Heritage Weekend provided the perfect opportunity to visit a faithful old friend, with much to offer.
From fond memories of being led around Roman exhibits on school trips, running around the stone ruins under the walkway, to the thrill of hearing the distinct ‘plop’ upon throwing copper coins down the well in the entrance lobby, Colchester Castle Museum has been such a constant in many of our lives that it’s easy to take its presence for granted. Not having visited for over a year, Bean and I took full advantage of the chance to visit for free over Heritage Weekend, and discovered we aren’t the only locals to have neglected such a local treasure – at least two people we chatted to on the day confessed they had lived in Colchester all their lives and NEVER visited! If that’s the situation you find yourself in then we would urge you to rectify it as soon as possible, as the castle museum is a really interesting and interactive day out.
The museum is housed in the largest Norman keep in Europe. Ordered by William the Conqueror the castle was built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, and these can still be viewed in the vaults of the present-day castle. It was finished in 1125 and subsequently captured by King John in 1215. It was used as a prison for much of its life, and touching the cool stone of the jails on display, and hearing the audio tapes of the imagined voices of women held on suspicion of being witches in the 1600s, certainly sends shivers down one’s spine. It was scheduled to be demolished in 1650, and a local ironmonger started the job, but thankfully he gave up when the project became unprofitable! Eventually, in 1727, the castle fell into the hands of the MP for Colchester, Charles Gray, and it was he who restored parts of the building and created the park around it. In 1922 the castle and its grounds were bequeathed to the town, and it was refurbished three years ago, to bring us up to its present state.
And what state is that? Well, a highly informative and engaging public museum. The displays comprehensively cover the history of Colchester and the castle itself, and of course, our town provides a lot of material to work with – the Romans, Boudicca and her Celtic tribe, the Vikings, the Normans, the Siege of Colchester - all have left their mark on our town and some fascinating archaeological evidence, from intricate mosaics, the Fenwick Hoard of stunning jewellery, and a Roman doctor’s grave, complete with terrifying-looking surgical instruments, to the St Osyth Green Lady wall painting and the Gosbecks Mercury statue.
Lots of effort has been put into making the museum a hands-on experience – many displays invite you to touch, smell, build, watch or listen. Bean really enjoyed putting together her own mosaic pattern, dressing up as a centurion and driving a virtual chariot!
Over two floors, with glass elevators, the museum is a treasure trove of artefacts and information. Every nook and corner has been utilised to add interest, but even simply standing and contemplating the thickness of the angled walls around the windows or the make-up of the stone of the great fireplace is awe-inspiring enough. To think who may have paced these floors, and warmed themselves here!
The gift shop is chock-full of interesting products, with lots of pocket-money priced goodies, and did you know you can now get married at the Castle? The chapel was set up for a wedding when we visited and it is truly lovely. What an amazing spot to tie the knot!
Whether you are a long-time Colchesterian who hasn’t been for a while, or perhaps you’re hosting some out-of-town friends, don’t wait till next Heritage weekend to visit the Castle Museum and allow yourself to feel rightly proud of our town’s incredible place in history.
Until next time!
Jade and Bean