Welcome back! We continue our tour having just visited Stockwell Chapel in East Stockwell Street (once named Bear Lane because of the tavern by that name that once stood in the High Street). We have walked south, up the hill and have taken a right turn through Quaker Alley, alongside St Martins church.
Before we set off (and to give the pictures time to load), perhaps I ought to say a little bit more about our history, so that you can fit in the places and buildings that we'll see with the events that produced them.
The Romans conquered Britain in AD 43, taking the surrender of seven tribal chiefs, here in Camulodunum. The colonia that was built on the hill where we now are was not intended as a fortress. It was built to provide homes for retiring Roman soldiers, with extensive amounts of land, previously belonging to the British, being conferred upon them. This must have led to considerable ill feeling amongst the indiginous race, who must have either faced up to the situation and adopted the new Roman way of life or bided their time until they could rise up and take back what was rightfully theirs. After the sacking of the town by Boadicea and her followers, where the ancient historian Tacitus tells us that 30,000 Romans and their followers were slaughtered, work was commenced on building the 2800 metre long defensive wall - of which later. Today, whenever an archaeological dig is made within our walls, a black burnt layer is usually discovered which enables precise dating to AD 60/61.
THE DUTCH QUARTER
East Stockwell Street
As I have previously mentioned, the area that we are now in is part of what we know as our Dutch Quarter, more correctly, the place where the Flemish settlers, known as Hugeonots, came in the 16th century, to avoid religious persecution in their own country by their Spanish led Catholic rulers. Indeed, Colchester at that time had only recently been recovering from the 23 martyrs, burned at the stake as heretics, in the town under the Catholic persecution of Queen Mary. It was Elizabeth who succeeded her sister and returned England to protestantism that her father Henry 8th had introduced. Colchester was indeed caught up with this religious turmoil and the Dutch Quarter (as we know it today) was very much an area of the town that was associated with non-conformism.
In 1565, Queen Elizabeth 1 gave her approval to the first of eleven families, a total of 55 people (refugees by another name), coming to Colchester to live. By 1586, they totalled 1291 people, making up a large proportion of the town's population of around 10,000. The Flemish were principally weavers who brought great wealth and prosperity to the town, making Colchester, for a period, one of the most important wool towns in England. Look around you as you wander this area to the north of High Street, around what was then Bear Lane, Angel Lane, Maidenburgh Street, before the Victorian political correctness types renamed these streets. We have the Colchester Civic Society to thank for helping to prevent the destruction, in the 1950s, of the houses that were built by these Flemish people, so many centuries before. Today, some 60 of these houses survive, those still owned by the borough being distinguishable by the red and green colour of walls and woodwork.
Earlier than this, the area was the Jewish Quarter, where their much hated but very necessary trade of money lending (usury) was carried out. However, in 1290, they were expelled from the country, not to be allowed to return until Cromwell's time in the mid 17th century.
These medieval houses in East Stockwell Street have large downstairs windows; essential for weavers who needed to be able to see what they were doing, whilst being able to work at their looms and pass the time of day with passers-by.
THE TAYLOR FAMILY
We are now in West Stockwell Street (once named Angel Lane because of the tavern by that name that once stood in the High Street). Crossing the road and looking back towards where we have been, we see to the left a pair of old houses with a plaque on the wall. This was the house where the Reverend Isaac Taylor and his family once lived at the end of the 18th century. The family were engaged in the engraving trade as well as their links with the church. Isaac had two talented daughters, Jane and Ann Taylor who wrote stories for children. Jane Taylor has been immortalised by her nursery rhyme that, inspired by the view of the night sky, she is alleged to have written in the attic room of this house. The rhyme goes:
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,
How I wonder what you are,
up above the world so high,
like a diamond in the sky.......
(More about the Taylor family can be found here. )
THE STOCKWELL ARMS
At the foot of the hill is the Stockwell Arms, a fine example of an early timber framed building whose deeds date back to at least 1380 and where the famous 18th century writer Daniel Defoe, once lived. He based his book, Moll Flanders, on the life of a girl from Mile End in Colchester. His most famous novel perhaps being Robinson Crusoe.
