Complete View of the Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits & Co of the Inhabitants of England, 1774, by Joseph Strutt.
5. Colchester Castle
|[Plate 3] The plan and perspective views of Colchester castle in Essex, p.26.|
“(1) There yet remains Colchester (in the county of Essex) a curious old castle, which was built by Edward the Elder, when he repaired the walls and re-edified the town at the beginning of the tenth century.
|Principal Entrance of Colchester Castle on the South|
“Its form is four square (see plate 3) flanked at the four corners with strong towers, and it is about 224 yards in circumference on the outside, all projections and winding included; the four sides nearly face the four cardinal points.
|Colchester Castle: North West View|
“The first foundation is strongly made of large pebbles rudely mixed with bricks , (most of which are Roman) and held together with a firm cement; and where this foundation was cut through to make an entrance at the N.E. corner, it was found to be near thirty feet thick: this kind of rude work is continued without any facing, to about nine feet, more or less, above the present surface of the ground, and on it is laid a double row of freestone quite round the whole castle; then on this stone are the walls of the castle erected, the workmanship of which is, though rude, much more regular than that of the foundation. It consists of a layer of square freestone, and a layer of bricks, (chiefly Roman) alternately succeeding each other; and thus it is continued to the present top, which is not near so high as it was in its original state; the corners of the bastions and towers of the castle were originally faced with square stone, much of which remains yet visible, notwithstanding the repeated shocks it has undergone. The main wall is about 21 feet thick at the bottom, and at the top near 13 feet and a half.
|Colchester Castle: Ichnography|
“The principal entrance A, (see the ichnography plate 3,) is on the south side of the castle although the elegant stone doorway arched-over, but of a later date than the castle itself; first, because it is too perfect to have stood so many ages; and next, because the stile of architecture is much more modern, and does not in the least accord with the simpler construction of the rest of the castle.
“On the inside of the castle there ran antiently N. & S. two strong walls (B & C) parallel with the walls of the castle, dividing it into equal parts, making partitions and support for the apartments. The eastermost (C) yet remains, but the western (B) is almost entirely taken down. The wall (C) now standing is composed of pebbles and bricks intermixed in herring-bone fashion.
The principal lodgings were at the uppermost part of the castle, two chimnies yet remaining to the east, (DD) and two to the west, (EE) which answer on the inside to the small projections or bastions on the outside of the E. & W. walls; at the south corner, on the left hand of the entrance, is a grand staircase F, full nine feet broad, containing a flight of 58 steps, going up which you come to the apartment G, yet remaining on the South side, where there is a handsome chapel, in which duty was done, and an elegant library fitted up by Charles Gray, Esq., the present owner, (and under that a large vault arched, now used as a prison;) from thence still mounting higher, the staircase leads you to the battlements, where you might formerly have passed around the whole work, a passage being made in the breadth of the wall at the top, see the section of the top of the wall (plate 2. No. 1 fig 1) which being 13½ feet thick, is thus divided: the outermost part (A) is at present but four feet high, and four ½ feet thick; the passage (B) is full two yards wide, and the inside part (C) which you look over into the castle, is 3½ feet high, and 3 feet thick. At three of the corners are square towers , and 3 feet thick. At three of the corners are square towers or bastions, every one of which has a staircase in it, and, as is reported, a turret or round top, (not much like the present modern one.) On the south east corner, where there is a round bastion, it is supposed that there was no turret, as no marks of a staircase have ever been discovered.
“I could not learn for certainty whether the top of the wall had been garretted or not, though an old man, who happened to be there when I was, informed me that he remembered something like embattlements at the top before it was so shamefully abused, great part of which were forced down with screws and gunpowder, and so falling down on the walls and vaults below, made lamentable havocke and devastation, to the eternal shame of the despicable perpetators, as it is to the great praise and honour of the present worthy owner, who takes great pains to repair and preserve this valuable antiquity.
|Colchester Castle: detail|
“All the arches and chimnies, windows, &c, are perfectly round, and in the inside turned with thin bricks, or rather a sort of pamment; the windows, which are faced with stone without, are very small and long, but increasing in size through the thickness of the wall, they appear very large on the inside, (see the section and view of the windows, plate 2, No 1 fig 2 & 3).
“The chimnies are very curiously carried obliquely through the wall to the top, (see the arch of the chimney, plate 2 No 1 fig 4 and the section ibid fig 5.) and lest the wall should thereby be weakened, buttresses or bastions were added on the outside of each chimney to strengthen and secure it.
“There was originally no door but the south entrance, except a small sally-port on the north, for the other entrances have been with great labour cut out of the solid walls. It was surrounded with a ditch H, H, H, H, full 30 yards wide (see the plan, plate 3) and an external vallum I, I, I, on which was erected a strong wall, the foundation of it yet being quite visible upon the vallum, which is very perfect towards the N. & W. sides, but on the N.E. has been much dug away, so that it is impossible to determine whether the communication between the exterior gate of the vallum, and the door of the castle, was kept up by means of a draw-bridge over the ditch, or a regular causeway walled off, like that above described of Castle Chun in Cornwall.
“Underneath the castle are spacious vaults, turned with stone, the supports of which are in the form of a cross; and I am certainly informed, that they went at least from end to end of the castle:* but going down to them, I could not get half the full length, for one of the most spacious vaults, together with a fine well that is in it, were destroyed in the attempt of John Wheely to beat down the castle walls.
|Colchester Castle: East View|
“It now remains to say somewhat concerning the antiquity of this venerable ruin: Some have called it Roman; others say that it is British, and was the palace of King Coel, who built and gave the name of Colchester to the town. But Camden (1) and most others seem to attribute it to the Saxons. A modern writer (2) indeed has boldly declared that “the castle as it now stands was undoubtedly built since the Norman Conquest,” but does not give the least shadow of a reason, or the slightest authority for this assertion.”
“Footnote: * The foolish story of a passage under ground from the castle to that at Hedingham, is also told here – See the account of Hedingham Castle in the Norman Fortifications.”
References: (1) Camden in Essex (2) Morant Hist. of Essex.