Across the Thames Estuary, ESSEX is one of the home counties with the southern part being very much a commuter belt for the Metropolis.
COLCHESTER, steeped in history, is the oldest recorded town in England and was a Celtic capitol before being occupied by the Romans in AD43. They were followed by the Saxons who coined the modern name which means 'The Roman Fortress on the River Colne'. Then the Normans built a powerful castle on the site of the Roman temple in the 11th century of which only the massive keep remains to dominate the present town centre.
During the Civil War the town saw severe destruction when the Parliamentary army besieged it for eleven weeks before its submission and many historic buildings still bear the scars of the conflict, not least the 15th century Siege House in East Street.
Another building dominating the High Street is the Victorian Town Hall which was completed in 1902. The tall clock tower is topped by a statue of St Helena who is said to have been the daughter of 'Old King Cole'. Little is known about King Cole apart from the nursery rhyme, but he may have been an Ancient Briton Chieftain called Culobelin.
One of the tower bells dates to 1400.
Yet a third building which competes to dominate the centre of Colchester is
Jumbo is a massive Victorian water tower. At 141 feet high and built in 1883, it was made of one and a quarter million bricks, 369 tons of stone and 142 tons of iron to support a 230,000 gallon tank. 157 steps inside the central pier lead to a cupola 116 feet above the ground. It was named after Jumbo, a six and half ton African elephant which was a popular feature of London Zoo at that time.
In fact, in 1882 Jumbo the elephant was purchased by American Phineas Taylor Barnum for his circus and the removal of the elephant caused a great outcry to no avail and Jumbo was duly shipped to America to become
a star attraction there.
a star attraction there.
The Grade 11 listed water tower was decommissioned in 1987 and still stands proudly near the Balkerne Gate displaying its fine elephant weather vane. Despite changing hands on several occasions, proposed redevelopment of the tower has so far failed.
The Balkerne Gate is a Grade 1 listed Roman gateway. It was built in the 1st century at the entrance to town from London. The wall was built by the Romans to protect the town after it was sacked by Queen Boudicca in AD60.
This is the oldest part of the wall where once stood a triumphal arch which was raised in honour of Roman Emperor Claudius in AD 43 when Colchester was known as Camulodunum and the capital of Roman Britain. The scant remains of the gate are the earliest and most complete Roman gateway in the country.
The remains are now firmly protected by law but this was not always the case.
In 1843, when the railway came to Colchester, the landlord of the old King's Head pub saw the opportunity to increase business by removing part of the wall to open up a view from the new railway. Quite amazingly he removed not only part of the wall but part of the old gateway. Thus the pub became known as The Hole in the Wall, a name which was officially adopted in the 1960’s.
History also resonates from The George Hotel, a 500 years old coaching inn situated in the High Street. Extensive medieval cellars are preserved and it is said that there are even ashes left from the fires of Queen Boudicca's
rampage in AD60.
On the other side of the High Street, the Grade 1 listed Red Lion Hotel is also one of the oldest pubs in the town. It was built in 1465 and still maintains
many of the original Tudor features. The pub is said to be haunted, not least by a woman who was murdered there in 1638.
The Playhouse is a new pub in St John’s Street, an innovative Wetherspoon conversion. Originally opened as The Playhouse Theatre in 1929, it became a cinema in 1981 and subsequently a bingo hall before remaining empty until 1994 having retained its original interior. It was tastefully turned into a pub where the circle and boxes are preserved with models audience without being used. The stage is also still intact where one can enjoy a pint at one of the tables overlooking the auditorium wherein other tables are
around a circular bar.
There are many churches in Colchester. The medieval St Peter's church in North Hill close to the city centre was considerably remodelled in 1758
and again in 1895.
Although it often gets a bad press, Essex is a very nice place with much history and charming cottages of which this one at MARKS TEY near Colchester is a prime example.
CLACTON-ON-SEA on the east coast is a popular family resort with its long sandy beaches, nice promenade gardens and fine pier.
One of the three Martello Towers on this part of the coast is now a children's zoo and play area. They were built in the 19th century in anticipation of a threatened invasion by Napoleon.
Property occupied by the Air Ambulance service in Tower Road has very unusual garden ornaments.
The village of FINCHINGFIELD, in the north west of the county, is said to be the prettiest village in Essex.
THAXTED is a town of many old buildings, not least the timbered 16th century Guildhall which incorporates the town old lock-up.
Fronting the street are three medieval cottages, one of which is called
Dick Turpin's Cottage.
It is said that the legendary highwayman once lived here.
Dick Turpin was actually born at The Bluebell Inn at HEMPSTEAD and ended his days on the gibbet at York Knavesmire on April 17th 1739.
Turpin was nothing like the romantic character portrayed by Harrison Ainsworth in his novel Rookwood but he was a cattle and horse thief turned highwayman. He was finally detained at The Green Dragon Inn at Welton near Hull on a charge of poaching. He gave the name John Palmer to avoid recognition but made the mistake of writing to his brother whilst in custody and a former schoolmaster recognized his writing. It seems strange that Turpin could read and write, but apparently it proved to be his undoing because he was duly identified, tried and hanged at York Knavesmire. He was just 34 years of age. It is said that Turpin engaged five indigent men to follow his cart to the gallows and these ‘mourners’ were each paid the sum of 10/-.
Dick Turpin was reputedly buried in the graveyard of St. Georges Church in George Street, York, where a renovated gravestone reads :
‘ John Palmer, otherwise Richard Turpin.
The notorious highwayman and horse stealer,
Executed at Tyburn, April 17th, 1739
and buried in St. Georges churchyard. ‘
Although Tyburn was in fact the London gallows it was also a generic term
for any gallows.
A tablet in the church at BIRDBROOK near Haverhill records :
‘ Martha Blewitt of the Swan Inn at Baythorpe End in the parish of Birdbrook,
who died on
May 7th 1681.
She was the wife of 9 husbands successively, but the 9th outlived her.’
The funeral text was : ‘Last of all the woman died also.’
Which was recorded in the register.
It was also recorded that,
‘Robert Hogan of this parish had 7 wives successively.’
He married his 7th wife, Ann Livermire, ,
The large village of DEDHAM is in the north of Essex right on the border with Suffolk where the River Stour divides the two counties. This is Constable country as we shall see in the next blog when we move into Suffolk.
The church tower appears in many of Constable's paintings including 'View on the Stour near Dedham (1822)'. There is also a Constable painting in the church - 'The Ascension', one of only three religious paintings by the artist who favoured landscapes. It was commissioned in 1821 as an altarpiece for St Michael's Church at Manningtree
Constable attended the town's Grammar School,
now converted to private residences.
The Old Grammar School and Well House.
Formerly the home of the Sherman family, Sherman's Hall is a Grade 1 listed Georgian townhouse which was used a school until 1873. It is now owned by the National Trust.
Outside brickwork has some amazing graffiti scratched by former pupils, some of which is 200 years old.