Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Colchester Castle (1): Transactions n.s. Volume 3 Part 1

Continuing our series on writers about Colchester Castle:

Colchester Castle, by F M Nichols was a paper read at the Annual General Meeting of the Essex Archaeological Society (now the Essex Society for Archaeology and History) on 1 August 1882.  It contains some fascinating information about the building – a building whose history has been subject to recent reassessment.  The paper was published in the Society’s Transactions.  Members of the Society will, too, note the association that the Castle has with the Society and the Museum.

Part 1


View of Colchester Castle (Restored): 1882
I have been tempted by the proposed gathering of the Essex Archaeological Society this year at its head quarters in Colchester, to offer to prepare a few observations upon an old subject, about which (or at least about part of it) a great deal has been written, but upon which I venture to think the last reasonable word has not yet been said. I refer to the origin and early history of the Castle in which we are holding our Meeting.

Let us look and see what is the monument which we are preparing to investigate. In the first place, — for in speaking of the Castle I do not mean to confine myself to the keep alone, — we have, within the limits of the Roman city, at a distance of some 600 feet from the northern and 1100 feet from the eastern wall, an earthwork of irregular shape, parts of which have been almost entirely effaced in consequence of the modem use of the ground, but other parts included in Mr. Round's pleasure grounds remain in a remarkably perfect condition. And, within this earthwork, we have a massive edifice which we recognize as the keep or donjon of the fortress, but which is distinguished from every other example of its kind in this country by the magnitude of its area, as well as by the singularity of its form, materials and mode of construction.

Modem archaeologists are generally agreed in regarding the earthworks, which are so commonly found in connection with Norman or mediaeval castles, as presumably the work of an earlier time than the constructions of masonry with which they are associated, though it is by no means to be supposed that the Norman engineers did not themselves add earthworks when they were required.* The fortifications …

* See the representation in the Bayeux tapestry of the fortification' of Hastings, by the Count of Mortain, where the workmen are represented with spades and picks, and the inscription tells us, Iste iussit foderetur castellum ad Hastenga ceastra.


… of the Saxons and Danes, like those of the earlier races which inhabited this island, appear to have generally consisted of a foss and rampart surmounted by a wooden palisade. The earthworks of Colchester Castle bear a considerable resemblance to other fortifications which are generally attributed to Saxon times, as the entrenchments at Hedingham, in Essex, and at Wareham, in Dorsetshire; and in the present case we have strong evidence that they are not of an earlier epoch, since they are thrown up over some Roman constructions, to which I shall presently call your attention. We shall also see that their existence in the early days of the Roman colony is negatived by Tacitus's narrative of the insurrection of Boadicea.

The northern side of the entrenchments is placed upon ground which naturally slopes to the north, and this side remains in a very perfect condition. It consists of a straight rampart 320 feet m length, on the top of which there is a level walk 12 feet in width. On the interior side towards the keep is an easy incline of about 20 or 25 feet, and on the outer or northern side a steep slope of some 70 feet descending into a foss about 40 feet in width. On the other side of the foss is a slope of 17 feet, then 17 feet of level, and then the natural slope towards the town wall and the river.

At the eastern side of the castle the entrenchments continue for some distance (commencing from the north) scarcely less perfect than the northern limb which has been described. At the north-east comer they form an angle a little greater than a right angle, and are carried in a straight direction almost due south for about 160 feet ; they then turn with an obtuse angle to the south-west, in which direction a rampart of considerable height remains for about 100 feet. From this point the lines of entrenchment become suddenly obliterated, the space being occupied with gardens and houses, and only a slight irregularity of level can be traced around the south-west and south sides of this ancient fortification. On the western side the rampart, though much degraded, becomes again distinctly visible opposite to the north-west comer of the keep, and continues in a …


Colchester Castle Earthworks Restored: 1882
… northerly direction until it joins the northern and more perfect side at the north-west comer of the enclosure.*

