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Passage off Colchester High Street - - 3420884.jpg
Colchester Castle (geograph 4444025).jpg
Colchester Town Hall (geograph 5872517).jpg
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Clockwise from top, left to right: the High Street on Museum Street; St Botolph's Church; St Botolph's Priory; the visual arts centre; and the town hall
Essex UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within Essex
Area31.52 km2 (12.17 sq mi)
Population130,245 (2021 Census) [1]
  Density 4,132/km2 (10,700/sq mi)
Founded1st century BC
OS grid reference TL998254
  London 56 mi (90 km)  SW
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district CO1–4
Dialling code 01206
Police Essex
Fire Essex
Ambulance East of England
UK Parliament
List of places
51°53′30″N0°54′11″E / 51.8917°N 0.903°E / 51.8917; 0.903

Colchester ( /ˈklɛstər/ [2] KOHL-cheh-stər) is a city in Essex, England. [3] [4] [lower-alpha 1] It is the third-largest settlement in the county, with a population of 130,245 at the 2021 Census. [1] The demonym is Colcestrian. [5]


Colchester occupies the site of Camulodunum, the first major city in Roman Britain and its first capital. Colchester therefore claims to be Britain's first city. [6] [7] It has been an important military base since the Roman era, with Colchester Garrison currently housing the 16th Air Assault Brigade.

On the River Colne, [8] Colchester is 50 miles (80 kilometres) northeast of London. It is connected to London by the A12 road and the Great Eastern Main Line railway. [9] Colchester is less than 30 miles (50 km) from London Stansted Airport and 20 miles (30 km) from the port of Harwich.

Attractions in and around the city include St Botolph's Priory, Colchester Zoo, and several art galleries. Colchester Castle was constructed in the eleventh century on earlier Roman foundations; it now contains a museum. The main campus of the University of Essex is located between Colchester and Wivenhoe. Local government is the responsibility of the City of Colchester and Essex County Council.


There are several theories about the origin of the name Colchester. Some contend that is derived from the Latin words colonia (referring to a type of Roman settlement with rights equivalent to those of Roman citizens, one of which was believed to have been founded in the vicinity of Colchester) and castra , meaning fortifications (referring to the city walls, the oldest in Britain). [10] [11] The earliest forms of the name Colchester are Colenceaster and Colneceastre from the 10th century, with the modern spelling of Colchester being found in the 15th century. [10] In this way of interpreting the name, the River Colne which runs through the area takes its name from Colonia as well. [10] Cologne (German Köln) also gained its name from a similar etymology (from its Roman name Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium). [11]

Other etymologists are confident that the Colne's name is pre-Roman, sharing its origin with several other rivers Colne or Clun around Britain, and that Colchester is derived from Colne and Castra. Ekwall went as far as to say "it has often been held that Colchester contains as first element [Latin] colonia ... this derivation is ruled out of court by the fact that Colne is the name of several old villages situated a good many miles from Colchester and on the Colne. The identification of Colonia with Colchester is doubtful." [12]

The popular association of the name with King Coel has no academic merit.



The gravel hill upon which Colchester is built was formed in the Middle Pleistocene period, and was shaped into a terrace between the Anglian glaciation and the Ipswichian glaciation by an ancient precursor to the River Colne. [13] From these deposits Palaeolithic flint tools, including at least six Acheulian handaxes, have been found. [13] Further flint tools made by hunter gatherers living in the Colne Valley during the Mesolithic have been discovered, including a tranchet axe from Middlewick. [13] [14] In the 1980s an archaeological inventory showed that over 800 shards of pottery from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and early Iron Age have been found within Colchester, along with many examples of worked flint. [13] This included a pit found at Culver Street containing a ritually placed Neolithic grooved ware pot, [13] as well as find spots containing later Deverel-Rimbury bucket urns. [13] Colchester is surrounded by Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments that pre-date the town, including a Neolithic henge at Tendring, large Bronze Age barrow cemeteries at Dedham and Langham, and a larger example at Brightlingsea consisting of a cluster of 22 barrows. [15]

Celtic origins

Flag of Colchester as flown from the City Hall Colchester Flag.png
Flag of Colchester as flown from the City Hall

