Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for COLCHESTER

COLCHESTER, a town, a district, and a division, in Essex. The town stands on the river Colne, at the junction of the Eastern Counties, the Eastern Union, and the Wivenhoe railways, 21½ miles NE of Chelmsford. The Colne descends hence 9 miles south-south-eastward to the sea; is navigable hither for vessels of 150 tons; and makes the town a head port. The railways send off branches, within a few miles, to Halstead, Sudbury, and Harwich; and, by their main lines, and their numerous branches and connections, give communication to all parts of the kingdom.

History.—Colchester was the capital of the British Trinobantes; and figures particularly as the seat of their king Cunobiline, the "Cymbeline" of Shakspeare. It was taken, in the year 44, by Claudius Cæsar; retaken, in a few years, by the Iceni under Boadicea; taken again by the Romans; and made the seat, in the third century, of Constantius Chlorus. It was called Caer-Colun by the Britons, Camelodunum by the Romans, and afterwards Colunceaster or Colneceaster by the Saxons. British or Roman roads went from it to London, Verulam, Cambridge, and Castor. A temple was built in it to Claudius; materials of Roman masonry are seen in the walls of its old public buildings; and multitudes of Roman relics, including coins, vases, urns, rings, utensils, pavements, and vestiges of baths, have been found. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, is associated with its topography; and Constantine himself is often, though erroneously, regarded as a native. The town declined under the Saxons; fell into the possession of the Danes; was taken, in 921, by Edward the Elder; belonged at Domesday to Eudo or Gudo Dapifer, the Conqueror's steward, who built a castle at it on the site of a previous one, and founded an abbey; was occupied in 1215 by the Earl of Winchester, and in 1218 by Louis the Dauphin; sent five ships, in the time of Edward III., to the siege of Calais; was ravaged by the plague in 1348, 1360, and 1665; was visited by Henry VI. in 1455, by Mary in 1553, by Elizabeth in 1579; was taken, in 1648, by Lord Goring, for Charles I., but retaken, after a siege of three months, by Fairfax, when Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were shot, and the castle and fortifications were dismantled.

Walls and Streets.—The town includes the summit and the northern and eastern sides of a fine eminence rising from the Colne. It anciently occupied not more than 110acres, with a circuit of 1¾ mile, and was engirt by walls. These were pierced by four gates and three posterns; strengthened by several bastions; and defended on the west by a small ancient fort, and on the west and the north by deep ditches. The walls have been mostly destroyed; but portions are kept in repair by private owners; and these consist of stone and Roman brick, with a strong cement, and are usually from 7 to 8 feet thick. The principal street, within the ancient area, runs nearly east and west, and contains many fine shops and respectable houses; while other streets there show a large amount of antique character. The portions beyond the line of the walls are very irregularly disposed. A long suburban street, to the east, leads to the Hythe and the Quay; and a large modern extension, including many fine detached residences, goes off to the west.

Public-buildings.—The castle occupies an elevated spot to the north of the High-street; and commands a fine view of the Colne's valley. The walls were too massive to be seriously injured by the dismantling at the civil war; they consist of a mixture of stone, flint, and Roman bricks; they have a thickness of nearly 11 feet, increasing downward to 12, and resting on very broad foundations; and they are still nearly perfect. The east and the west sides measure 140 feet each; the north and the south sides measure 102 feet each; the north-east and the north-west angles have projecting square towers; and two other parts have respectively a square tower and a semicircular one. The interior contains a petty sessions room, with a very ancient carved mantlepiece, a library founded by Archbishop Harsnett, an ancient chapel, now a museum, and some curious strong apartments and vaults. The town-hall, on the north side of High-street, was built in 1844, and has a Roman Doric front with bold central archway, and six pilasters. The borough jail, at the entrance of the town from the north-east, is a modern erection, with capacity for sixteen male and four female prisoners. The market-place, near the town-hall, is spacious and handsome erection of 1814. The corn exchange, near St. Peter's church, was built partly in 1820, partly at a later period, and cost £4, 000. Extensive barracks were constructed during the war with France, but mostly pulled down at the close of the war; new barracks, of smaller capacity, were thence in use; and a camp for 5, 000 men was formed during the war with Russia. A new camp, or suite of cavalry barracks, was contracted for in the early part of 1862; and the erections of it for the men are of red brick, two storied, and are formed in blocks, each for 72 men; the erections for the officers three-storied. Other public buildings will be noticed in subsequent paragraphs.

