From Digs to Jumbo – Local History Talks

The past & future of the Jumbo

The Balkerne Water Tower aka Jumbo

The next Local History Group meeting focuses on Colchester’s Victorian water tower, Jumbo. Andrew Crayston, a Trustee of the Colchester & North East Essex Building Preservation Trust, will lead the talk. You will hear about the past & future of the Balkerne water tower, affectionately referred to as Jumbo. There are some useful links below to find out more about Jumbo.

Where & When

The meeting will take place on November 10th in Orpen Hall starting at 7:30 pm. Members & non-members are welcome for £2 and £5 respectively (membership £10 per year). Please email the group at [email protected] if you want to attend; the group will then be able to keep you informed if there are any last minute changes to the meeting.

Roman discoveries at 2 recent digs

Continue reading “From Digs to Jumbo – Local History Talks”

Grey Friars – A History Group Talk

Grey Friars Location

Grey Friars – A History Group Talk

The first meeting of the New Year took place in the Orpen Hall on January 10th. The guest speaker was Alan Skinner, former Principal of Grey Friars Adult Education College.

Grey Friars Location
Showing the northeast corner of the old town in 1777
Grey Friars House is above the word Frere

History of Grey Friars

Alan’s talk was about the history of Grey Friars, or more precisely the area where it is located in the northeast corner of the old Roman town. It is difficult to ascertain exactly what was there during the Roman and Norman periods but between the 13th and the 16th century the site was occupied by Franciscan Monks, the Grey Friars, until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538.

Poor Repair

The buildings remained in a poor state of repair. They were much damaged one hundred years later in the Civil War and Royalist prisoners of war were detained there after the siege. In Georgian times the area became very desirable and several large houses were built close by – Hollytrees, East Hill House, The Minories. The building which is now the centre part of Grey Friars was built around 1750.

The building changed hands several times and in 1829 the area where Roman and Castle Roads are now was leased to the Colchester Botanical Society to make into a Botanical Garden. This initially proved popular with the rich and fashionable although by the 1850s the garden had fallen from favour and was sold off for housing and would eventually become Castle Road and Roman Road.

Much Extended

The Grey Friars house, much extended, continued as a private residence until 1903 when it was purchased by a group of French Nuns.  They converted it into a boarding school for gentlemen’s daughters. The Nuns sold Grey Friars to Essex County Council in 1920 when it was used to house part of the County High School for Girls. They stayed there until the 1950s when they moved to their current premises in Norman Way. Grey Friars was then used at different times as temporary accommodation for Monkwick and Phillip Morant Schools, and the Technical College, now Colchester Institute. In 1965 the building became an Adult Education College until being sold in 2008 for conversion into a luxury hotel, which opened in 2014.

Alan Skinner’s talk was very well received and many of the members of the audience had their own fond memories of Grey Friars.

Can You Help Trace William & Sarah Pettican’s Graves?

From time to time the Secretary receives enquiries from people studying their family history. A recent enquiry from Kiern Pettican, who lives in Kent, is seeking to trace the graves of her great-great-grandparents William Pettican 1848-1912 and Sarah Rebecca Pettican 1853-1921. They married in the old church in 1869 and were living in Old Church Lane in 1881.  Searches of the churchyards have been unsuccessful. She would also be interested in copies of any photographs of Old Church Lane from the period.

If any reader can help please get in touch with Gill Poole 01206 240512.

Forthcoming Events

  • February 8th    “Silver End the Crittall Village” a talk by Natalie Banks.
  • March 8th         AGM plus a talk and video “Life in the 1950s” by Peter Jones
  • April 13th          “44 Years of Elected Office” a talk by Sir Bob Russell

Meetings start at 7.30. Members £1 – Visitors welcome £3.   Find out more here.


Sports, Heritage & Apples

Sports, Heritage & Apples

Sports, Heritage & Apples are the subject of recent leisure-time news from Colchester Borough Council:

Summer Sports FestivalSummer Sports Festival at Highwoods

Taking place on Sunday 30th August at Leisure World, there is an opportunity for all the family to join in with a range of FREE sports activities including:

  • Football – with Colchester United Football in the Community,
  • Parkour – with Team Traceur,
  • Volleyball – with Volleyball England,
  • Netball – with KATS Netball Club, and
  • Tennis – free hire of tennis courts at Leisure World Highwoods.



Heritage Open DaysHeritage Open Days

This year’s Heritage Open Days takes place across the weekend of Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September 2015.  You can discover Colchester’s heritage in a weekend of FREE activities and entry to more than 20 historic properties:

  • firstsite,
  • Roman Circus,
  • St. Helen’s Chapel,
  • St. Peter’s Church,
  • Quaker Meeting House (St. Mary’s House),
  • Mersea Barrow,
  • Roman Theatre,
  • Castle Museum,
  • Town Hall,
  • Sparlings Solicitors,
  • Audley Chapel,
  • St Martin’s Church,
  • St John’s Abbey Gatehouse,
  • Trinity Street,
  • Bourne Mill,
  • Super Home,
  • St. James the less & St. Helen’s Church,
  • Holy Trinity Church,
  • Peake’s House,
  • Colchester Cemetery,
  • War Memorial,
  • St. Mary at the Walls Church (Arts Centre), and
  • Colne Light Ship.

More details and opening times are available at

Celebrate Heritage fun day{Colchester Presents} Celebrate Heritage

On Saturday 12th September, between 9am and 5pm, the clock will be turned back  as you stroll through the High Street  and Upper Castle Park.

Enjoy a stroll down the High Street (closed to traffic) and take time to admire the wonderful architecture of the many fascinating buildings which adorn the High Street, from the Town Hall to to the Red Lion Hotel. Watch out for historical characters that you pass along your way, you may bump into Marcus Favonius!

Soak up the sounds of the historic music, dance and drama and enjoy some story telling and the iconic British Punch and Judy Show. Colchester has it’s very own Mr Punch living at Hollytrees Museum, take a visit and see this very special puppet, dating from 1945.

Take a wander through Colchester’s Charter market, dating back to 1189 and you will find stalls selling everything from artisan bread to clothes. There will be plenty of food stalls to fill your appetite.

Step back in time to the award-winning Castle Park which will be hosting historic market stalls, traditional side shows, puppet theatre,talks and demonstrations, all within the backdrop of Colchester Castle which will be open for free.

Apple DayApple Day at the BIG Garden, High Woods Country Park

Taking place on Saturday 26th September you can drop in at any time between 12pm & 3pm (donation requested).  Come and celebrate the local apple harvest! Enjoy tasting some heritage fruit varieties and try your hand at crushing and pressing local apples to make delicious juice. Family games, crafts and apple cakes and bakes to sample.

Details of these and many more activities are on the Colchester website.