Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

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Colchester Castle is a beautifully preserved Norman stronghold with a rich history dating back to Roman times. Containing a fascinating collection and interactive displays, Colchester provides the perfect visit for those looking to know more about the area’s extensive history.

Colchester Castle history

Construction of Colchester Castle began in around 1076 and was completed by around 1100, for use as a royal fortress by William I – son of William the Conqueror. One of the most striking aspects of the Castle is its imposing keep, said to be the largest example of a Norman keep Britain.

The central tower’s grand size is a legacy from Roman times however, as it was built on the foundations of a vast Roman temple known as the Temple of Claudius, said to date back to the 1st century. Colchester itself was Roman Britain’s first capital, and today contains a host of fascinating Roman remains.

While today seen as the foundation of the eminent Colchester Castle, the Temple of Claudius has a dramatic story of its own. Having been attacked by the forces of Queen Boudicca, the people of Colchester shut themselves inside the temple, only to be killed within two days.

After its construction by the Normans, Colchester Castle would go on to witness a range of events over the course of its lifetime. In 1215 it was besieged by King John during the First Barons’ War, while during the English Civil War Royalist leaders Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were executed on its grounds – legend tells that grass will not grow where they fell.

Colchester Castle was also the site of the interrogation and jailing of ‘witches’ in 1645 by the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, who is believed to have been responsible for the execution of over 100 alleged witches.

Colchester Castle today

Today, Colchester Castle is a museum open to the public and remains the largest Norman keep in Europe! Using an interactive tablet, the Castle may be viewed as it was in medieval times, while its Chapel, well, and prison cells may also be explored, affording guests a glimpse into its fascinating thousand-year history.

Guided tours are available and allow access to view the foundations and remains of the Temple of Claudius, while on display is a collection of some of the country’s most important historical finds. From Roman statues and mosaics to Civil War armour, Colchester Castle has something for lovers of all historical eras!

Getting to Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle is located in Colchester, Essex, and can be reached via Junction 27 of the A12 into the town centre. Parking is available at the Priory Street and Britannia car parks, a few minutes walk to the site. Colchester Main train station is a 20-minute walk to the site, while Colchester Town is just a 10-minute walk. The main bus station in Colchester is also on Osbourne Street, a 10-minute walk to the site.


More witches were executed in Essex than in any other county in the UK.

After the English Civil War, with England still in turmoil, Essex saw the hanging of over 200 'suspected' women.

Matthew Hopkins, who proclaimed himself the Witchfinder General, was responsible for the finding and prosecution of these witches.

Colchester Castle was the base Hopkins used to imprison and interrogate many witches.

Thought to be a former solicitor, Matthew Hopkins appointed himself as the Witchfinder General, but was never directly employed by Parliament.

His career flourished during the English Civil war, when suspicion and fear amongst the local communities was intense.

Hopkins' first case was that of Elizabeth Clarke of Manningtree, who he successfully prosecuted as a witch and, as a result, gave evidence that led him to another five women.

Torture was illegal and therefore Hopkins used methods such as sleep deprivation and forced standing.

Some suspects were 'swam' this entailed women being tied up and being thrown into water - if she sank, the water then cleansed the suspect if she floated, the water had rejected the suspect and she was guilty.

Many women turned King's evidence, where the accused or convicted were able to implicate other women and provide evidence against those suspects.

Of the suspects Matthew Hopkins managed to convict, 100 witches were from the eastern counties.

The interrogations took place in the dark cells of Colchester Castle, where many women died as a result of their incarceration before ever being brought to court.

It was a very lucrative business, according to Alison Naylor, the Education Officer at Colchester Castle.

"The average daily wage was 6 pence a year, yet Hopkins was offered £23 in Stowmarket in Suffolk to condemn some witches," she said.

Hopkins' witch hunting career came to an end after just a year-and-a-half after coming to prominence in the region.

The reason why Hopkins career came to an end is unknown, though rumour has it he was accused himself of being a witch and was 'swam'.

It is also suggested he died from tuberculosis.

You can find out more about Matthew Hopkins in the ongoing exhibition at Colchester Museum. For more information, head to their Colchester Castle Museum.

Colchester castle was built for William I, probably by Eudes the sewer c. 1076, using for the foundation of the keep the podium of the Roman temple of Claudius. (fn. 1) The surviving building, 46.3 m. × 33.5 m., is the largest Norman keep in England, larger than the White Tower of London which was built on a similar plan. The ground plan of Colchester keep, including the apse in the south-east corner, may be based on that of the late Roman building, (fn. 2) but the evidence is conflicting. The keep was built of rubble, including much septaria, stone, and tile taken from Roman buildings, with dressings of ashlar and tile.

The Crown kept possession of the castle until 1101 when Henry I granted it, with the town, to Eudes the sewer. (fn. 3) It escheated to the Crown on Eudes's death in 1120, and remained in the king's hands, although held intermittently by hereditary constables between c. 1120 and 1214, until it was granted in tail male to Humphrey of Lancaster, later duke of Gloucester, in 1404. (fn. 4) In 1436 it was regranted to Humphrey and his wife Eleanor in tail, but on Humphrey's death without issue in 1447 Eleanor was refused dower, and the castle reverted to the Crown. (fn. 5) In 1616 it was fraudulently included in a grant of concealed lands made to Samuel Jones and John Jones, and in the same year their interest was acquired by the life constable John Stanhope, Lord Stanhope. Although Jones and Jones were found guilty of fraud and imprisoned in 1620, Lord Stanhope's son Charles continued to claim the reversion of the castle under the grant of 1616. (fn. 6)

In 1629 Charles I granted the reversion of the castle, which was still in the possession of Charles, Lord Stanhope (d. 1675), to James Hay, earl of Carlisle. (fn. 7) The earl mortgaged his interest to Archibald Hay in 1633 and conveyed it to him outright in 1636. Archibald Hay, having failed to obtain possession from Lord Stanhope, (fn. 8) sold the reversion of the castle in 1649 to the parliamentarian Sir John Lenthall. Lenthall sold it in 1656 to Sir James Norfolk, who bought out Lord Stanhope's interest in 1662. Norfolk retained possession of the castle until his death in 1680, and his son Robert in 1683 sold the keep, but not the bailey, to a Colchester ironmonger, John Wheeley, for its stone. Wheeley, whose speculations had already driven him into debt, demolished part of the keep in the later 1690s, but the operation proved unprofitable and in 1705 he sold the keep to Sir Isaac Rebow. (fn. 9)

In 1726 Sir Isaac devised it to his grandson Charles Chamberlain Rebow who sold it the following year to Mary Webster who gave it to her daughter Sarah Creffield (d. 1751) and Sarah's second husband Charles Gray. In 1727 Mary Webster bought the bailey, presumably also for the Grays. She confirmed the grant to Gray by her will, proved in 1754. (fn. 10) On Gray's death in 1782 the castle passed to Sarah's granddaughter Thamar Creffield and her husband James Round of Birch. (fn. 11) It remained in the Round family until 1920 when Captain E. J. Round sold it to the borough as a war memorial money for the purchase was given by W. D. Pearson, viscount Cowdray, high steward of the borough. (fn. 12)

Eudes the sewer was probably constable of the castle throughout the reigns of William I and William II, overseeing the completion of the keep and the construction of the bailey and putting the partly built castle into a state of defence to withstand the threatened invasion of Cnut of Denmark in 1085. (fn. 13) After his death his former under tenant Hamon of St. Clare became constable in 1130 he accounted for the farm and aids of the borough and of Eudes's lands in Essex. (fn. 14) He seems to have held the castle throughout the civil war of Stephen's reign despite the Empress Maud's grant of it to Aubrey de Vere in 1141. (fn. 15) Hamon died c. 1150 and was succeeded by his son Hubert of St. Clare who was constable at his death in 1155. (fn. 16) From 1155 to 1190 the castle was probably in the sheriff's hands, except for the period 1173-4, during the rebellion of the young king, when Ralph Brito seems to have been constable. The castle was strengthened, garrisoned, and victualled in those years but was not attacked. (fn. 17)