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, [18] although the Celtic name of the town, Camulodunon appears on coins minted by tribal chieftain Tasciovanus in the period 2010 BC. [10] 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. [19] 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'. [20] During the 30s AD Camulodunon controlled a large swathe of Southern and Eastern Britain, with Cunobelin called "King of the Britons" by Roman writers. [10] Camulodunon is sometimes popularly considered one of many possible sites around Britain for the legendary (perhaps mythical) Camelot of King Arthur, [21] though the name Camelot (first mentioned by the 12th century French Arthurian storyteller Chrétien de Troyes) is most likely a corruption of Camlann , a now unknown location first mentioned in the 10th century Welsh annalistic text Annales Cambriae, identified as the place where Arthur was slain in battle. [22]

Roman period

Part of the Roman walls in Colchester The Roman Town Wall, Head Street to the Balkerne Gate 3.JPG
Part of the Roman walls in Colchester

Soon after the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, a Roman legionary fortress was established, [23] the first in Britain. [10] 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, [24] the largest classical-style temple in Britain, as well as at least seven other Romano-British temples. [25] Colchester is home to two of the five Roman theatres found in Britain; the example at Gosbecks (site of the Iron Age royal farmstead) is the largest in Britain, able to seat 5,000. [10]

Camulodunum served as a provincial Roman capital of Britain, but was attacked and destroyed during Boudica's rebellion in AD 61. [26] Sometime after the destruction, London became the capital of the province of Britannia. [27] Colchester's city walls c. 3,000 yd. long were built c.65–80 A.D. when the Roman town was rebuilt after the Boudicca rebellion. [28] 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. [29] The city reached its peak in the second and third centuries AD. [10] [30] It may have reached a population of 30,000 in that period. [31]

In 2014 a hoard of jewellery, known as The Fenwick Hoard, named for the shop it was found beneath, [32] was discovered in the town centre. [33] [34] The director of Colchester Archaeological Trust, Philip Crummy, described the hoard as being of "national importance and one of the finest ever uncovered in Britain". [35]

Sub-Roman and Saxon period

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. [36] John Morris suggested that the name Camelot of Arthurian legend was probably a reference to Camulodunum, the capital of Britannia in Roman times. [37]

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. [38] 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. [39]

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. [40] 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. [41] The tenth-century Saxons called the town Colneceastre, which is directly equivalent to the Cair Colun of 'Nennius'. [42] The tower of Holy Trinity Church is late Saxon work.

Medieval and Tudor periods

Colchester Castle, completed c. 1100 AD Colchester Castle, 2016.jpg
Colchester Castle, completed c. 1100 AD

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 (known locally as "St John's Abbey"), and the ruins of the Augustinian priory of St Botolph (known locally as "St Botolph's Priory"). Many of Colchester's parish churches date from this period.

Colchester's medieval town seal incorporated the biblical text Intravit ihc: in quoddam castellum et mulier quedam excepit illum 'Jesus entered a certain castle and a woman there welcomed him' (Luke 10.38). This is a commonplace allegory in which a castle is likened to Mary's womb, and explains the name of Maidenburgh St, neighbouring the castle. [43]

In 1189, Colchester was granted its first known royal charter by King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), although the wording suggests that it was based on an earlier one. It granted Colchester's burgesses the right to elect bailiffs and a justice. [44] The borough celebrated the 800th anniversary of its charter in 1989. [45]

Colchester developed rapidly during the later 14th 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. [46] Rovers Tye Farm, now a pub on Ipswich Road, has been documented as being established by 1353. [47]

Colchester in 1500 AD Colchester Map 1500AD.png
Colchester in 1500 AD

By the 'New Constitutions' of 1372, a borough council was instituted; the two bailiffs 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 15th century, it was still a more important place by the 16th century than it had been in the 13th. 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. [46]

Bays Regulation (Colchester) Act 1660
Act of Parliament
Coat of Arms of England (1660-1689).svg
Long title An Act for the regulating of the Trade of Bay-making, in the Dutch Bay Hall, in Colchester.
Citation 12 Cha. 2. c. 7
Royal assent 13 September 1660

Between 1550 and 1600, a large number of weavers and clothmakers from Flanders emigrated to Colchester and the surrounding areas. [48] They were famed for the production of "Bays and Says" cloths which were woven from wool and are normally associated with baize and serge although surviving examples show that they were rather different from their modern equivalents. [49] 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, and was also famed for its oysters. [48] Flemish refugees in the 1560s brought innovations that revived the local cloth trade, establishing the Dutch Bay Hall for quality control of the textiles for which Colchester became famous. [50] The old Roman wall runs along Northgate Street in the Dutch Quarter.

