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Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!


When the blazing sun is gone,

When he nothing shines upon,

Then you show your little light,

Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!


Then the trav'ler in the dark

Thanks you for your tiny spark;

How could he see where to go,

If you did not twinkle so?

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!


In the dark blue sky you keep, and

Through my curtains often peep,

For you never shut your eyes,

Till the morning sun does rise.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!


As your bright and tiny spark

Lights the trav'ler in the dark,

Though I know not what you are,

Twinkle on, please, little star.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!


What better way to start the history of our town other than with this internationally known poem that was written by Jane Taylor who lived with her family in East Stockwell Street, Colchester, around 200 years ago.

This site will give you a brief overview of the history of Colchester, together with relevant links and references.

Pre-Roman History
It would seem that the earliest evidence of human inhabitants in the place now known as Colchester is in the form of some 'Beaker People' pottery sherds dating from around 2500BC, which were unearthed in the vicinity of the present day Culver Precinct.

This was an isolated find, probably associated with a ceremonial inhumation, atop what would then have been a piece of high ground, overlooking the settlement to the south. This settlement, let us call it CAMULODUNUM, was were the people known as the TRINOVANTES lived. This tribe was one of many throughout the island later to be known as BRITANNIA. There was much inter-tribal warfare and protection against attack from rivals was based on a serious of massive earthworks that both hid the settlement from view and presented a major obstacle to any attacker. The warriors were renowned for their fighting skills and the use of horse drawn chariots.

Apart from the inscriptions found on late period coins, this was a time without written record. Archaeological excavations have uncovered much evidence of occupation from this area. It is now preserved as the Gosbeck's Archaeological Park.


Roman History

In 54BC, Julius Caesar came to Britain. This was an exploratory mission and it was not to be until 43AD that the Romans invaded and occupied CAMULODUNUM., the most important British settlement in Britain, ruled over by King Cunobelin until his death a year or so earlier.

The Roman emperor Claudius, crossed the water from the mainland and is said to have ridden triumphally into CAMULODUNUM, making peace with some seven tribal kings from surrounding kingdoms.

Progressively, the Roman invaders established themselves throughout the country and built their own base, called a COLONIA, on the hill where modern day Colchester town centre now stands. From this vantage point, they could oversee the happenings in CAMULODUNUM and make sure that the Trinovantes did not rise up in rebellion. The Roman way was brutal and they exacted great hardships in the way of taxation and land acquisition on the indiginous British people. However, they also brought law and order, commerce, trade, education and all that goes with these things.

The COLONIA was where retired Roman soldiers were settled, being awarded land from the surrounding area. In honour of the Emperor Claudius, a triumphal arch was built which was later incorporated into the BALKERNE GATE, which still stands as the best preserved Roman gate in the countyr. They also built a magnificent temple in Claudius' honour, together with many other places of worship, fine houses, theatres, baths, etc.

In 60 or 61AD, following the death of her husband Prasutagus, Queen BOADICEA of the ICENI tribe was brutally treated by the Romans, which led her to rise up in rebellion against the conquerors. She gathered a massive army and rode south. virtually destroying the COLONIA and anything Roman. The Temple of Claudius, located where the town's Norman castle now stands, was burned to the ground together with the people that had fled there to escape the attackers. BOADICEA continued on to London, leaving a trail of destruction, and was eventually defeated by the Roman forces who had been completely taken by surprise. Following the destruction caused to the COLONIA, a 3000 metre long defensive wall was ordered to be constructed, so much of which survives to this day, the oldest Roman wall in Britain.

The Romans left Britain to the British around the year 411AD.

essential reading

City of Victory by Philip Crummy (Colchester Archaeological Trust)

The Boudican Revolt against Rome by Paul R Sealey (Shire Publications)


The Dark Ages

Following the departure of the Romans from Britain in the early 5th century, civilised society collapsed. The use of coinage declined and the COLONIA fell into disrepair. The British people reverted to a life of hardship, living in small groups, toiling in the fields to grow enough food to live on. Marauding bands of Vikings and invaders from the European mainland made life very difficult. Very little is known of this period as written records were not kept and new coinage was limited. This was the age of Arthur, King of the Britons, hero of folklore, whose stronghold was CAMELOT, a variation on CAMULODUNUM.. The COLONIA built by the Romans was a natural safe base, with its impressive defensive wall, 6 metres high with ditches to increase their effectiveness. Arthur's base would have been the temple and its perimeter walls, later to be enhanced by the Normans.

Evidence of Saxon inhabitants have been found, their dwellings being built on top of the decaying Roman buildings. Indeed, the COLONIA must have seemed to have been a place built by giants to any new arrival to the area. Late in this period was built what is now the oldest building in the town, Holy Trinity church, a typical Saxon building dated c1000AD.


Norman Colchester

In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, defeated the Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Norman rule was here to stay and the William the Conqueror's steward, EUDO DAPIFER, settled in Colchester and was responsible for much new building work. They were soon to recognise the strategic importance of the town and the centrally fortified area around the Roman temple. Colchester has no natural building stone but they did have the remains of hundreds of Roman buildings and their very useful building materials, particularly septaria and Roman roof tiles.

Work commenced around 1070 to build a fortified keep and ramparts. The base of the temple was an ideal place to start, it being used as the floor structure of the new castle. Tons of reclaimed building materials were brought to the site and, month by month the structure was raised, indeed, the largest Norman keep ever built.

The castle appears to have been built in stages, presumably according to availability of funds. It was built on a similar plan to the famous Tower of London, but twice the size. The overall floor area would not have been as big as London as surely, nobody would be foolhardy enough to build a castle bigger than the King's own castle.

Also in this period were built the Augustian Priory at St.Botolphs, which still stands despite the ravages of the Reformation and Oliver Cromwell's forces, and St John's Abbey, of which now only stands the gateway and some of its perimeter wall.


Medieval Colchester





The Civil War

Georgian Colchester

Victorian Colchester

Saw a massive expansion of industry and the town's military garrison

20th Century Colchester


The following town centre sights are of special historical interest to visitors:








see also the

Tour of Colchester


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