A small group of us met at the front of the Castle, at the southern end of Castle Park, on Saturday afternoon. We first viewed the outside of the present Norman structure, as well as the Lucas-Lisle memorial around the back, marking the spot that these two local Royalist leaders were shot in August 1648 after the siege. It is said that grass never grows there as a result.
The inside of the Castle is arranged chronologically. The upstairs is devoted to the Iron Age and Roman eras. The many artefacts include some Iron Age tools and then illustrate the arrival of Claudius’ army (43 AD), the Temple of Claudius now laying under the Castle, Boudicca’s revolt (60), the later Roman period after Constantine’s conversion and their departure. We saw, by chance, a depiction of a boar among the Iron Age artefacts.
The rest of Colchester’s history is displayed downstairs, starting with the Anglo-Saxons who abandoned towns for their first few centuries. Under a Viking threat in the North and Midlands, Edward the Elder and other Wessex Kings reurbanised the parts of England they still ruled. The Castle and other town landmarks such as St. John’s Abbey date from soon after the Norman Conquest. Several town charters, from the reigns of Richard I to William III, are on display. John Howard Duke of Norfolk, Francis Viscount Lovell and the Stafford brothers of Grafton are glossed over a little here but the two centuries after Bosworth are not. The final exhibit in order is the siege and prison department, which names twenty-three people held here and then burned during Mary I’s short reign, amounting to eight per cent of her national total. Matthew Hopkins, the “Witchfinder-General” caused several mostly harmless people to be hanged between Bury St. Edmunds and Chelmsford during the 1640s although he died before the siege. Sir Charles Lucas, whose family bought St. John’s Abbey after it was dissolved, was a Royalist leader during these three months as was Sir George Lisle. Arthur Capell Baron Hadham, descended from Richard’s sister Anne of Exeter, was beheaded on Tower Hill the following March. James Parnell was a teenaged Quaker preacher imprisoned here until he died of starvation in 1655.
In the century following the Restoration, Colchester Castle was intended to decay entirely but was purchased and rescued so, from the outside, looks like the complete article, although it may originally have been a little taller.