As we approach this rather spooky season, we thought we would have a look at Colchester in a rather different light. Amongst the fascinating and captivating stories of Colchester’s past lie many that are not so suitable for a bedtime story!  

One rather creepy area of the Castle is the prisons or gaol. First used as a prison in 1226 it continued as the county prison until 1667. When visiting today there is very different feeling to the light, open gallery above. Three prison cells remain with the original bars and doors still in fantastic condition. As you look around graffiti can be found etched into the wood just past the cell bars, its artists most probably those desperately seeking to be the other side of those bars.    

The Wooden Castle Prisons

In one report it was found that over 30 people shared one cell. As if that wasn’t bad enough jailers charged inmates for everything. From the basics such as food and drink to more unexpected things such as having your manacles (chains) removed for a while.

A projection on the prison walls in Colchester Castle 

The Castle is famous today for its links to prominent historical figures, Emperor Claudius and William the Conqueror to name a few. However, not everyone associated with the castle left a positive mark on history. Matthew Hopkins, the ‘witch finder general’ interrogated his poor victims in the castle and he, along with his associates, are believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 people. These were horrible, dark times and Hopkins and his associates would use even simple things such as moles, scars, birthmarks to accuse a person of being a ‘witch’. Hopkins left a brutal mark in the Castles history and these poor people have not been forgotten. There is now a memorial plaque to remember the hundreds of people he killed located in Castle Park.     

A black cat walks on the witch memorial in Castle Park

In the wake of Hopkins devastation in around 1787 and 1788 the gaol was enlarged making 2 rooms for women and 3 rooms for men. Although the gaol was in good repair in 1818 new rules on prison accommodation that were introduced in 1824, made it unfit for purpose and the gaol was closed in 1835. 

Colchester has a very mysterious past and many think there are ghosts in Colchester, the Castle, and the surrounding areas. Why don’t you come and see for yourself this half term? The Castle is currently home to a spooky Where’s Wally trail, free with your admission ticket. As well as this you may bump into a few ghostly figures walking around the castle, they will be replacing our normal museum assistants for the week!  

The Castle currently operates on a pre-booked system so please give us a call to book and avoid any disappointment.  

As ever, happy heritage hunting (and maybe ghost hunting this time) … Remember to tag us on any social media posts so we can follow your adventures!   

Related

Walking with Witches
Walking Route
A black and white image of the Stour Estuary

This short walk on the Stour Estuary between Essex and Suffolk is inspired by the 17th century East Anglian witch trials.

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