1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Colchester
COLCHESTER, a market town, river port and municipal and parliamentary borough of Essex, England; 52 m. N. E. by E. from London by the Great Eastern railway. Pop. (1901) 38,373. It lies on the river Colne, 12 m. from the open sea. Among numerous buildings of antiquarian interest the first is the ruined keep of the castle, a majestic specimen of Norman architecture, the largest of its kind in England, covering nearly twice the area of the White Tower in London. It was erected in the reign of William I. or William II., and is quadrangular, turreted at the angles. As in other ancient buildings in Colchester there are evidences of the use of material from the Roman town which occupied the site, but it is clearly of Norman construction. Here is the museum of the Essex Archaeological Society, with a remarkable collection of Roman antiquities, and a library belonging to the Round family, who own the castle. Among ecclesiastical buildings are remains of two monastic foundations—the priory of St Botolph, founded early in the 12th century for Augustinian canons, of which part of the fine Norman west front (in which Roman bricks occur), and of the nave arcades remain; and the restored gateway of the Benedictine monastery of St John, founded by Eudo, steward to William II. This is a beautiful specimen of Perpendicular work, embattled, flanked by spired turrets, and covered with panel work. The churches of Holy Trinity, St Martin and St Leonard at Hythe are of antiquarian interest; the first has an apparently pre-Norman tower and the last preserves some curious frescoes.
The principal modern buildings are the town hall, corn exchange, free library, the Eastern Counties’ asylum, Essex county hospital and barracks. The town has long been an important military centre with a large permanent camp. There are a free grammar school (founded 1539), a technical and university extension college, a literary institute and medical and other societies. Castle Park is a public ground surrounding the castle. Colchester is the centre of an agricultural district, and has extensive corn and cattle markets. Industries include founding, engineering, malting, flour-milling, rose-growing and the making of clothing and boots and shoes. The oyster fisheries at the mouth of the Colne, for which the town has been famous for centuries, belong to the corporation, and are held on a ninety-nine years’ lease by the Colne Fishery Company, incorporated under an act of 1870. The harbour, with quayage at the suburb of Hythe, is controlled by the corporation. The parliamentary borough, which is co-extensive with the municipal, returns one member. The municipal corporation consists of a mayor, 8 aldermen and 24 councillors. Area 11,333 acres.
The Roman town, Colonia Victricensis Camalodunum (or Camulodunum), was of great importance. It was founded by Claudius, early in the period of the Roman conquest, as a municipality with discharged Roman soldiers as citizens, to assist the Roman dominion and spread its civilization. Under Queen Boadicea the natives burned the town and massacred the colonists; but Camalodunum soon rose to fresh prosperity and flourished throughout the Roman period. Its walls and some other remains, including the guardroom at the principal gate, can still be clearly traced, and many such relics as sculptures, inscriptions, pavements and pottery have been discovered. When the borough originated is not known, but Domesday Book mentions two hundred and seventy-six burgesses and land in commune burgensium, a phrase that may point to a nascent municipal corporation. The first charter given by Richard I. in 1189 granted the burghers leave to choose their bailiffs and a justice to hold the pleas of the crown within the borough, freedom from the obligation of duel, freedom of passage and pontage through England, free warren, fishery and custom as in the time of Henry I., and other privileges. An inspeximus of this charter by Henry III. in 1252 granted the burgesses the return of certain writs. The charters were confirmed by various kings, and new grants obtained in 1447 and 1535. In 1635 Charles I. granted a fresh charter, which replaced the bailiffs by a mayor, and in 1653 Cromwell altered it to secure a permanent majority for his party on the corporation. But his action was undone in 1659, and in 1663 Charles II. granted a new charter. In 1684 the charters were surrendered, and a new one obtained reserving to the crown power to remove the mayor and alderman, and this one was further modified by James II. But the charter of 1663 was confirmed in 1693 and remained in force till 1741, when the liberties were allowed to lapse. In 1763 George III. made the borough a renewed grant of its liberties. Colchester returned two members to parliament from 1295 until 1885. Fairs were granted by Richard I. in 1189 to the hospital of St Mary Magdalene, and by Edward II. in 1319 to the town for the eve of and feast of St Denis and the six following days—a fair which is still held. In the 13th century Colchester was sufficiently important as a port to pay a fee-farm of £46, its ships plying to Winchelsea and France. Elizabeth and James I. encouraged Flemish settlers in the manufacture of baize (“bays and says”), which attained great importance, so that a charter of Charles I. speaks of burgesses industriously exercising the manufacture of cloth. Both Camden and Fuller mention the trade in barrelled oysters and candied eringo-root. The most notable event in the history of the town was its siege by Fairfax in 1648, when the raw levies of the Royalists in the second civil war held his army at bay for nearly eleven weeks, only surrendering when starved out, and when Cromwell’s victory in the north made further resistance useless. Colchester was made the see of a suffragan bishop by King Henry VIII., and two bishops were in succession appointed by him; no further appointments, however, were made until the see was re-established under Queen Victoria.
See Victoria County History, Essex; Charters and Letters Patent granted to the Borough of Colchester (Colchester, 1903); Morant, History of Colchester (1748); Harrod’s Report on the Records of Colchester (1865); Cutts, Colchester (Historic Towns) 1888; J. H. Round, “Colchester and the Commonwealth” in Eng. Hist. Rev. vol. xv.; Benham, Red Paper Book of Colchester (1902), and Oath Book of Colchester (1907).