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COLCHESTER

 

We continue our virtual tour having just seen the imposing Town Hall in our High Street, which is known to follow the original Roman street that would have joined Balkerne Gate to the west and East Gate to the east.

Before we set off (and to give the pictures time to load), perhaps I ought to say a little bit 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 came to Colchester in the year 43 AD and here they were to stay until around the year 411 AD, when the Roman Empire was in decline and their forces were required on other fronts. The east of Britain was being threatened by Saxon and Danish invaders, Vikings to the north and, after the Romans left, law and order, stability and trade took a nose dive. This is the period of King Arthur, when Colchester would have been his beloved Camelot, a walled and easily defended city. We then entered the Dark Ages, when very little evidence exists of there having been any inhabitation within the town's walls. The Roman buildings eventually decayed and collapsed, the Norman conquerors arriving some six centuries later to a place that must have seemed as if it had been built and populated by giants.

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THE GEORGE HOTEL

Along the High Street to the east, we have the George Hotel, the last of our coaching inns, certainly dating to the 16th century and perhaps earlier. It was given a Georgian front but inside its timber framed construction has been very well restored. If you can call it a pub, it is perhaps our most sumptuous. Call in there for a drink (virtual of course!) and see what I mean!

If you have the time, walk down East Stockwell Street, next to the George. There you will see the original archway where coaches would arrive at the inn. Across the road is a widened area to facilitate the coach turning circle. It has now been blocked up due to the redundancy of coach and horse use.

We then move on to the next important hostelry in our High Street. 

THE RED LION HOTEL

Cross over the road and we find another ancient inn. The Red Lion was originally the private home of the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, built in a very grand style in the 15th century. It was later converted to an inn as so many houses were after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, and a shortage of accommodation came about. A drink at the bar or a meal in the restaurant is to be recommended, where the quality of the building can be better appreciated.

Walk through the archway, where you will see George and the Dragon carved into the ancient framework. This was a reference to the Dukes of Norfolk having the heraldic Order of the Garter. You are now in Lion Walk, the old stable yard, where you will see a variety of little shops. Keep walking and you will come out into the Red Lion Shopping Precinct (created in the 1970s). Keep going, past Lion Walk church (which suffered badly during the earthquake of 1884) and you find yourself at an ancient thoroughfare known as Eld Lane, which runs parallel to our incredible town wall. A gap between shops in Eld Lane takes us to.....

 

VINEYARD STEPS

(the view from)

A small passageway takes us to Vineyard steps, set at the top of the southern section of our Roman wall. There are steps down to the other side (outside the town wall), where the town's market was once unpopularly located. In the distance can be seen the imposing St. John's Abbey Gate, which is always worth a visit - if time permits.

The car park below occupies an area that, up until the first world war, was Colchester's red light district. In the 1870s, no less than 13 public houses were closed down by the authorities, on suspicion of being brothels and harbouring women of ill repute. Of course, Colchester was then, and still is, a garrison town; and in those days, a soldier could not marry without the permission of his commanding officer. Brothel keeping, whilst illegal, was good business! The daft thing is that prostitution was legal, as it is today!

 

SCHEREGATE STEPS

We pass outside the Roman walls for the first time to look back on the Scheregate Steps. Scheregate is a product of the Norman period, cut through the Roman wall to provide a thoroughfare for workers travelling to and from St. John's Abbey. Schere meaning narrow, this 'gateway' was never used for vehicular access. At the top of the steps is the Purple Dog.

 

THE PURPLE DOG (PREVIOUSLY THE CLARENCE)

The Purple Dog/The Clarence was once an ancient public house that, like so many taverns of the time was located on the corner of two streets to lure the working man away and part him from his hard earned wages. It is yet another fine old timber framed building that has survived the ravages of time, this house taking its name in the middle of the 19th century from the Duke of Clarence. Before that it was the Joiners Arms, a reference to local tradesmen of that calling. As with so many of our old pubs, it now has a new name and image. A sad sign of the times?

Continuing up Trinity Street (named after Holy Trinity church) we arrive at Tymperleys. 

TYMPERLEYS

also at www.camulos.com/virtual/tymperley.htm

Tymperleys is a fine timber framed building which once formed part of the house owned by William Gilberd, the discoverer of electromagnetism and physician to the court of Elizabeth the first during the 16th century. The building is now in public ownership and houses our clock museum. The following picture is in our Town Hall and shows a Victorian view of Good Queen Bess and William Gilberd.

Below is a view from inside the church and shows a member of the Town Watch at the memorial to William Gilberd.

THE CLOCK MUSEUM

This clock mechanism was by Hedges, a Colchester clock maker of the 18th century and once operated the frying pan clock of St. Nicholas church in the High Street, demolished in the 1960s. This is part of a large collection of clocks that was gathered together by Bernard Mason, who once lived at Tymperleys. The collection is now part of Colchester's clock museum which is open to the public. Across the road is Holy Trinity church, the tower of which must be Colchester's oldest building. Whether it was built as a church or as a lookout tower which later became a church, we will never know. The Domesday Book of 1086 does not mention it as a church!

 HOLY TRINITY

Holy Trinity church tower was built around the turn of the last millennium, around the year AD 1000. Its arrow head doorway and window apertures are typical of the Saxon period. The remainder of the church is of different periods up to Victorian and, until recently, was the town's social history museum. You can see more views of it in the postcards section.

Our Social History Museum was closed to the public in the 1990s as a government cost cutting exercise, thence becoming a repository for assorted junk and old exhibits, only to be visited by the Town Watch each year to lay a wreath at the monument to William Giberd, the father of electricity. It was a disgrace! But wait! There are signs of change! All may change quite soon.

Holy Trinity church tower would once have stood as the focal feature in the town, for a few decades before the Normans came and built the castle. A stark contrast between Saxon and Norman architecture - unique in this country! 

We finish this stage of the tour with mention of another Colcestrian [person of Colchester] of renown. On one of our old buildings opposite the church is a plaque to John Wilbye (1574 - 1638) who wrote madrigals; part songs for several unaccompanied voices. He published two collections in 1598 and 1608, comprising 64 madrigals. His best known is 'Flora, give me fairest flowers'. Wilbye came to live in Colchester as a music tutor and he was buried in Holy Trinity Church - as was William Gilberd.

This exhibit can be seen in the Castle Museum.

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last updated

190216