The ancient Roman town of Colchester is in Eastern England and only 51.2 miles (82.4 km) northeast of London. Although the heart of the town consists mainly of Victorian and modern buildings, there are still plenty of substantial Roman remains visible to the visitor.
Colchester is located in the River Colne valley and is actually a pre-historic settlement. It is surrounded by Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments that pre-date the town. Archaeological discoveries have revealed that Colchester was an important flint working centre.
Before the Roman Invasion in 43 AD, Britain was populated by warring Celtic tribes. In 20-10 BC, Celtic Colchester was called Camulodunon - we know this because it appears on coins minted by the tribal chieftain at the time.
During the 30s AD Camulodunon controlled a large swathe of Southern and Eastern Britain, with chieftain Cunobelin called "King of the Britons" by Roman writers.
Colchester is recorded as the oldest Roman town in Britain and at one time was the capital of Roman Britain. Soon after the Roman Conquest, a Roman legionary fortress was established, the first in Britain.
Later, when the Roman frontier moved outwards and the twentieth legion had moved to the west (circa 49 AD), Camulodunum became a colonia, Colonia Victricensis. Originally, a colonia was a Roman outpost established to secure conquered territory and usually populated by retired Roman soldiers. Eventually, however, the term came to denote the highest status of Roman city.
The town had many amenities. It contained a large and elaborate Temple to the Deity Claudius, the largest classical-style temple in Britain, as well as at least seven other Romano-British temples. It was also home to two of the five Roman theatres found in Britain, (one capable of accommodating 5,000 spectators!)
In 2004 a find, unique in Britain, was made by the Colchester Archaeological Trust. Beneath the Garrison were found the remains of a Roman Circus (a Chariot Race Track).
Queen Boadicea and Fortifying Colchester
Camulodunum served as the provincial Roman capital of Britain although it was undefended. It was attacked and destroyed in 61 AD by the famous female warrior Boudicca, also known as Queen Boadicea.
The approximately 3,000 yard (2.74 km) long town walls were built c.65–80 AD when the Roman town was rebuilt after the Boudicca rebellion. The walls continued in use until after the Siege of Colchester in 1648. Two large stretches of the wall are still standing on the west and north sides and a number of fragments are visible along the rest of the circuit. A notable survival is the Balkerne Gate, which is the earliest and most complete Roman gateway in the United Kingdom. A circular walk of nearly 2 miles (3 kilometres) follows the course of the wall and the surviving portions.
The Roman town of Camulodunum, officially known as Colonia Victricensis, reached its peak in the Second and Third centuries AD but sometime after the destruction in 61 AD, London
became the capital of the province of Britannia.
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As can be imagined, Colchester is full of fascinating museums and archaeological sites. Every time excavation work is carried out, a new piece of ancient history is unearthed! To discover what there is to see and do, go to the Colchester TIC in the Hollytrees Museum, Castle Park.
is an 11th century Norman Keep. It was built on top of the vaults of the old Roman Temple to the Divine Claudius. The castle is an almost complete example of a Norman castle and extremely well preserved.
Other medieval ruins in the town include "St. John's Abbey" and "St. Botolph's Priory". Many of Colchester's parish churches date from this period and you will notice the re-use of the distinctive thin red Roman bricks in their exterior walls.
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 Crusades. A royal charter gave the recipient the legal right to make laws which could affect the sustainability of a town.
Colchester Dutch Quarter
Colchester developed rapidly during the late 14th century as a centre of the woollen cloth industry. Between 1550 and 1600, a large number of weavers and cloth-makers from Flanders emigrated to Colchester and the surrounding areas.
An area in Colchester town centre is still known as the ‘Dutch Quarter’ and many buildings there date from the Tudor period. During this time Colchester was one of the most prosperous wool towns in England. The old Roman wall runs along Northgate Street in the Dutch Quarter.
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and the surrounding area is currently undergoing significant regeneration. With its direct transport links to London
it has become a popular feeder suburb for the capital. Paxman Diesel Electric engines continue to be manufactured in the town providing significant employment. The University of Essex is located on the outskirts and Colchester
continues to be an important military garrison.
16th Air Assault Brigade
The Colchester Garrison is currently home to the 16th Air Assault Brigade. It is also home to the Army's only military corrective training centre. The centre holds servicemen and women from all three services who are sentenced to serve periods of detention.
From the Base, the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) provides radio and television programmes for Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and their dependents worldwide.
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.
Art Galleries & Festivals
As well as spectacular Roman remains, the town is famous for the Colchester Film Festival held in October, and the Colchester Beer Festival held in the former St Mary-at-the-Walls church now transformed in to the multi-function Colchester Arts Centre. Next door is the Mercury Theatre, one of Essex’s principal repertory theatres.
The Minories in the centre of town houses The Minories Galleries
, which is managed by Colchester
Institute and presents contemporary exhibitions by artists from the region. First Sight is another contemporary art space within Colchester’s
Humpty Dumpty Nursery Rhyme Link
The well-known Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme allegedly refers to an incident in Colchester during the Civil War.
During the siege of Colchester, 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); he 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.
Personally, this writer likes the first version best!
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A particularly pretty and interesting place to visit is the National Trust property of Bourne Mill
. This working water-powered mill is a bit of a hidden gem and easily missed. Choose a fine day and take the family for a great day out. The mill is 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the centre of Colchester
, on Bourne Road, off Mersea Road (B1025).
There is plenty to enjoy in Colchester
and it makes a great base for exploring the pretty villages and landscapes of ‘Constable Country
is directly linked to London
by the A12 road, and Liverpool Street
Station by the Great Eastern Main Line operated by Abellio Greater Anglia. It is less than 30 miles (48 km) from Stanstead Airport and 20 miles (32 km) from the passenger ferry port of Harwich.
Google Maps - Colchester