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SaferVPN pride themselves in simplicity and speed. We offer you this tour of our Roman walls but please also see our Roman Colchester Trail herewhich introduces you to many of our other Roman sites, including the Roman Circus.
So, this web page virtual tour is not as good as a real walk - but it will have to do! To give the pictures time to load, I shall tell you a bit about our wonderful walls. I will try to show and explain to you the principal points of interest as we move around the walls in a clockwise direction.
I am going to talk about the reasons why, when and how our wall was built - and something of the history and events that the wall has seen. It is important to remember that when the walls were built, Colchester town centre i. A section of it started off in the year 43 as a legionary fortress, soon to be de-fortified and used as a colonia. It was as an unfortified colonia that it was attacked in the year 60 or 61 and destroyed by Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni.
I will be frequently referring to the 'colonia' for that reason.
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The following map shows how the Romans laid out their colony, with the walls and gates the gates that we know of, that is! Please note the dotted outline of the AD43 fortress that was fairly soon after done away with and the colonia begun. The surrounding area was already known as Camulodunom understood to be the British spelling. After AD 43, the colonia and this land of the Trinovantes settled down to become known as a Romanised Camulodunum, which, of course, eventually became known as Colchester colonia-ceaster meaning fortress colony.
Lincoln was also a colonia, hence its name. The following map is by John Speed and dates to From this you can see how things had changed in Colchester over or so years. Nothing like the sprawling urban mass of today, it does clearly show the Roman wall, the still-standing gates and the eight 14th century bastions that were added at a later date. More of that later, during our tour! So that you can see where we are and where we are going, please study the following map, which highlights the wall system and shows the principal points that we are going to make reference to during our virtual tour.
Please also note the numbers 1 to 12 and the names of the various 'gates'. The weather is fine. The birds are singing. We now begin our tour. To jump ahead to any point please click on the relevant number below. At first, the Roman invaders needed to secure their position. So they constructed a fortress in two locations, one near to modern day Gosbecks, the other, on the hill that overlooked modern day Sheepen and Gosbecks.
Quite understandably they must have expected a backlash from the British. The layout of the fortress on the hill has been shown by archaeologists to have been of a very similar size and arrangement as that at Caerleon.
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In terms of size it would have stretched from modern day Balkerne Hill to Trinity Street. However, we must assume that the British were fairly passive and so the Romans decided on turning the place into a colonia, where they could retire their soldiers, thus guaranteeing a populace to Rome.
The site of the new colonia must surely have been chosen because it was a natural extension of the fortress and it had the strategic advantage of being on a hill - albeit undefended; commanding views of the conquered British settlement to the south west; and with a river and fresh running spring water nearby. It is believed that the colonia was expanded to the size that is surrounded by our magnificent Roman wall - but without the wall.
As you can see there is only a fraction of the gate left, although it still remains the earliest and the most complete Roman gateway in Britain. Archaeologists have extensively explored the foundations and features and have found some very interesting drains in this area. The following picture shows what this triumphal arch might once have looked like, after it had been added-to by the building of what we know as the Balkerne Gate.
The gate faced west. For a start it would have looked towards the place we now know as Sheepen, an area of Camulodunom known to have been where the indigenous British people lived and worked. Much sign of industry has been found there and the siting of the arch would have been a powerful image for the conquered people.
Another important part of the British settlement was based at modern day Gosbeckstwo miles away. It is also believed that the arch position was here because this was the main entrance point to the colonia, facing in the general direction of London Londinium and St.
This shows the precision of the first town planners, who would have used the sun's movement to plot a cast shadow arc and then bisect it for a true north position. From ancient documents, we know that the Roman writer Tacitus chastised the Roman authorities for not providing the colonia with a wall. Whether or not a wall would have been sufficient defence against Boadicea, remains unknown, as the might of the Roman army in Britain was away in the west at the time, leaving the colonia lightly defended.
Boadicea would have known this and would have made her plans accordingly. Turning back on ourselves with the Jumbo water tower behind us and looking west, we see the gate from the other side, the single footway arch alongside what is assumed to have been a guardroom. The Hole in the Wall pub is on the right, built directly onto the Balkerne Gate. The flooring is modern but everything else that you see is pure Roman.
This gave the defenders i. The present day road level of Balkerne Hill is much lower than the original Roman level, having been cut back in the s, leaving the 'Hole in the Wall' standing out 'like a Tibetan Monastery'.
We now walk back through Balkerne Gate to outside the wall. Again, the remains are well preserved, but with a little modern brick repair work in the top of the arch.
On the right hand side of the board, the top view shows the triumphal arch, the next shows the added gateway, the third showing the gate sealed up. The final view is how we now see the remains of the gate, much of it destroyed and built onto by the building that is now known as the Hole in the Wall public house. So where did the name Balkerne Gate come from?
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The original Roman name for the gate has been lost with time. It became known as the Balkerne Gate, a reference to it being baulked, stopped-up, bricked-up, sealed-up - in antiquity. It appears from archaeological studies that this gate fell into disuse at some point during the Roman period, perhaps because the Head Gate was a more convenient and less of an incline entrance point into the colonia. Indeed, it is because it was baulked that the gate has survived as much as it has and that Jumbo could be built on what would have originally been the High Street.
