Monday, August 10, 2009

Camulodunum / Colchester

Nice thing about visiting a sister who's boyfriend's parents loaned her their car for the weekend? Getting to visit something outside of London! ;o) (that and getting picked up at the airport, lol!)

After considering a few options for our Sunday escapade (factoring in the probable lateness of breakfast after drinks etc. in London the night before), we finally settled on Colchester (about an hour away) basically because it had a castle (I'm a sucker for those) and this one was a Norman Keep which is something I've never seen! :o) (that and the entrance fees were cheap compared to some others we considered). Unfortunately Colchester's website isn't that informative, I just thought the only other thing there would be the Natural History Museum (we didn't get in, apparently places close early on Sundays) and the Zoo (my sister went 2 years ago). So I was pleasantly surprised when driving into to town and seeing bits and pieces of a magnificent stone wall and an arch (Romans?! YAY!!!). No stopping since we were running a bit late so went straight to the Keep:

Massive stone walls! Definitely looked like it was built for surviving a war!

Apparently Colchester Castle is the largest castle keep built by the Normans in England (brief history reminder: the Normans -French from Normandy- invaded England in the 11th century when William the Conqueror laid claim to the English throne stating that it had been promised to him by Edward the Confessor who died childless. Victory over the English army -Saxons- at the Battle of Hastings. Permanent French presence in England until a fusion of the two peoples and cultures a couple of centuries later). The keep was built between 1076 and 1125 with extensive re-use of brick and tiles from the ruined Roman town and built on the foundations of the great Roman Temple of Claudius. Apparently it was a full story higher than what's left now as the upper part was demolished in the 1690s.

The Keep is now the town's history museum which is what you can visit with your basic entrance fee. But a mere 2 extra pounds gets you into an hour-long, highly entertaining and informative guided tour! Care to join me as I revisit the tour and the Museum while browsing through some of my pictures?

Our guided started by leading us down

into the foundations of the original Roman temple (which had originally been filled up with sand for structural support, was emptied out in the 18th-19th centuries).

We wandered in and out and she gave us a general history lesson of the region (see below with museum pictures) and talked about the construction (and destruction) of the original Roman Temple and then the keep. In some of the walls you can see where the stones change from the foundations of the Roman Temple to those added on for the Norman Keep. And by the way... the Romans had better workmanship! ;o)

As we headed back up (I love spiralling castle staircases, don't you?)

she stopped to point out some Medieval graffiti:

As we headed up into the light (so currently on the roof top as that level was blown away)

I was amazed to find a tree had been planted there!

Walking through a narrow corridor

into what remains of the original Chapel (the floor is original, the wooden beams, windows etc put in place to give an idea of what the chapel would have been like)

Check the view from the top! Looking out over Colchester:

As we headed back down the tight spiral

we'd come across a few of the original windows (no way an arrow's going to be coming through that narrow slit!):

Anyone need to use the privy?

After that we were left on our own to visit the Museum which has been set up inside the man hall of the Keep. It was a highly interactive experience, with lots of "toys" to play with and plenty of maquettes and illustrations of the various periods of history we had been told about while in the foundations.

Some fun facts and stories I learnt from the guide and while goofing around in the Museum:
  • Apparently this was the oldest recorded town in Britain under the name Camulodunum, as tribal capital for the Trinovantes in 25BC. The Romans considered its king Cunobelin (know to readers of Shakespeare as Cymbline) more than a mere tribal leader, to them he was Rex Britannorum or King of the Britons.

  • After the Roman invasion under the Emperor Claudius (bringing elephants with him!) the first legionary fortress was built there later to be chosen as the site for a retirement settlement for Roman soldiers (I got a real kick out of that! Roman soldiers retiring in England? And now the Mediterranean coastline is packed with retired Brits! lol!). A monumental temple was built there dedicated to Claudius. Here's a model of it:

Mosaic found in the ruins of a neighbouring house:

As I mentioned before, the museum is highly interactive, all my sister is missing is a pilum or glaive to be the perfect Roman Legionnaire!

