Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester castle in Colchester, Essex, is an example of a largely complete Norman castle, built in the same style as the White Tower of the Tower of London. In fact, Colchester Castle is half as big again as the White Tower. It is a Grade I listed building.

The castle was designed by the Bishop of Rochester and the building was supervised by Eudo Dapffer, who became steward of the royal castle after it was built. Building began between 1069 and 1076 under his direction.

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.

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 reason (such as the peaceful region of the castle and the lack of native 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 in around AD 44) which the Normans assumed was solid ground. These foundations have since been uncovered and can be viewed today on a castle tour.

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 1656 the Quaker James Parnell was martyred there.

Later in the 17th century part of the upper structure was pulled down for building material in the town by a Mr. Wheeler who went bankrupt in the process. In about 1720, the castle passed into the possession of Charles Gray (the Member of Parliament for Colchester), who restored it and added the present day Italianate facade and tower (which are not original), as he thought it was a Roman structure. 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. In 1892, the castle and the surrounding park were given to the town and they have remained as the Upper and Lower Castle Parks ever since. The castle is now a public museum.

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