Colchester Town Centre
Colchester shown within Essex
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||CO1 – CO7|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
At the time of the census in 2001, it had a population of 104,390, marking a considerable rise from the previous census and with considerable development since 2001 and ongoing building plans; it has been named as one of Britain's fastest growing towns. As the oldest recorded Roman town in Britain, Colchester is claimed to be the oldest town in Britain. It was for a time the capital of Roman Britain, and is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network.
Colchester is 51.2 miles (82.4 km) northeast of London and is connected to the capital by the A12 road and the Great Eastern Main Line. It is seen as a popular town for commuters, and is less than 30 miles (48 km) away from Stansted Airport.
- 1 History
- 2 Climate
- 3 Garrison
- 4 Governance
- 5 Demographics
- 6 Culture
- 7 Twin towns
- 8 Education
- 9 Transport
- 10 References in literature
- 11 In popular culture
- 12 Notable Colcestrians
- 13 See also
- 14 Footnotes
- 15 External links
Colchester is said to be the oldest recorded town in Britain on the grounds that it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder, who died in AD 79. Before the Roman conquest of Britain it was already a centre of power for Cunobelin – known to Shakespeare as Cymbeline – king of the Catuvellauni (c.5 BC – AD 40), who minted coins there. Its Celtic name, Camulodunon, variously represented as CA, CAM, CAMV, CAMVL and CAMVLODVNO on the coins of Cunobelinus, means 'the fortress of [the war god] Camulos'.
Soon after the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, a Roman legionary fortress was established. Later, when the Roman frontier moved outwards and the twentieth legion had moved to the west (c.AD 49), Camulodunum became a colonia named in a second-century inscription as Colonia Victricensis. This contained a large and elaborate Temple to the Divine Claudius.
Camulodunum served as a provincial 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. 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 268–82 AD, followed later, during the fourth century, by the blocking of the Balkerne Gate. 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 Camulodunum, 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 Albans could indicate a 'sub-Roman triangle' where British rule continued after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. Since then excavations have revealed some early Saxon occupation, including a fifth-century wooden hut built on the ruins of a Roman house in present-day Lion Walk. Archaeological excavations have shown that public buildings were abandoned, and is very doubtful whether Colchester survived as a settlement with any urban characteristics after the sixth century.
The chronology of its revival is obscure. But the ninth-century Historia Brittonum, attributed to Nennius, mentions the town, which it calls Cair Colun, in a list of the thirty most important cities in Britain. Colchester was in the area assigned to the Danelaw in c.880, and remained in Danish hands until 917 when it was besieged and recaptured by the army of Edward the Elder. The tenth-century Saxons called the town Colneceastre, which is directly equivalent to the Cair Colun of 'Nennius'. The tower of Holy Trinity Church is late Saxon work.
Medieval and Tudor periods
Medieval Colchester's main landmark is Colchester Castle, 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 Baptist (known locally as "St. John's Abbey"), and the ruins of the Augustinian priory of St. Botolph (known locally as "St. Botolph's Priory"). Many of Colchester's parish churches date from this period.
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.
Colchester developed rapidly during the later 14th century as a centre of the woollen cloth industry, and became famous in many parts of Europe for its russets (fabrics of a grey-brown colour). This allowed the population to recover exceptionally rapidly from the effects of the Black Death, particularly by immigration into the town.
By the 'New Constitutions' of 1372, a borough council was instituted; the two baillifs who represented the borough to the king were now expected to consult sixteen ordinary councillors and eight auditors (later called aldermen). Even though Colchester's fortunes were more mixed during the 15th century, it was still a more important place by the 16th century than it had been in the 13th. In 1334 it would not have ranked among England's wealthiest fifty towns, to judge from the taxation levied that year. By 1524, however, it ranked twelfth, as measured by its assessment to a lay subsidy.
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" cloths which were woven from wool and are normally associated with Baize and Serge although surviving examples show that they were rather different from their modern equivalents. 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, and was also famed for its oysters. 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 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 Colchester. 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 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").
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.
In the early 20th century Colchester lobbied to be the seat for a new Church of England diocese for Essex, to be split off from the existing Diocese of Rochester. The bid was unsuccessful, with county town Chelmsford forming the seat of the new diocese. The University of Essex was established on the outskirts of the town at Wivenhoe Park in 1961. The £22.7M eight-mile A120 Colchester Eastern Bypass opened in June 1982.