The earthworks which have been described are all that remain of the outer defences of Colchester Castle. The line which was followed by these defences is shown where the mounds have been removed, not only by the irregularities of level still existing on the site of the ancient rampart and foss, but also by the course of the adjacent streets. On the south side of the castle the principal street of the town, running from east to west, which represents the Roman way, has been driven out of its original straight course to make room for the castle defences ; and on the west the lane called Maidenburgh street** also makes a slight curve to avoid the edge of the foss. The other lane running in an oblique direction, by which we still enter the Castle Bailey, represents, I believe, the original principal entrance to the castle ; and it appears that there was also another entrance to the west. The ramparts were strengthened by palisades; but a short part, facing the principal street, (here formerly called King street from the royal castle) appears to have been superseded, or surmounted, in latter times by a wall of masonry in which was the principal gateway.*** The whole area occupied and included by the defences which have been described was about eight acres; the space included within the slopes was probably less than three.

I have already mentioned the Roman remains which have …

* This side of the earthwork has been considerably reduced during the last century. In Sparrow's well executed map, dated in 1767, it appears much higher than at present and covered with trees, and runs nearly parallel with the west wall of the keep. Mr. Gunner, our curator, informs me that within his own recollection he has seen a large quantity of material removed for making roads and other purposes. The southern part of the ramparts, about a third of the whole, appears to have been levelled in the extensive alterations made at the end of the seventeenth century.

** I am told that the name Maidenburgh is found elsewhere associated with ancient earthworks. Was it the old English name of the castle, (the castle of the midden or mound) before the Norman keep was built?

*** This condition of things is represented in the siege map. of Colchester, 1648. Morant states that the Bailey was encompassed on the south and south-west sides by a strong wall, in which were two gates, that on the south being chief. (Morant, Hist. Colchester, p. 8.) I do not quite understand the two directions indicated by Morant, the side towards Maidenburgh lane is rather west than south-west.


… been found beneath these earthworks; and before proceeding to describe the keep, I must say a few words about these remains.

At the north-east corner of the ramparts in Mr. Round's garden, about half way up the external slope, the removal of a small quantity of earth has exposed the corner of a wall very substantially built in concrete and faced with bricks laid in a very regular fashion.* The fragment which we see (about four feet in height) appears to be the footing and lower part of a wall of considerable size, having a plinth or set off of five inches near the bottom. The bricks used are whole, nearly uniform in size, measuring about 15½ X 10½ X 2 3/8 inches. The mortar is hard, and mixed with sand or gravel, and not with broken bricks. The construction appears undoubtedly Roman. The corner which we see of this massive wall is a right angle, and the corner of the earthwork at the same point forms a slightly obtuse angle; the wall is consequently lost in both directions in the higher parts of the earthwork. The line of the wall if produced to the west passes under the northern rampart; on the other side of which, within Mr. Round's garden fence, a Roman pavement was discovered in 1853. Further in the same direction the appearance of the remains of the eastern rampart in the open Castle Bailey appears to indicate that a construction in masonry is hidden immediately beneath the surface. Some further discoveries of the Roman buildings which once occupied the site of the castle may probably be looked for as the result of excavations on and near this spot.

I do not feel myself free to embark in any conjectures as to these Roman remains, the existence of which, however, has some bearing upon our present subject, since, as my hearers are aware, some antiquaries have maintained that the keep of Colchester Castle is itself of Roman origin. For the same reason it is desirable to bear in mind, that, …

* I am told that this wall was uncovered some thirty years since, but a similar discovery appears to have been made before Morant's description was written. The rampart, he says, “is thrown upon a wall that formerly encompassed either the castle or the palace of Coel, on the site whereof the castle is built; the buttresses and other parts thereof have been lately discovered." Morant, Colchester, p. 8.


… in the field lying to the north-east of the earthworks, a Roman drain of considerable size (built of brick, set in mortar mixed with broken tiles) was opened in 1852; a part of which may still be seen, and which from the direction it follows has been conjectured to have passed from the site of the keep.* It may be added that the materials and construction of the Roman ruins upon this site afford an instructive comparison with those of the building in which we are assembled, and to the examination of which it is now time to turn.

