A Further Selection of Colchester Landmarks

There is, of course, more to Colchester than just recycled Roman bricks. Peake’s House is in the Dutch Quarter which was named after the Flemish weavers who settled here during the 16th century.

Heritage route

 Heritage Trail Route

St Helen’s (just a few steps from East Stockwell Street) was first recorded in 1097 but its history goes back to the 3rd century AD. It was founded by Empress Helena (St Helena is Colchester’s patron saint). She was the daughter of King Coel (of Old King Cole nursery rhyme fame) and mother of Emperor Constantine the Great who was born in Colchester.

St helen's Chapel

Since 2000 AD the chapel has been a Greek Orthodox parish church of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Inside the tiny church the walls are hung with icons to the various saints including Saint Helena and Saint Barbara.

Saint Barbara

Next to the chapel on one side is a former Quaker burial ground and on the other a line of black bricks leads slightly uphill to a window through which you can see some of the remains of a vast Roman theatre that had been capable of seating 3,500 people. A mural on the wall shows an artist’s impression of the theatre when it was in use.

Theatre and reflection

The Roman Theatre Foundations – a Reflections of the Street

Roman theatre

Plan of the Roman Theatre superimposed onto a modern street map

Nearby, on West Stockwell Street, is the former home of Jane and Ann Taylor who were famous for writing verse. Jane Taylor wrote the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’ in 1806.

Twinkle house

Home of Jane and Ann Taylor

about taylors

We read about the Taylors in Colchester Museum

Twinkle twinkle

Colchester Town Hall on the High Street has an impressive tower designed by John Belcher and opened in 1902. It rises 50m above the street and is surmounted by a statue of St Helena and other historical figures connected with Colchester including Queen Boudicea of the Iceni. She led a rebellion against the Romans in 60 AD.

Town Hall

Colchester Town Hall

We sought out Tymperleys the former home of Dr William Gilberd a scientist and physician to Queen Elizabeth I. It’s now a tea room and until very recently had housed a large collection of Colchester-made clocks. Bernard Mason who had collected the clocks and lived at Tymperleys left the entire collection and the house to the borough. Now only a very small selection may be seen in the Colchester Museum.



You can’t miss Jumbo! It’s a huge brick water tower built in 1882 and named for a famous elephant at London Zoo. The Rev John Irvine who lived in his rectory on the site of the present Mercury Theatre was not happy about the giant structure erected at the bottom of his garden and described the monstrosity as a Jumbo. The name stuck and the builders added a brass elephant to the weathervane as a reminder to the unhappy clergyman.

Jumbo and theatre Balkerne

Jumbo and the Mercury Theatre seen through Balkerne Gate

In addition to the Heritage Trail we also followed the Town to Sea Trail : Colchester and its historic port, the Hythe. “A unique art trail, designed for walkers and cyclists, follows the tidal River Colne through some lesser known areas of Colchester”.  We followed the whole of the 2 mile trail from its start at firstsite, an arts centre near the castle, to the end at the Hythe, a mixture of deserted or renovated quayside warehouses and modern out of town flats and shopping centre. We had a coffee in B&Q at Colne Causeway.



oyster shells


Information Board : Colchester Oysters are the best!

R Colne in its heyday

The River Colne in its Heyday

The Hythe

The Hythe today

Tidal river colne today

The Tidal River Colne Today

The highlight of the walk, but on a slight detour, was the Church of St Leonard at the Hythe; preserved by the Churches Conservation Trust its opening hours are limited but we were lucky again.

St leonard

St Leonard-at-the-Hythe


Interior : Early 20th Century Wall Paintings above the Arch once covered the whole Church

Windows St leon.

Early 20th Century Stained Glass : Sts Osyth, Helena and Ethelburga

Door musket holes

The Medieval door of this old port church still bears the holes made by troops to put muskets through during the English Civil War.

“Perhaps it is little known that Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star actually consists of 5 verses, with the fifth verse rarely sung. Here’s the complete 5 verses, taken from the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (2nd edition, 1997), with the repetition of the first two lines added to fit the melody.” [source]

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!


Colchester Heritage Trail : Roman Recycling

What surprised us most and became ‘themes’ as we walked around on our recent visit to Colchester was the recycling of Roman bricks and (I’ve mentioned this before) the number of superlatives applied to buildings and monuments throughout the town.

The trail

Colchester Heritage Trail is an excellent guide to the historic centre of Colchester. We didn’t follow the Trail step by step but fitted it all in over the several days we were there. The Trail starts and finishes at the Castle/War Memorial and only includes the old centre of town. Much of the following text is taken or adapted from the Trail leaflet. Some places were difficult to photograph and one day it poured with rain but otherwise I was able to snap most buildings, plaques and monuments.