The castle was provisioned again in 1190, the equipment including 26 military tunics presumably for a garrison. (fn. 18) The following year John son of Godfrey became constable and was granted an allowance of £12 a year from the farm of Tendring hundred to maintain his position. (fn. 19) He was succeeded in 1196 by William de Lanvalai, Hubert of St. Clare's grandson, who in 1200 bought from King John the right to continue to enjoy the custody of the castle. (fn. 20) He died in 1204 and was succeeded first by his widow Hawise and then by his son, another William de Lanvalai. (fn. 21)

Early in November 1214 King John stayed in Colchester, presumably at the castle, for two days (fn. 22) he seems to have replaced de Lanvalai, a baronial partisan, by the sheriff, Matthew Mantell, who was almost at once ordered to hand the castle over to Stephen Harengood, probably a German or Flemish adherent of the king. (fn. 23) Mantell and Harengood carried out extensive works on the castle, and equipped and garrisoned it. (fn. 24) In July 1215, after the signing of Magna Carta, Harengood was ordered to restore the castle to de Lanvalai. (fn. 25) Colchester was thus one of the few castles not in the keeping of a royal supporter. By October 1215 de Lanvalai was in rebellion, or possibly dead, and later that year or early in 1216 the garrison was reinforced by a French contingent. (fn. 26) The castle held out against a siege by Savory de Meuleon in January 1216, but surrendered to King John in March. Harengood was reappointed constable and also made sheriff. (fn. 27) Early in 1217, however, the castle was surrendered to the French and their English associates in return for a truce. (fn. 28) It was restored to the Crown by the Treaty of Lambeth in 1218, provisioned again at a cost of £20, and committed to William of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, bishop of London. (fn. 29)

William handed the castle over to Eustace de Fauconberg, his successor as bishop of London, in 1223. (fn. 30) Eustace was succeeded as castellan by William Blund in 1227 and William by Randal Brito in 1229. (fn. 31) In 1230 the castle was granted to John de Burgh, who had married Hawise daughter and heir of the younger William de Lanvalai, to hold as William had held it, (fn. 32) but in 1232 John and his father Hubert de Burgh were ordered to deliver the castle to Stephen of Seagrave. (fn. 33) Stephen did not hold it long, as Ralph Gernon was constable in 1234 and delivered the castle to Hubert de Ruilli in 1236. (fn. 34) Richard de Muntfitchet was constable 1242-6 and sheriff 1244-6 (fn. 35) he may have been succeeded by the sheriff Richard of Whitsand, but in 1251 Henry of Haughton handed the castle over to John de Grey. (fn. 36) In 1255-6 the castle was committed to the sheriff Ralph of Ardern, but Guy of Rochford was keeper from 1256 until his banishment in 1258. (fn. 37)

In 1258 the castle was committed to the baronial leader Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, who held it until June 1262 or later although he had been ordered to surrender it to the sheriff the previous July. (fn. 38) It then seems to have remained in the sheriff's custody until October 1266 when it was transferred to Thomas de Clare who held it until 1268 when it was returned to the sheriff. (fn. 39) In 1271 the castle was granted for 5 years to the absent Prince Edward whose attorneys committed it to the sheriff in 1271 and to John of Cokefield in 1272. (fn. 40) In 1273 it was granted for life to John de Burgh who had held it from 1230 to 1232. (fn. 41) After his death in 1274 the sheriff received the castle again, and he and his successor held it until 1276 when its custody was transferred to Richard of Holebrook. (fn. 42) Holebrook may have held it until his death between November 1290 and March 1291, or the castle may have been part of the manor of Colchester assigned to Eleanor of Provence (d. 1291) in June 1290. (fn. 43) From 1291 to 1350 it appears to have been in the sheriff's custody except 1325-7, when a separate keeper was appointed. The castle was among those fortified and garrisoned in 1307-8 and again in 1321-2. (fn. 44)

From 1350 onwards, except for the period 1368-71, the keepership of the castle was held separately from the shrievalty. By then the castle was of little or no military importance, and those keepers who had more than a financial interest in it were primarily concerned with the gaol and its prisoners. Robert of Benhale was keeper from 1350 to his death in 1364 Lionel of Bradenham was constable, presumably under Benhale, in 1359. (fn. 45) From 1371, when the sheriff withdrew, the castle was kept in hand by the Crown until 1376 when it was committed to George of Felbridge at a rent of £10. (fn. 46) Felbridge held until 1384 when the castle was granted to Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, (fn. 47) on whose attainder in 1388 it was granted successively, for their lives, to Sir Walter de la Lee, to Sir John Littlebury in 1395, and to Robert Tey in 1396. (fn. 48)

After the death of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, in 1447 the castle, with many of the duke's other estates, was granted first to John Hampton, and then two months later to Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou. (fn. 49) Hampton seems to have served as constable under Margaret, for in that capacity he was held responsible for escapes in 1455 and 1460. (fn. 50) Margaret presumably held it until her attainder in 1461, when custody of the castle was granted for life to Sir John Howard, later duke of Norfolk, who was killed at Bosworth in 1485 and was succeeded by Thomas Kendall. (fn. 51) In 1496 the castle was granted for life to John de Vere, earl of Oxford, whose possession was declared in 1509 to be hereditary, allegedly deriving from the grant by the Empress Maud to Aubrey de Vere. (fn. 52) John de Vere (d. 1513) was succeeded by his nephew John de Vere (d. 1526), who was succeeded by his cousin another John de Vere (d. 1540). (fn. 53) Custody of the castle did not pass to the third John's son and heir, another John de Vere, but was granted in 1541 to his son-in-law Sir Thomas Darcy, later baron Darcy of Chich, who was replaced on Queen Mary's accession by Anthony Kempe. (fn. 54) Kempe himself was replaced in 1559 by Henry Macwilliams of Stambourne Hall (d. 1586) who was succeeded by his son another Henry Macwilliams (d. 1599). (fn. 55) The custody for the life of Mary Cheek, widow of the elder Henry Macwilliams, was then granted to her son-in-law Sir John Stanhope, later Lord Stanhope the grant was extended in 1603 to include Sir John's son Charles, and finally confirmed in 1607 to John and Charles Stanhope for their lives. (fn. 56) The Stanhopes were still in possession when the Crown alienated the castle in 1629.

The original arrangements for defending the castle are uncertain, and evidence for a system of castle-guard is slight, but lands in Darleigh in Little Bromley in 1248, in Wix in 1281, in Elmstead in 1317, in Great Oakley in 1327, and in Great Holland in 1331, owed castle-guard rents to Colchester castle. (fn. 57) In 1173 and 1174 and again in 1216 wages were paid to knights and serjeants in the castle, (fn. 58) and later garrisons were presumably also professional soldiers. It was claimed c. 1600 that the town had paid rents and owed services at the castle until the beginning of Elizabeth I's reign, (fn. 59) but there is no evidence what they were or whether they were related to castle-guard.

As long as it was in the king's hands, Colchester castle, like other royal castles, was extraparochial and outside the borough. In the later 13th century it served as an office for the sheriff. (fn. 60) In the 17th century, and probably earlier, borough officers might not arrest within the castle yard, and those who were not freemen could trade within the castle precinct without municipal disturbance. (fn. 61) In the 17th and 18th centuries the castle was usually held to be extraparochial although John Wheeley paid rates to All Saints' parish c. 1690. (fn. 62) Its status was challenged in 1809 and overturned in 1810 when it was ordered that occupants of houses in the bailey be rated in All Saints' parish. (fn. 63)

The Norman castle was built in at least two main stages. (fn. 64) In the first, marked by the temporary battlements whose outline survived at first floor level in 1988, the keep was raised to one storey. Shortly afterwards the corner towers were heightened. The first stage, which was almost certainly intended to be temporary, has been associated with the threatened invasion of Cnut of Denmark in 1085. Surviving Roman walls may have served as outer defences in the castle's earliest years, but by c. 1100 a bailey formed by an earth bank probably topped by a palisade had been built. Building work was resumed after the threat of invasion had passed. The single storey keep was levelled up to the height of the corner towers and then raised to three storeys with corner towers.

