodunum.
In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, thinks back to his childhood and his first memories of war, recalling: "Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester." (Part 1, Chapter 3).
People of note that were born or have lived in Colchester include:
- Charles Hedger (1980-) Musician, guitarist of Cradle Of Filth.
- Sir George Bidell Airy (1801-1892) - Astronomer Royal, attended Colchester Royal Grammar School 1814-1819.
- Damon Albarn (1968- ) - Musician, lead singer of Blur and co-creator of virtual cartoon rock band Gorillaz.
- Paul Allender (1970–) - Musician, lead guitarist of Cradle of Filth.
- Cub Alport - Cabinet Minister, [High Commissioner] to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, High Steward of Colchester.
- John Ball (priest) (d. 1381) - Leader of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.
- Allister Carter (1979- ) - A professional snooker player.
- John Constable (1776-1837) - Landscape painter.
- Piers Courage (1942-1970) - A Formula One driver.
- Graham Coxon (1969- ) - Musician and former Blur lead guitarist.
- John Crackstone - Mayflower Pilgrim.
- Cunobelin - King of the Britons, Shakespeare's Cymbeline.
- Darren Day (1968- ) - Actor and television presenter.
- Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) - Author and social commentator.
- Sue Denim - Actor (The Mighty Boosh), Musician (Robots in Disguise, I AM X, The Siblings)
- Neil Foster (1962- ) - Cricketer
- William Gilbert (1544-1603) - Scientist, pioneer in the field of magnetism and court physician to Elizabeth I and James I.
- John Grant - author of the Lovejoy stories.
- Perry Groves- Arsenal FC footballer.
- Sir William Withey Gull, 1st Baronet - Physician to Queen Victoria's household and Jack the Ripper suspect.
- Joan Hickson OBE (1906-1998) - Actress.
- Matthew Hopkins (d. 1647) - Witchfinder General.
- Jay Kay (1969- ) - leader singer of Jamiroquai
- Klaus Kinski (1926-1991) - actor, director, former German POW in Colchester during the Second World War.
- Bernard Mason - businessman, philanthropist, clock collector
- Philip Morant (18th century)- Parish priest of St Mary at the Walls, author of The History & Antiquities of the County of Essex.
- Ralph Morse (actor) (1955 - ) and his country music alias Johnny Cashbox
- Graham Napier (1980- ) - Cricketer.
- Martin Newell (1953- ) - Musician, poet, author.
- Sheila Nicholls (1970- ) - Streaker, later a musician.
- Dermot O'Leary (1973- ) - BBC Radio 2 DJ.
- Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS (8 August 1931–), mathematical physicist and controversial philosopher.
- Steven Pimlott (1953-2007) An English opera and theatre director and actor.
- Dave Rowntree (1964- ) - Musician, drummer for Blur.
- Jeremy Spake (1968- ) - TV personality
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) - Baptist preacher, minster of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
- Darren Styles (1975- ) - DJ, Record Producer, Singer.
- Jane Taylor (1783-1824) - Poet and author of the lyrics to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
- Margaret Thatcher (1925- ) - Baroness Thatcher, Conservative politician and former Prime Minister, worked in Colchester as a research chemist during 1940s.
- Archibald Wavell (1883-1950) British Field-Marshal during World War II and Viceroy of India.
- Mary Whitehouse (1910-2001) - Morality campaigner.
- Rt. Hon. Sir Laming Worthington-Evans (1868-1931) - Secretary of State for War, Postmaster General, Privy Councillor.
- Richard Bartle (1960 - ) - co-author of MUD, the first multi-user dungeon