Ecclesiastical Affairs.—The abbey founded by Eudo Dapifer was Benedictine and mitred; stood on the south side of the town; had the privilege of sanctuary; and was valued at £524. Only the porter's lodge and the precinct gate of it now remain. An Augustinian priory, on a spot a short way north-east of the abbey, was founded in 1116 by the monk Ernulph; was the first house of its order in England; and was given, at the dissolution, to Lord Chancellor Audley. Considerable ruins of its church are still standing; and these show interesting features of Norman arch and brick decorations. -Bishops were twice appointed to Colchester, as the seat of a diocese, in 1536 and 1592; but on neither occasion was there any successor. -The parishes and livings in the town, exclusive of four others within the borough, are All Saints, St. Giles, St. James, St. Leonard, St. Martin, St. Mary-at-the-Walls, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Nicholas, St. Runwald, Holy Trinity, St. Peter, St. Botolph, and St. John. All except three are rectories, and these three, St. Peter, St. Botolph, and St. John, are vicarages, in the diocese of Rochester. Value of All Saints, £240;* of St. Giles, £190;* of St. James, £150;* of St. Leonard, £129;* of St. Martin, £147; of St. Mary-at-the-Walls, £242;* of St. Mary Magdalene, £330;* of St. Nicholas, £135; of St. Runwald, £140; of Holy Trinity, £158; of St. Peter, £285;* of St. Botolph, £130; of St. John, not reported. Patron of All Saints, St. Leonard, St. Nicholas, Holy Trinity, and St. Botolph, Baliol College, Oxford; of St. Giles, T. M. Gepp, Esq.; of St. James and St. Mary Magdalene, the Lord Chancellor; of St. Martin, not reported; of St. Mary-at-the-Walls, the Bishop of Rochester; of St. Runwald, James Round, Esq.; of St. Peter, Simeon's Trustees; of St. John, the Archdeacon of Colchester. The places of worship within the borough, in 1851, were 16 of the Church of England, with 6, 460 sittings; 6 of Independents, with 2, 665 s.; 4 of Baptists, with 1, 910 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 767 s.; 1 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 830 s.; 3 of Primitive Methodists, with 422 s.; 1 of the New Church, with 500 s.; 1 of Latter Day Saints, with 102 s.; and 1 of Roman Catholics, with 140 s. -All Saints church is an edifice of the 14th century, with a flint tower; and was recently restored. St. Giles has monumental inscriptions to the Lucases. St. James' is an edifice of the time of Edward II., and has a tomb to Winsley and two brasses of the Maynards. St. Leonard's is ancient, and had two chantries. St. Martin's was built in 1327, partly of Roman brick, but ruined at the siege; was rebuilt recently; is a cruciform structure, of flint and Caen stone; and has a bell-tower and a porch. Holy Trinity was built in 1349, and has a monument of Dr. Gilbert, physician to Queen Elizabeth. St. Mary-at-the-Walls was destroyed at the siege, and rebuilt in 1713; and it consists of nave and aisles, with a square tower. St. Peter's is a modernized ancient edifice, and has four brasses of the Sayers and others 'St. Botolph's adjoins the ruined church of the priory, and is a large modern structure, in a . style to correspond with that edifice. A new district church, in the early English style, built of bricks in red and white bands, was erected in 1864 on the Ipswich road, just beyond the second milestone. A new Independent chapel, on the site of the old Octagon chapel, was built in 1863, at a cost of about £5, 000; is in the decorated English style, of Kentish rag, with Caen stone dressings; consists of a nave 88 feet long and 51 wide, with galleries; and has a tower and spire 125 feet high. The Quakers' meeting-house was formerly a church said to have been founded by the mother of Constantine the Great, and rebuilt in 1076 by Eudo.