That is unless her boyfriend

decides to sell her as a slave...

  • When Queen Boudica led the Iceni and Trinovantes tribes in revolt against the Romans in 60AD, her troops destroyed the town (and then moved on to do the same to London!) including -after a 2 day siege- the temple where many of the citizens had taken refuge (stone walls = impregnable, wooden roof? fire = ouch!). The wall surrounding the town was built after this event.
  • The Castle was built on the orders of William the Conqueror, and apparently the Tower of London has the exact same design, just built on a smaller scale! Here's a model of the town at the time of the Castle's completion:
  • Do I look fierce enough to be a Norman warrior?
  • Apparently the Keep has never needed to serve its primary purpose as a centre for defense. Among its many uses it has been a county prison (in the 17th century it was the location for "questioning" suspected witches)
  • It was a final bastion of Royalists at the end of the Civil War (Cromwell vs King Charles I)
  • In the late 17th century it was bought for a pittance by a Mr Wheeler who dynamited the upper structures to get building materials he could re-sell (he didn't finish taking the place apart due to bankruptcy).
  • And in the early 18th century it was acquired by the local MP Charles Grey who restored it to its current condition (adding in some historical inaccuracies) and created the park that surrounds it.
  • The foundations were used as bomb shelters in WW2.

We decided to walk around the park for a bit and following our ears (we heard music) led us to this:

a very large and lovely park!

As we walked down and around we came across the Roman Wall:

Time to head home. Here's a glimpse of the Castle from the other side, you can clearly make out the location of the Chapel in the left-hand corner there!

CrazyCris "castle-hugger" ;o)


  1. I went to primary school in Suffolk, so I know I must have been to these places... all I can remember is trying on a toga at the museum and a trip to the zoo where I spent all my money on a little model of two tigers!

  2. yeah, we had a blast trying to follow the instructions on the proper way to drape a toga! took so long to figure it out we just did it on him and didn't bother with the rest of us... :p

  3. Oh boy, I really like that castle. Thanks for putting up those pix, and letting us walk the walk with you.

    And yeah, I'm frightened outta my head by a certain Norman I just saw!:p

  4. That looks like a tremendously fun tour! I like the part about playing. The castle looks awesome. This place will be on my mental list of places to see when 'someday' I'm a rich famous author with money to travel!

  5. lol! my list of "places to see" is so long I've finally had to admit I probably won't ever see them all! Plus there's the list of places I want to go back to... and then of course all those places you discover quite haphazardly! :p

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  7. Wow Chris, this was an exceptional tour! I loved it! One of my favorite things to do in life is to go through museums. I must get to England. I am now hooked on all English history because of .... The Tudors on Showtime!

  8. I hear you Nancy, museums can be great! In fact it's one of the things I enjoy the most when travelling alone because I can enjoy museums at my own leisurely pace without worrying about someone else being bored! (but then mealtimes when you're travelling alone are depressing...)

    I'm also a big history buff! In high school I actually contemplated being a history teacher! And then decided to go into science instead 'cause it was "easier" lol! :p But my favourite books are almost always historical fiction and I luuuuuv period movies and series (and yeah, The Tudors has been great! can't wait for the next -and final, snif!- season)

  9. Thanks for sharing your pictures/stories of your trip to London! You got some great photos (even if the grumps wouldn't let you take pictures inside Westminster).
    Makes me want to go back and read my Old & Middle English and British Renaissance Lit. textbooks.
    It reminded me that I'm keeping an eye out for a well-written biography for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. (I had no idea Elizabeth and Mary were buried together! It's almost sweet in a morbid sort of way, given the speculation that Elizabeth didn't really want Mary executed.)

  10. I think you've read the wrong Mary Nicky! Mary TUDOR is buried with Elisabeth, not Mary STUART! :p i.e. her sister the first Queen of England? ;o)

    but it's sweet that King James 1st had his mother and Elisabeth buried in close proximity and with equally regal tombs... :o)


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