Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Colchester, Roman Capital of Britain, rising like a Phoenix.

It's been over a year since my last post. It wasn't a conscious decision to stop writing, life just got very busy. My son is now 29 months old (he's certainly taken up ALOT of my time) I have also been working in Commercials again (I never thought I'd say it, but I really missed it), the house/money pit is almost finished (I've said it before and I will say it again, NEVER buy a house when you have just given birth) and I haven't really had the motivation to be honest. The drudge of life seems to have sucked a lot of joy out of the air! But today I actually feel quite good about life here and perhaps writing things down will reaffirm how I feel. Some of our friends have said it was a bold move coming here whatever that means, others probably wonder why we did it, but we have been here almost 2 years now and have started to grow quite fond of the old place.

So, it feels like good time to start posting again, particularly as there is so much going on here and I cant find anyone really talking about it. In this day and age of social media there is no excuse to have a strong presence online. I think what has also spurred me on was that on Monday night I was invited to a Focus Group in town. I was asked about my opinions of Colchester which resulted in a 3 page email at 4am in the morning. I felt excited, firstly about being given the chance to voice my opinions, and secondly about all the possibilities of this place. However, I came to the conclusion that the main problem seems to be that Colchester doesn't have a good public profile, a very easily solved problem actually. 

First of all, the local papers seem to print predominantly negative stories about Colchester, which seems to fuel the locals to express equally negative comments (mostly about potholes, roundabouts, parking), so if you were thinking of moving here and checked out the local papers online to see what the town is like, you certainly wouldn't think there was much else going on.  Its a vicious circle which needs breaking. I started following the local papers on Twitter and asked why they never wrote about any of the great, creative things going on here and also asked them to check out the Positive News website for inspiration. People like hearing positive news about where they live, I know I do, its good for the soul (and makes me feel like moving out of London was a mistake). However, they never replied to any of my tweets.

So, if it means I have to start spreading the news via this blog, then so be it. I am up to the challenge.

I will assume, dear reader, you don't know anything about Colchester so, may I present to you, a brief, and very basic history. Thank you of course to Google + Wikipedia:

* Colchester, 50 miles from London, is the oldest town in Great Britain.

* It served as the Roman Capital and was known by its Celtic name of 'Camulodunum' although coins with this name on have been discovered here from the period 20-10BC way before the Romans arrived. Basically, its old and dripping with history. Anytime anyone does any building work, they find treasure (sort of).

The town was home to the the first Roman Legionary Fortress in Britain, the largest Classical Style Temple in Britain, 2 Theatres (also Britain's largest), Britain's only known Chariot Circus, Britain's first Town walls, several large cemeteries and over 50 known mosaics and tessellated pavements. 

* Around 60AD, Boudica, Queen of the Celts got fed up with the Romans, particularly the Temple in honour of Claudius that was built here, and came and smashed the place up with 100,000 Iceni soldiers.

English historian, Dr John Morris, who specialises in the study of the of the Roman Empire suggested in his book "The Age of Arthur" (1973) that as the descendants of Romanised Britons looked back to a golden age of peace and prosperity under Rome the name "Camelot" of Arthurian legend was probably a reference to Camulodunum.

Fast forward to the Medieval Period via the Saxons (they built some wooden huts) and the Danish (who ran tings until 917. Yes, I said 'tings'):

* Medieval Colchester's main landmark is Colchester Castle which has recently reopened after a £4.2 million National Lottery funded refurbishment. The Castle, an 11th-century Norman keep, is the largest of its type ever built, the oldest of its kind in Europe and built on top of the vaults of the old Roman Temple. It was ordered by William the Conqueror.

* Other notable medieval ruins in Colchester, include the surviving gateway of the Benedictine Abbey of St John the Baptist and the ruins of the Augustinian Priory of St Botolph. Many of Colchester's Parish Churches also date from this period.

Colchester developed rapidly during the later 14th century as a centre of the woollen cloth industry, and became famous in many parts of Europe. This allowed the population to recover exceptionally rapidly from the effects of the Plague, particularly by immigration into the town.

* Between 1550 and 1600, a large number of weavers from Flanders emigrated to Colchester due to Religious Persecution. An area in Colchester town centre is still known as the Dutch Quarter and many buildings there date from the Tudor period. (This is where we live). During this period Colchester was one of the most prosperous wool towns in England.

The Dutch Quarter is also where Jane and Ann Taylor who wrote “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” lived between 1796 and 1811.

* In 1645 the self-styled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins interrogated and imprisoned suspected witches at Colchester Castle.

Fast forward again to the Victorians who built some amazing buildings, which Colchester is well known for (the Town Hall and the Water Tower, the tallest in the Country) and that's my potted history of nuggets 'borrowed' from Wikipedia.

* Also, Colchester's Greatest export is the famous 'Colchester Native'. The Colne Oyster fishery in Mersea Island dates to the Roman era. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Colchester obtained rights to the fishery under the provisions of its Royal Charter granted by Richard I in 1189. The oysters obtained from the fishery are known as "Colchester Natives" (Ostrea Edulis). The Romans apparently said that these Oysters were the best thing to come out of Britain!

I think this is pretty amazing. I don't know many Towns in the UK, Europe or probably the World that can boast that much amazing history, and obviously this is just the bare bones. But why don't more people know about it? I don't get it.

Now you know a bit of the history I will tell you a bit about life here in 2014 :

* Fast trains from Liverpool Street take 50 minutes. At its peak, there are 8 trains an hour from Colchester to London.

* 2 Train Stations service the Town, Colchester North + Colchester Town.

* Housing Prices here are very good value. For instance, for the price of a 1 bedroom flat in East London you could buy a 4 bedroom house.

* The Schools have very good reputations. The local children seem to get the kind of education that would need to be paid for in lots of parts of the Country.

* There are lots of things here for families to do (ie Castle Park, Colchester Zoo, Highwoods, Leisure World).

*The High street is currently experiencing a big re-generation. This includes, the Fenwicks owned department Store Williams + Griffin who are undergoing a £30million refurbishment (Significant Roman Hoard recently discovered during renovations, it was on the National news last month). The Curzon are opening, Bill's Restaurant are coming, 2 Boutique Hotels are about to open, there is an amazing community space here called The Waiting Room which will definitely have its own post.

* There are 2 Art exhibition Spaces/galleries, one very controversial one which I happen to quite like (Firstsite).

* There is a monthly Farmers Market in the Arts Centre which has amazing local produce.

* The Arts Centre regularly has shows of very well known Comedians on the start of their National Tours.

* The Mercury Theatre.

* We are 20 minutes by car from Mersea Island.

* We are 20 minutes by car from Suffolk.

* We are 40 minutes by car from Frinton.

* We have also got some really great neighbours. Just in our little street we have people from Leyton, Rotherhithe, Notting Hill + Kew as well as Colchester natives.

* Everyone is super friendly to my son. He always gets people chatting to him, people in shops, people on the bus, people in coffee shops, pretty much everyone and anyone. I want him to think this is normal, that friendliness and manners are a normal part of life, it should be but after 18 years in London I had forgotten.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg really. Of course its not all great,  the season ticket to London is pricey and Colchester does seem to have a problem with what the Council refer to 'as the Nightime Economy' but I don't know what town doesn't. And frankly, if they want to change this particular image of the town they are really the only ones that can do anything about it.

So, as you can see, things are actually ok. Yes, it's not as cool to say you live in Colchester as it was in Hackney (now Hackney seems to have become the centre of the universe) but there is life after E8, you just have to find it. Or read some good PR.

No comments:

Post a Comment