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Colchester ( ) is a town and the largest settlement within the borough of Colchestermarker in Essex, Englandmarker.

At the time of the census in 2001 it had a population of 104,390. The Essex County Standard of September 4 2009 said that "Government estimates" made Colchester the largest borough in the county and further said that "the population of Colchester and its surrounding towns and villages had reached 181,000 by the middle of 2008". As the oldest recorded Roman town in the British Isles, 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 Kingdommarker's oldest recorded market.

Colchester is northeast of Londonmarker. It is connected to the capital by the A12 roadmarker and the Great Eastern Main Line.


Roman Colchester

A map of Colchester from 1940

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. Colchester's town walls c. 3,000 yd. long were built c.65-80 A.D. when the Roman town was rebuilt after the Boudicca rebellion . In 2004 Colchester Archaeological Trust discovered the remains of a Roman Circus (chariot race track) underneath the Garrison in Colchester, a unique find in Britain.

Sub-Roman and Saxon Colchester

There is evidence of hasty re-organisation of Colchester's defences around 400 AD 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 descendants 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 Camulodunummarker, the capital of Britannia 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 Albansmarker 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 Angliamarker 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

Colchester Castle, June 2009
Colchester Castle, constructed over the vaults of the ruined Temple of Claudius
Medieval Colchester's main landmark is Colchester Castlemarker, which is an 11th century Norman keep, and built on top of 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 Baptistmarker (know locally as "St. John's Abbey”), and the ruins of the Augustinian priory of St. Botolph (known locally as “St. Botolph's Priorymarker").

In 1189, Colchester was granted its first royal charter by King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart.) The charter was granted at Dovermarker 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.

17th century

The place of the execution
In 1648, during the Second English Civil War, a Royalist army led by Lord Goring 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 Colchestermarker.It started on the 13 June. The Royalists surrendered in the late summer(on the 27 August Lord Goring signed the surrender document in the Kings Head Inn) and Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were executed in the grounds of Colchester Castlemarker. 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").

Victorian Colchester

Colchester is noted for its Victorian architecture. Significant landmarks include the Colchester Town Hall and the Jumbo Water Towermarker.

In 1884 the town was struck by the Colchester earthquakemarker, 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.

Recent history

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 [35329] 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 [35330] - a musical tradition dating back to the 14th century.


Colchester, along with other parts of Eastern England, is one of the driest parts of the United Kingdommarker with average annual precipitation at 453mm (17.8 inches), 130mm less than London which is 56 miles to the south west, and although it is generally regarded as having an Oceanic climate (Koppen climate classification Cfb like the rest of the United Kingdom) it does actually qualify for a semi arid climate (Koppen BSk) as it has less than 500mm average annual rainfall - despite being near no arid desert locations in a similar scenario to Honolulumarker Hawaiimarker. Its easterly position within the British Isles makes Colchester less prone to Atlantic depressions and weather fronts but more prone to droughts.

The Army

Colchester has been an important military garrison since the Roman era. The Colchester Garrison is currently home to the 16th Air Assault Brigademarker. The Army's only Military Corrective Training Centre, known colloquially within the forces and locally as 'The Glasshouse' after the original military prison in Aldershotmarker, is in Berechurch Hall Road, on the outskirts of Colchester.. The Centre holds servicemen and women from all three services who are sentenced to serve periods of detention.

From 1998 to 2008 the garrison area of the town underwent massive redevelopment. A lot of the M.o.D. land was sold for private housing development and parts of the garrison were moved. Many parts of the garrison now stand empty awaiting the second phase of the development.

Since 2006, Colchester has been one of 12 places in the UK where Royal Salutes are fired to mark Royal anniversaries and visits by foreign heads of state. From 2009, these salutes have taken place in Castle Park.


The Member of Parliament for Colchester is Bob Russell (LibDem). The Mayor of Colchester is Councillor Henry Spyvee (LibDem).

Colchester Borough Councilmarker is the local authority. Control of the borough council has passed between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats 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 clock collection.


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 Stadiummarker. 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 Groundmarker, 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.


Colchester Zoomarker is a large zoo based on the outskirts of the town.

Twin towns

Colchester competes in the Twin Town Games against Wetzlarmarker, Avignonmarker, Orleansmarker, Tarragonamarker, and Sienamarker.

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 Schoolmarker and Colchester County High Schoolmarker, the remainder being comprehensives. Comprehensive secondary schools include Alderman Blaxill Schoolmarker, Gilberd Schoolmarker, Sir Charles Lucas Arts Collegemarker, Philip Morant School and Collegemarker, St Helena Media Arts Collegemarker, St. Benedict's College (Roman Catholic), The Stanway Schoolmarker and the Thomas Lord Audley School and Language Collegemarker.

Private schools

Private schools in Colchester include Colchester High Schoolmarker, Holmwood House School, Oxford House School and St. Mary's Schoolmarker.


The University of Essexmarker is located to the east of Colchester in Wivenhoe Park, in the civil parish of Wivenhoemarker. Other tertiary institutions include Colchester Sixth Form Collegemarker and Colchester Institute.


Colchester has a bus system (run by First Essex, Network Colchester, Hedingham Omnibuses, plus Beestons of Hadleigh, Carters of Ipswich, Cedrics of Ardleigh, Chambers of Bures, Regal of Chelmsford ) which mainly centres around Colchester Temporary Bus Station in the town centre. The temporary bus station is due to close at the end of 2012. As at mid-July 2009 the plan is to replace it with one at the Town railway station at St.Botolph's, while supplementing this with bus 'superstops'.

Express coach services serving Colchester are:
  • X6 (Osborne Street - North Station- Stansted Airport) operated by Excel Passenger Logistics.
  • X22 (Clacton on Sea - University of Essex - Bus Station - North Station - Stansted Airport) operated by First.
  • 350 (Clacton-Liverpool) operated by National Express.
  • 484 (Walton/Clacton-London) operated by National Express.

Colchester Northmarker station is served by National Express East Anglia services on the London - Norwich mainline and the Colchester - Clacton line.

Colchester Town railway stationmarker, still referred to by some as St Botolph's, is on a spur from the Colchester - Clacton line, Hythemarker station is also on the Clacton line.

Future Transport Plans

A new junction, Junction 28, connecting the A12marker to the town's Northern Approach road is due to be completed in 2010 at a cost of £25 million. This plan is part of the wider regeneration of Colchester. The new junction will be built at Cuckoo's Farm, near the new Colchester Community Stadiummarker. In July 2008 the then Under Secretary of State for Transport, Tom Harris, stated that work on the development is due to start in 2009 or 2010. Development of the A133, a large congested road that runs through Colchester, is also being reviewed.

References in literature

The Roman historian Tacitus 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 Latin: 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).

Colchester was also a named line of lathe machinery, as detailed here [ ].

Visual Arts Facility

In November 2008, it was announced that there was a shortfall in money to complete the building of the new controversial Visual Arts Facility (Colchester's new multi-million pound arts centre). It was predicited that the total cost would be £25.5 million – £9 million more than the original estimated cost. The building currently sits uncompleted [35331].

Notable Colcestrians

People of note that were born or have lived in Colchester include:

See also


  2. Key Statistics for urban areas in the South East. 2001 Census, National Statistics. Retrieved on February 11, 2007.
  4. Walls and Gates British History
  5. Oyster Fayre - 1989 News Reports
  6. The English Civil War: a military history of the three civil wars, 1642-1651‎, Young, Peter and Holmes, Richard (1974) p.290. Available here
  7. Daniel Defoe, A tour through England and Wales, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd, London (1959) Available online here

External links

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