Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: Old King Cole and Colchester

Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and tradition says that he reigned from Colchester in Essex.

For many years, at least since the 17th century, children (and their parents) have been entertained by this jolly nursery rhyme character and the people and things he called for, most memorably his pipe, his bowl and his fiddlers three.

There are other theories as to the identity of the original King Cole. Some think it was Coel Hen, a Dark Age ruler in the Ayrshire area, while others believe it was Mr Cole, a wealthy clothier who lived at Colnbrook, near Slough.

But the general feeling is that the original was Cunobelin, ruler of civilised Britain in the years immediately previous to the Roman Conquest.

Cunobelin had his capital at Colchester, and it was for this reason that, when the Roman armies landed at Richborough after his death in 43 AD, they made immediately for Colchester.

Cunobelin is one of the Kings to be immortalised by William Shakespeare, whose play about him is entitled “Cymbeline”.

He is also claimed to have been the father of St. Helena, discoverer of the One True Cross, alleged to have been born in Colchester. However, since she was the mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great, this is unlikely, as something like three centuries intervene.