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Colchester Castle, June 2009
Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle in Colchester, Essex is an example of a largely complete Norman castle. It is a Grade I listed building.

There has always been debate as to the original height of the castle. It has been suggested that the keep was at one time four storeys high, though for a number of reasons, including the peaceful region of the castle and the lack of local stone, it is now thought that it had only two or three. The castle is built on the foundations (or the podium) of the earlier Roman temple of Claudius (built between 54AD-60AD) which the Normans assumed was solid ground. These foundations have since been uncovered and can be viewed today on a castle tour. The castle was ordered by William the Conqueror, designed by Siward, Bishop of Rochester. Building began between 1069 and 1076 under the supervision of Eudo Dapifer (who became the castle's steward on its completion). Building stopped in 1080 because of a threat of Viking invasion, but the castle was completed by around 1100. Many materials, such as Roman brick and clay (taken from the Roman town) were used in the building and these can easily be seen. Scaffolding pole holes and garderobes can still be seen in the structure.

In 1215, the castle was besieged and eventually captured by King John following the altercation with rebellious nobles that eventually led to the Magna Carta.

Colchester Castle (rear side)

The castle has had various uses since it ceased to be a Royal castle. It has been a county prison, where in 1645 the self-styled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins interrogated and imprisoned suspected witches. In 1648, during the final stages of the English Civil War, the Royalist leaders Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were executed just to the rear of the castle. Local legend has it that grass will not grow on the spot on which they fell. A small obelisk now marks the point. In 1656 the Quaker James Parnell was martyred there.

Later in the 17th century part of the upper structure was pulled down for building material in the town by a Mr. Wheeler who went bankrupt in the process. In 1726, the castle passed into the possession of Charles Gray (the Member of Parliament for Colchester), who restored it and added the present day Italianate facade and tower (which are not original), as he thought it was a Roman structure. He created a private park around the ruin and his summer house (perched on the old Norman castle earthworks, in the shape of a Roman temple) can still be seen. Charles Grey also added a library and a study, and gave the castle a red tiled roof that is still visible today. In 1892, the castle and the surrounding park were given to the town and they have remained as the Upper and Lower Castle Parks ever since. The castle is now a public museum.


External links

Coordinates: 51°53′29″N 0°54′08″E / 51.89133°N 0.90217°E / 51.89133; 0.90217



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