All our other town gates have disappeared, allowing for greater traffic flow. Modern day vehicles are much larger than the horse and carts that people would have used two millennia ago. At some time experts cannot be sure about when it was blocked and when it was unblockedthe decision was taken to unblock the gate, which is why we are now able to walk through two of the four access ways; the other two being underneath and part of the foundations of the Hole in the Wall pub.
I shall not go into that in much detail other than to say that this picture shows the evidence of the main carriageway and the triumphal arch. We can see the soft tufa stone that the triumphal arch was constructed from, in contrast to the later wall materials. The pub was once known as the Kings Head but, inthe railway came to Colchester and the landlord of this ancient tavern saw an opportunity for increased business. In a single act of archaeological vandalism, he bashed a hole through the Roman gate's structure to open up a view of the railway to the north.
Thereafter, the local people awarded it the nickname of 'The Hole in the Wall' a name that was officially adopted in the s. We started our tour at the most interesting and best preserved part of our famous walls. Regrettably it is mostly downhill from here - literally. We are going to trace the wall along its entire length, with many sections missing, some in poor repair, some completely hidden by buildings that have been built on top of them.
We will have walked approximately metres by the time we get back here for a pint at the Hole in the Wall. I hope that you enjoy the rest of the tour. We now move on down the steep Balkerne Hill in a northerly direction. Understandably perhaps, we cannot get clear access to both sides of the wall as private properties, particular inside the walls, back right up to the wall itself.
Our walls are not only classed as a scheduled ancient monument SAM but are also Grade 1 listed, with all the protection that is afforded to this remarkable structure. In some areas, the walls are completely obscured by buildings - but more of that later!
Built by Peter Shuyler-Bruff, it once housed a steam driven pump, to pump fresh water up the hill to the Jumbo water tower which was built in the s. I mention this because, here we have an inkling into what the Romans must have been thinking when they chose their site for the colonia.
This part of Colchester, at the foot of the hill, is renowned for its springs - fresh water - so essential for healthy living. We have never positively discovered any Roman baths in Colchester some bath type structures are known from the work done at the Sixth Form College in the s but we would expect that this would have been where they were, for the simple reason that it was here that there was fresh, pure water; an easy supply that could be heated and used to wash the dirt and grime away after a hard day at the forum.
To the south, uphill, a complete section of the wall is missing. Philip Crummy believes that this is because the presence of a Roman drain always close to a tower or gate introduced a weakness which helped with a collapse of the wall from undermining, or subsidence of the outer earthworks. We are reaching the foot of the hill and arrive at the next point of our tour, with sections of the wall, in varying states of repair on our right.
Indeed, Colchester was expanding and there was considerable overspill into surrounding areas, especially along the main routes into the colonia. In the background is the Octagon building, originally the Royal London Insurance building.
This was built on the site of a high status Roman villa, where some magnificent floor mosaics were discovered. In the Victorian period and up until the s this was where the livestock market was located. Sheepen is an area associated with the ancient British; a place of industry; a place where King Cunobelin minted so many of his gold coins archaeologists found many coin moulds here ; a place that signified the great wealth of Britain - an obvious attraction to treasure and wealth seeking Roman invaders.
We round the north-east corner of the wall where probably once stood an observation tower. Evidence has been found of several towers around the wall's perimeter, where some protection from Britain's weather could be given to soldiers from those sunnier Italian climes or the auxillary soldiers from right across the Roman Empire that supported them.
We are now walking east towards North Gate, with the wall seeing little sunlight. A horse trough filled with flowers gives a clue to an earlier use of this area.
A colonia was the highest status of Roman cities. Next came the municipia Verulamium or modern day St. Albansfollowed by civitates. They each enjoyed different privileges according to their status. Coloniae were inhabited by those persons who had Roman citizenship.
This included retired legionary soldiers who had completed their term of service and thereby were entitled to citizenship and a grant of land from the territory allotted to the town from the surrounding territory. As former soldiers, they could be depended upon to defend Roman interests, and the coloniae helped to integrate them into civilian life. They also served to introduce Roman law and culture to the native population. Municipia were inferior to coloniae only in their prestige.
Civitates resembled municipia but were the centre of the tribe civitas. Even though civitates were Roman towns, their inhabitants remained citizens of their tribe, not the town itself. This, and the following picture, is all that is left of what once have been an impressive structure, perhaps equally as impressive as Balkerne Gate.
One day maybe, an archaeological survey might tell us more about the size, layout and position. North Gate was removed in antiquity and no record has been kept of its appearance, although our archaeologists say that the east foundations are intact and recorded. The Roman wall was originally approximately 2. Behind this section, a short way along St Pter's Street, we find further evidence of what is left of the wall.
We now proceed along the route of the north section of the wall, along St Peter's Street, with a section of the wall on view on the right, before it disappears from view within the buildings that exist there. The wall has either been demolished or incorporated into the structures of the houses and other buildings along the route. The river Colne is within metres to the North and runs east, through various mill and weir sites, towards the Hythe and out to sea.
After a distance of approx.
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Notice how the gradient changes from what would have been outside the wall, to the height inside the wall. When the archaeologists delved in the area that is now grassed, they found evidence of a Roman wall observation tower. The Victorian period houses on the left have been built directly onto the Roman wall and it would be nice to know whether their cellars show the wall in any way.
After a short distance we are able to look over to the left to see a section of the wall exposed where car parking has been provided. This gives an idea of the height of the Roman wall as it would once have been.