In the reign of "Bloody Mary" (1553–1558) Colchester became a centre of Protestant "heresy" and in consequence at least 19 local people were burned at the stake at the Castle, at first in front, later within the walls. They are commemorated on a tablet near the altar of St Peter's Church. (Sources: John Foxe, Book of Martyrs; Mark Byford, The Process of Reformation in a Tudor Town)

17th and 18th century

The place of the execution of Charles Lucas and George Lisle Lucas and Lise.jpg
The place of the execution of Charles Lucas and George Lisle

The town saw the start of the Stour Valley riots of 1642, when the town house of John Lucas, 1st Baron Lucas of Shenfield was attacked by a large crowd. In 1648, during the Second English Civil War, a Royalist army led by Lord Goring entered the town. A pursuing Parliamentary army led by 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 13 June. The Royalists surrendered in the late summer (on 27 August Lord Goring signed the surrender document in the Kings Head Inn) and Charles Lucas and George Lisle were executed in the grounds of Colchester Castle. [51] 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 [52] to the plague in 1665, "more in proportion than any of its neighbours, or than the city of London". [52] By the time he wrote this in 1722, however, he estimated its population to be around 40,000 (including "out-villages").

Between 1797 and 1815 Colchester was the HQ of the Army's Eastern District, had a garrison of up to 6,000, and played a main role in defence against a threatened French or Dutch invasion, At various times it was the base of such celebrated officers as Lord Cornwallis, Generals Sir James Craig and David Baird, and Captain William Napier. It was in a state of alarm during the invasion threat of 1803/4, a period well chronicled by the contemporary local author Jane Taylor. [53]

Victorian period

Significant Victorian landmarks include Colchester Town Hall, the Jumbo Water Tower and the Albert Hall. [54]

In 1884, the area 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.

20th century and later

A map of Colchester from 1940 Colchestermap.jpg
A map of Colchester from 1940

In the early 20th century Colchester lobbied to be the seat for a new Church of England diocese for Essex, to be split off from the existing Diocese of Rochester. The bid was unsuccessful, with county town Chelmsford forming the seat of the new diocese. [55]

In the 2nd World War Colchester's main significance lay in its infantry and light-anti-aircraft training units, and in the Paxman factory, which supplied a large proportion of the engines for British submarines and landing craft. Occasionally hit by stray single German aircraft in 1940 and 1941, in 1942 more serious attempts to bomb its industries were made by the Luftwaffe. None of these attacks hit their targets, but a raid on 11 August bombed Severalls Hospital, and killed 38 elderly patients. In February 1944 a single raider caused a huge fire in the St Botolph's area which gutted warehouses, shops and part of Paxman's Britannia Works. The total wartime bombing death toll in the borough was 55. [56]

The University of Essex was established at Wivenhoe Park in 1961. [55] The £22.7M 8-mile (13-kilometre) A120 Colchester Eastern Bypass opened in June 1982.

Colchester and the surrounding area is currently undergoing significant regeneration, [57] including controversial greenfield residential development in Mile End and Braiswick. [58] At the time of the 2011 UK Census, Colchester and its surrounding built up area had a population of 121,859, marking a considerable rise from the previous census and with considerable development since 2001 and ongoing building plans; it has been named as one of Britain's fastest growing towns. [59] The local football team, Colchester United, moved into a brand new stadium at Cuckoo Farm in 2008.

