Welcome to part D of our virtual tour, where we find ourselves standing in the 1970's constructed Culver Precinct, the closest that we get to having a Town Square.
THE CULVER SQUARE
It is in this general area that the earliest evidence of human occupation in Colchester has been discovered. During the building works, a 2500BC inhumation within Beaker style pottery was discovered. Where we stand was probably an uninhabited hill where ceremonial burials of this type were probably commonplace. In the centre of the square, which is flanked by modern day shops and department stores, stands a water fountain with its central theme of an eringo root plant. The use of this plant to make a sweet tasting candied delicacy, was at one time, big business in the town. However the trade fell into decline some century ago. A feature worthy of note in the precinct is Colchester's second library, built in the 1930's and which was incorporated into the new plans - now a Bookshop.
We now leave the Culver Precinct and walk west along Culver Street, cross over busy Head Street and along a narrow road, Church Lane, adjacent to an building built shortly after the Siege of 1648. This takes us to the church of St Mary at the Walls, of mainly Victorian period and now used as an arts centre.
Before we reach the church, we stop briefly to have a look in at an archaeological dig that started in May 2000 to investigate the archaeology of an area of land that was due for development in Head Street. The town's main cinema now occupies the spot.
Digging down perhaps 3 metres below normal street level, the archaeologists come to the earliest Roman level, often accentuated by a dark layer that would indicate the effects of Boadicea's destruction in AD 60/61. The dig area had been extensively disturbed over the centuries by subsequent building operations with finds of Roman pottery through to medieval artifacts to Victorian period finds.
A late Roman period semicircular water feature was uncovered, but with no obvious interconnecting buildings. There was evidence of tessellated pavements and many features which required investigation. The dig was completed at the end of August 2000, when building work for the new cinema started.
There are several archaeological digs that go on each year, whenever an area comes up for development. One of the most recent in the town being where the circus has been discovered to the south of the town.
ST MARY AT THE WALLS
So, moving on, past the fine Georgian period Quaker Meeting House, we come to St Mary at the Walls church.
Ahead we see part of the town's Roman wall, through which a hole has been cut in antiquity and through which we are going to pass. It is not an original Roman feature!
There is a separate virtual tour of the Roman walls in their entirety, which may be visited here.
We are now standing, for the second time during this tour (the first when we looked at Scheregate), outside the Roman walls of the town. We are looking at St Mary at the Walls church, the tower dating from the 15th century, and which was extensively damaged during the Siege of Colchester in 1648. The reason for this is that Thompson, a one eyed gunner, had placed himself and his saker (a small cannon) on top of the tower and was causing considerable damage to Lord Fairfax's attacking forces. This brought a concentration of Roundhead fire onto the church, whereupon, eventually, Thompson and his gun, came tumbling down. In recent times, local folklore has attached this story to that of the nursery rhyme character Humpty Dumpty and has claimed it as a Colchester story. However, whilst it makes a good story, there is no proof of this.
Staying outside the walls for a little longer, we walk northwards to get a glimpse of Balkerne Gate. So named because it was baulked, filled in, stopped-up, in antiquity, probably in the late Roman period. Indeed it is probably for this very reason that the Balkerne Gate is the best preserved Roman gateway in Britain. Whilst here, please spare a thought for those poor souls who were martyred for their faith in the 16th century by being burned at the stake here for their heresy.
THE HOLE IN THE WALL PUB
Whilst standing here, looking east, we can see the ancient Hole in the Wall pub, built onto the Balkerne Gate. The 'hole' was made in 1843 with the arrival of the railway to Colchester. The landlord realised that he had a commanding view of this new arrival and bashed a hole through the Roman wall to afford his customers a good view. He would never have got away with it today!
Further on, we see the imposing Jumbo water tower in the background, the 1972 opened Mercury Theatre, so named as a reference to a statue to the Roman god, Mercury, that was ploughed-up in a field in the Gosbecks area of the town. Mercury is equated to the celtic god, Camulos, both gods of war. It was from Camulos that the ancient name for Colchester, Camulodunum, derived. Also please note the series of plaques, installed in 1999, in commemoration of 17 army regiments that have been stationed in the town in the past.