Plan of the Castle, 1876 (scale 1 : 667)

Internally the keep was originally divided into two main sections by a north-south wall, but after the completion of the upper storeys a second north-south wall was inserted into the eastern section. The ground-floor rooms had minimal lighting and were presumably designed for storage. The great hall probably occupied the western section of the first and second floors, and the central section may have been divided from it only by arcades. The eastern division presumably contained chambers on two floors. The apsidal south-east corner contained undercrofts on the ground and first floors and the chapel on the second floor. The chapel had aisles and an ambulatory and was probably lit by a clerestorey. There were two staircases, one between all floors at the south-west corner and one rising from the first floor at the north-west corner. Comparison with the White Tower and other early keeps suggests that the intended entrance would have been on the first floor, probably at the west end of the south side, but the only structurally original outer doorway to survive is a minor one, once approached by a timber stair, close to the north-west corner. The surviving main entrance on the ground floor, at the western end of the south wall just east of the south-west tower, is formed by a moulded arch of three orders which is of c. 1100, but was probably not intended for its present position. In the 12th century a stone forebuilding, which replaced an earlier timber stair, was constructed to give it protection.

Late Saxon buildings, including a chapel, seem to have survived immediately south of the keep and, protected by Roman walls, probably formed part of the living quarters of the first phase of the castle. Before or during the early stages of the construction of the keep in the 1070s or 1080s, a stone hall with adjoining chambers in a 'double pile' building was built south-east of the chapel and aligned with it. In the early 12th century the chapel was rebuilt and a fireplace similar to those in the surviving upper storey of the keep was inserted into the west wall of the hall. (fn. 65)

About £24 was spent on the repair of the castle in 1161, and further work was done on the castle and the king's houses in it in 1167 and 1170. (fn. 66) In 1172-3, just before the revolt of the young king, the castle was strengthened by the construction of a bailey, at a cost of £50. The work was probably the replacement of the wooden pallisade on top of the Norman bailey rampart by a stone wall, also on top of the rampart. The bailey had certainly been surrounded by a stone wall by 1182-3 when £30, including the cost of a lime kiln, was spent on its repair. Possibly, however, the bailey made in 1172-3 was the lower bailey to the north of the Norman bailey. Further work, costing over £18, was carried out in 1173-4. (fn. 67)

The castle was repaired regularly in the late 12th and early 13th century. Work on the gutters and roof of the keep was carried out in 1180 and 1181-2, and as much as £30 was spent on unspecified works in 1190. (fn. 68) In 1192 and 1195 a total of 60 marks was spent on repairs to the castle and the houses in it. (fn. 69) A further 50 marks was spent between 1199 and 1202, and smaller sums in 1204 and 1210, perhaps on preparations for King John's visits in 1203, 1205, 1209, and 1212. (fn. 70) The work may have included the remodelling of the bailey buildings: in the earlier 13th century the east end of the chapel was squared off, and the rooms east of the hall were demolished and replaced by new buildings to the west and north-east, set into the tail of the rampart. (fn. 71)

The castle was strengthened during the civil war of John's reign. A carpenter was paid 22 marks for work there in 1214 in 1215 Stephen Harengood was allowed 45 marks for its repair and the men of Colchester were given timber to enclose it. (fn. 72) The work may have included the replacement of the early 12th-century forebuilding by a barbican, and, if it had not been done earlier, the creation of the north bailey, probably surrounded by a timber palisade, between the earlier bailey and the town wall. Repairs in 1218 and 1219 presumably made good damage sustained in the two sieges of 1216. (fn. 73)

The palisade blown down in 1218 and replaced at a cost of c. £6 (fn. 74) probably surrounded the north bailey. It blew down again in 1237 and was re-erected at a cost of c. £39 in 1239. It was repaired again in 1275-6. (fn. 75) Repairs to the main structure of the castle in the 1220s included reroofing the corner towers of the keep and further work on the houses in the bailey, possibly extensions to the buildings north-west and north-east of the hall. (fn. 76) In 1237 the constable was instructed to complete works on the castle, and in 1242 the king's houses in the castle were repaired. (fn. 77) The constable spent 100 marks on the keep in 1253, possibly on the building of the barbican, if that had not already been done in 1214. Several oaks were supplied for that and other work. Major repairs were carried out in 1256. (fn. 78)

The main gate, in the south-west corner of the bailey wall opposite St. Nicholas's church, was not recorded until the 1240s (fn. 79) although it had presumably been built at the same time as the bailey wall. It was repaired in 1256 and again in 1300. (fn. 80) As late as 1669 there was a bridge over the castle ditch, presumably part of the gate. (fn. 81) There may have been a second gate, for what appears to have been the main gate, at the south end of Maidenburgh Street, was called the west gate in 1439-40 and 1459. (fn. 82)

Further work was carried out in 1258-9. Materials supplied for a hall in 1258 included four carved posts, presumably for the roof. In 1259 Roger Bigod, the constable, was allowed twelve oaks to make a chamber in the castle, timber allowed earlier having been stolen. (fn. 83) Another twelve oaks were used in 1271, presumably in the great stone chamber made about that date or in the repair of the hall. The chamber, with the wardrobe, pantry, buttery, and cellar associated with it, was near a turret, probably in the keep. (fn. 84) In 1333-4 the constable removed the house in the bailey where the justices used to sit and also the portcullis and possibly other parts of the entrance to the keep, but repairs were carried out in 1350 and again in 1422. (fn. 85) The gaol was apparently still in the bailey in 1455, but it was then so old and weak that prisoners were able to escape through a broken roof. (fn. 86) All the bailey buildings, except possibly part of one in the south-east corner, had disappeared by 1622. (fn. 87)

By c. 1600 the castle was no longer defensible, and the cost of repairs, including reroofing the hall and dungeon and partly blocking 25 loopholes, was estimated at £84. (fn. 88) By 1622 houses on the east side of Maidenburgh Street had encroached on the bailey ditch if not the wall. (fn. 89) By 1637 the hall roof had fallen in, and several encroachments, totalling 2 a., had been made on the bailey. The lower bailey to the north was an arable field. (fn. 90) The castle played little or no part in the seige in 1648, although the royalists considered using it as a stronghold and carried out some work including recutting the south bailey ditch. In 1650 it was reported not to be worth the cost of repair. (fn. 91)

Charles, Lord Stanhope, seems to have begun the demolition of the castle, digging up stones and levelling earthworks. In 1649 he removed 200 loads of stone from the bailey wall, and in 1656 he demolished another section of wall, presumably also in the bailey. The last sections of the bailey wall, on the south and west, were removed by Sir James Norfolk, probably in 1669 when he leased building plots on the south-west of the castle to a London bricklayer. (fn. 92) Part of the main bailey gate, however, seems to have survived in 1683 when Norfolk leased a plot of land beside it. (fn. 93) John Wheeley had licence to pull the keep down in 1683, but did not do so. In 1685 he granted building leases for lean-to houses or sheds against the west wall of the keep, and converted part of the bailey, which Norfolk had leased to him, into a bowling green. The building leases were challenged in 1694-5, and Wheeley turned to demolition, knocking down the upper storey and the corner towers of the keep with the help of screws and gunpowder. Stone from the castle was sold for the repair of town bridges in 1696 and 1698. Wheeley, or possibly Stanhope who removed 100 loads of sand from the castle site, broke into the sand-filled Roman vaults beneath the Norman structure. (fn. 94)

In 1728 and 1729 Charles Gray landscaped part of the bailey, reconstructing the north side of the bailey bank as a straight terrace walk ending in a temple-like summer house at the west end. Below it on the north he formed a regular canal in the former ditch. (fn. 95) He may also have altered the eastern bank and ditch which are aligned on his house and on which he built a rustic stone archway. Before 1732 he broke through a ground floor window in the south end of the east wall to make a doorway into the new garden. He does not appear at first to have made much use of the keep itself, leasing the western part, including the Roman vaults, the former dungeon vault west of the chapel vaults, and a large chamber or granary, to a Colchester merchant in 1733, and the eastern part, including the chapel undercroft and vaults, to the county as a prison in 1734. (fn. 96)

