We continue our virtual tour having just visited and seen our 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. But, before we set off, on this, our third part of this tour, as before, we will give you a little more of our Romano-British history, so that you can fit 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.
THE GEORGE HOTEL
Along the High Street to the east, we have the George Hotel, one of the last of our coaching inns, certainly dating to the 16th century - and perhaps earlier than that. 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 we 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 have arrived at the inn. Across the road is a widened area to facilitate the coach turning circle. The archway has now been blocked up due to the redundancy of its original function for 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 from the George 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 timber framed architecture can be better appreciated.
4 & 5
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 holding the heraldic Order of the Garter. You are now in Red Lion Yard, the old stable yard, where you will see a variety of little shops. Here is a map from 1879 that shows how this area used to be laid out. No shops, no covered way, No Culver Street. No, this was a vibrant space, filled with the trappings associated with a coaching inn, mostly stabling for horses, spaces for tack and carriages, a boot store, a kitchen, a bar for the coachmen and perhaps the stable workers. Just imagine the sounds and the smells of that bygone time. This was where a stage coach of old, would arrive in Colchester and make its way directly to the Red Lion, the landlord at the ready as the coachman skilfully steers his coach and horses through the massive gates - remembering to remove his hat and to duck, for fear of knocking his block off - the landlord then signalling for his servants to close the gates, thus ensuring that the passengers were his, not the George's, customers for the night. The romance of those coaching days, sadly, a thing of the past.
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.....
(the view from)
A small passageway ahead takes us to Vineyard steps, set at the top of a southern section of our Roman wall. There are steps down to the other side (to outside the town wall), where the town's market was once (1990s) 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 these steps occupies an area that, up until the first world war, was effectively, Colchester's red light district. In the 1870s, no less than 13 public houses were brought in front of the magistrates, 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 a legal profession to be in, as it still is today!
We pass outside the Roman walls and walk westwards, and 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 pub, previously the Clarence.
THE PURPLE DOG
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 is a fine timber framed building which once formed part of the house owned by William Gilberd, the discoverer of electro-magnetism and physician to the court of Elizabeth I, during the 16th century. The building was gifted to the people of Colchester as a clock museum, but when that closed, it became a tea room. The following picture hangs in our Town Hall and shows a Victorian view of 'Good Queen Bess' and William Gilberd.
Below is a view from inside nearby Holy Trinity Church, where a member (Mike Powell) of the Colchester Town Watch was there to commemoration Gilberd's life at the memorial to William Gilberd. Was Gilberd buried in the churchyard? We know not.
THE CLOCK MUSEUM
Tymperleys became a tea room in 2010s, having rested unused and emptied of its treasures, for several years due to the clock museum that it once was, being closed, due (we were told) to government cuts. So, let us indulge ourselves here a little bit and look back on how the interior once was, when it was an amazing museum of Colchester and area produced clocks. A virtual tour within a virtual tour, if you like.
used to be) TYMPERLEYS CLOCK MUSEUM
(what used to be)
In October 2010, after a public outcry against planned council cuts, Tymperleys Clock Museum won a reprieve against closure. The house and its clock collection had been given to the people of Colchester by Mr Bernard Mason in the 1980s and had since been a much loved part of Colchester's museums. However, the council did what it had intended to do all along and closed the museum, with a view to selling it off to the highest bidder - as it had done and was doing with so many other of its/our heritage buildings - The Town Hall, Camulodunum (a house on Lexden Road that was home to the Colchester Archaeological Trust), Museums Resource Centre, Social History Museum, Layer Road football pitch, Greyfriars, etc. A deal was brokered with Wilkins Jam Co. of Tiptree. It was soon after converted into a fine tea house by the Charrington family (owners of Layer Marney Towers).
Here follows a series of photographs that were taken in October 2010, as well as some other items of related interest. The building had been emptied of most of its clock collection and was standing empty and decaying. Hollytrees Museum had some of the other clocks. We understand that the remainder of the clock collection is in store, away from the public's gaze, perhaps one day to be displayed again.
13 14 Note the difference between these two pictures.
The first a postcard of around 1920 and the second from 2010.
Extra dormer windows in the roof. Exposed timbers, modified bay window on the ground floor, door removed on the ground floor, upper floor windows, re-arranged.
...and some of the clocks and exhibits that were on public display.
...and some details about Bernard Mason, who once lived here and who donated the building and his clock collection to the people of Colchester.
....and so we leave Tymperleys and head back out to Trinity Street. Across the road is Holy Trinity church, the tower of which must be Colchester's oldest building, and certainly the tallest, when it was built in the Saxon period and style. 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 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 the 1990s, was the town's social history museum. You can see more views of it in the Colchester Images section of this website. Like St Martins church that we saw in an earlier part of our tour, this church has a hagioscope, and also became redundant and looking for a good use. The problem for any new occupant of these redundant churches is one of cold, damp, health and safety, fully repairing leases, ancient monument status, etc.
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! The two pictures below show the above mentioned arrow head doorway that faces west onto Trinity Street, together with an internal archway, all making heavy use of Roman building materials from what was to be found more than 500 years after the Romans had left.
This is one of the medieval mouldings inside the church.
Apart from the annual commemoration of Gilberd's death, another personage that receives attention is Captain Thomas Pinto, one of the 27 Colchester associated men that we know of who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. His memorial inscription is part of a tomb that stands proudly on the south side of the church, and which is a focus for commemoration activities. You can learn more of this at our Colchester Men at Trafalgar (and at Waterloo), pages on this website.
Pinto's inscription is illegible now, but we do have a transcription that was done in the Victorian period, before acid rain and the damage that it did, and continues to do, to gravestones.
So we leave Holy Trinity church and move to our next point of interest, just a stone's throw away.
We finish this stage of the tour with mention of another Colcestrian [person of Colchester] of renown.
On one of our old buildings opposite Holy Trinity church is a plaque to John Wilbye (1574 - 1638), who wrote madrigals; part songs for several unaccompanied voices. He published two collections, one in 1598 and the other in 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 we think was William Gilberd.
This exhibit used to be (2000s) on display in the Castle Museum.
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