The keep stands upon an area, which may be described as a rectangular parallelogram (113 x 155 feet), with several projections affording additional space for towers and for the apse of the chapel. Its four sides face the four points of the compass, the longer sides being those to the east and west. The whole area with the projections measures about 20,000 square feet.**

The building is erected upon a basement of which the walls batter, or slope inwards, at an angle of about 70 degrees, and the external height of which varies, according to the present level of the soil, from 10 ft. at the north-east comer to nothing at the south portal. It may be safely asserted, that on all sides the original level of the ground has been raised by debris ; and on the east side where the, ground appears to be naturally lowest, there is still an earth slope below the basement about 10 ft. in height. At the top of the basement a simple chamfered plinth, constructed of Barnack stone, runs round the whole building.

The basement rests upon foundations, the depth of which is said to be more than twenty feet from the plinth,*** and consists of a massive platform, the exterior walls of which are composed of solid rubble, about thirty feet in thickness, faced originally with rough courses of stone, which have …

* An account of this discovery, written by Dr. Duncan, may be found in the first volume of the Transactions of this Society.
** The area of the White Tower of London, which is believed to be after Colchester the largest of the rectangular keeps, is about 14,000 square feet.
*** Buckler, Colchester Castle, p. 19.


… for the most part been removed. The materials of the rubble are principally septaria, with other stones in smaller proportion, and broken pieces of hard brick, the whole being imbedded in a hard yellowish mortar mixed with coarse gravel. In the basement as well as in other parts of the building, may be found here and there, upon a slight search, fragments of second-hand materials containing red mortar of unmistakably Roman character. Within the massive outer wall, the interior part of the basement-platform is raised upon a double line of barrel vaults supported by an intermediate wall running from north to south and divided by a cross wall into four chambers, two of which are 60 feet, and the others 30 feet in length, all being of the width of 22 feet. The vaulting is rudely constructed and its strength depends in a great measure upon the cohesion of the masses of which the ceiling is composed. No wooden framework has been used in its construction, but the gravel dug out of the foundation, piled up in long rounded heaps, appears to have formed the centering upon which the vault was built. This mode of building probably accounts for the fact, that the rude roof presents in the interior the appearance rather of a pointed arch rounded at the top, than of a semi-circular arch. The chambers formed by these vaults constituted no part of the accommodation of the keep, having no original entrance, nor any means of admitting light or air. Their discovery is said to have arisen from a breach being made in the vaulting by the fall of a mass of masonry from the interior walls of the keep during their partial demolition in 1683. They were then filled with the earth upon which the arches had been turned. In consequence of this discovery an opening was made in the north wall of the basement (where the construction and thickness of the wall may still be seen in section), through which a large quantity of gravel was removed and three of the chambers opened out.* The fourth is still filled with soil. It is difficult to understand for what purpose the laborious and costly work of removing …

* Morant, Hist. Colchester, p. 7.


… this gravel was undertaken. The vaults are now entered by twenty-one modern steps descending about 15 feet from the interior of the building.

Upon the platform which has been described, arise the vertical walls of the keep, which for the most part are some twelve feet thick in the first story and are reduced one foot by an internal set off, in the second. The walls of the apse are of a greater thickness. At the north-east and north-west corners are massive towers,* projecting about ten feet from the walls ; these are of solid masonry up to the first floor, and contain in the second story some chambers and a stair, which will be hereafter described. Half-way between the towers on the north wall is one pilaster, or buttress, ten feet wide and of seventeen inches projection; and on the face of each of the east and west walls are two similar buttresses or pilasters eight feet wide with thirteen inches projection. The buttresses rise out of the sloped surface of the basement, the ashlar plinth being carried round them, and continue without alteration to the top of the existing walls. At the south end of the east wall is a semi-circular apse about forty-five feet in diameter in external measurement, upon the surface of which are four pilasters, five feet wide with fifteen inches of projection, and half pilasters at the comers where the outline of the apse meets the wall.

