Old Images of Colchester, Essex

Old cigarette photo card of Old Siege House Colchester

Glimpse history through old images of Colchester, Essex, England.

First World War Bombs!

Air raids in Britain live in the popular imagination of the Second World War’s Blitz periods. But even though the world’s first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft was made by the Wright brothers on December 17, 1903, the technology moved rapidly forward, so when war broke out in Europe less than eleven years later, airplanes were parts of the strategies of both offence and defence.

This silent footage could possibly show 41 Butt Lane, which was destroyed on February 21, 1915, when a lone German plane flew over Colchester and the pilot threw a bomb out of the cockpit. Luckily no one was hurt, and the site is now the police station car park.

We see two men smoke as they survey the terrible damage done to some of Colchester’s buildings, then a small group examining the damage done. It’s not clear why the male and female people in uniform are scraping a hole with a stick at the end.

House At Colchester Damaged (1915-1918) – British Pathé on YouTube

Colchester 1937

This film described Colchester as the oldest town in Great Britain. In 2022, the historic market town won city status as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Colchester (1937) – British Pathé on YouTube

Colchester in 1942

When three 500lb bombs hit Severalls Hospital on August 11, 1942, 39 patients lost their lives. In this film made the same summer, you don’t get any sense of the war disturbing this ancient settlement, where many buildings and structures had stood for hundreds of years.

Colchester (1942)- British Pathé on YouTube

Oysters of 1948

In 1948, you could order photographs of the team and spectators at the Colchester v. Bradford game at the local newspaper, chosen from the photos on display in the window. The high street had a well-stocked sports equipment shop.

We see Len Cater, a gas fitter, cycling down a rainy shopping street to take some equipment into a shop. He plays for the football team in his leisure time, like many on the team. Albert Kettle works in a factory at an electrical machine.

While this newsreel is about the football club and its players, there are some great views of the town centre and lots of local people.

Oyster Town Opens Up (1948)- British Pathé on YouTube

Unusual Activities

Newsreel filmmakers visited Colchester on several occasions to film people busy with unusual hobbies or businesses.

I haven’t embedded them here because they don’t show the town, but you may have known one of the people involved, so I’ll add the details with a link.

The army fire fighting school was filmed on a fire fighting exercise in 1949.

In 1952, they filmed Ernest Coveney, a local metal moulder, sculpting wishbones into decorative figures.

In 1953, Mrs Edna Green and her assistant were filmed making brooches out of real fish, crabs, shrimp, starfish and even a seahorse, in what was clearly a cottage industry.

In 1959, Dr. Atthill’s widow Margery Atthill demonstrated how she made historical clothes figures.

In 1964, they filmed John Peacock building a £450 kit plane in his front garden, assisted by 11 year old Suzanne.

Colchester Buses

The following three videos are trailers for bus DVDs you can buy. Although they focus on the buses, the camera also captures drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cars, local streets, buildings and businesses.


COLCHESTER BUSES 1986 BY TIM BUBB – DaveSpencer32 on YouTube


COLCHESTER BUSES 1996 – DaveSpencer32 on YouTube


COLCHESTER BUSES 2003 – DaveSpencer32 on YouTube

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Historic Book

Extract from:

History and Description of the Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester in Essex“, Volume 1, by Thomas Cromwell

Published 1825

Pages 80 – 84

“In the short contest for the sovereignty between the
Princess Mary and the estimable Lady Jane Grey ,
Colchester warmly espoused the cause of the former .
Messengers , with assurances of loyalty , and a quantity
of provisions , were dispatched by the corporation to
the Princess at Framlingham ; and the town was put in
a posture of defence against her opposers . In approba
tion of the magistrates ‘ zeal , Mary paid a visit to the
ancient borough , July 26 , 1553. On which occasion ,
she was very liberally entertained ; and 20 £ . in gold ,
with a silver cup and cover , partly gilt , were presented