On 20 May 2022, it was announced that as part of the Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours, what was then the Borough of Colchester would receive city status. It was slated to receive the status formally by letters patent on 12 September 2022, [60] [61] however following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the ceremony was postponed. [62] On 29 September 2022, the letters patent was made public, with Colchester receiving city status dated 5 September 2022 by the late Queen. [3] Colchester officially received city status on the 23rd of November, 2022. [63] Colchester was visited by King Charles III on 7 March 2023, in order to congratulate Colchester on receiving city status. [64]


Colchester is in one of the driest regions of the United Kingdom with average annual precipitation at 635 mm (25.0 inches), although among the wetter places in Essex. Colchester is generally regarded as having an Oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb) like the rest of the United Kingdom. Its easterly position within the British Isles makes Colchester less prone to Atlantic depressions and weather fronts but more prone to droughts. This is because, like most areas in southeast England, Colchester's weather is influenced more by Continental weather patterns than by Atlantic weather systems. This leads to a dry climate compared to the rest of the UK all year round and occasional (relative) extremes of temperatures during the year (occasional high 20 °Cs/low 30 °Cs during the summer) and quite a few nights below freezing during the winter months (daytime high temperatures are seldom below freezing). Any rainfall that does come from Atlantic weather systems is usually light, but a few heavy showers and thunderstorms can take place during the summer. Snow falls on average 13 days a year during winter and early spring.[ citation needed ]

The highest temperature recorded in Colchester was 36.1 °C (97 °F) in August 2003 (during the 2003 European heat wave), and the lowest was −9.4 °C (15 °F) in December 2010.

Climate data for Colchester
Mean daily maximum °C (°F)7
Daily mean °C (°F)4.5
Mean daily minimum °C (°F)2
Average precipitation mm (inches)53
Source: 1981–2010 estimated average (records began in 1988) for COL station Colchester NE 2


The military corrective training centre MCTC Colchester - - 63934.jpg
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, [65] is in Berechurch Hall Road, on the outskirts of Colchester. [66] The centre holds men and women from all three services who are sentenced to serve periods of detention.

From 1998 to 2008, the garrison area 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. [67]

BFBS Radio broadcasts from studios on the base on 107.0FM as part of its UK Bases network


Colchester Town Hall Colchester Town Hall.jpg
Colchester Town Hall

Colchester City Council is the local authority.

The Member of Parliament for Colchester is Will Quince of the Conservative Party. The former MP, Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell, has held the ceremonial role of High Steward of Colchester since 2015.




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 Natural History Museum, located in the former All Saints' Church. The Colchester Archaeological Trust have opened a visitor centre and museum at the former Cavalry Barracks to display finds from the Roman Circus, with replicas and models of the circus, as well as finds from the nearby Roman cemeteries. [68] In 2014 brick and marble columns from the monumental façade of the precinct of the Temple of Claudius were discovered behind the High Street, with plans to make them visible to the public. [69]


'Balkerne Star' designed by Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, Balkerne Heights, Colchester - made in 2006 and inspired by a Roman mosaic flooring found in Colchester Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, Balkerne Star, Colchester, 2006.jpg
'Balkerne Star' designed by Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, Balkerne Heights, Colchester – made in 2006 and inspired by a Roman mosaic flooring found in Colchester

Opened in 1972, the Mercury Theatre is a repertory theatre. Located nearby is Colchester Arts Centre, [70] a multi-function arts venue located in the former St Mary-at-the-Walls church, and home of the Colchester Beer Festival. The Headgate Theatre is also located in Colchester. [71]

Firstsite is a contemporary art organisation, based in the Visual Arts Facility, which was designed by Rafael Viñoly, and opened in September 2011, at a total cost of approximately £25.5 million, £9 million more than the original estimate. [72]

The Minories houses The Minories Galleries, which is managed by Colchester Institute and presents contemporary exhibitions by artists from the region. The building is owned by the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation. [73]

There are several bars with live music.

In 2009, an art collective called 'Slack Space' took up some of the closed-down shops in the centre and converted them into art galleries with the hope of promoting art and design. The Colchester School of Art, opened in 1885, is based in the Colchester Institute, [74] near the centre.