On the south side of the keep, adjoining the apse, is a solid rectangular tower, some twenty feet wide and projected nearly eight feet from the south wall ** and at the west end of the south side (adjoining the portal) is a similar projection of less width.*** Upon the west wall at its south end is another tower, about forty feet wide with twenty- six feet of projection, in the south part of which is the great stair. The north part, which is solid below, contains a chamber above.

* The measurements of these towers, as given by Mr. Buckler, (Colchester Castle a Roman Building, p. 10) are as follows, the N. W. tower, 26ft. 9in. X 24ft. 9in., the N. E. tower 26ft. X 22ft. 9in.
** 20ft. 9in. X 7ft. 7in., Buckler, Colchester Castle, p. 10.
*** l1ft, lin, X 7ft. lOin., Buckler, ib.


The walls above the plinth are constructed of solid rubble, similar to that of the basement, with occasional, not very regular, courses of brick carried through them. The surface is elaborately faced with carefully laid horizontal courses of hewn stone of various kinds, of septaria, and of bricks; the latter generally in horizontal courses, but in some places laid on end vertically or obliquely. The courses are generally followed out with great care, but are varied on the different sides and in different divisions of the wall; and it is impossible for the attentive spectator not to be struck-with the labour which the directing mason evidently expended in this work of mural decoration. The towers and buttresses are dressed with quoins of stone up to the height of about twenty-five feet from the plinth, and above that height principally with courses of brick. The ashlar used is of various sizes, but never large, commonly presenting a face of about 8 or 9 inches square. Barnack stone is used in the plinth, in the great doorway, and in other parts where strength is required; other softer stones, which I have not been able to identify, in the surface of the wall. Septaria, which form a great part of the rubble, are also largely used in roughly squared masses for courses of the surface wall.

All the bricks are, I believe, Roman. They are not all of the same make or thickness, and a large proportion are of a rather clumsy form, and about 2½ or even 8 inches thick. We may conjecture that the original building from which these were derived was of a late date, probably of the fourth century.*

The sole existing ancient entrance to the keep is by a handsome arched portal near the west end of the south wall, flanked on the left by a solid tower-like projection. In front of the door (now entered from the level) was formerly a flight of steps, of considerable height, of which there appears to have been six remaining in 1709, when a drawing, now in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries, was …

* The bricks in the town-wall are about 17in. 16in. X llin. X  1½in; those in the cloaca about the same size, and those of the wall under the north castle rampart, 15½in. X lO½in. X 2 3/8 in.


… made of this front by I.N*. The doorway has two columns on each side with simple capitals of two designs, and the principal mouldings in the arch consist of three rolls (parts of circles in section) surmounted by a projecting moulding which has a double row of rounded hollows below. The entrance, seven feet wide, was defended by a portcullis. Immediately within the door under the arch on the right is a shallow niche arched with brick and stone, large enough for the seat of a porter or watchman. Upon passing through the arch the visitor finds himself in an entrance passage nearly forty feet long, covered by a modern timber floor, which occupies the place of an original floor of like material. To the east of the entrance passage a space is railed off about 30 ft. by 16 ft. containing a deep well, about eight feet in diameter, still in use, and the entrance of the modern brick steps leading to the vaults. In this space, to the east of the great portal, is a vaulted and coved …