ST MARTIN'S CHURCH
St Martins church, in the heart of our Dutch Quarter was badly damaged by cannonfire during the Civil War and has recently been restored by the Churches Conservation Trust. It is in a mixture of many architectural and ecclesiastic styles and makes much use of reclaimed Roman materials. It is one of six surviving medieval churches within the walls of the town; the others being: All Saints, Holy Trinity, St James the Great, St Mary at the Walls, St Peters - with St Giles and St Leonard outside the walls. St Nicholas and St Runwalds churches were demolished many years ago. But more of these later!
The churchyard gates are open and we have the key to enter the church itself so, let's start by looking at the only known gravestone of a bay maker in Colchester. This is a testament to a past industry, when Colchester was one of the biggest and wealthiest wool trade towns in England. Jacob Ringer would most probably have been of Flemish descent.
The cloth known as bays and says exist in modern form today as the green baise covering for snooker tables.
The original inscription is now virtually illegible. This plaque is a modern addition. We now enter the church, now redundant, empty and looking for a good use.
There is much evidence of medieval wall paintings, tantalisingly uncovered in various areas to give an insight to how it once must have looked. The following picture is of the 'squint', a feature believed to have been used for simple folk to observe the mysteries of the mass.
Having left St Martins and moved south up the hill of West Stockwell Street and in to the High Street, we pass on the left a fine example of Queen Anne period architecture - but with a difference! The architect, a Colchester man named James Deane, would probably have suffered a seizure to see what a horrible non-symmetrical addition had been made to his design. Whilst it has been done well, it is very out of keeping with the style of that period. James Deane designed the west wing of Hollytrees for Charles Gray, the saviour of our castle, as well as other important buildings within the town.
TIMBER FRAMED BUILDING
Further up and to the left, opposite the little graveyard that once belonged to St Runwald's church that once stood in the High Street, is a fine example of a 17th century timber framed building. Don't let anybody tell you that this was the Angel Inn. The Angel Inn stood at the top of the hill, on the corner with High Street. It has carved angels as part of its elaborate frontage, but these would have been to ward off evil rather than an indicator of the name of the house. A firm of solicitors now occupy the property which would once have been the home of a wealthy personage. Evidence along the front indicates that the ground floor served as a shop at some time.
We have now arrived in the High Street where our magnificent Town Hall stands in all its Victorian splendour. Finally opened in 1902, it is decorated with many fine carvings, some of which are worthy of comment. Of course, at the very top, is St Helena, facing Jerusalem. Below her are four ravens, emblems of the Port Reeve, an indication of the past importance of the Hythe docks area, now (sadly) something of the past. Along the front face we find:
It was Edward the Elder who is recorded as having rid Colchester of the Danish invaders, the records telling us that they escaped over the town's walls.
Boadicea is recorded for the destruction that she brought to the Roman colonia but also as a hero of the ancient British people.
Bishop Harsnett was the son of a Colchester baker, becoming a master at Colchester Grammar School. However, teaching did not suit him and he became a cleric, rising up to become Archbishop of York. He left his extensive collection of books to the borough, known as the Harsnett Library, although sadly, public access is not permitted due to a lack of facilities.
William Gilberd was the son of a Recorder of Colchester and became the most eminent English man of science of his day. He made the important discovery of electromagnetics, carrying out some very important early studies on this subject. He was also physician to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Part of his huge house survives today as Tymperleys in Holy Trinity parish, of which more later.
Lord Thomas Audley was Colchester's Town Clerk for a period but went on to become Lord Chancellor in King Henry VIII's time, being instrumental with laws concerning the dissolution of the monasteries and the king's marital difficulties. His family came from Colchester and a substantial number of memorials to the family exist in a chapel at nearby Berechurch.
Eudo Dapifer (or Eudo de Rie) was steward to William the Conqueror who conquered England by defeating King Harold in 1066. Eudo built the castle in the latter half of the 11th century, but was also great benefactor to the church. He founded St John's Abbey, the leper hospital and church of St Mary Magdalen and had St Helena's Chapel restored.
We now walk along High Street to the East for a look at two ancient inns.
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