Remains of temple

The Temple Foundations

Colchester Castle itself was constructed mainly of brick and stone recycled from the old Roman town. It was built in 1076 over the foundations of the Temple of Claudius which itself was erected after his death in AD 54. John Weeley bought the redundant Castle in 1683 and removed parts of the upper floors to reclaim the building material so the original height of the fortress is unknown.

St Martins

St Martin’s Church, West Stockwell Street

St Martin’s Church is cared for the Churches Conservation Trust which protects historic churches. We were very pleased to find the church open last Wednesday.

The tower is Norman although the rest of the church is medieval. The tower also stands no higher than the nave as a result of damage caused by cannon fire during the Siege of Colchester (1648). Colchester was besieged by the Parliamentary army for 11 weeks. The townspeople starved and many buildings were badly damaged. The Siege also crops several times along the Trail.

St M's bricks

“Note the recycled Roman bricks in the tower structure.”

St M's - Gilbert Scott

The Chancel, St Martin’s Church

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was responsible for uncovering the fine wagon roof in the chancel in the late nineteenth century.


The Balkerne Gateway is the oldest surviving Roman gateway in Britain. It was the main entrance to the town. The best preserved section of the Roman wall extends from the gateway remains. The wall is 2.5m thick and stands near to its former height. It was built almost entirely from fragments of Roman brick and septaria stone but only on the inner and outer surfaces. The core of the wall is filled with rubble and hardcore.

Best wall remains

Best Roman Wall Remains

St Marys at walls

St Mary’s at The Walls

St Mary’s was one of many buildings damaged during the Siege. Both the church and graveyard were used as a fort by the Royalist defenders who managed to raise a small cannon to the top of the tower. It was targeted by the Parliamentarians and this caused severe damage to the building and the demise of the canon and its marksman. The church was rebuilt in the early 18th century but the chancel and nave are Victorian.

Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity is the town’s only Saxon monument. It dates from 1000 AD and incorporates an arrow-head doorway composed entirely of re-used Roman bricks.

HT door

Arrow-Head Doorway

St Botolph’s Priory was founded around 1100 and was the first house of Augustinian Canons in England. All that remains today, however, is part of the original western front, with its superbly carved Norman archway, and a section of the nave.

Norman Arch St B's

Splendid Norman Archway

St Botolph's

Note the liberal use of Roman brick in the Priory construction

St B's Priory

There’s lots more to Colchester than re-used Roman bricks – nursery rhymes, a water tower, a theatre and lovely black and white Tudor buildings plus another trail. All coming up in the next post.

Staying at Mr Peake’s House

It’s not easy driving in Colchester. Even with very concise instructions as to how to reach the Landmark Trust’s Peake’s House we managed to take wrong turnings and narrowly missed driving in a bus lane. It was a big relief to reverse the car into the parking space provided and leave it there for the rest of our stay.

Stockwell Street

East Stockwell Street, Colchester. Peake’s House is the timbered building on the left.

Here’s what the Trust say about it :

“Originally three cottages at the centre of Colchester’s cloth trade, the long mullioned windows were designed to give light to the weavers at their looms. It is a snug retreat from which you can explore the historic town surrounding you.

Peake's House

Peake’s House stands in the Dutch Quarter, north of the High Street, which has retained its old layout as well as many of its older houses, making its atmospheric streets a delight to wander. Here Flemish weavers settled in the 1570s, driven into exile by religious persecution.

The satisfying, late-Elizabethan interiors of this merchant’s house provide a particularly atmospheric existence within its walls. Workmanly, evenly set wall timbers inside and out give the house its character. The interiors of Peake’s House have barely changed since those weavers made themselves a prosperous new life.”

Mr Peake had been the last owner before he generously gave it to the Borough Council in 1946, specifying that it was to be used for social and cultural purposes only. The Landmark Trust secured a 99 year lease on the house in 1995. A detailed history can be read on the Trust’s website.

Here is a brief tour of this wonderful old house:


Sitting Room with Large Inglenook Fireplace [source]

PH logbook fire

Log Book Fire

PH Library

The Landmark Library (rather dimly lit)

Peake's House Table

Peake's House kitchen

Welcoming, fully equipped kitchen

Kitchen Clock

The Clock was a great point of interest

Logbook clock

Clock in the Log Book

Clock instructions

Clock Winding Instructions from the Log Book

PH twin room

The Twin Bedroom

PH double room

Double room PH

Peake's double rm

The Double Bedroom (all 3 pictures above)

Curtain print

The specially printed curtain fabric. Lady Smith, wife of the Landmark Trust founder John Smith, designed and hand printed the curtain fabric for each individual property.

Wall Painting

Could the design for Peake’s House curtains have come from the wall painting in nearby St Martin’s Church? Not quite, but very similar.

Victorian Stencil Work

Photograph on the Church Display Board


Lovely Effective Curtains