The castle from the south-east, 1718

In 1746 Gray started work on the keep, rebuilding the south-east turret in 1749 he restored the 'chapel' (in fact the undercroft), and in 1750 he repaired a room on the west side of the castle for use as a granary. He also strengthened foundations of the keep and the damaged vaults by covering them or filling them in with c. 400 loads of earth. The flat roof of re-used Roman bricks over the vault of the chapel undercroft, which survived in 1988, may have been built at that time. In 1754 and 1755 he remodelled much of the south side of the keep, creating on the first floor a library with large windows on its south side and an arcaded passage or piazza on the north. He built a similar arcade on the ground floor, to the east of the main entrance. In 1760 he raised the main staircase to the top of the surviving walls, roofing it over with a dome, and by 1767 he had built a room against the north-east tower. (fn. 97) Gray's work of restoration was apparently continued by James Round who presumably built the pitched roof which had replaced the flat roof over the chapel undercroft by 1791 and made the surviving east doorway between 1786 and 1804. (fn. 98) No further major alterations were made until 1931 when the Roman vaults were reinforced. In 1934-5 the keep was roofed in steel over a concrete frame, and a bridge was made to the main entrance where the ground had been dug away by recent excavations. (fn. 99)

The castle was used as a prison in 1226, and was delivered regularly from 1236. (fn. 100) It continued as the county prison until 1667, (fn. 101) even when the sheriff was not constable in 1256, for example, the sheriff was ordered to keep a prisoner in the king's prison there by grant of Guy of Rochford the keeper. (fn. 102) The castle was transferred to the sheriff in 1275 expressly so that he might keep prisoners there, and when the keepership was granted to Richard of Holebrook the following year the sheriff's right of access for prisoners was reserved. (fn. 103) A grant of the keepership of the gaol made in 1343 was revoked in 1344 when it was found that the custody of prisoners belonged to the sheriff. (fn. 104) When the constableship was separated from the shrievalty in 1350 the constable or keeper was made responsible for the prisoners, and later constables were held accountable for escapes like any sheriff. (fn. 105) The sheriff resumed responsibility for the gaol under the Gaols Act of 1504. (fn. 106)

Presumably all keepers, whether sheriffs or not, appointed deputies who were effectively gaolers, like the constable's deputy who was pardoned for an escape in 1487. (fn. 107) John Flinchard and William de Roigne, constables accused of extortion in the 1270s, were probably deputies, as was Edmund, constable of the castle, killed in 1283. (fn. 108) Roger Chamberlain or Gaoler (d. 1360) and his wife Helen, who may have succeeded him, were commemorated by an inscription inside the main entrance to the castle. (fn. 109) Other gaolers were recorded in 1406 (William Dych keeper of Colchester castle or gaol), 1417 (Richard Baynard gaoler of the gaol of Colchester), and 1428 (Jacolet Germain). (fn. 110)

Among medieval prisoners were the vicar of Coggeshall, imprisoned in 1296 for fishing in Coggeshall abbey fishponds, and the master of St. Leonard's hospital, Newport, and the parson of Theydon Bois, imprisoned in 1331 and 1334 for forest offences. (fn. 111) There were Jews in the gaol in 1253, pirates in 1326, 'the king's enemies', perhaps opponents of the Despensers, in 1326, and heretics in 1428. (fn. 112) Later prisoners included Robert Mantell or Blosse, who claimed to be Edward VI, in 1580, prisoners of war in 1547, 1603, and 1653, protestants in 1557, popish recusants in 1596 and 1625, royalists in 1642, and Quakers in the 1650s and 1660s. (fn. 113) In the mid 17th century the castle gaol was used only for felons and rogues prisoners taken in civil actions such as debt or trespass were not sent there. (fn. 114)

In 1619 the gaoler was accused of keeping an unruly alehouse in the prison and his successor in 1629 killed a prisoner who attacked his house. In 1631 the building was so dilapidated that prisoners were exposed to wind and weather, the gaoler was cruel, and the food inadequate. (fn. 115) In 1633 the roof of the dungeon leaked seriously, and on one occasion in 1646 the prisoners had to stand up to their knees in water all night. The county agreed to pay £40 for repairs to make the gaol secure, but paid only £20 although the gaoler spent £30. (fn. 116) There were still prisoners in the gaol in 1667, but by 1668 the county prison had moved to the Cross Keys, Moulsham. (fn. 117)

For most of the period 1691-1835, except for the years 1703-6 and 1712-16, part of the castle was used as a county prison for prisoners from the Colchester area. At first the prison was in the vault or dungeon west of the chapel vaults in 1727 it was moved to the vaults of the chapel undercroft. (fn. 118) A house in the north-east corner of the keep, built before 1732, was occupied by the goaler. (fn. 119) In 1780 the prison comprised a dayroom for women and three cells for men, the latter divided from each other by gratings to allow the circulation of light and air from the two windows. All four rooms were in vaults below the chapel undercroft. (fn. 120) In 1787 and 1788 the gaol was enlarged by enclosing the south end of the eastern courtyard (formed by the east wall of the castle and the surviving partition wall) to make a prison of two storeys and an attic, the upper storey and attic containing two rooms for women, and the lower storey a day room and three cells for men. (fn. 121) Although the goal was in good repair in 1818 when the lease was renewed, new rules on prison accommodation introduced in 1824 made it almost useless, and it was closed in 1835. (fn. 122) The keeper's house was demolished in 1881. (fn. 123) A new county house of correction in Ipswich Road was opened in 1835 and closed in 1850. (fn. 124)

The undercroft was used as a militia armoury from 1819 to 1854 in 1855 it was dedicated by Charles Gray Round as a museum for the town. In 1865 Round gave a small room in the southwest tower as a town muniment room. (fn. 125)

Lands in Colchester were held with the castle in the early 12th century when Eudes the sewer gave the issues of the castle chapel to St. John's abbey. (fn. 126) A steward of the castle and lordship, distinct from the constable, was appointed in 1447, (fn. 127) but the office was not recorded again. Kingswood was said to belong to the keepership of the castle in 1217, (fn. 128) but it was not later included among the castle lands. In 1271 the lands were said to comprise 110 a. of arable and 28 a. of meadow. (fn. 129) The arable was reckoned at 180 a. between 1376 and 1559 but at only 124 a. in 1599, possibly a belated recognition of medieval alienations to the Greyfriars and others. The meadow was consistently reckoned at 27 a. Quit rents of 30s. a year were recorded from 1364. (fn. 130) In the earlier 17th century the lands lay in two main blocks. The first comprised Great and Little Sholand and Broomfield (c. 31 a.) between Lexden and Maldon Roads with the Long Strake (2 a.) on the other side of Maldon Road, all annexed to the bailiwick of Tendring hundred which was held with the castle. The second comprised the lands around the castle itself, the upper bailey (8 a.), Great Barley, Middle, and Home fields, (40-50 a.), Little Barley or Sheepshead field (5 a.), Great and Little Rowan meads (22 a.), and four parcels (10 a.) in King's meadow. In addition there were two arable closes (8 a.) north of King's meadow, which were annexed to the bailiwick of Tendring hundred, and Castle Grove (10 a.) a little way to the north-east in Mile End parish. Two thirds of Middle mill also belonged to the castle. (fn. 131)

The lands descended with the castle until 1683 when Robert Norfolk sold the keep to John Wheeley. He retained the lands, including the bailey, until his death in 1688 when they passed to his infant daughter Dorothy, who died the same year, and then to his sister Martha wife of Hope Gifford. Martha died without issue in 1722 and was succeeded by her heir at law Elizabeth, wife of John Embrey, who in 1725 sold half the castle lands to Francis Powell. In 1727 Powell sold to Mary Webster Castle Grove or Banks hedge, Sheepshead field, and the castle bailey, which were thus reunited with the castle. (fn. 132) Charles Gray bought the bailiwick of Tendring hundred, presumably with some of the lands annexed to it, c. 1750, and a further c. 57 a., including Sholand and Broomfield, in 1757. (fn. 133)

The tithes of the castle lands were held by St. John's abbey until the Dissolution and were then retained by the Crown until 1560 when they were granted to Sir Francis Jobson. They descended to his granddaughter Mary Jobson and to her son Edward Brooke who sold them to Sir James Norfolk in 1652. The tithes were thus merged in the castle estate, which became tithe free. (fn. 134)

Boudica and The Slaughter at Camulodunum

Camulodunum (Colchester) was the capital of Roman Britain, and the site of the first battle of the Iceni rebellion. What happened at Camulodunum deserves special mention as it was not simply a battle, but a systematic slaughter of every Roman who lived there.