When the wall was built in the first and second centuries AD, there were five main entrances into the town incorporated into it. This one, facing west, Northgate in the north (unsurprisingly), Eastgate, Headgate and Southgate. A smaller postern gate, known as Duncan's Gate, was situated in the north wall. The other gates were gradually removed as Colchester gave way to the relentless pressure from larger and larger vehicles requiring easy access into the town centre.
The Balkerne Gate, not standing on an established traffic route (but in line with our High Street), survived the destruction. The motor car is king in this town!
A little further down the hill, we find a section of our famous,
This is one of the better preserved sections of our Roman wall, showing how red tiles and septaria were used in a layered construction. The wall would originally have stood 6 metres high with a defensive trench in front to add to the difficulties of any attacking forces. The land behind the wall was at a higher level, giving the defenders a platform from which to defend themselves. It is possible, and to be recommended, to take a walk around the entire wall perimeter, 3100 yard (2800 metre) length. There have been some medieval bastions added in places and in some areas the wall has been completely swallowed up in the fabric of adjoining buildings. There has also been a lot of damage caused over the centuries by vandalism and cannon fire. Whatever the case, our Roman wall is unique and the oldest surviving Roman wall in Britain!
Every year, the Mayor of Colchester is invited to take a perambulation of the town walls, accompanied by the Town Watch, the mayor's civic bodyguard. This is done on the vigil of St John the Baptist (23rd June or thereabouts). This is a custom from the time of King Henry III, who commanded that watches be kept in cities and towns to preserve the peace of the realm. The procession sets off from the castle, marching to the beat of the drum and the pipes of the Colchester Waits, following the perimeter of the Roman walls and including a short stop for 'cakes and ale' at the Hole in the Wall.
The Jumbo water tower was completed in 1883 to enable running water to be made available to the townspeople, therefore improving sanitary conditions generally. It used 1.2 million bricks.
It was so disliked by the vicar of the parish, whose vicarage was situated very close to the edifice that he likened it to Jumbo, the name of an elephant of the London Zoo, which had been controversially sold to a circus. The nickname stuck and Jumbo has been with us ever since, now disused and in need of being put to some kind of use. The view from the top is said to be marvellous. Wouldn't it make a great public viewing platform?
To the right in the above view, is to be found the Mercury Theatre. I can vouch for the excellence of the productions there. This is another of Colchester's success stories.
Our tour is nearly at an end. The walking tour would normally stop here but, as we are on a virtual tour, we have bags of energy left - don't we? So, let's take a look at one of our most historic of pubs. No, I am not talking about the Hole in the Wall pub that we have just seen. Whilst that is a very historic house, it does not compare with what is to follow. We walk eastwards away from the Balkerne Gate, past Jumbo and down Balkerne Passage to the top of North Hill. Turn left and walk down North Hill, the route of one of Colchester's original Roman roads, perfectly aligned with due north on the compass. At the foot of the hole, just before where the Roman North Gate was once located, is a magnificent looking pub called the Marquis (previously the Marquis of Granby, previous to that the Crown and previous to that a private house built in the 16th century by Henry Webbe).
The lease was up for sale when we took these pictures but it was open when we visited. The pub tooks its name in the 18th century to commemorate on of Britain's most famous soldiers, the Marquis of Granby. Inside is to be found evidence of how the building once was, before it became a place of entertainment. Henry Webbe was a wealthy clothier and he decorated his private rooms most lavishly.
The carvings that I am about to show you are a selection of what are to be seen; undoubtedly the best medieval carvings in Colchester.
and finally, a bas relief that was made around 1914 when the pub was restored. The sculpture shows the major historical figures that, hopefully, I have already mentioned to you as you have taken this tour with me.Old King Coel sits at the head of the table, flanked by Boadicea, Eudo, Edward the Elder, Claudius, etc.
We have reached the end of our town centre tour, although the next section covers some additional areas of interest, some of which is dealt with by the excellent bus tour that is available daily from the War Memorial during summer months. These places are easily accessible by bike or car or (if you have the time) by foot. Have fun!
If, indeed, you still want some more, please proceed to the final stage of your Virtual Tour by clicking on
or backtrack by clicking on
or by visiting any of the following
To see more of Colchester's heritage sites, please explore the following links: