Historic Colchester - the former capital of Roman Britain

Posted on October 6, 2019 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Colchester Castle

 

Although Colchester is only 50 miles from London, I have never visited this historic market town before. Regarded as Britain's oldest recorded town, it used to be the capital of Roman Britain, but it does not seem to attract as many visitors as Cambridge and Oxford. After visiting The Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmsmarket, I took the opportunity to trace its history and learn more about Roman Britain.

 

Colchester

colchester

Colchester   Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

 

The MUST-SEE sight in Colchester is the Grade I listed Colchester Castle, an imposing Norman Castle dating from 11th century. Built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, Colchester Castle is the largest Norman keep in Europe. The museum displays artefacts up to 2,500 years old, from Celtic Britain, through Roman invasion and Boudiccan revolt, to Norman conquest and medieval life. Visitors can also see the prison cells in the basement.

Personally, I was fascinated by the Roman artefacts especially the beautiful mosaic floors. There is a large Middleborough Mosaic (made up of around 250,000 tesserae) on display dated to about AD150-175. It was laid inside a large villa in Middleborough outside of the town wall, and was discovered in 1979. Although it is damaged, you can still appreciate the design which features two wrestling cupids being observed by a bird in the centre, four sea creatures (hippocamps), and an acanthus scroll border with large flowers, heart-shaped fruits and four more birds.

This museum has a vast array of collection that includes pottery, vessels, armour, coins and jewellery etc; it is a gem not to be missed.

 

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester castle/museum

 

Hollytrees Museum

Colchester

Hollytrees Museum

 

Another interesting sight is the ruins of St Botolph's Priory, founded about 1100, one of the first Augustinian priories in England. The building was badly damaged by cannon fire during the Civil War siege of 1648, yet it was never rebuilt. This is an example of early Norman architecture built in flint and reused Roman brick, and it still looks impressive with the remaining arches and piers.

 

Colchester St Botolph's Priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

St Botolph's Priory

 

Holy Trinity church is the oldest surviving Saxon building in Colchester. The Saxon-style tower has a triangular arch over the west door and features re-used Roman bricks. The tower dates to the mid-11th century, probably around AD1050, but the body of the church was built in 1349. The church was made redundant in 1956 and now not opened to the public.

 

Colchester trinity church

Colchester Church

Colchester

Holy Trinity church

 

The Minories Galleries houses a contemporary art gallery run by Colchester School of Art, part of Colchester Institute. The A listed Georgian building also has a shop selling arts and crafts made by local artists, as well as a Tiptree’ Tea Room with a spacious and relaxing garden.

 

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester The Minories Galleries

The Minories Galleries & Tiptree’ Tea Room

 

Honestly, I was rather surprised to see a contemporary art institue in the middle of this historic town. Designed by starchitect Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly (also known for his car-melting Walkie-Talkie building in London), the conspicuous gold metal structure looks a bit out of place here. Built in 2011, the controversial Firstsite took 8 years to build and costed £28 million (!). It has received criticism for its sloping walls and failing to attract footfall. When I visited the venue, there were only a few visitors, which felt quite strange... However, I was impressed to see the Berryfield Mosaic reinstalled at its original site after it was unearthed in 1923 and moved to the Colchester Castle. Dating from around AD200, the mosaic originally formed part of the dining room floor of a wealthy Roman townhouse; its design features a central rose motif surrounded by four panels depicting sea monsters chasing dolphins.

 

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Berryfield Mosaic

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester FirstsiteColchester Firstsite

Firstsite

 

Due to time contraint, I didn't have enough time to visit more places, but I had a good time and would want to explore more around this part of the UK in the future.

 


This post was posted in Exhibitions, Architecture, Art, Architectural conservation, British heritage, Archaeology, Britain and was tagged with architecture, museums, heritage, British art, Architectural conservation, Colchester, archaeology

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