* The Society of Antiquaries possesses two drawings presented to it by the Rev. Dr. George Holmes, in 1720, which shew the condition of the Colchester keep before that date. One by I.N., 1709, exhibits elevations of the east and south sides and a ground plot. The other is a sketch taken from the north-east, and inscribed, il Castello osia fortessa di Colcester im inghilterra : Boul, (no date.) The artist, Mr. Boul, is described in a memorandum upon the drawing as "a Fleming who lived many years in Italy and came to England and drew abundance of views." Both the drawings are chiefly interesting as testifying how very little change has taken place in the ruin since the beginning of the last century. The elevations of 1709 show the walls of the same height as they are now, and the following enlarged windows, viz. three (as now) in the chapel, one (now two) in adjoining room (the present library), two (as now) in the crypt or prison, one near the portal, and one (as now) in the north east tower, and a doorway now (closed) on the west side near the apse. The elevation of the south front
engraved for the Society, by Vertue, in 1732 (Vetusta Monumenta, vol. I. pi. xxxv.,) was copied from the drawing of I.N. 1709, but the age and authorship not being stated, it has been reprinted by Messrs. Jenkins and Buckler as representing the condition of the castle in 1732. It may also be mentioned that Boul's sketch (before 1720) furnished a considerable part of the material for the landscape print of the castle, published in the Vetusta Monumenta (vol. I. pi. xxx.) which bears the name, I. "Whood, 1732.
  In the same collection are drawings of the Castle of a later date, viz. an elevation of the interior of the west side, drawn to scale by J. Morley, 1745, and three plans, — of the foundation, ground floor, and upper floor, — apparently by the same hand. In the elevation of the west side the remains of the arch above the actual parapet have nearly the same appearance as at present. In these places the modem alterations are omitted, and the walls and windows represented as the draughtsman conceived them to have originally been. The three plans are engraved in Grose's Antiquities together with a fourth plan shewing the area of the vertical building, and also of the spreading basement, which is said to be “9*27 foot from it, and contains 92*25 perch, as the same were carefully measured May 1st, 1704, by I, Nelson.” And all four plans were reproduced in the pamphlets of Messrs. Jenkins and Buckler as the work of Nelson in 1704. It seems probable that the John Nelson, who carefully measured the area in 1704, was the author of the elevations by I.N. 1709.


… recess constructed in the south wall On the left of the entrance is a short vaulted passage leading to the foot of the great round stair, which conducts to the upper story and to the present summit of the keep. Beyond the stair passage is a vaulted and coved recess in the west wall.

To the east of the space last described is a room, 30 ft. 6 in. (N. to S.) by 14 ft. 6 in. (E. to W.) surrounded by walls on the interior sides, of about ten feet in thickness, and roofed with a barrel vault 14 feet high at the top. This room, which is entered by an original arched door way from the north, has no window. To the east of it, under the chapel, is another vaulted chamber or crypt, (also entered from the north side by an arched door) and consisting of a rectangular portion with groined vaulting, 25 ft. 8 in. (N. to S.) by 14 ft. 9 in. (E. to W.J and a wing (28 feet long and 14 wide) extending eastward into the apse, covered with a barrel vault.* This chamber was lighted by two small and narrow windows opening with an interior splay through the thickness of the outer walls. One window lighting the rectangular portion looks south, the other is at the end of the eastern apse, and both were enlarged at the time when this part of the keep was used as a prison.

The spaces and chambers which have been described occupy about a third of the area of the keep on its southern side, and are under the chapel (now the Museum) and the space occupied by the modern library and corridors. The remaining area towards the north is now open to the air, the timber floors and chambers by which it was covered having entirely disappeared, and not having been replaced by any modern substitutes. This area is divided into two unequal spaces by a massive wall running from north to south, 7ft. 9in. in thickness at its base and 6ft. in the upper story, in which near the north end is an arched door.

The smaller space so cut off lies on the east side, and measures 90ft (N. to S ) by 23ft. (E. to W.) It was lighted by three small windows towards the east (in the middle one of which a door has been broken through in recent times), and one similar window to the north; and at the …

* I am indebted to Mr. Buckler for the above dimensions, Colchester Castle, p. 21.


… south end is the arched door leading into the vaulted chamber or crypt under the chapel. In the walls on each side, at a height of fourteen feet are seen the holes in which the massive joists were laid that supported the floor above.