A film festival, showcasing a selection of new feature and short films from around the world and centred at the VAF, was held from to 2012 to 2017 (excluding 2016). There are 12 cinema screens spread across the 8 screen Odeon, 3 screen Curzon and 1 screen in the firstsite gallery.[ citation needed ]


Local links with football began with the amateur club Colchester Town, which was formed in 1867 and dissolved in 1937. They were succeeded by professional club Colchester United, who compete in Football League Two (as of season 2023–24) and play home games at Colchester Community Stadium. [75] Founded in 1937, the club entered the Football League in 1950, [76] originally playing home games at their former Layer Road stadium until 2008. [77] The club reached its highest league finish of 10th place in the Championship in 2006-07, [78] and were one of the few teams to win the Watney Cup, in 1971. [79]

Other sports teams based in the area include Colchester United Women Football Club, Colchester School of Gymnastics, Colchester Rugby Football Club, Colchester Gladiators American Football Club, Colchester Weight Lifting Club, Colchester Powerlifting Club (ColPower) 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 Colchester Leisure World, Colchester Garrison Athletics Stadium (a co-operative facility used by both the army and civilian population) and a skatepark.


Local news and television programmes are provided by BBC East and ITV Anglia from the Sudbury TV transmitter. The city's local radio stations are BBC Essex on 103.5 FM, Heart East on 96.1 FM, Greatest Hits Radio East on 100.2 FM and Actual Radio which broadcast online. The local newspapers are Colchester Gazette, Essex County Standard and East Anglian Daily Times.


The commercial centre is home to upmarket department store Fenwick (still referred to by locals by its former name of Williams & Griffin (Willie Gees)), Primark, H&M, Boots, WH Smith and many local independent stores.


Colchester War Memorial

Colchester suffered in the First World War, losing some 1,248 in the conflict. [80] As early as 1918 prominent voices were calling for a war memorial, with Councillor Edgar A. Hunt making the first formal proposition in an open letter to the press published on Christmas Day of that year. Shortly after the publication of the letter, a committee was set up to decide the form of the monument, with several practical schemes favoured by the working class. [81] The committee formed to choose a proposal decided on a sculptural monument on 16 May 1919 with a vote of 7 to 9. [82] Following a visit to the Royal Academy's War Memorial Exhibition, [83] the sculptor Henry Charles Fehr was chosen to undertake the work, for which he was paid £3,000. [84] The memorial consists of three human figures on a sculptural pedestal. The figures are of Saint George, an allegorical representation of peace and the goddess Nike. [83]

Roman walls

A surviving fragment of the Roman Town Wall in East Hill The Roman Town Wall, East Hill to Queen Street 2.JPG
A surviving fragment of the Roman Town Wall in East Hill

Construction of the walls of Colchester took place between 65 and 80 AD, shortly after the destruction of the undefended colonia by Boudicca, and they continued in use until after the Siege of Colchester in 1648. Two large stretches of the wall are still standing on the west and north sides and a number of fragments are visible along the rest of the circuit. A notable survival is the Balkerne Gate, which is the earliest and most complete Roman gateway in the United Kingdom. A circular walk of nearly 2 miles (3 kilometres) follows the course of the wall and the surviving portions. [85]

"Jumbo" water tower

The Balkerne Water Tower or "Jumbo", viewed from the Ballerine Gate Jumbo Water Tower, Colchester, Essex, UK photographed by Ritchie Hicks.jpg
The Balkerne Water Tower or "Jumbo", viewed from the Ballerine Gate

Completed in 1883 when the Town Council took over Colchester's water supply, the 110-foot (34-metre) water tower was originally called the "Balkerne Water Tower", [86] but soon became known as "Jumbo" because of its large size, which prompted the addition of an elephant-shaped weather vane at its peak. The tower was decommissioned in 1987 and has had several private owners pending redevelopment. [87]

Colchester Town Hall

The town hall is built on the site of the original moot hall, first recorded in 1277 and demolished in 1843. Replacing a Victorian town hall which had become unstable, [88] work on the present building started in 1897 to the design of John Belcher in the Edwardian Baroque style, [89] and was opened in 1902 by former prime minister, the Earl of Rosebery. [48] The building dominates the High Street and the 192-foot (58.5-metre) Victoria Tower is widely visible. The tower was intended to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and was funded by a donation from James Noah Paxman, the founder of Davey, Paxman & Co. It features four allegorical figures by L J Watts representing engineering, military defence, agriculture and fishery. [89] At the top of the tower is a large bronze figure representing Saint Helena (the patron saint of Colchester) holding the True Cross; a local story says that a councillor was dispatched to Italy to find a statue of the saint, but could only find one of the Virgin Mary, which then had to be modified locally. [90]


