Ancient ceremony to mark the annual opening of Colchester’s Oyster Fisheries

One of Colchester’s most celebrated and oldest traditions

Date issued: 29 August 2019 

This year’s ceremonial opening of the Colne Oyster Fisheries – one of Colchester’s most celebrated and oldest traditions – takes place on Friday 6 September 2019. 

The sailing barge ‘The Hydrogen’ will set sail from Brightlingsea to Pyefleet Creek with civic dignitaries on board, including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Colchester, the High Steward and representatives of the Cinque Port Liberty of Brightlingsea. 

The tradition, which dates to 1540, sees Colchester’s Mayor, Colchester Borough Council’s Chief Executive and the Town Serjeant wear full regalia and play key roles in the ceremony to mark the lifting of the first oysters of the season. It is formally witnessed by the special guests, who then enjoy a three-course lunch, including oysters, on the boat. 

The Proclamation, an ancient tongue-twister, will be read by Chief Executive Adrian Pritchard, to officially declare the fishery open for the season. The Mayor, Cllr Nick Cope, will then raise the loyal toast to The Queen accompanied by drinking gin and eating gingerbread. 

Before the ceremony, a letter is sent to The Queen at Buckingham Palace, which states: “According to ancient Custom and Charter dating back to Norman times, the Mayor and Councillors of the Colchester Borough Council will formally proclaim the Opening of the Colne Oyster Fishery for the coming season and will drink to your Majesty's long life and health and request respectfully to offer to your Majesty their expressions of dutiful loyalty and devotion.” 

The Queen usually returns her thanks to the Mayor and councillors for their good wishes. 

The Mayor of Colchester, Cllr Nick Cope, said: “Despite the fast-changing times we live in, the world-famous Colchester Native Oysters, which were venerated by the Romans 2,000 years ago, continue to provide a continuity with the past and an occasion to celebrate the rich and diverse history of our Borough. 

“The Oyster Fisheries ceremony is an ancient and much-loved tradition for Colchester – a unique and wonderful opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the start of the oyster harvest. 

“I very much look forward, as Mayor, to taking part in this year’s ceremony.” 

For more information on the Mayor and Town Hall heritage visit www.colchester.gov.uk/mayor  

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