The larger space lying to the west, and forming the remaining area of the keep, was subdivided by another wall of masonry running from south to north, a fragment of which remains at the south end, but which does not appear to have abutted on the existing north wall, at least in the lower story, though it may have done so above. The space between this demolished wall and the existing partition to the east, was a long and narrow chamber or passage (80 feet long and 15 feet wide) lighted by one window at the north end and leading at the south end to the arched doorway of the vaulted chamber first described. The space lying to the west of the demolished wall contains, an area of about 90 feet by 37 feet, lighted by three small windows on the west side, and one on the north, which has been widened out into a doorway for the removal of materials from the keep.

The timber floor above all the rooms gave a uniform height to the lower story of about fourteen feet. The external openings of the windows upon this floor are 3ft. 9in. in height, and 7¼in. in width, and are dressed with quoins of stone capped with a single stone forming a semi-circular head. In the interior each window has a rectangular vaulted recess (7ft. 6in. wide, 5ft. deep, and 12ft. 10in. high) next the room and at the back an arched splay 7ft. deep, with stone steps below, leading up to the opening. There is an- excellent representation of one of the windows in Mr. Buckler's Colchester Castle, p. 35.

The story above that which has been described contained the principal apartments of the keep.* The only approach to these apartments from the lower story, was by the broad circular staircase, by which we still reach the library and museum. This staircase is one of the most striking features of the building. It is about 16ft. in diameter, the steps …

* This is on the supposition that the principal part of the walls has been preserved, see p. 17. and the note at the end of the paper.


… being of the width of 7 feet, and the newel of ashlar about 2ft. in diameter. Its walls are lined with a soft stone resembling that now known as clunch. The vaulting of the roof is of the same rough mould as that of the vaulted chambers, showing still the cast of the boards upon which it was turned. The steps appear to have been originally of stone but have been repaired in some places with ancient bricks.

On issuing from the stairs upon the upper floor, the visitor finds himself on a landing, the modern wooden floor of which replaces an ancient floor in the same position. On his right hand in the south wall, over the great portal, is a large rectangular recess, roofed with a barrel vaulting, into which the portcullis wa9 raised by a chain which passed through a hole above. In the west wall, to the north of the staircase, is a door leading into a small vaulted chamber, constructed in the same tower which contains the staircase. This room, which is now used as a muniment room for the municipal archives of Colchester, was lighted by two narrow windows looking north and west, and provided with two garderobes or sinks having outlets in the same two directions. Windows of a larger size have been made for modern use.

To the east of the landing is the modern library, and to the north, extending also along the north of the library, a passage used as part of the museum. The partition walls dividing the library from the landing and passage, and the wall closing in the passage on the north, are all modern. In the south wall of the library are three ancient rectangular vaulted recesses, the middle one of which is used for the modem fireplace, and in the two others windows have been opened. In the east wall of the library is said to be a closed arch, nine feet in width, which appears to have been the ancient entrance to the chapel.*

At the east end of the passage is a semi-circular vaulted …

* This statement, which in the existing condition of things, with cases against the wall on each side, it is difficult to verify, is denied by the author of the History and Antiquities of Colchester Castle (1882) [J H Round], who considers that the existing entrance is the old entrance enlarged.


… recess, some 14 feet in diameter, through the back of which the modern entrance has been broken into the chapel.

The ancient chapel, now the museum of this Society, occupies the south east corner of the keep, with a semi-circular apse projecting to the east. It is a vaulted chamber about 17 feet in height to the top of the vaulting, which is of the same rude and simple character observed elsewhere throughout the building. The form of the chapel is singular. Its length is 47 feet, including the apse, the width of which is the same as that of the rest of the chamber, which is about 16 feet wide, but is extended by four large vaulted recesses (two on each side) with semi-circular coved ends. It is into one of these recesses, that on the north-west, that the modem entrance is broken through. The same height is preserved throughout, and the plain barrel vaults of the recesses meet that of the longitudinal part with no ribs to cover the intersections. The recess towards the south-east, having a heavy tower-like buttress against it on the outside, is deeper than the others. It has a little niche on its east side, which I am informed, has been recently made, and a window to the south, pierced through, a wall of about eighteen feet in thickness. The apse has three narrow windows pierced through a wall sixteen feet in thickness. These window openings are of singular form. A narrow rounded cavity reaches from the interior into the wall, about 8 feet deep, into which cavity opens a straight-sided splay of like depth. The windows in the deep recess appear to have been of like form, the rounded cavity being eleven feet deep. The south-west recess, which is fifteen feet deep, had a simple splayed window passing through 10 feet of wall. This window, as well as that in the deep recess and the middle window of the apse, has been enlarged in modern times.

