The History of Colchester
Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town, with a colourful history dating back over two thousand years. It’s a history you can share by visiting the town’s award-winning museums where you can see collections of international importance.
From a Roman Temple to cutting edge 21st century design, via Victorian splendour and medieval timber frames, panoramas of beautiful buildings reflect the town’s history and contemporary appeal.
As well as being the inspiration for famous English artists like 19th century landscape painter John Constable, 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough and 20th century equestrian artist Sir Alfred Munnings, the Colchester area offers cutting-edge contemporary art galleries and art cafés for you to enjoy and buy locally made art and craft.
Colchester History Timeline
Cunobelin (Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), leader of the British Trinovantes tribe, establishes himself at Camulodunum (which means ‘Fortress of the war god Camulos’), expanding both his kingdom and trade with the Roman world.
The Roman invasion of Britain. The Emperor Claudius leads the capture of Camulodunum and takes the submission of 11 British kings at Gosbecks (just south west of the present day town centre).
Construction of the Temple of Claudius begins (where the Castle now stands).
The revolt by Boudica (Boadicea) sees the Temple and the colonia destroyed.
65 – 80 AD
The town walls are built incorporating Britain’s largest Roman gateway, Balkerne gate, a magnificent triumphal arch. Some two thirds of this wall still stands, the oldest town wall in Britain.
Pliny the Elder mentions Camulodunum in his ‘Natural History’. This is the earliest historical reference to a British town.
The Normans commence construction of Colchester Castle. It is built over the remains of the Roman Temple of Claudius.
The first Flemish refugees arrive, fleeing from religious persecution. They bring new prosperity to the town from their weaving industry. The area where they lived can still be seen just off the High Street and is known as the Dutch Quarter.
The Siege of Colchester. The town was besieged by the Parliamentarian army during the Civil War for 11 weeks. During this time the townspeople suffered dreadfully and the Roman walls were breached.
The 40.8m (134ft) high water tower, dominates Colchester’s skyline then as now. It was soon known as Jumbo after the famous elephant in London Zoo, which had then just been sold amid national protests, to the American circus showman, P. T. Barnum.
The Colchester earthquake causes great damage to a number of buildings in the area.
Castle Park, a classic Victorian park situated just two minutes from the High Street, is opened by the Lord Mayor of London.
University of Essex admits its first students. It receives a Royal Charter in the following year. Today it is Britain’s most international university, hosting students from 125 countries.
Colchester Museums’ collections of Iron Age and Roman artefacts are recognised by the Government as being one of the top 50 museum collections in the country and are given ‘ Designated’ status.
Today Colchester is a thriving, modern town. Its history and heritage combined with a superb range of shops, award winning attractions, an increasing influence of contemporary art and accommodation give the visitor an interesting variety of experiences, however long their stay.