Secondary education

As is the case for the rest of Essex, Colchester's state schooling operates a two-tier system. Two of the local secondary schools are selective, Colchester Royal Grammar School and Colchester County High School for Girls, the remainder being comprehensives. Comprehensive secondary schools include The Gilberd School, Colchester Academy, Philip Morant School and College, St Helena School, St Benedict's Catholic College, Thomas Lord Audley School and the Paxman Academy.

Private schools

Private schools in Colchester include St. Mary's School, Oxford House School and Colchester High 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's bus services are operated primarily by First Essex and Arriva Colchester, as well as by Hedingham & Chambers, Beeston's, Ipswich Buses and Panther Travel (Essex). The bus station is located in Osborne Street, on the southern edge of the centre. Key routes include the 371 to Chelmsford and the 74 to Clacton-on-Sea.


Colchester Town and Hythe stations are on the Sunshine Coast Line operated by Greater Anglia, and linked to the rest of the network at Colchester North station, which lies just outside this area.


Colchester is linked to London and East Anglia by the A12, which bypasses the town to the north and east, and is the region's main trunk route. The A120 connects Colchester with Harwich in the east and Stansted Airport and the M11 motorway in the west.


Colchester was historically a port, with a regular weekly shipping service to London by 1637, and about 3,000 vessels per year using the port in 1892. [91] The former quay of The Hythe is no longer in use, partly because the river has silted up, although Colchester is still a registered port (code GBCOL). [92] [93]

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. [94]

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 during the (fictional) Atomic Wars of the 1950s.

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', although the legitimacy of all three claims is disputed. [48]

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 [ who? ], though this theory does not have academic support. 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 a widely credited source[ citation needed ] 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 said to have come from Colchester is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which was written by Jane Taylor who lived in the Dutch Quarter, and published in 1806 with the title "The Star".

Colchester has also been suggested as one of the potential sites of Camelot, [95] on account of having been the capital of Roman Britain and its ancient name of Camulodunum: this is not considered likely by academics, as in Arthurian times Colchester was under Saxon control.

The first part of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders was set in Colchester. [48]

Colchester was also a named line of lathe machinery. [96]

In the book Nineteen Eighty-Four , Colchester was the scene of a nuclear detonation. [97]

The Doctor Who episodes The Lodger and Closing Time are set in Colchester, although they were filmed in Cardiff. [98]

In the Asterix comic book Asterix in Britain the Camulodunum rugby team wins a game against Durovernum (Roman name for Canterbury). [99] The uniforms worn during the match in the book are similar to the modern kit of Colchester United.

Colchester appears in the video game Assassin's Creed Valhalla, recreated as it was in the early medieval period. [100]


People of note that have lived in Colchester include:

Twin towns

Colchester's twin towns and sister cities are: [114]

See also


  1. The area that is the subject of this article does not have legal city status of itself, but is widely regarded as a city since it is the main and nominate settlement in the City of Colchester local government area

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Camelot</span> Castle and court associated with King Arthur

Camelot is a legendary castle and court associated with King Arthur. Absent in the early Arthurian material, Camelot first appeared in 12th-century French romances and, since the Lancelot-Grail cycle, eventually came to be described as the fantastic capital of Arthur's realm and a symbol of the Arthurian world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Humpty Dumpty</span> Nursery rhyme character

Humpty Dumpty is a character in an English nursery rhyme, probably originally a riddle and one of the best known in the English-speaking world. He is typically portrayed as an anthropomorphic egg, though he is not explicitly described as such. The first recorded versions of the rhyme date from late eighteenth-century England and the tune from 1870 in James William Elliott's National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs. Its origins are obscure, and several theories have been advanced to suggest original meanings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Camulodunum</span> Roman castrum where Colchester, England now stands