The rage of the occupied Britons is hard to overestimate. The wound that had been festering among the British tribes at the rough handling of the indigenous people was finally cauterised with the systematic butchering of every Roman in Camulodunum.

Boadicea (Boudica) haranguing the Britons, by John Opie

The mutual hatred at the time was palpable. Boudica was ruler of a satellite kingdom to Rome, and by that measure, very probably a Roman citizen. After the death of her husband Prasutagus, the imperial procurator Decianus Catus seized all of his estate. When Boudica contested this, she was flogged and her daughters raped. To strip and flog a Roman citizen would have been anathema, but more than that, to gang-rape two princesses, who were most probably virgins, was even more unthinkable. The fact that the Roman historian Tacitus describes these events so sparingly shows the abhorrence with which this would have been considered at the time. Tacitus, who delights in the description of the later brutalities of the campaign, is circumspect at best in describing these atrocities, for that is what they were. This shows his shock and disgust at these events. Romans considered the Iceni sub-human and treated them so the Iceni saw their occupiers as brutal and amoral. This sickening symbiosis of hatred led to what was one of the most violent massacres of the time.

Camulodunum was no different to any other Roman occupied town at that time. With the indigenous peoples being taxed to pay for their own servitude, the occupation was universally despised. At the same time there was famine and people were going hungry: add to this the fact that some taxes were paid in grain, and the resentment only deepened. Furthermore, young Iceni men were being conscripted into the Roman army to fight and die for those they hated, and the tribal lands were being systematically seized by Roman citizens, dispossessing those who had lived on and farmed that land for years.

Bust of the Emperor Claudius

However, what made Camulodunum more important than most was the adding of insult to this already immeasurable injury: the construction of the Temple of Claudius. This temple was erected in the town to honour the very Roman Emperor who had enforced their subjugation. The people loathed this symbol of Roman dominance.

When Boudica’s rebellion began in outrage in AD60, Camulodunum was not chosen as the first target for their collective retribution by accident, but because it exemplified the quintessential Roman rule in Britain at the time.

The land surrounding the town had been taken from the Trinobantes tribe and given to Roman veterans to live out their retirement in peace and comfort. The town had been completely rebuilt on a Roman grid system and the temple to Claudius had been erected within it.

The Roman Balkerne Gate at Colchester

The Trinobantes had been some of the first to join the rebellion, aching to revenge themselves on their Roman overlords. As the army (and it was an army) marched towards Camulodunum many, many more people joined the rebellion. It was no longer an Iceni force but a British one, furious and hell bent on erasing the Romans from British lands. Estimates vary wildly, but when the army reached Colchester it was certainly in the tens of thousands, with some historians arguing it may have numbered as many as one hundred thousand.

Camulodunum was completely unprepared for the onslaught. If they had known that Boudica was coming for them with her armies, they were certainly not as afraid as they should have been, at least not until it was too late. When the Roman veterans and townspeople realised this was not a mere gaggle of women but a rolling tide of rage and hatred, heading straight for them with a palpable blood thirst, they begged Londinium for help. But it was too late. There were no legions in the area and Londinium sent a paltry 200 men to their defence. The veterans did the best they could, they were no strangers to Rome’s fight, but they were long retired, and the 200 sent to help them were not nearly enough.

The battle was over before it began. Boudica and her army slaughtered everyone. They poured into the town like an unstoppable plague of death and destruction. People fled where they could but were inevitably caught and brutalized. Some historians state that women had their breasts cut off and forced down their throats people were hacked to pieces where they stood or cut down as they ran. It is no exaggeration to say that the streets would have run red with blood. Those who turned to their Emperor and their gods for help by taking refuge in the temple that was so despised, were routed and murdered. No one was left alive. The Britons revenge was bloody, brutal and unstoppable.

Camulodunum was not a battle within a rebellion, it was a revenge massacre. So great was the tribes’ rage, they did not even loot the town but purposefully burned the buildings to the ground. They would rather annihilate any sign of Roman occupation rather than take anything of value to be found. When they had exacted their terrible revenge on Camulodunum their focus turned to Londinium, where the rebellion was to claim even more lives. When it was finally over, the death toll was estimated at around 70,000.

There is one enduring mystery to this. It is undeniable that this massacre occurred and that the Iceni rebellion took place, and yet, where are the bodies of those that were slaughtered at Camulodunum? Throughout history there are only two instances of bones being found in Colchester dating from Boudica’s rebellion, once in 1965 and then again in 2014. If so many people perished within this town, where are their remains? And what really happened to the bodies of those who were butchered so brutally in Camulodunum in AD60?

Essex Witch Hunt Victims Memorial

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Between the 16th and 17th centuries, a wave of suspicion and superstition surrounding witches led to the executions of thousands across Great Britain.

More trials and executions for witchcraft took place in Essex than in any other county in the United Kingdom. A granite stone memorializing these tragic events is now located directly opposite Colchester Castle—a place where more than 200 male and female prisoners awaited trial or execution for witchcraft.

Colchester Castle is over 920 years old, but its history dates back even further, as it’s believed the Roman Temple of Claudius forms the castle’s foundation. In 1645, the castle was converted into a prison by the self-appointed “Witchfinder General,” Matthew Hopkins of nearby Mistley. Parliament never granted him this title.

Hopkins’s first case was the trial of Elizabeth Clarke from Manningtree. He successfully prosecuted her as a witch and also obtained evidence from the trial that led him to five other women. This was only the beginning. By the end of his notorious career, it’s believed Hopkins may have been responsible for the deaths of 300 individuals who were tried for witchcraft.

Hopkins used Colchester Castle and its dungeons to interrogate and imprison suspected witches. Although torture was illegal, Hopkins still used methods such as forced standing and sleep deprivation to elicit confessions. There were also trials and tests such as the “swimming test.” The accused were thrown into a pond tied to a chair to see if they would float. If they did not drown to death, they were found guilty and faced public execution. The appalling treatment and conditions in the castle meant that many died solely from their imprisonment, primarily from Typhus, which was commonly known as “jail fever.”

When film director John Worland first learned about the horrors that took place within the castle and the various trails, he decided those victims needed to be honored. Although the witch trials took place hundreds of years ago, he felt it was never too late to raise awareness of the persecutions and horrors that occurred.

Colchester Council granted permission for a plaque to be placed near the gates of Castle Park, in remembrance of the first 33 victims of Hopkins’s witch hunts who were imprisoned at Colchester Castle.

The plaque includes an inscription that reads in part: “In memory of the victims of the “Essex Witch Hunts” who were imprisoned in Colchester Castle. This plaque is placed as a memorial to them all and in the hope of an end to persecution and intolerance.”

Know Before You Go

If you're entering Castle Park at the War Memorial gate, then this plaque is located in the grass on your left, facing the castle and past a set of benches.

If you're entering via the gate on the High street, go past the bridge and toward the pond. The memorial will be on your right before you get to the War Memorial gate.

All the reasons why Colchester is the 'worst' place to live in Essex

As Britain&aposs first city and former capital, Colchester once made quite a name for itself.

The market town has a long and interesting history, some of which can still be seen in the form of structures like Colchester Castle and the ruins of Balkerne Gate that are still standing.

Although it has a history full of triumph, today Colchester&aposs reputation can be less glamorous.

It is very easy to criticise the place you live, so here at EssexLive we are taking a look at some of Colchester&aposs biggest &aposdownfalls&apos - and why it&aposs actually one of the best darn towns we&aposve got.

1. "There are students, students everywhere"

It seems like everywhere you look in Colchester there are students in one form or another, but that&aposs a great thing.

The students range from school age through to college and then degree level.

