colchesteer062Camulodunum was the first capital of Britain. This was in Roman Britain, and the whole idea of Albion being one country, let alone having a capital city, were novel concepts to the Celts. Its modern name of course is Colchester. It takes this name from the river Colne which flows through the town. As the river approaches the sea in opens up into a wide and muddy estuary which is famous for its oyster beds. The Romans of Camulodunum enjoyed oysters and the shells survive in their kitchen waste.

My most frequent view of Colchester is from the railway station on the Great Eastern mainline. All passenger trains stop there, but the last time I was passing through we were held up for nearly half an hour, with no information as to why. The railway service is much poorer than it was forty years ago, when diesels ruled the tracks. The steam hauled Britannia expresses of sixty years ago were infinitely superior to anything running today; there were plush restaurant cars for one thing, and real coffee served from a coffee pot. Now you are lucky if you get a plastic mug of instant coffee served from a trolley. Even without delays, the timings are not that much better now, in spite of modern electric traction. But back to the early years of Roman occupation.

Figure of Mercury, found in Colchester.

Figure of Mercury, found in Colchester.

Colchester had a legionary fortress built soon after the Roman conquest in AD 43. It was already a prosperous place when the Boudiccan rebels descended on the town. They were taking no prisoners; having massacred the population at Camulodunum they moved on to Londinium and Verulamium (London and St Albans), where  they also destroyed the Roman towns. They moved north to eventual defeat by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus in the Battle of Watling Street. Even now archaeological remains of burnt buildings dating from AD 61 are being turned up in Colchester, chilling evidence of the destruction wrought by Boudicca and her forces.

After the town of Londinium was established that became the capital of Britain. This importance of London did not survive the end of the Roman Empire on our shores. England became a conglomeration of kingdoms after the Anglo-Saxons arrived, and even after it became a single kingdom, Winchester rather than London was its capital. London had reasserted its primacy before the Norman Conquest and has been our undoubted capital for over a thousand years. Although it lost its status as capital early on, Colchester remained an important town from the time of its foundation.

On Wednesday 4th January 1984 we had not much work to do in Norwich, and my sister and I decided to go to Colchester to have a look round. The weather was bright but cold:

“I packed up the book I had sold (but forgot to post it in Colchester). After a cup of coffee we left at 10.15 and got to Colchester in 1½ hrs. First we called at the Tesco in High Woods and got some groceries and took Fido for walk through the woods.

To East Hills and parked outside the Youth Hostel and walked to the Goat and Boot where we had fish and chips and a G & T. A log fire was burning in the bar. I found a good bookshop where I bought some bargains. In the town centre it cost 50p to park but we were close to the museum. It has a fabulous collection of Roman artefacts, and many things to buy. The exhibition was of luxury goods, high quality glass, Samian ware and mosaics etc. I enjoyed it all. The museum is a large Norman castle built on the site of the Claudian temple. We left at 4.20 and got home at 5.55 without rushing. We had stew and dumplings for supper. I had bought some cards at Colchester museum, and put them in my scrap-book. “

It is interesting to note that with all the road improvements that have taken place in the last 30 years it still takes 1½ hours to drive from Norwich to Colchester; perhaps the roads have not been altered that much after all!

Roman glassware (Colchester).

Roman glassware (Colchester Museum).




One response

  1. Do you think the fictional “Camelot” is derived from Camulodunum? I love the name of the pub “Goat and Boot”. I bet there’s a good story to go along with the name. Lovely post. Lots of interesting tidbits.


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