Camulodunum, the Ancient Roman name for what is now Colchester in Essex, was an important castrum and city in Roman Britain, and the first capital of the province. A temporary "strapline" in the 1960s identifying it as the "oldest recorded town in Britain" has become popular with residents and is still used on heritage roadsigns on trunk road approaches. Originally the site of the Brythonic-Celtic oppidum of Camulodunon, capital of the Trinovantes and later the Catuvellauni tribes, it was first mentioned by name on coinage minted by the chieftain Tasciovanus some time between 20 and 10 BC. The Roman town began life as a Roman legionary base constructed in the AD 40s on the site of the Brythonic-Celtic fortress following its conquest by the Emperor Claudius. After the early town was destroyed during the Iceni rebellion in AD 60/61, it was rebuilt, reaching its zenith in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. During this time it was known by its official name Colonia Claudia Victricensis, often shortened to Colonia Victricensis, and as Camulodunum, a Latinised version of its original Brythonic name. The town was home to a large classical temple, two theatres, several Romano-British temples, Britain's only known chariot circus, Britain's first town walls, several large cemeteries and over 50 known mosaics and tessellated pavements. It may have reached a population of 30,000 at its height.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lexden</span> Human settlement in England

Lexden is a suburb of Colchester and former civil parish, in the county of Essex, England. It was formerly a village, and has previously been called Lessendon, Lassendene and Læxadyne. In 2011 the ward had a population of 5,549.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wivenhoe</span> Human settlement in England

Wivenhoe is a town and civil parish in the Colchester district, in north-eastern Essex, England, approximately 3 miles (5 km) south-east of Colchester. Historically Wivenhoe village, on the banks of the River Colne, and Wivenhoe Cross, on the higher ground to the north, were two separate settlements; however, with considerable development in the 19th century, the two have since merged.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">City of Colchester</span> Place in England

The City of Colchester is a local government district with city status in Essex, England, named after its main settlement, Colchester. The district also includes the towns of West Mersea and Wivenhoe and the surrounding rural areas stretching from Dedham Vale on the Suffolk border in the north to Mersea Island in the Colne Estuary in the south.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mersea Island</span> A tidal island in Essex, England

Mersea Island is an island in Essex, England, in the Blackwater and Colne estuaries to the south-east of Colchester. Its name comes from the Old English word meresig, meaning "island of the pool" and thus is tautological. The island is split into two main areas, West Mersea and East Mersea, and connected to the mainland by the Strood, a causeway that can flood at high tide.

The title of oldest town in Britain is claimed by a number of settlements in Great Britain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colchester Castle</span> Norman castle in Colchester, Essex, England

Colchester Castle is a Norman castle in Colchester, Essex, England, dating from the second half of the eleventh century. The keep of the castle is mostly intact and is the largest example of its kind anywhere in Europe, due to its being built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, Colchester. The castle endured a three-month siege in 1216, but had fallen into disrepair by the seventeenth century when the curtain walls and some of the keep's upper parts were demolished; its original height is debated. The remaining structure was used as a prison and was partially restored as a large garden pavilion, but was purchased by Colchester Borough Council in 1922. The castle has since 1860 housed Colchester Museum, which has an important collection of Roman exhibits. It is a scheduled monument and a Grade I listed building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fingringhoe</span> Village in Essex, England

Fingringhoe is a village and civil parish in the City of Colchester district of Essex, England. The centre of the village is classified as a conservation area, featuring a traditional village pond and red telephone box. The Roman River flows nearby before entering the River Colne. It has been noted frequently on lists of unusual place names. The village's name actually derives from its geographic circumstances: it sits at the confluence of the smaller Roman River and the River Colne. A "hoe" refers to a jutting out piece of land while "finger" describes an elongated finger-like land extension. "Ing" is a common toponym in the UK referring to "peoples". As such, the name refers to the "people living on the land jutting out into the river".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">River Colne, Essex</span> River in Essex, England

The River Colne is a small river that runs through Essex, England and passes through Colchester. It is not a tributary of any other river, instead having an estuary that joins the sea near Brightlingsea. The river's name is of Celtic origin, combining the word for rock "cal" with a remnant of the word "afon", or river, giving the meaning "stony river". However, another authority states that the river's name was originally Colonia Fluvius, the "waterway of the Colonia": a reference to Colchester's status in Roman times. There are two other rivers in the UK that share the same name.

