A brief history of the Colchester Native Oyster

by Colchester Oyster Fishery

The history of the Colchester native oysters - also known as Colchester Pyefleet Oysters – goes hand in hand with that of Colchester itself.

Camulodunum, as Colchester was formerly known, was the seat of the powerful kings who ruled the southern half of Britain and was finally conquered by Claudius Caesar in AD 48. Opposition to the Romans ceased and they then did their best to advance civilisation. An early task was to build roads and one of the first was the road to Brightlingsea which allowed the oysters to be taken to Camulodunum and onto the boats for the trip back to Rome. Shells found in ruins in Rome can be traced back to the Colne and Pliny famously stated that the Oysters were the only good thing about Britain.

Close up of a closed oyster

Colchester Natives continued to thrive and the next historical landmark was in 1189AD when Richard the Lionheart gave the River Colne to the people of Colchester in return for providing labour to help build Dover Castle.

wide view of Colchester Oyster Fishery oyster beds

In Tudor times, Colchester natives were given as “gifts” from the local authority to the Sovereign or their Courtiers if visited the town often allowing the Borough to extract benefits in return.

Up to the start of the Great War there was no need to advertise Colchester Natives on the continent with them appearing on the tables of the rich and powerful in Russia, Germany and other Kingdoms leading to Colchester being one of the best known of the English towns.

Close up of an open oyster

The great freeze in the early 60’s wiped out the stock of native oysters and convinced the previous lease holder that it was time for a younger person to take over. Christopher Kerrison founded Colchester Oyster Fishery to ensure the great tradition continued.

The last 50 years have shown the Oyster business is a precarious one with Bonamia – a disease bought in from France – and then TBT – a now illegal constituent of antifoul – decimating the river. However, we are now in a long term regeneration programme for Native Oysters in the UK to ensure that almost 2000 years of history continues and the Colchester Native remains the world’s favourite oyster.

Page last reviewed: 26 October 2020