Essex University is very close by so that brings thousands of students into the town. There&aposs also Colchester Sixth Form that is right in the heart of the town on North Hill bringing crowds of noisy teens to the centre.

Colchester Institute is also nearby, meaning the town is full of thousands of students wearing lanyards to represent their chosen place of education.

The students are brilliant at bringing new ideas and culture to the area, plus they are not shy to talk about things that are wrong.

2. "What about the statues that pop up over night?"

In recent years Colchester has had several statues and artwork seemingly turn up out of the blue.

More often than not the new additions have faced criticism over what they look like, but we think they&aposre actually great and a fantastic talking point.

In 2017, &aposWalking Woman&apos and &aposMan with Cup&apos appeared outside the new Fenwick store on the High Street.

The seven foot woman on the pavement and the four foot six man hiding away on the side of the building left many locals confused and wondering what they have to do with Colchester.

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The creator of the art work, Sean Henry described the sculptures as being &aposdeliberately anonymous&apos in an attempt to celebrate Colchester&aposs united humanity.

Although a beautiful message, Henry&aposs wise words hasn&apost stopped people from vandalising the bronze woman statue, which cost £75,000, on numerous occasions.

Let&aposs also not forget about the metal elephants at the start of the High Street that point towards the train station and the town centre.

These statues were a great idea, drawing attention to the history of Colchester where a Roman Emperor rode into the town on an elephant.

3. "Public transport is so unreliable"

If you are from Colchester you will be aware that people are regularly complaining about public transport.

Social media is full of people moaning that their bus hasn&apost turned up, or that their train is delayed.

The truth is, Colchester has some really good transport links.

The town has two train stations and commuters can get direct trains to many places including London, Ipswich, Norwich and Clacton.

Things don&apost always run perfectly to schedule, but you have to think about the problems they face daily, the biggest of which being traffic, anyone who drives knows that if you hit standstill traffic there is nothing you can do.

Just like the train links, Colchester buses can take you to a great selection of places across the county including Southend, Brentwood and Stansted airport.

I&aposm sure many people would rather wait a little longer for a bus then pay out a lot more money on a taxi.

4. "Everywhere you look there is a Poundland"

Colchester residents are never far away from a cheap deal, in fact it seems like everywhere you look there is a Poundland or similar store.

There were once four Poundland stores all within a mile of each other, three were in the town centre and the other is just on the outskirts.

Two of the stores were just 100 meters from each other, but one of these has now closed.

Colchester does have many &aposcheap shops&apos that offer locals the chance of getting essentials and extras for low prices, but it isn&apost all budget stores.

As well as all your typical high street stores, Colchester is also home to lots of smaller, quirkier shops and boutiques particularly if you take a look down Eld Lane.

There&aposs also the likes of Fenwicks, perhaps Essex&aposs fanciest department store, which is a total gold mine for presents at Christmas.

Basically, it&aposs a brilliant place to shop.

5. "There is little nightlife"

Whenever anyone is asked to talk about the nightlife in Colchester their minds instantly go to ATIK. As the only nightclub in the town, ATIK attracts a variety of groups.

Young people who have just turned 18 swarm there for their first experience of &aposgoing out&apos so it can often get very messy. On the other hand older people also regularly attend to re-live their party years.

People from Colchester wish there was more than one choice of nightclub so they can have a bit of variety to their nights out rather than always going to ATIK.

But, if you are up for trying something different, Colchester is home to many different pubs and bars.

They may not specifically be nightclubs, but lots of them have music and dancing until the early hours so offer a similar experience as clubs.

In the town you have lots of bars that offer this, including Yates, Slug and Lettuce and V Bar.

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6. "There are too many restaurants"

In the past few years there have been lots of new restaurants opening up in Colchester, particularly in the High Street.

These include several chains like Turtle Bay, Wagamama and Five Guys.

People complain that the restaurants are taking away shops from the town and making it less appealing to those looking to go shopping.

But it has actually added to the great selection on offer and brings people into the town centre.

There are also loads of brilliant independent places around like TripAdvisor&aposs top Italian Miseria e Nobiltà.

For anyone looking at making a day out of their shopping trip, having lots of choice to go for a bite to eat is very appealing.

7. "There are houses being built everywhere"

There have been several plans to add more housing to the town, including large amounts of student accomodation.

Suggestions of new shops, leisure activities and community buildings have been made but more and more housing plans keep appearing.

Yet with more houses come more developments, and that is good news.

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There are other developments coming to Colchester that aren&apost all about housing, you just need to look outside of the town centre.

In Stanway, Stane Retail park is due to be completed soon, offering shops and restaurants to customers.

There are also other plans for Tollgate still being discussed which could bring a whole new entertainment complex to the area.

8. "All we are known for is the zoo"

Whenever you ask anyone not from Colchester what they know about the town they will usually talk about the zoo.

As one of the best zoos in the country, many people have heard about it, and we are proud of it.

The truth is that Colchester Zoo is incredible, no one can deny that after all there is a reason it is voted one of the UK&aposs best.

However we do know that Colchester has so much more to offer, such as Colchester Castle and the park around it, several theatres and some beautiful nature reserves.

9. "They have forgotten their history"

As Britain&aposs first city, Colchester has an amazing history.

Several years ago, the remains of a Roman circus were found during building work.

The discovery was a rare one, in fact it&aposs the only one found in Britain, which excited history lovers.

We know that Colchester is packed full of history and evidence to prove it and there are ways you can find out more.

Sign up to the EssexLive newsletter

If you&aposre looking for a way to stay up-to-date with the latest breaking news from around Essex, the EssexLive newsletter is a good place to start.

The twice-daily update will deliver the top news and features to your inbox every morning and evening.

We choose the most important stories of the day to include in the newsletter, including crime, court news, long reads, traffic and travel, food and drink articles and more.

Signing up to the newsletter is simple. All you have to do is to click here and type in your email address.

It&aposs one of the many ways that you can read the news that matters to you from EssexLive.

The obvious one is the castle, which has a museum inside, but there are more places in the town where you can find out more.

Colchester Arts Centre holds regular events where you can find out more about the town&aposs heritage with a tour from a former politician, and there is even a Natural History Museum on the High Street.

We are pleased to see that Colchester has been embracing it&aposs history more in recent years, with signs telling visitors that it was Britain&aposs first city displayed proudly around the town.


At the time of the revolt, the Romans were so sure of their hold on East Anglia that the only troops in the area were 200 members of the procurator's guard. Even joined by the veteran colonists, these were woefully inadequate to stop the tribal tide that descended upon an undefended Colchester. Tacitus says that: 'It seemed easy to destroy the settlement for it had no walls. That was a matter which Roman commanders, thinking of amenities rather than needs, had neglected.' (Annals xiv.30), and the archaeological record confirms that the walls of the legionary fortress had been filled in to make way for the temple precinct and other amenities.

Colchester Castle - History

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Only open at certain times

olchester Castle is located on the exposed East coast of the country and was needed by William the Conqueror to defend against the invading Danes. At Colchester there were the remains of a large Roman camp and temple on which it was decided to build a new castle. Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester took control of the construction as well as the White Tower in London and building work may have started in 1080. After the threat of invasion had reduced, the castle passed into the hands of Eudo de Rie, who was held the title of high steward. Successive stewards were granted the control of the castle until 1215 when an invasion force from France captured the castle. The French handed the castle back after the death of king John in 1216.

Location Map (click to explore)

Colchester castle begun

To defend the estuaries of Essex against attacks from the Danes William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a new castle at Colchester.

Colchester Castle passes to Eudo

Once the threat from invasion had reduced, the castle was passed into the control of Eudo de Rie, who held the position of high steward.

Colchester Castle occupied by the French

An invasion force from France under direction of Philippe II, the king of France captured Colchester Castle. Their objective was to help the cause of the Baron's against king John.

3D Virtual Reconstructions

Transport yourself back up to a thousand years and explore historical buildings as they may have appeared in the past. Built using the popular game development tool Unity 3D, these reconstructions will run in the most of the popular web browsers on your desktop or laptop computer.

Uncover the lives of the hundreds of kings, queens, lords, ladies, barons, earls, archbishops and rebels who made the medieval people an exciting period of history to live through.