Colchester is a historic town located in Essex, England. It served as the first capital of Roman Britain and is the oldest recorded town in Britain. It was raided by the Vikings during the 9th and 10th centuries. It also served as an essential location for the medieval cloth trade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colchester Garrison</span> Military installation in Essex, England

Colchester Garrison is a major garrison located in Colchester in the county of Essex, eastern England. It has been an important military base since the Roman era. The first permanent military garrison in Colchester was established by Legio XX Valeria Victrix in AD 43, following the Roman conquest of Britain. Colchester was an important garrison town during the Napoleonic Wars and throughout the Victorian era. During the First World War, several battalions of Kitchener's Army were trained there.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Benfleet</span> Human settlement in England

South Benfleet is a town and former civil parish, in the Castle Point district of Essex, England, 30 miles east of London. It is adjacent to the village of North Benfleet. The Benfleet (SS7) post town includes South Benfleet, Thundersley, New Thundersley and Hadleigh. The Battle of Benfleet took place here between the Vikings and Saxons in 894. In 1951 the parish had a population of 8191.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Churches in Colchester</span>

Colchester in Essex, England, has a number of notable churches.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siege of Colchester</span> Part of the Second English Civil War

The siege of Colchester occurred in the summer of 1648 when the Second English Civil War reignited in several areas of Britain. Colchester found itself in the thick of the unrest when a Royalist army on its way through East Anglia to raise support for the King, was attacked by Lord-General Thomas Fairfax at the head of a Parliamentary force. The Parliamentarians' initial attack forced the Royalist army to retreat behind the town's walls, but they were unable to bring about victory, so they settled down to a siege. Despite the horrors of the siege, the Royalists resisted for eleven weeks and only surrendered following the defeat of the Royalist army in the North of England at the Battle of Preston (1648).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Temple of Claudius, Colchester</span> Roman temple in Colchester, England

The Temple of Claudius or Temple of the Deified Claudius was a large octastyle temple built in Camulodunum, the modern Colchester in Essex. The main building was constructed between 49 and 60 AD, although additions were built throughout the Roman-era. Today, it forms the base of the Norman Colchester Castle. It is one of at least eight Roman-era pagan temples in Colchester, and was the largest temple of its kind in Roman Britain; its current remains potentially represent the earliest existing Roman stonework in the country.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Essex</span> Ceremonial county in the East of England

Essex is a ceremonial county in the East of England, and one of the home counties. It is bordered by Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, the North Sea to the east, Kent across the Thames Estuary to the south, Greater London to the south-west, and Hertfordshire to the west. The largest settlement is Southend-on-Sea, and the county town is Chelmsford.

Mersea Fort, also known as Cudmore Grove Blockhouse, was an artillery fort established by Henry VIII on the East Mersea coast in 1543. It formed part of the King's Device programme to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire, and defended the River Colne that led to the town of Colchester. It was triangular in shape, with earthwork walls and three bastions to hold artillery. It was demobilised in 1552, but was brought back into use several times over the next century and saw service during the Second English Civil War of 1648. The fort hosted an admiralty court to oversea the local oyster trade, until the dilapidation of the site forced the court to move to the Moot Hall in Colchester in the middle of the 18th century. A new gun battery was built at the fort during the Napoleonic Wars, but the fortification then fell into decline and was extensively damaged by the construction of a sea wall along the coast. The remains of the earthworks were excavated by archaeologists between 2002 and 2003.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colchester Arts Centre</span> Arts centre in Colchester, Essex, England

The Colchester Arts Centre, is an arts centre in Colchester, Essex, which is located in a former Church of England parish church, the church of Saint Mary-at-the-Walls, a name derived from its proximity to the Roman town walls. The church may have had Anglo-Saxon origins but was first mentioned in the early 13th century. The building was badly damaged during the English Civil War and was fully rebuilt twice in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the exception of the 16th century bell tower which has been heavily restored. The church became redundant in 1978 and opened as an arts centre in 1980. It hosts a wide variety of events, specialising in emerging talent, with a number of well known artists having made early appearances at the venue. It is a Grade II listed building.


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