A very potted history - Castle Park

Castle Park - 2000 years of history


  • Introduction about the Park
  • Castle Park 2000 - 2000 years of history

Castle Park (25 hectares-60 acres), situated in the grounds of Colchester Castle and the Hollytrees Mansion, is divided into an upper and lower park by the Roman town wall of Colchester. The Upper Park consists mainly of formal gardens while the lower park has a more natural feel - situated on the banks of the River Colne.

Being originally a defensive structure, the Castle and park is built on a hill overlooking the River Colne. The park is registered as Grade II on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. The whole of the upper park is a scheduled Ancient Monument and contains 7 listed buildings.

Castle Park - 2000 years of history

Over 2,000 years ago (AD43) the Romans invaded Britain and established their first capital and first town on the site of Colchester Town Centre - it was called Colonia Victricensis (City of Victory).

They were the first to landscape the park, when they levelled the area in about AD54 for their Temple, dedicated to the Emperor Claudius.

The Romans treated the Britons very badly when they first arrived and not surprisingly in AD 60 Boudica and her Iceni tribe rose in open revolt against the Romans and destroyed the town.

Many of the town's inhabitants fled to the temple and barricaded themselves inside - they were hoping for relief from a Roman Army fighting in the west. The army never arrived and after two days the temple was burnt to the ground and all the inhabitants were killed.

The Romans later rebuilt the temple and their town. This time they added a defensive wall - parts of this wall can be seen in the park.

The next important date in the park's history is 1066. Shortly afterwards the Normans decided to build a Castle here to defend the eastern approaches to London. Building materials were scarce and so they built the castle on the base of the Roman temple using rubble from the Roman town.

The Castle was built by Eudo Dapifer, High Steward to William the Conqueror, to a design by the Bishop of Rochester - the same man who later designed the Tower of London - both buildings are of a similar design.

The Castle only saw action on one occasion in 1215 when King John laid siege to the Castle, removing a French force that had occupied the Castle in support of the Barons.

By the 15th Century the Castle had become a prison, which had a bloody reputation. During the reign of Bloody Queen Mary and Elizabeth I, 23 religious martyrs were burnt at the stake - many of these people were executed at the front of the Castle.

In the early part of the 17th century, the prison was used by Mathew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, to interrogate witches - A sign of a true witch was a part of the body where the witch showed no pain (Witches Mark) One of his techniques was prick the witch with a pin all over her body - when the witch did not scream he had found her mark.

During the Civil War in 1648, the town was under siege for 11 weeks - at the end of this siege two royalist leaders (Lucas and Lisle) were held in the prison and later executed in the park grounds - the spot of their execution can still be seen today and it is claimed that where the blood of the two officers was spilt - the grass will never grow again.

That completes the history of the park to the 17th century - the next 300 years have seen it's development as a garden

By the 18th century the park had become part of the garden of the Hollytrees Mansion - one of it's best known residents was a Lawyer called Charles Grey (MP for Colchester and one time town clerk) who had a major influence on the park landscape.

The park was first opened as a park in 1892 and later, in 1929 The Castle; Hollytrees Mansion, back lawn and meadow were also opened to the public as part of the towns war memorial.

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