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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Coordinates: 51°53′30″N 0°54′11″E / 51.8917°N 0.903°E / 51.8917; 0.903

Colchester town 800.jpg
Colchester town centre.
Colchester is located in Essex

 Colchester shown within Essex
Population 104,390 (2001 Census)
OS grid reference TL997254
District Colchester
Shire county Essex
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district CO1 - CO7
Dialling code 01206
Police Essex
Fire Essex
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament Colchester
List of places: UK • England • Essex

Colchester (pronounced /ˈkoʊltʃɛstə/  ( listen)[1]) is a town and the largest settlement within the borough of Colchester in Essex, England.

At the time of the census in 2001 it had a population of 104,390.[2] 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 Kingdom's oldest recorded market.[3]

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.



Roman Colchester

A map of Colchester from 1940

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.[4] 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.[5] 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'.[6] Soon after the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, a Roman legionary fortress was established.[7] 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.[8] Camulodunum served as a provincial Roman capital of Britain, but was attacked and destroyed during Boudica's rebellion in AD 61.[9] Sometime after the destruction, London became the capital of the province of Britannia.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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[18] The tenth-century Saxons called the town Colneceastre, which is directly equivalent to the Cair Colun of 'Nennius'.[19] The tower of Holy Trinity Church is late Saxon work.

Medieval and Tudor period

Colchester Castle, June 2009
Colchester Castle, constructed over the vaults of the ruined Temple of Claudius

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 (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.[20]

Colchester developed rapidly during the later fourteenth 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 fifteenth century, it was still a more important place by the sixteenth century than it had been in the thirteenth. 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.[21]

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 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.[22] 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[citation needed] to the plague in 1665, "more in proportion than any of its neighbours, or than the city of London".[23] 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 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.

Recent history

The £22.7 m eight-mile A120 Colchester Eastern Bypass opened in June 1982.

Colchester and the surrounding area is currently undergoing significant regeneration.[24]

Colchester Town Watch[25] 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[26] - 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 Kingdom with average annual precipitation at 453 mm (17.8 inches), 130 mm 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 border on a semi arid climate (Koppen BSk) as it has less than 500 mm average annual rainfall — despite being near no arid desert locations in a similar scenario to Honolulu Hawaii. Its easterly position within the British Isles makes Colchester less prone to Atlantic depressions and weather fronts but more prone to droughts.

Climate data for Colchester
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 6.1
Average low °C (°F) 1.7
Precipitation mm (inches) 37
Source: MSN Weather 2009

The Army

The military corrective training centre

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,[27] is in Berechurch Hall Road, on the outskirts of Colchester.[28] 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.[29]


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

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 (2008 election results):

The town is also represented on Essex County Council. Individual villages within the borough boundaries are also represented by parish councils.



The Mercury Theatre

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.


Connor Barrett's Crucifixion of Mankind, located in the Colchester Public Library

Opened in 1972, the Mercury Theatre is one the region's leading repertory theatres.[citation needed] Next door is Colchester Arts Centre,[30] 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.


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

Twin towns

Colchester competes in the Twin Town Games against Wetzlar, Avignon, Orléans, Tarragona, 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

Private schools in Colchester include Colchester High School, Holmwood House 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, plus Constable (Beeston's) of Hadleigh, Carters of Ipswich, Cedric's 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:

  • 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 station, unofficially known as "Colchester North", 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, Hythe station is also on the Clacton line.

Current developments

Cuckoo's Farm junction

A new junction ('Cuckoo's Farm junction' - Junction 28), connecting the A12 to the town's Northern Approach road is due to be completed in 2010 at a cost of £25 million[31] close to the new Colchester Community Stadium. 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.[32] Development of the A133, a large congested road that runs through Colchester, is also being reviewed.[33][34]

Myland development

As part of Colchester Borough Council's Core Strategy 2008, there are plans to build thousands of new houses in Myland in the north of Colchester. There is considerable local opposition to this proposal. However, it largely reflects housing targets set by the East of England Regional Assembly. At present, the project is under review.

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.[35] 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, 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. 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".

