Colchester Castle in Colchester, Essex is an example of a largely complete Norman castle. At one and a half times the size of the Tower of London's White Tower, Colchester's keep (152 by 112 feet) is the largest ever built in Britain and the largest surviving example in Europe. There has always been debate as to the original height of the castle. It has been suggested that the keep was at one time four storeys high, though for a number of reasons, including the peaceful region of the castle and the lack of local stone, it is now thought that it had only two or three. The castle is built on the foundations (or the podium) of the earlier Roman temple of Claudius (built between AD 54–60). These foundations, with their massive vaults, have since been uncovered and can be viewed today on a castle tour.
The castle was ordered by William the Conqueror and designed by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester. Building began between 1069 and 1076 under the supervision of Eudo Dapifer, who became the castle's steward on its completion. Building stopped in 1080 because of a threat of Viking invasion, but the castle was completed by around 1100. Many materials, such as Roman brick and clay taken from the Roman town, were used in the building and these can easily be seen. Scaffolding pole holes and garderobes can still be seen in the structure. In 1215, the castle was besieged and eventually captured by King John, during the First Barons' War that led to the Magna Carta. The castle has had various uses since it ceased to be a royal castle. It has been a county prison, where in 1645 the self-styled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins interrogated and imprisoned suspected witches. In 1648, during the Second English Civil War, the Royalist leaders Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were executed just to the rear of the castle. Local legend has it that grass will not grow on the spot on which they fell. A small obelisk now marks the point. In 1656 the Quaker James Parnell was martyred there.
In 1650 a Parliament Survey condemned the building and valued the stone at five pounds. In 1683 an ironmonger, John Wheely, was licensed to pull it all down - presumably to use as building material in the town. After "great devastations" in which much of the upper structure was demolished using screws and gunpowder, he gave up when the operation became unprofitable. In 1727 the castle was bought by Mary Webster for her daughter Sarah, who was married to Charles Gray, the Member of Parliament for Colchester. To begin with, Gray leased out the keep to a local grain merchant and the east side was leased out to the county as a gaol. In the late 1740s Gray restored parts of the building, in particular the south font. He created a private park around the ruin and his summer house (perched on the old Norman castle earthworks, in the shape of a Roman temple) can still be seen. Charles Gray also added a library and a study.
Colchester Castle museum takes you through 2000 years of some of the most important events in British history. The collection has 'designated status' based on its quality and significance. It includes objects of national and international importance. These inspiring collections represent a vital part of our national cultural and artistic heritage. Some of the most important historical finds in Britain can be seen here including: The Gosbecks Mercury; Colchester Vase; Sheepen Cauldron; Gold Coins of Cunobelin; The Lexden Medallion; Tombstones of Facilis and Longinus and The St Osyth Green Lady.
There are two accessible lifts. Disabled parking is available nearby. Audio guide description facilities. Tactile / braille maps are available. Baby changing facilities. There are refurbished ladies/gents and accessible toilets. Assistance dogs are welcome. Guided tours taking in the roof and Roman vaults can be booked on the day. Carers are admitted for free.
Location : Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1TJ
Transport: Colchester Town (National Rail) then 10 minutes. Bus Routes : 1, 2, 62, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 87 and X93 all stop near by.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:000; Sundays from 11:00
Tickets: Adults £7.60; Concessions £4.75; Children (4 - 16) £4.75
Tour Tickets: Adults £3.00; Children/Concessions £1.50
Tel: 01206 282939