Introduction to Colchester

Colchester is an ancient town rich in historical and archaeological interest. Nonetheless it offers every modern amenity to its 156,000 inhabitants and many thousands of visitors. From the earliest times it has been of great military importance and there is a traditional link between military and civil authorities which has been forged through centuries of close association. Servicemen and their families mix with civilians in connection with the town’s many and varied activities, whilst in turn civilians are welcomed to many entertainments and sporting events in the Station.

Over 2,000 years ago, in 180 BC, the Belgae came from the Low Countries to Britain, made Colchester their capital and called it Camulodunum. Coins of Cunobelinus (Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), who reigned from 5 BC to AD 43, make it the oldest recorded town in Britain. When the Romans under Claudius invaded in AD 43, Colchester was considered the most important town in Britain and became the Roman Headquarters. The Britons under Boadicea later attacked and sacked the town. The British hordes were eventually defeated, but it took East Anglia only a short time to recover from the devastation. In the 9th century the Norwegians, Vikings and Danes found Mersea to be an excellent camping site and used to winter there. The next foreign invaders were the Normans who built Colchester Castle on the site of an early Roman temple.

During the Middle Ages Colchester flourished as a market town and in the latter part of the 16th century Flemish weavers set up the profitable manufacture of bays and says, woollen fabrics of a fine texture which resembled serge. In the Civil War Colchester supported Parliament, but in 1648 the town was occupied by the Royalists and stood siege for the King. It was forced to surrender and General Fairfax had two of the Royalist leaders shot. Large camps were set up in Colchester in the 18th century and new regiments were raised locally and quartered in the town. During the Napoleonic Wars Wellington’s armies were stationed locally and brought the town prosperity.

Modern Colchester offers the sightseer ample evidence of its interesting history. Its most important ancient monument is the Castle which houses the locally excavated Roman remains. The Roman Walls, the Balkerne Gate (c. AD 80) and the St Botolph Priory ruins are also of interest. There are four other museums. “Holly Trees’’ contains a collection of domestic articles from the 17th century onwards and the redundant church of All Saints houses the Natural History Museum, the redundant Holy Trinity Church (Social History) and the nearly opposite Timperleys, which houses Mr Mason’s famous collection of clocks. Mention should also be made of the Castle Museum which contains, inter alia, one of the finest Roman archaeological collections in Britain.

Colchester has an excellent shopping centre, an attractive Town Hall and a well stocked Public Library. A wide variety of clubs and societies exists for particular hobbies and interests, while a cinema with six screens and a theatre provide general entertainment. Sporting facilities are good: Colchester United Football Club play in the Football League. The town is also famous for its oysters and roses. Colchester Zoo is set in 40 acres of beautiful, natural parkland and boasts over 150 species including Siberian tigers, snow leopards, lions, rhinos, elephants and many, many more. Some endangered species are being especially bred to ensure their survival, and the Zoo prides itself on providing a healthy and happy environment for the animals in its care. Admission is charged, but there is a free car and coach park.

There are many beautiful villages within easy reach of the town, particularly in the Dedham Vale made famous by Constable. Fine beaches and seaside resorts are also nearby. Town guides are obtainable at the Tourist Information Centre, 1 Queen Street, where enquiries are always welcome.

Details of other attractions and entertainments may be found in the advertisements in this Guide.

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