Yesterday, my husband took me for an afternoon outing in Colchester. It was the first time we’ve been out somewhere other than a quick dash to the shops for shopping, to get our vaccinations or a flying visit to family or friends to deliver Christmas presents or birthday gifts. We wandered in and out of the shops and around streets in bright sunshine, and had a bit to eat in a fancy dessert café. After two years of not going anywhere, it was lovely to chat with the shop assistants and almost felt normal apart from the fact we were all wearing masks. As we were walking along the path I saw stones, bits of red tiles and oyster shells on the pavement, which I gathered up. Later, I found out there had been a burst water pipe that had washed the old Roman wall remains down the hill.

Balkerne Gateway

My village isn’t far from the main arterial road that joins two Roman settlements in this part of Britain, Chelmsford, the town where I grew up, and Colchester which has always been a garrison town. Colchester takes its name from the Celtic fortress of Camulodunum, meaning Stronghold of Camulus, a deity of the Celts that the Romans could identify their god of war, Mars with when they took over the hill top fortress. The port of Colchester also allowed the Romans to have access to the rest of the world too. The oyster and fishery in the estuary at Colne and Pyfleet along with salt from Maldon made Colchester an ideal place for the Romans to establish a city.

In AD 60 Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni rebelled against the newly ensconced Roman rulers of Britannia. One of the queen’s first acts was to destroy Camulodunum when the Roman legions were away on a campaign. Unnerved by the ease in which the queen was able to take the settlement the Roman authorities set about building a wall around the town. The high defensive enclosure of 2800 metres long, 6 metres high and an average 2.3metres wide took an estimated 40,000 tonnes of building material to complete. Not all the material for the wall was sourced locally. Lime to make the mortar was brought in from Kent.  The core of the wall was simple rubble, with carefully arranged courses of septaria stones (compacted clay) which was brought in from Walton-on-the Naze and Harwich, and along with red bricks. The clay to make bricks was dug locally. The whole area was heavily forested at that time, so there was a good supply of wood for firing the clay.     

The roof detail of the old library

In the slideshow of the photos I took you can see the oldest surviving roman gateway in Britain which was the main entrance into the Roman town. There’s also a smaller guardroom accessible by going down a short step. The wall in my photo shows you clearly how the Romans followed a precise pattern that incorporated parallel courses of bricks into the width of the wall to stabilise it. Then five courses of septaria stone alternating with four courses of brick and tiles  

Situated at the base of Balkerne Hill, below the Roman wall, are springs and was a reservoir connected with the works at the summit of the hill where in April 1882 a jumbo water tower 105 feet high and capable of holding 220,000 gallons was erected. It took 20 months to complete. After a century of service the water tower was sold off by the water company and the tower has passed through multiple owners’ hands as their plans to convert the tower in a whole array of different things from penthouses, flats, and restaurants have been rejected.

Colchester Town Hall stands on the site where the first town hall stood in 1160. Moot Hall as it was called was replaced by a new building in 1898. The present Town Hall was the winning design in a completion and was won by John Belcher. The building design is Baroque and the Victorian tower (162ft) was presented by the industrialist James Paxman.  At the top of the tower is a statue of St Helena the patron saint of Colchester. The old library was the town’s first public library and was designed by Brightwen Binyon a British architect who was born in Manchester .

For some reason I couldn’t get the video to work and my Norton kept telling me the site was unsafe. So I’ve switched to just photos. Have a wonderful week and I shall chat again with you soon.

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