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News from Colchester, England
Excerpts from Foote Family, Genealogy and History
of Nathaniel Foote, (Vol II) by Abram W. Foote.


Map of colchester, 1610  showing the keep and fortified outworks on the south side,  also the town wall and gates of the town
A brief Account of Colchester Castle
The Castle at Colchester, a royal fortress, was built about 1080 by William the Conqueror. The original building comprised outworks, ramparts, a fortified gateway (presumably with drawbridge), and a ditch or moat, with palisades. All that now remains consists of the ruined "Keep," of large proportions and great strength. This Keep is much larger than any existing Norman Keep, having an area of 17,000 feet, against 11,136, the area of the White Tower of London, and 9,300 feet, the area of Norwich Castle Keep.

The walls of Colchester Castle (Keep) were originally more than twice their present height, and the towers at the corners were over 100 feet high. The two upper floors of the Keep have gone. They included a fine Chapel, beneath which was the Crypt, now used as the Colchester Museum.

The Castle was built largely of Roman material-septaria and tiles, found in abundance in Colchester in Norman times, as evidenced by their similar use in the Norman Priory Church of St. Botolph, Holy Trinity Church Tower, and other old churches in the Borough.

The Castle is built on the site of a large Roman^ building, presumed to have been the forum of the Roman town. These Roman remains are what are now called the vaults under the Castle. They have been cleared and can be inspected.

The design of Colchester Keep so closely resembles the design of the White Tower of London, built at about the same date, that it is presumed to have been constructed from the designs of the same Norman architect, Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester.

In 1091 William Rufus granted the Custody of Colchester Castle (and of the town itself) to his dapifer or steward, Eudo de Rye, a Norman baron, of great possessions and honorable repute. The Castle remained Crown property until the time of the Commonwealth, and was granted by the Crown to various personages. At times these grants were confirmed to their descendants as a hereditary privilege.

Amongst the distinguished constables of the Castle or Castellans, were members of the families of St. Clare, De Vere, Lanvalei, De Burgh, D'Arcy, the Macwilliams of Stambourne Hall (temp. Elizabeth and later) and their successors at Stambourne, the Stanhopes. The Stanhopes were the last to hold the property by Royal Grant, though Charles I granted the "reversion" of it to James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, who, however, never gained possession.

The Bishops of London were (at an early date) Castellans for a short term. The so-called "Good Duke Humphrey" (Duke of Gloucester, son of Henry IV) held the Castle from 1404 to 1447. Queen Margaret of Anjou succeeded him and held the Castle from about 1447 to 1461.

Sir John Lenthall, lawyer, son of the Speaker of the House of Commons, by devious methods secured possession in Commonwealth days, and sold it in 1656 to another "Clerk in Chancery," Sir James Northfolk, of Cranbrook House, II ford, who made a bad bargain, for he was subsequently obliged to pay a further i2,575 to extinguish Lord Stanhope's life-interest.

Ip 1683 Sir James Northfolk, an unworthy owner, sold the Castle to a still more dangerous possessor, John Wheely, who "convenanted to destroy the buildings and to sell the materials" {"Hist, and Antiquities of Colchester Castle," 1883). Wheely, finding the work of destruction unprofitable, sold the Castle (after much damage) to Sir Isaac Rebow, whose grandson, Charles Chamberlain Rebow, promptly sold it to Mary Webster, widow.

She gave it to her daughter and her son-in-law, Charles Gray. Charles Gray was M. P. for Colchester from 1741 till his death in 1782. His wife (Mary Webster's daughter) was widow of Ralph Creffield, of the Holly Trees. On the death of Charles Gray (without issue).

in 1782, the Castle reverted to James Round, of Birch Hall, who had married the daughter and heiress of Peter Creffield. This James Round was great-grandfather of the Rev. James T. Round, of the Holly Trees, father of the late Rt. Hon. James Round, of Birch Hall.

In order that the Castle might become the property of the Town of Colchester, in connection with the Borough War Memorial Scheme, Capt. Charles Round, son of the Rt. Hon. James Round, consented to dispose of the Castle and the property adjacent, and, thanks to the generous gift of Viscount Cowdray, this purchase was completed during the year 1920, and the Castle is now the possession of the Colchester Town Council.

Colchester Castle was probably visited by many early English sovereigns. King John stayed there on at least five occasions, 1203, 1205, 1209, and 1212 (on this visit a tun of musk wine was sent for his use), and 1214. In 1216 the Castle was besieged by Savaric de MauUon "the Bloody," acting on John's behalf against the Barons and their French allies. It was evacuated by the French by arrangement on Mar. 24, 1216. Later in that year, however, it was surrendered, for a brief period only, to Prince Louis of France.

Colchester, Castle in the 12th Century
In 1420, when Duke Humphrey was Constable, his Deputy, William Bardolf, is reported to have suddenly seized the Bailiffs and honorable men of Colchester, and their wives, and imprisoned them in the Castle. This seems to have been due to the townspeople asserting a right to walk on the Castle "terrace" and other domains. The sequel is not recorded. Later the Castle became a county prison. It was so used for Protestants martyred in the time of Queen Mary.

At the Siege of Colchester (1648) the Castle was ruinous, and was not of any military importance. Sir Chas. Lucas, Sir Geo. Lisle, and Sir Bernard Gascoyne, Royalist leaders, were placed in the Castle dungeon after being sentenced to death on the surrender of the town. The two former were shot just outside the Castle walls on the evening of Aug. 28, 1648.

Colchester, Castle present day
In 1653 many Dutch sailors, prisoners of war, were incarcerated in the Castle. James Parnel, Quaker, zealot and martyr, was prisoner here in 1655. His death in the Castle seems to have been accelerated by brutal treatment and neglect.

In the eighteenth century and during the first half of the nineteenth the Castle continued to be a county prison and the weekly Petty Sessional Courts of the Lexden and instree County Justices were held in the Castle.

Virtual Tour of Colchester Castle
This is a virtual tour of the current condition of the castle.



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