Colchester and the surrounding area is currently undergoing significant regeneration, including controversial greenfield residential development in Mile End and Braiswick. The town's football team, Colchester United, moved into a brand new stadium at Cuckoo Farm in 2008.
Colchester, Camulodunum and Colonia Victricensis forms one of 38 sites seeking World Heritage Site status, with a shortlist to be submitted to UNESCO for consideration in 2011. The town was one of twenty-five across the UK that applied for city status to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2012. It was unsuccessful.
In the 2012 New Year Honours, Colchester's MP, Bob Russell was given a Knighthood. He is now addressed as Sir Bob Russell.
Colchester, is in one of the driest regions of the United Kingdom with average annual precipitation at 635 mm (25.0 inches), although among the wetter places in Essex. Colchester is generally regarded as having an Oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb) like the rest of the United Kingdom. Its easterly position within the British Isles makes Colchester less prone to Atlantic depressions and weather fronts but more prone to droughts.
This is because like most areas in South-East England, Colchester's weather is influenced more by Continental weather patterns than Atlantic weather systems. This leads to a dry climate compared to the rest of the UK all year round and occasional (relative) extremes of temperatures during the year (occasional late 20°Cs/early 30°Cs during the summer) and quite a few nights below freezing during the winter months (daytime high temperatures are seldom below freezing). Any rainfall that does come from Atlantic weather systems is usually light, but a few heavy showers and thunderstorms can take place during the summer. Snow falls on average 13 days a year during winter and early spring.
The highest temperature recorded in Colchester was 36.1 °C (97 °F) in August 2003 (during the 2003 European heat wave), and the lowest was −9.4 °C (15 °F) in December 2010.
|Climate data for Colchester|
|Average high °C (°F)||7
|Average low °C (°F)||2
|Precipitation mm (inches)||53
|Source: 1981-2010 estimated average (records began in 1988) for COL station Colchester NE 2|
Colchester has been an important military garrison since the Roman era. The Colchester Garrison is currently home to the 16th Air Assault Brigade. The Army's only military corrective training centre, known colloquially within the forces and locally as "The Glasshouse" after the original military prison in Aldershot, 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 Ministry of Defence 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.
Colchester Borough Council 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 (2012 election results)
- Liberal Democrats – 26 seats
- Conservative – 23 seats
- Labour – 8 seats
- Others (Highwoods Independent) – 3 seats
The seat of local government is Colchester Town Hall, a late-Victorian baroque edifice by John Belcher. It is the latest in a series of local government buildings to have stood on the same site since the 12th century. The 162-foot clock tower was presented by James Paxman; it is topped by a figure of St Helena, patron Saint of the City.
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.
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, based in the Visual Arts Facility, which was designed by Rafael Viñoly, and opened in September 2011, after delays caused by a shortfall in funding at a total cost of approximately £25.5 million, £9 million more than the original estimate.
The Minories houses The Minories Galleries, which is managed by Colchester Institute and presents contemporary exhibitions by artists from the region. The building is owned by the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation.
Other bars with live music in Colchester include V bar, Tin Pan Alley, The Fat Cat, and The Twist.
In 2009, an art collective called 'Slack Space' took up some of the closed-down shops in the town and converted them into art galleries with the hope of promoting art and design in the town. The Colchester School of Art and Design is based in the Colchester Institute near the centre of the town.
The town's link with football had begun with the amateur club Colchester Town, formed in 1867 and dissolved in 1937. They were succeeded by professional club Colchester United, who compete in the Football League One and play home games at Colchester Community Stadium. Founded in 1937, the club entered the Football League in 1950. 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.
- Wetzlar, Germany, since 1969
- Avignon, France, since 1972
- Imola, Italy, since 1997
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, Colchester Academy, Philip Morant School and College, St Helena Media Arts College, St Benedict's Catholic College and the Thomas Lord Audley 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, Constable Coaches (Beeston's) Carters Coach Services, New Horizon Travel, H.C. Chambers & Son and Regal Busways which mainly centres on a recently opened bus station, located in Osborne Street which can be found in the town centre.