Schools and Charities.—The schools within the borough, in 1851, were 13 public day schools, with 1, 361 scholars; 43 private day schools, with 964 s.; 22 Sunday schools, with 2, 142 s.; and 2 evening schools for adults, with 16 s. The grammar school was founded by Henry VIII.; had Dr. Parr for some time as master; numbers among its pupils Archbishop Harsnet and the present astronomer-royal; has an endowed income of £182, with two scholarships at Cambridge; and is now held in an edifice of 1853, in the Tudor style, built at a cost of nearly £1, 000. The literary institution promotes literature and science, and has a reading room , a library, and a lecture-room. St. Mary Magdalene's hospital was founded by Eudo for lepers, and refounded by James J. for a master and poor pensioners; and has an endowed income of £239. Winsley's alms-houses have £473; Winnock's, £236; Kendall's, £144; and Finch's, £56. The total amount of endowed charities is £1, 681, with a share in Sir T. White's loans to twenty-four corporate towns. An elegant modern building near the railway station, designed originally for a hotel, is now an asylum for poor idiot children. Middlewick park was bought by government in 1856, for military purposes.

Trade and Commerce.—The town has a head post-office, ‡ a telegraph station, four banking offices, and four chief inns; is a seat of petty sessions and a polling-place; carries on a good trade in agricultural produce and cattle; and publishes three newspapers. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and fairs on 5 and 23 July and 20 Oct. Public conveyances run to numerous places which cannot be conveniently reached from stations on the railways. Umbrella-silk is manufactured; and a great oyster-fishery, through all the creeks communicating with the Colne, is carried on. The port includes a sub-harbour for large vessels 3 miles below the town, and the sub-port of Brightlingsea. The vessels registered at it, in the beginning of 1863, were 201 small sailing-vessels, of aggregately 3, 807 tons; and 101 larger sailing-vessels of aggregately 13, 166 tons. The vessels which entered it in 1858 from foreign countries, were 23, of aggregately 1, 915 tons; and coastwise, 623, of aggregately 43, 775 tons. The vessels which entered from foreign ports, in 1862, were 27, of 2, 413 tons; and those which cleared out for foreign ports were 9, of 239 tons. The amount of customs, in 1858, was £15, 491; in 1867, £11, 735. The chief exports are corn and malt; and the chief imports wines, oil-cake, and timber.

The Borough.—The town was incorporated by Richard I.; is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors; and has sent two members to parliament since the time of Edward I. The borough limits are the same parliamentarily as municipally; and include the twelve town parishes already noticed, and the four suburb or outlying parishes of Berechurch, Lexden, Mile-End, and Greenstead. Acres, 11, 200. Real property in 1860, £77, 081; of which £1, 520 are in gas-works. Direct taxes in 1857, £11, 424. Electors in 1868, 1, 424. Pop. in 1841, 17, 790; in 1861, 23, 809. Houses, 4, 447. The town gave the title of Baron, in 1817, to the Right Hon. Charles Abbot; and it numbers among its natives Archbishop Harsnet and Powell the divine.

The District and the Division.—The registration district is conteeminate with the borough. Poor-rates in 1862, £12, 948. Marriages in 1860, 217; births, 737, - of which 44 were illegitimate; deaths, 452, -of which 166 were at ages under 5 years, and 12 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 1,873; births, 6, 601; deaths, 4, 709. The workhouse is on the west side of Balkerne-hill; was built at a cost of £10, 000; and is adjoined to a newer infirmary, which cost upwards of £2, 000. -The division is part of Lexden hundred; adjoins the district or borough, but does not include any of it; and contains thirteen parishes. Acres, 31, 568. Pop., 11, 994. Houses, 2, 632.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, a district, and a division"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Colchester CP       Colchester RegD/PLU       Essex AncC
Place: Colchester

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