Colchester Castle - History

Notes: Colchester has numerous parking facilities although note that Priory Street allows parking in direct vicinity of the Roman Walls and is a good place to start walking the circuit.

Colchester Walls . The Legionary fortress was built in AD 44 and included a large annexe to the east. When the Colony was established circa-AD 50, the defences of the fortress were levelled to enable the town to expand. When it was rebuilt following the Boudica revolt, the walls enclosed a much larger area than the former fortress and this remained the boundary thereafter. The Normans built their castle on top of the podium of the Temple of Claudius and surrounded the structure with an oval shaped bailey.

Balkerne Gate . The impressive remains of the Roman West Gate which connected to the London road. This was also the site of a Monumental Arch built to celebrate the conquest and Balkerne Gate was built around it. This unusual arrangement led to the gate being blocked up at some point in the late Roman era and explains why this segment of gate has managed to survive.

Bastion . One of the surviving Roman Bastions on Priory Street.

Longinus (Left) . Longinus was born in modern day Bulgaria and joined the First Thracian Cavalry. He rose to second in command, took part in the invasion of Britainnia and died at Colchester in AD 55 aged 40.

Marcus Favonius Facilis . An Officer in the Twentieth Legion, the tombstone of Marcus Favonius Facilis is the earliest yet found in Britain. He died circa-AD45 and was buried along the main road from Colchester to London.

Castle Entrance . The original entrance to the castle was planned to be on the north side on the first floor. However, a delay to construction caused by the 1075 Earls Rebellion resulted in a change of plan and the entrance was moved to the south side on the ground floor. Visitors will note the entrance is still higher than the surrounding ground level and this is due to the height of the Roman temple podium on which the castle was built.

Foundations . The castle’s foundations are accessible via a guided tour and are well worth the visit. These are the original remains of the Roman Temple of Claudius.

Siege of Colchester, 1648 . The town witnessed a vicious twelve week siege in Spring/Summer 1648 during the Second Civil War. Sir Thomas Fairfax surrounded the town with earthwork forts/siege works and attempted to starve the garrison into submission. The town was also extensively shelled with several of the churches - St Mary’s and St Martin’s - still bearing the scars.

Colchester was a substantial Iron Age fortified settlement and the first target of the Romans when they invaded in AD 43. They built first a Legionary fortress and then a colony for veteran soldiers on the site. The latter was destroyed by Boudica but the settlement was rebuilt and in the eleventh century the Normans added Colchester Castle.


Iron Age Canulodunum was a fortified area covering around 10 square miles and was the spiritual home of the cult of Camulos - a war-god widely worshipped in Britain. Unlike Iron Age forts elsewhere in the country, such as hill forts or promontory forts, Canulodunum consisted of a series of dykes - a V-shaped ditch and earth bank - that isolated an area of land sitting between the River Colne and (what is now known as) Roman River. Within was a largely rural landscape with numerous small farmsteads plus two main population centres at Gosbecks and Sheepen both of which were protected by further dykes. Sheepen, which would later be the site of the Legionary fortress and modern day Colchester, was the industrial centre of Canulodunum situated next to the River Colne for easy access to the sea.

Claudius became Emperor of Rome in AD 41 following the assassination of his nephew, Caligula. Allegedly a frail individual with no previous military experience, Claudius sought an easy victory both to forge his credentials with the army and to secure his political position. The invasion of Britain, previously attacked by Julius Caesar in 55 BC and 54 BC, seemed the obvious choice. Despite a mutiny threatening to stop the invasion before it started, the initial attack was entirely successful. Four Legions, under the command of Aulus Plautius, landed at Richborough and advanced into the interior fighting battles near the Rivers Medway and Thames as they advanced towards Camulodunum . Prior to his assault on this settlement, Plautius halted and called for the Emperor, who duly arrived with his Praetorian guard and war-elephants, to take the lion's share of the glory for its subsequent capture. There eleven native Kings, one from as far afield as the Orkney Islands, submitted to Claudius. After just sixteen days in Britain, he departed fully able to claim he had achieved the submission of the whole of Britannia. However, for the Roman Army the military campaign was only just beginning.

The initial Roman base was probably about 1 mile to the west of the site of Colchester near a series of earthwork dykes. However a fort was established at Gosbecks and possibly also at Colchester itself in 1960 archaeological evidence found traces of a ditch and rampart within the perimeter of the Legionary fortress and seemingly pre-dating it. Based on this discovery, it seems plausible that this fort was built in late AD 43 perhaps to support a small garrison throughout the Winter of that year or to house a detachment that was assigned to work on construction of a more substantial fortress.

Work started on the Legionary fortress in AD 44 on the site of modern day Colchester with the intent it would become the base for the Twentieth Legion ( Legio XX Valeria Victrix ). Built upon a ridge of high ground overlooking the River Colne, it enclosed 50 acres but, almost immediately, was augmented with a large annexe that added a third as much space again. The reason for the latter is unknown although is generally presumed to have provided additional secure space for storage and workshops. Both fortress and annexe were protected by a V-shaped ditch and a turf rampart built upon a timber base and fronted with blocks of sun-dried clay.

The fortress was built to a standardised plan with a Headquarters Building, the Principia , in the centre and the remainder of the site dominated by barracks and workshops. Accommodation for the Officers, including a dedicated Commanding Officer's House, plus Granaries and a hospital would also have been found within the walls. A bath house would also have been found on the site, perhaps within the annexe. Based on archaeological excavation to date, the buildings within the fortress seems to have been unusually compact perhaps indicative of the requirement for the base to provide facilities for a substantially enhanced garrison or extra administrative staff to manage the new province.

The fortress was probably not completed when it was abandoned around AD 49. The Roman conquest was struggling against a determined opposition led by Caratacus, an original native of Colchester. He had mustered a force centred on modern day Wales and accordingly the Twentieth Legion was moved to a new base at Gloucester.

The abandoned military facilities of Canulodunum were recycled as a colony ( colonia ) - a settlement for retiring Roman soldiers who had completed their term of service with the army. Known as Colonia Victricensis , many of the barracks and buildings of the former fort were simply converted for use by the new occupants. As part of the new settlement, a Temple was constructed to honour Emperor Claudius and the goddess Roma. A substantial building that stood over 20 metres tall - higher than the remains of the Norman castle - it was constructed from stone with a tiled roof. Eight columns dominated the facade.

Despite having emerged from the Legionary fortress, Colonia Victricensis had no defences as the ditches and ramparts of the former fort had been flattened as the settlement expanded. This proved disastrous when in AD 60, whilst a large portion of the military forces in Britannia were engaged in North Wales, the Iceni tribe of Norfolk rebelled. Ignited by Roman mismanagement, the rebellion quickly spread under the leadership of Boudica. A half hearted attempt to deal with the situation by sending a small force of military logisticians ended with their annihilation at the hands of the rebels. A detachment of the veteran Ninth Legion ( Legio IX Hispana ) was then deployed. With around 1,500 troops and supported by a mounted element, this force was expected to have been sufficient to deal with any small scale uprising. However en route they were ambushed, overwhelmed and massacred with only a few of the mounted troops escaping with their lives. Boudica’s amassed force then descended upon Camulodunum .

The destruction wrought on the unfortunate inhabitants by the vengeful Britons is clearly evident in archaeology. A thick burnt layer visible in any dig across the town is indicative of total destruction. The residents sought sanctuary in the Temple of Claudius, hopeful that its thick stone walls that stood over 20 metres tall, would provide shelter. However the rebels were able to climb onto the roof, smash through and set fire to the building. The massacre sent shockwaves through the Roman community of Britannia but Boudica was not done - she next targeted the Roman port at Londinium (London) and then the Romano-British settlement at Verulamium (St Albans).

