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Things to do in Colchester, Essex

The historic town of Colchester is located in Essex, 23 miles northeast of Chelmsford and 61 miles from London. It is one of the UK's fastest-growing towns with a population of over 180,000 in 2008.

St Leonards Church Hythe Hill © Norma Williamson
St Leonards Church Hythe Hill © Norma Williamson

Colchester is conveniently close to London for commuters who use the Great Eastern Main Line or the A12 to travel the 61 miles. It is also just 30 miles from Stansted Airport.

Paxman Diesels have produced diesel engines at the ironworks since 1865.

The historic town centre includes a Saxon Church and a Tudor townhouse, now operating as the Red Lion Inn. The old Roman walls can still be seen running along Northgate Street.

Colchester is also noted for its Victorian architecture such as the Town Hall and Jumbo Water Tower. Some of the buildings were damaged by an earthquake in 1884.

Colchester Arts Centre and the Mercury Theatre provide cultural interest in this lively town which also has excellent shopping.

Colchester is closely associated with the army. The military prison known as the Glasshouse is on the outskirts.

Although much of the garrison land has been sold for housing, royal salutes are still fired on ceremonial occasions from Castle Park.

Things to do in Colchester

On special occasions, historic re-enactors in Elizabethan dress, known as the Town Watch, provide a ceremonial guard for the mayor, accompanied by musicians. They add a colourful touch to events such as the Oyster Fest.

Old building Hythe Hill © Norma Williamson
Old building Hythe Hill © Norma Williamson

The town has several interesting museums including the Castle Museum, which features Roman Colchester. Hollytrees Museum is in the former home of MP Charles Gray and the Natural History Museum is in All Saints Church.

One of the most unusual attractions is Tymperley's Clock Museum situated in a timber-framed Tudor house.

History of Colchester

Colchester is the oldest recorded town in England and was founded by the Romans as their capital city after the invasion by Claudius in 43AD.

It was attacked and destroyed by Boadicea in 60-61AD and the Roman capital was then moved to London.

The settlement must have taken some time to re-establish but by the 9th century Cair Colun (Colchester) was listed as one of England's 30 most important cities.

Around 880AD it was ruled by the Danes for a time and was then recaptured by the English king, Edward the Elder.

Barrack Street © Norma Williamson
Barrack Street © Norma Williamson

The area has many historic buildings such as the 11th century Norman Castle, built on the earlier site of the Roman Castle.

Medieval ruins include the gateway to St John's Benedictine Abbey and the ruins of St Botolph's Priory. Many of Colchester's churches also date back to the 11th century.

Colchester claims to have the oldest market on record. By the 14th century it was the centre of the woollen trade, famous for its woven russet cloth.

Although the Black Death affected the town, killing 5,259 people, the town's prosperity helped it to recover quickly.

Between 1550 and 1600 many immigrant cloth weavers settled in Colchester from Flanders and they produced the famous Bays and Says cloth.

Part of the old town of Colchester is still known as the Dutch Quarter and is one of the loveliest parts of the town with its Tudor buildings.

During the English Civil War, Colchester was besieged by Parliamentary troops for 11½ weeks.

The Royalists finally surrendered and Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were executed.

A small obelisk can be seen marking the spot near Colchester Castle.

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