It should be observed that the chapel, as we see it, is altogether without columns or any architectural moulding or other ornament.

There is no evidence of any original entrance to the chapel on the north side. The single opening now existing at the end of the north-west recess was made when …


… the building was used as a gaol, and it is said that a like opening also existed in the other recess on the north side.

To the north of the chapel, a long space (about 90 feet by 24 feet) extending along the east side of the keep, appears to have been divided by a timber partition into two chambers of unequal sizes which were among the chief apartments of the castle, being each provided with a fire-place. The smaller room nearer to the chapel had one window in the east wall, the larger room had three in that direction, and one to the north. The windows upon this floor resemble in form those of the lower story (see p. 427), but the external openings are nearly twice as wide. The solid partition wall which forms the west side of this space is constructed with bricks carefully laid in herring-bone fashion. The fireplaces have arched openings and backs of brick, also set in herring-bone fashion. The flues branch into two arms having outlets by square openings in the wall on each side of the external pilasters. Between the fire-places a garderobe is constructed in the thickness of the wall, having an external outlet, and two entrances, one no doubt for each apartment. The construction of this and of the other conveniences of a like kind is carefully described and illustrated in Mr. Buckler's interesting pamphlet entitled "Colchester Castle a Roman Building"; but I cannot agree with him in his conjecture that the north entrance of this closet is not original.

Before leaving this spot, I may as well refer to an argument, which has been founded upon some stucco observed by Mr. Jenkins on the walls of this closet. The stucco is mixed with fragments of red brick, and has been thought by that antiquary, and also by Mr. Buckler, to be of Roman manufacture, and a convincing proof of the Roman origin of the building. As to the existence of this stucco there is no doubt. I have climbed up to the closet (which may be reached by the aid of a ladder) and examined it. But it is a mistake to suppose that stucco of this kind is necessarily of Roman make. The present example is probably not eyen of the Norman age, as it appears to have been placed over an original yellow stucco. I believe that …


… the mediaeval builders frequently used red stucco for the sake of its decorative appearance. Such a stucco is found in the principal staircase at Rochester Castle upon a wall built with a grey mortar, but in this case the colour is produced by the use of red sand, which I have no doubt was sought for the purpose ; a similar stucco is used in the fire-place at Hedingham Castle ; and in the exterior north wall of the tower of Lawford Church in this county, probably of the 15th or 16th century, may be seen a stucco made with pounded brick, very similar to that found in the closet of Colchester keep.

In the tower at the north-east corner of the keep, is a small vaulted chamber, 13ft. 2in. by 10ft. in size, and 16ft high, entered by a vaulted passage from the larger chamber last described. It has a small window to the north, and had two windows to the east, for which one modern window has been substituted.

An arched doorway conducted out of the larger chamber into the remaining area of the keep, the partitions of which, whether of masonry or timber, have disappeared. The principal part of this area on the west side was doubtless occupied by the great hall. We have already seen on the ground floor that a second wall of masonry, running from north to south through the middle of the keep, cut off a long narrow space on the east side; this wall was not improbably carried up through the second story to bear the floor or roof which covered the hall, but the side-space may have been partly open, by arches, to the hall, and used in connection with it. This seems the more probable, as the herring bone work on the west side of the remaining partition wall, which was apparently introduced for ornament, would otherwise have been lost to view in a dark chamber. One window only at the north end lights this long space.

