Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: Colchester is Britain's Oldest T

The ancient town of Colchester in Essex is the oldest in the land.

Not only was Colchester an important town in Roman times, it was the capital of civilised Britain even before the Romans arrived.

Colchester was originally the capital of the Trinovantes, whose territory roughly corresponded to present day Essex, and who were conquered by the Catuvellauni and their powerful King Cunobelin.

It was Cunobelin who was immortalised by Shakespeare as Cymbeline, and he is widely believed to be the original of Old King Cole.

The town’s British name was Camulodunum. When refounded as a Roman town, it was given the name Colonia Claudia, in honour of the Emperor Claudius. But the British didn’t like the new name, so carried on calling it Camulodunum.

Colchester is very likely the inspiration for Camelot. When looking for Camelot’s site, people tend to look for a town with a similar name, but this falls flat as there are only small places like Camelford. But you shouldn’t be looking for a place which sounds like it now, but which sounded like it in the Romano British period.

Deleting the Roman “unum” suffix leaves Camulod, which could’t be much closer to Camelot. Not only that, but the stories clearly look back to a magnificent city in its Golden Age. Just a handful of other places could satisfy this.

Visiting Colchester today is to experience the breathtaking sweep of history.

Claudius entered Colchester in triumph with elephants. Boudicca hated the town as a symbol of Roman colonialism, and destroyed it, along with London and St. Albans. But of course it was built again, and even today still has long stretches of Roman town wall (nearly all of Britain’s town walls are mediaeval), as well as the celebrated Balkerne Gate.

Colchester has the foundations of the earliest known Christian church in Britain, as well as the foundations of the country’s largest ever religious building. This was the Temple of Claudius, on top of which was built the largest ever Norman keep, of Colchester Castle.

There was a long siege during the Civil War, and the Dutch Quarter, home to Huguenot refugees, is a particularly picturesque area.

Today Colchester is a thriving, busy town.