Colchester is also located on the Great Eastern Main Line operated by Greater Anglia, with intercity services serving Chelmsford, Ipswich, Norwich, Stratford and London. These are all from the town's main railway station. Trains also go to Clacton on Sea, Frinton on Sea, Wivenhoe and Walton-on-the-Naze all week from the main station and Monday to Saturday from Colchester Town railway station, located on the Sunshine Coast Line. Hythe station is also on this line and serves the eastern areas of Colchester.
References in literature
The Roman historian Tacitus mentions Colchester (Camulodunum) in The Annals of Imperial Rome. In Book XIV 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 (fictional) Atomic Wars took place during the 1950s. Colchester is the only town that was specifically mentioned as being bombed, but the book does say that many cities were destroyed in North America, Europe, and Russia.
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'. The legitimacy of the claims for the first two of these is disputed.
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. The Mayor's medallion contains a Byzantine style icon of Saint Helena. 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".
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.
In the Asterix comic book Asterix in Britain the Camulodunum rugby team wins a game against Durovernum (Roman name for Canterbury). The uniforms worn during the match in the book are similar to the modern kit of Colchester United.
People of note that were born or have lived in Colchester include:
- Sir George Biddell Airy (1801–1892) – Astronomer Royal, attended Colchester Royal Grammar School 1814–1819
- Damon Albarn (1968-) - musician and Blur lead singer
- Paul Allender (1970–) – musician, lead guitarist of Cradle of Filth
- Cuthbert Alport, Baron Alport – Cabinet Minister, High Commissioner to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, High Steward of Colchester
- Ken Aston (1915–2001) – Football referee, responsible for many important developments in football refereeing
- Thomas Audley, 1st Baron Audley of Walden 1488–1544, Lord Chancellor of England 1533–44, founder of Magdalene College, Cambridge. St Michael's Church, Berechurch has a fine monument to him (in the Audley Chapel).
- John Ball (priest) (d. 1381) – leader of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381
- Ali Carter (1979– ) – professional snooker player
- Piers Courage (1942–1970) – Formula One driver
- Graham Coxon (1969– ) – musician and Blur lead guitarist
- Cunobelin – King of the Britons
- Darren Day (1968– ) – actor and television presenter
- Bill Dines (1916–1992) – cricketer
- Neil Faith (1981– ) – professional wrestler
- Neil Foster (1962– ) – cricketer
- William Gilbert (1544–1603) – scientist, pioneer in the field of magnetism and court physician to Elizabeth I and James I
- Sir William Gull, 1st Baronet – Physician-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria; Governor of Guy's Hospital; researched and named Anorexia nervosa
- William Hale, early rocket engineer
- Klaus Kinski (1926–1991) – actor, director, former German POW in Colchester during the World War II
- Alfred Lungley (1905–1989) – awarded the George Cross after the Quetta earthquake of 1935
- Bernard Mason – businessman, philanthropist, clock collector
- Philip Morant (1700–1770)- parish priest of St Mary-at-the-Walls, author of The History & Antiquities of the County of Essex
- Graham Napier (1980– ) – cricketer
- Martin Newell (1953– ) – musician, poet, author
- Sheila Nicholls (1970– ) – musician
- Dermot O'Leary (1973– ) – Television and Radio presenter, attended the Colchester Sixth Form College
- Sir Roger Penrose (1931– ), mathematical physicist and philosopher
- Dave Rowntree (1964– ) – musician, drummer for Blur
- Darren Styles (1975– ) – DJ, record producer, singer
- Jane Taylor (1783–1824) – poet and author of the lyrics to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013) – Prime Minister, lived in Colchester when working at nearby Manningtree as a research chemist during 1950s.
- Archibald Wavell (1883–1950) British Field-Marshal during World War II, Viceroy of India.
- Mary Whitehouse (1910–2001) – morality campaigner, died in Colchester.
- Sir Laming Worthington-Evans (1868–1931) – Secretary of State for War, Postmaster General
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Colchester.|
- Colchester Borough Council
- Community website opposing large-scale development in North Colchester
- Colchester – Britain's first Roman city
- Visitors' guide to Colchester
- Colchester24 – A Day in the Life of Colchester
- Colchester Digital Images – Photographic Galleries of The Colchester Area
- Roman Colchester – A Virtual Experience
- The official tourism website for Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town