Monday was a bank holiday here so Richard and the kids had the day off. I had about five places I wanted to go for the day but finally narrowed it down to the town of Colchester. It is the first recorded town in England, settled by the Romans around 45AD.
At breakfast the kids asked where we were going and I told them I’d picked Colchester and Eli said
“Colchester! I know that place. It’s an old Roman city that was destroy by Boudica. She also destroyed St. Albans and London and there is a statue of her riding in her chariot.”
Well then. (It turns out the statue is a statue we’ve seen several times, right outside the Westminster tube station. Guaranteed you’ll see it if you visit London, I just had no idea who/what it was.)
It took about an hour and a half to get there, but it was a beautiful drive. All over the countryside we kept seeing these alarming yellow fields. They were everywhere! They were flowers but I told Richard that they had to be some kind of profitable crop because they were so…everywhere. It turns out they are rapeseed.
We parked the car and walked down to Castle Park, which contains the Hollytrees Estate, a stretch of the original Roman wall, the Colchester Castle, and a massive playground. We let the kids play on the playground for a bit and then we walked up toward the high street to check out our options and get some lunch.
Eli loving it.
Eli hating it.
Eli trying to love it again.
Eli and the Roman city wall.
The gardens of the Hollytrees Estate, inside Castle Park.
I had read online about a walking city tour that I really wanted to do, but we hadn’t brought the stroller and Richard knew Miriam and Simon would be bored and he would have to wrangle them while I listened to the tour guide. We compromised and I signed Cameron and myself up for the tour and Richard agreed to take the other kids back to the playground.
We ate lunch in The George Hotel, which was a fun and new English experience. I felt like we went back in time, but we would have been ridiculously under-dressed back in the heyday of the George Hotel.
After lunch we had about an hour before the tour started so we walked over to the ruins of St. Botolph’s Priory. It was the first and leading medieval Augustinian priory. It was originally a Saxon church that was expanded and converted to a priory in approximately 1096. Then of course good ol’ Henry VIII demanded the dissolution of all things related to the Catholic church and it was mostly demolished in 1534. What remained was further damaged during the Siege of Colchester in 1648, and this is all that remains. (Henry VIII is already so easy to dislike, but the fact that he destroyed so much of the most beautiful architecture in the country makes him even more despicable.)
This Gothic Victorian church was built to replace the priory in 1867. It looks quite austere by comparison.
We walked back to Castle Park where we split off and Richard took the littles to the playground and Cameron and I embarked on our two hour walking tour. He was a great sport, and really soaked up the history of it all. I was a little surprised that Eli didn’t want to come, but sometimes a kid just gonna be a kid.
The Colchester Castle was commissioned by William the Conqueror around 1069 and it was designed by a man called Gundulf. It is the largest medieval castle in England, and the largest surviving castle keep in Europe. Gundulf also designed the White Tower at the Tower of London, but it is smaller. It was built on the ruins of the Roman Temple to Claudius. We didn’t have enough time to make it worth the cost of taking a tour of the inside of the castle, but I kind of regret that and wish I had planned better.
The walking tour covered over 2000 years of history that I will refrain from recounting here. But I’ll mention a few interesting bits.
Before the Romans came, Colchester was a Celtic village called Camulodunum, which some historians speculate was the basis for the fictitious Camelot, the capital of King Arthur’s court.
The story of Boudica was so intriguing to me. She has to be one of the most fascinating historical characters I’ve learned about since moving to London. I have mixed feelings about her; she killed 80,000 people during her rampage. But I also admire her. I admire many women in history who demonstrated bravery in the face of male oppression. She was denied everything that was rightfully hers when her husband died, and she and her daughters were beaten and sexually abused.
Colchester was a massive, popular Roman city. Even after Boudica’s rampage the city was rebuilt. Three theatres have been uncovered, as well as the only Roman circus (chariot racing track) in Britain. But once the Roman empire began to fall, all the Roman leadership left England and after the sixth century Colchester was more or less abandoned.
The city was probably re-inhabited by Anglo-Saxons in the 800-900s, and then hit a new population boom when William the Conqueror set it apart as a military city.
Colorful plaster covered timber homes from the 14th century in the Dutch Quarter. Colchester was known for its fabric industry and in the 16th century Flemish people being persecuted in Europe came to Colchester to live and work making clothing.
The home of Jane and Ann Taylor, sisters who wrote poetry for children. Jane is the author of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
What year was your house built? Oh, around 1650…
After we finished our tour Cameron and I met back up with the rest of the gang and we took a stroll along the River Colne on our way back to the car.
And this about sums it up.