to her . March 7th following , came an Order of
Council in her Majesty’s name , to put in readiness 18
armed men , of whom 10 should be archers and 8 bill
men , well harnessed and weaponed , to be ready at one
hour’s warning to embark at Brightlingsey , for the
service of her Majesty beyond the seas , at Calais or
elsewhere , as should be appointed .
But not all the instances the town had given of
devotion to this queen , could preserve its inhabitants ,
more than others , from the flames which her most de
testable bigotry kindled for the martyrs to Protestantism .
Throughout the horrible season of her persecutions for
religion’s sake ” the auncient and famous towne of
Colchester , ” to use the quaint language of an author
lately quoted , ” was a sweete and comfortable mother
of the bodyes , and a tender nourse of the soules , of
God’s children : which towne was rather at that tyme
frequented , because it afforded many godly and zealous
martyrs , whiche continually with their bloud watered
those seedes , which by the preachyng of the worde had
been sowne most plentifully in the hartes of Christians
in the dayes of good Kyng Edward . This towne , for
the earnest profession of the Gospell , became like unto
a citie upon an hill ; and , as a candle upon a candle
sticke , gave great light to all those , who for the comfort
of their conscience came to conferre there from divers
places of the Realme , and repairying to common Innes ,
had by night their Christian exercises , whiche in other

places could not be gotten . For proofe whereof , I
referre the reader unto that which is truely reported by
M. Foxe in his booke of Actes and Monumentes : that
at the Kynges – head in Colchester , and at other Innes in
the sayd Towne , the afflicted Christians had set places
appointed for themselves to meete at . ” *
Had Colchester been the only theatre of the martyr
doms dictated by the relentless zeal of Mary , their
number would have sufficed to procure for her the
execrations of all posterity . The following detail will
give ample evidence of the truth of this assertion . – Suf
fered death by burning in this town , in the year 1555 :
March 29th , John Lawrence ; June 14th , Nicolas
Chamberlayne . 1556 : April 28th , John Mace , apo
thecary ; John Spence , weaver ; Simon Joyne , sawyer ;
Richard Nichols , weaver ; and John Hammond , tanner :
and in June of the same year , Elizabeth , the wife of
Thomas Pepper , and Edmund Hurst , both of St. James’s ,
Colchester , were burnt at Stratford – bow . 1557 : Wil
liam Bongeor , of St. Nicholas , glazier ; William Purcas ,
of Bocking ; Thomas Benold , tallow – chandler ; Agnes
Silverside , alias Smith ; Helen Ewring ; and Elizabeth
Folks ; were burnt without the town – wall , on the morn
ing of August 2nd : as were in the Castle – yard , in the
afternoon of the same day , William Munt , Alice Munt ,
John Johnson , and Rose Allin . In the same year died
within the Castle , John Thurston , a prisoner on account
of his religion . About the same time , fourteen men ,
and eight women , were here apprehended , and , being
fastened together in a string , driven , like a flock of
sheep , to London ; but they were shortly afterwards
released upon their own easy submission . ” 1558

William Harris , Richard Day , and Christiana George ,
were burnt at Colchester , May 26th : being the last
dreadful spectacle of this kind that took place in the
town . Eight others , who were prisoners in the Castle
for their religious profession , were released the follow .
ing year , on the accession of Elizabeth .
The arrival of the persecuted Dutch and Flemings ,
in 1571 , and their establishment here of the Bay and
Say Trade , are the first remarkable incidents bearing
reference to Colchester , in the reign of this sagacious
and potent queen . The next occurrence worthy notice ,
is the visitation of a Plague , which commenced its
ravages in the town and neighbourhood in December ,
1578 ; and continued with the unfortunate inhabitants
until the ensuing August , notwithstanding every effort
to prevent its spreading .
Elizabeth took one of her celebrated progresses ,
through part of this county and that of Suffolk , in
1579 , and was at Colchester on the 1st and 2nd of
September in that year . The record gives the following
orders , as made for her reception . ” That the Bayliffs
and Aldermen , in the receipt of her Majestie , shall
ride upon comely geldings , with foot – clothes , in damask
or sattin cassocks or coats , or else jackets of the same ,
with sattin sleeves in their scarlet gowns , with caps and
black velvet tippets . The Councell to attend upon the
Bayliffs and Aldermen at the same time , upon comely
geldings , with foot – clothes , in grogram or silk cassock
coats or jackets , with silk doublets , or sleeves at the least ,
in the livery morray – gowns , with caps : & c . – That her
Majesty shall be gratified from the Town with a Cup of
silver , double – gilt , of the value of 20 marks , or 10. at
the least , with 40 angels in the same , and the Officers

of her Majesty to be gratified as afore they have been .
The Recorder for the time being , to make the Oration
to her Majesty.”

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