Glen’s and Jim’s Roam and Romans event – Sunday 12th January

Text and pictures submitted by Christina

On Sunday 12th January, Glen and Jim, a qualified town guide, joined forces to organise a fun day out in Colchester and surrounding Essex Countryside. Probably 32 IOGers enjoyed a two and a half hour guided tour which started at the War Memorial in front of Holly Trees Museum which Jim recommended and which is free. Our guide led us through Colchester Park, a lovely Victorian park which is divided into the upper park and the lower park by the Roman Wall. 80 per cent of this amazing relic of Roman history are still intact. The park prides itself on an impressive castle built by the Normans in the late 11th century, on the old temple of Claudius.

In front of it lies the stony remains of a Saxon Abbey which, according to Jim, was probably deemed so holy at the time when the castle was built that the Normans did not destroy it, although it must have provided excellent cover for any invading army attacking the castle. We also learnt that there were 8 medieval churches in Colchester which were now mainly being used for non-religious purposes. St Peter Church continuous to be a very active place of worship.

Our group visited St Helen’s Orthodox Church which is Britain’s earliest known Christian Church. We got the opportunity to visit the stony remains of a Roman theatre inside a house whose upper floors are still inhabited. According to Jim, it was not an amphitheatre, but a theatre where music, dancing and religious events were held.  

2000 years of history were brought to life so expertly by him through his vivid account of the Romans, the Saxons, the Elizabethans – and of course Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe. The famous warrior queen led an uprising against the Romans in AD 60 or 61. She died shortly after its failure and was said to have poisoned herself.

We learnt that Colchester was a large and important town by Roman standards. It is the earliest recorded town in England, gaining further importance from its weavers,  who were highly skilled Flemish Protestants that had been encouraged by Queen Elizabeth I to settle in England. They lived in the so-called Dutch quarter and largely contributed to making Colchester a rich town. We stood inside the still awe-inspiring ruins of St Botolph’s Priory and got an opportunity to visit the Dutch quarter that day to admire its well-maintained Elizabethan houses.

Some fine examples of Tudor houses can be seen by the River Colne, by the bridge leading to the station and the Victoria Inn, Jim’s and Paul’s local pub. Some of us joined Jim, Gery and Paul there afterwards for a drink. Speaking on behalf of all who did the tour: it was a truly enjoyable and interesting experience. Jim, thank you so much for freely giving your time to show us a different, unknown side of your town, away from its busy High Street and hectic modern life.