Under the command of Suetonius Paulinus, the Romans now amassed their forces to deal with the uprising. All forces in the province were ordered to rendezvous on Watling Street, the Roman road running between Richborough and Chester. The assembled force numbered around 10,000 men drawn from the Fourteenth Legion ( Legio XIV Germina ) supported by elements of the Ninth ( Legion IX Hispana ) and Twentieth ( Legio XX Valeria Victrix ) along with supporting auxiliaries. Somewhere along Watling Street the Romans engaged Boudica and, despite being significantly outnumbered, massacred the rebels. The province was then brutally stabilised by Paulinus who launched a punitive assault on the native populace. Such was the level of his retaliation that, to prevent further war, he was recalled to Rome and replaced by Julius Classicianus who led a more conciliatory administration (his tombstone was later found as part of the rubble core inside one of the fourth century AD towers).

Rebuilding With A Defensive Wall

Work on rebuilding Colchester, albeit on a smaller scale than previously, started almost immediately. This time the settlement was a recipient of a defensive wall that permanently established the line of defences that we know today and the original Iron Age dyke system was restored to provide additional protection. The Temple of Claudius was also refurbished.

It is unlikely Colchester was ever completely abandoned following the end of Roman rule in Britain in the early fifth century AD although its population would have been a fraction of that in its heyday. In the decades that followed, its proximity to the sea and the east coast made it ripe for Saxon settlers who established their own distinct types of houses amongst the Roman ruins. By the early sixth century Colchester had become part of the Kingdom of Essex which was annexed by Mercia in the mid-eighth century. In AD 825 the last King of Essex, Sigered, ceded Essex to King Egbert of Wessex.

The eighth and ninth centuries saw England increasingly come under attack from Vikings - Norwegians and Danes who raided coastal locations for booty. By the mid-ninth century raiding had turned into invasion with the great Kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia falling under their control. In AD 877 the Danes defeated Mercia taking control of its eastern lands and this included the former Kingdom of Essex, now part of the Wessex. This was the time of King Alfred the Great who established fortified burhs and he managed to check the Danish advance. However, it would be his son - Edward the Elder of Wessex - along with Aethelfaed of Mercia, who would start the re-conquest of England. In AD 917 their armies arrived at Colchester and drove out the Danes. The town was rebuilt and the Roman defences restored converting it into a fortified burh. By AD 920 everything south of the Humber was back in Saxon hands.

At the time of the Norman Invasion, East Anglia was one of the most populous areas of the country. Colchester was retained by William the Conqueror and seemingly heavily taxed although no known castle was built at this time. Following a Danish attack, believed to be around 1069, Colchester was granted to Eudo Dapifer, High Steward of Normandy. It was he who started to build the castle re-using the podium of the Claudian Temple - a factor that determined the size of the new fortification meaning it was built on a scale far bigger than any other contemporary Norman Keep.

The castle was originally intended to be four storeys tall with the Great Hall and Chapel dominating the top two floors. Work started around 1071 but had to halt when a rebellion broke out in 1075. William I had refused to endorse a marriage between Ralph de Guader, Earl of East Anglia and Emma FitzOsbern prompting a revolt that was supported by William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford and Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria. At this time the castle only stood one storey tall so battlements were added at that level. Work resumed in 1076 once the rebellion had been suppressed but the plans for its design had to be scaled back. Re-using the Roman base, which forced the castle to be so large, proved just too much for the Norman military machine. The revised castle was only three storeys high with the Great Hall being installed on the first and second floors. An ornate entrance was installed on the ground floor albeit still elevated due to the castle being built upon the temple's podium. Work completed on the castle around 1080.

Colchester Castle was besieged in January 1216 by Savari de Mauléon on behalf of King John during the First Barons War. The castle had been taken over by French forces acting in support of Prince Louis, whom the rebel Barons had invited to become King. The arrival of John in March 1216 led to Colchester's surrender albeit it was placed briefly back in French hands in 1217 as part of peace negotiations.

The castle was soon back in English hands and was predominantly used thereafter as a prison. The first recorded use in this role was in 1226, although it can be assumed it was being used in this capacity much earlier, and in 1350 it was converted into a single role prison facility.

The Second Civil War started in May 1648 when Colonel Poyer, Governor of Pembroke Castle, declared himself a Royalist. As Cromwell moved elements of the New Model Army into Wales to deal with this threat, a significant rebellion started in Kent with 10,000 men appointing George Goring, Earl of Norwich as their commander. To deal with this uprising Sir Thomas Fairfax had around 7,000 men but the force proved sufficient and he was able to pursue Norwich's force into Colchester.

Fairfax immediately commenced siege works and what followed was a particularly savage blockade which included the navy barring access to the River Colne - Colchester was cut off from support from the continent or Kent. Fairfax burnt all buildings in the unprotected suburbs forcing the residents into the walled town aiming to deplete the food stocks as quickly as possible and end the siege. When the defenders sent their women and children out, Fairfax had them stripped and drove them back. Royalist hopes for relief hinged upon the Marquis of Hamilton who was invading England from the north. When he was defeated at the Battle of Preston (1648), there was no hope of the siege of Colchester being lifted. The town was surrendered on 27 August 1649 with some of the Royalist leaders court marshaled and shot for breaching parole granted at the end of the First Civil War.

John Wheeley acquired the castle in 1683 with the intention of demolishing it to salvage the building materials. His labour force destroyed the upper part but eventually found the lower levels too well built and the project was abandoned. It remained an abandoned ruin until it was given as a wedding present to Charles Gray, a local lawyer and antiquarian. He "restored" parts of the building into the strange and unusual structure that stands today. He also created the park around the ruined Castle which was eventually sold to the corporation of Colchester.

Colchester Castle - History

The building of Colchester Castle was probably begun in the 1070s or 80s. The Colchester Chronicle of the fourteenth century asserts the building work began in 1076 which would fit with reaction to the rebellion of Robert of Norfolk in 1075. The Castle is not mentioned in Domesday (1086) but that does not prove that it did not exist, in some form, by then.

Henry I granted the Castle to Eudo in 1101, who served as Steward (dapifer) of Normandy, for William I, II and Henry I. Following Eudo&rsquos death in 1120 the Castle reverted to the crown. Thereafter it was generally held by a constable or keeper, appointed by the crown very often the appointee was an absent noble who appointed deputies to carry out his duties.

In 1132 Henry I visited Colchester and the Castle at which time Hamo or Hamon de St Clare, a former under-tenant of Eudo, was the constable he was succeeded by his son Hubert who died in 1155. It seems that at times there was no appointed constable or keeper and the Crown kept the Castle under direct control with the sheriff as the main judicial officer of the county holding the Castle. This seems to have been the case from 1155 to 1190 except for 1173-4 during the rebellion of Henry II&rsquos sons when Ralph Brito was constable and the Castle was reinforced, supplied and garrisoned and wages paid to knights and serjeants.

About £24 had been spent on repairs in 1161 more work was carried out on the Castle and the king's houses in it in 1167 and 1170. In 1172-3, prior to the rebellion a bailey was constructed at a cost of £50. The bailey certainly had a stone wall by 1182-3 as it was repaired to a cost of £30 including construction of a lime kiln. In 1192 and 1195 60 marks was spent on repairs to the Castle and houses in it.

In 1196 William de Lanvalei became constable and in 1200 he purchased from King John, who had become king in 1199, the right to continue in his position at Colchester. King John came to Colchester, presumably staying at the Castle, in 1203, 1204 and 1205 and again in 1209 and 1212.

He was at Colchester for two days in early November 1214 and replaced de Lanvalei, who supported the barons, firstly it appears with the sheriff Matthew Mantell and then almost immediately with Stephen Harengoot possibly a Flemish supporter of the king or perhaps a mercenary. The Castle was repaired at a cost of 45 marks and garrisoned and the men of Colchester were given timber to enclose the Castle.

However, after the signing of the Magna Carta in July 1215 Harengoot had to hand it back to de Lanvalei. By October de Lanvalei was either dead or in rebellion and in late 1215 or early 1216 French troops came to strengthen the garrison for the barons. The Castle was besieged by Savory de Meuleon for the King in January 1216 it held out but surrendered to John in March. Harengoot became constable again and sheriff until 1217 when the Castle was surrendered, in return for a truce. It was restored to the crown by the treaty of Lambeth in 1218, provisioned, and put into the care of the Bishop of London.

Watch the video: Oldest town in England UK. Colchester Walking (August 2022).