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.[36]

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 predicted that the total cost would be £25.5 million – £9 million more than the original estimated cost. The building currently sits uncompleted.[37]

Notable Colcestrians

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

See also


  1. ^ "". 
  2. ^ Key Statistics for urban areas in the South East. 2001 Census, National Statistics. Retrieved on February 11, 2007.
  3. ^ "Markets and fairs". British History Online. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  4. ^ Pliny, Naturalis Historia, II, 187
  5. ^ P. Salway, Roman Britain (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1981), pp. 55-6
  6. ^ V. Watts, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2004), p. 113; T. W. Potter, 'The Transformation of Britain', in P. Salway, ed., The Roman Era (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2002), p. 21
  7. ^ J. Nelson, ed., The Victoria History of the County of Essex, IX (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1994), pp. 7-10
  8. ^ Nelson, ed. V.C.H. Essex, IX, p. 10
  9. ^ Salway, Roman Britain, pp. 89-90, 117-18
  10. ^ Salway, Roman Britain, p. 530
  11. ^ "Walls and Gates British History". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  12. ^ D. Mattingly, An Imperial Possession; Britain in the Roman Empire (Penguin Books: London, 2007), pp. 269-70
  13. ^ J. Cooper, ed., The Victoria History of the County of Essex, IX: The Borough of Colchester (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1995), pp. 16-17, 248
  14. ^ J. Morris, The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650, 3 vols (Phillimore: Chichester, 1977), I, p. 138
  15. ^ R. E. M. Wheeler, London and the Saxons (London, 1935)
  16. ^ J. N. L. Myres, The English Settlements (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1986), p. 214
  17. ^ Nennius, ed. J. Morris (Phillimore: London and Chichester, 1980); Watts, Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names, p. 149
  18. ^ D, Hill, An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon History (Blackwell: Oxford, 1981), pp. 47, 56-8; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, trans. G. N. Garmondsway, 2nd edition (Dent: London, 1954), p. 103; F, Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 2nd edition, (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1947), pp. 324-5
  19. ^ Watts, Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names, p. 149
  20. ^ MEL Schemes, 27 December 2002. "Oyster Fayre - 1989 News Reports". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  21. ^ R.H. Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 1300-1525 (Cambridge, 1986, reprinted 2009)
  22. ^ The English Civil War: a military history of the three civil wars, 1642-1651‎, Young, Peter and Holmes, Richard (1974) p.290. Available here [1]
  23. ^ Daniel Defoe, A tour through England and Wales, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd, London (1959) Available online here
  24. ^ "Homepage — Colchester Borough Council". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  25. ^ "Colchester Town Watch". Colchester Town Watch. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  26. ^ "Colchester Waits op MySpace Music – Gratis gestreamde MP3's, foto's en Videoclips". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  27. ^ "The Glasshouse — The Aldershot Military Detention Barracks". Hampshire County Council. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  28. ^ "Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC)". Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  29. ^ "Honour of Royal Salute switches to Colchester town centre — Colc". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  30. ^ "Current Events". Colchester Arts Centre. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  31. ^ "Case File O/COL/01/1622". Colchester Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  32. ^ "House of Commons Tuesday 8 July 2008". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  33. ^ "A133 Consultation Result". Essex County Council. Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  34. ^ "Colchester Central Corridor". Essex County Council. Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  35. ^ Tacitus, Annales, XIV, 31
  36. ^ As detailed here
  37. ^ "Colchester: £2 m more to finish off new art gallery (From Gazette)". 2008-11-18. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  38. ^ "MT at 80 | Margaret Thatcher Foundation". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

There is more than one place called Colchester:


United States of America


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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

There is more than one meaning of Colchester discussed in the 1911 Encyclopedia. We are planning to let all links go to the correct meaning directly, but for now you will have to search it out from the list below by yourself. If you want to change the link that led you here yourself, it would be appreciated.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



Proper noun

Colchester (/ˈkəʊltʃɛstə/ pronunciation)

  1. A town in Essex, England (the oldest town in England).

See also

A Colcestrian is a person from Colchester


Simple English


Colchester shown within Essex
Population 104,390 (2001 Census)
OS grid reference TL997254
District Colchester
Shire county Essex
Region East
Constituent country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district CO1 - CO7
Dialling code 01206
UK Parliament Colchester
European Parliament East of England
List of places: UKEngland • Essex
Coordinates: 51°53′30″N 0°54′11″E / 51.8917°N 0.903°E / 51.8917; 0.903
Colchester Castle

Colchester is a town in the northern part of the English county of Essex. It has a population of 104,000 people. People believe that Colchester is the oldest Roman town in England.


Before Roman times, Colchester was Camulodunon. This is a Celtic name that came from Camulos. Camulos was the Celtic god of war. The Romans called Colchester Camulodunum (written "CAMVLODVNVM"). Colchester was attacked and burnt by Boudicca in 61 AD.

The church at the Benedictine abbey of Saint John the Baptist was destroyed in 1539. This was when King Henry VIII took the property of the Roman Catholic institutions in England. The only part left is a gate that people still go to visit.

King Cunobelinus (or "Cunobelin") was from Colchester.

Twin cities

Colchester is twinned with the following cities:

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