The great hall, about 90 feet long and 40 feet wide, appears to have been lighted by three windows on the north side and six on the west. In the west wall were two fire-places of equal size, similar in construction to those in the east wall. It may be observed, however, that the outlets …


… of the western flues issue from more carefully constructed slits in the angles of the buttresses. This contrivance has been followed in the flues at Rochester and Hedingham.

At the west end of the north wall of the hall, a short arched passage led (according to the original design) to a door issuing on an external landing or platform of masonry, which formed a solid addition on the east side of the north-western tower, and was probably approached by a timber stair or ladder, and possibly protected by defences constructed in the same material. This north doorway appears to have been closed with masonry in very early times. It may seem not improbable that it was originally designed as the sole entrance to the keep, and that the more magnificent but less secure portal to the south, was an afterthought.

To the west of the short lobby leading to this door is a vaulted passage into the north-west tower, which contains on this level a garderobe with an outlet on the west side. In the passage leading to this closet is a small window to the east overlooking the external landing, but not apparently constructed for purposes of defence.* On the outside of the tower, on the west side, is seen what seems the outlet of another garderobe further south, to which no entrance on the inside now exists.

In the same north-west tower is a stair ascending from the first story to the present external parapet. Those who are curious in red stucco may observe that on this staircase a pinkish stucco appears to have been used. The stone steps are five feet wide, and the newel is roughly carried up, like the walls, in rubble. The only access to this staircase at present is by descending from the top of the walls.

As the building now stands a path is contrived on the top of the west and north walls, protected on the outside by the remains of the ancient wall, and on the inside by a low modern parapet. The summit is reached by the great staircase, which appears to have had an original landing at this height, indicated by a wider step. But as the …

* The window is not so splayed on the inside as to command much of the space without, but it is perhaps too near the external landing to have been safely made wider. The defence may be presumed to have been principally entrusted to those stationed at a higher level, possibly on a hoarding overhanging the stair and landing.


… present path on the west wall cuts through the tops of the chimney flues, it is manifest that the original floor, roof or passage, to which the landing led, was somewhat higher than the present path.* The top of the east wall, where there is no path, appears to be a little higher, and to be clear of the chimney flues on that side. It is one of the most difficult questions suggested by the present ruin, how much of the original keep has been lost above the existing remains. Morant's statement that “the tops of the towers and walls were forced down with screws or blown up with gunpowder," does not much help us as to detail, and perhaps, at the time he wrote, no trustworthy evidence remained.** I am not certain from the appearance of the upper part of the great staircase, whether it was carried up to a higher level ; but there are certainly the remains of some few, perhaps four, original steps above the wider step which marks the landing. The north-west stair undoubtedly ascended to a higher level. The corner towers were probably, as in other keeps, higher than the walls; and the north-western tower has on its west side, a few feet above the general level of the walls, an arched opening in brickwork of a considerably larger size than the lower windows. To the south of this tower a fragment of the west wall is also higher than the rest; and it is remarkable that in this fragment, (rising about ten feet above the path on the wall) are the scarcely distinguishable remains of an arched opening, similar to that in the tower; and at the same level, there are some traces of an original passage in the thickness of the wall, at about the height of the present pathway.

The appearances seem to faintly indicate, that at this safer level there was once a row of wider windows or openings in the walls, somewhat similar perhaps to those in the keep at Malling and the Norman tower of Oxford Castle. Whether there was an upper floor, or whether these openings …

* It may be observed, that the landing on the lower floor rises four steps from the wider stair-step.
** Morant, History of Essex, vol. I. (Colchester) p. 7.


… were in a curtain wall carried up to protect a roof of tile or shingle existing at this level, maybe left to conjecture.* The staircase in the north-west tower probably led to an original battlement wall at a higher level.

* I am disposed to believe that the openings were in a curtain wall, as the windows of a room would probably have been placed higher. The accompanying representation will show how I suppose the walls to have been carried up. (See an additional note on this point at the end of this paper.)

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