Colchester Town hall and Jumbo Skyline. Photo: RT Photography

Victorian Colchester

During the Napoleonic Wars large numbers of soldiers were garrisoned at Colchester because of the threat of invasion from France. After the peace of 1815, the soldiers left, but 40 years later a permanent garrison was established, initially in wooden huts, and the army has remained an important feature of Colchester's life ever since. A tangible link with those mid-Victorian origins are the Victorian Barracks, now redeveloped as apartments and houses on Abbey Fields, and the simple but functional white wooden Garrison Church in Military Road, put up in 1856 and now the home of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Industrial Development in Colchester

Castle Park
Castle Park

The railway arrived in 1843, giving Colchester a rapid link with London and the rest of the country, though it had little impact on the Victorian town. Colchester generated its own economic recovery in the late 19th Century through a range of successful local enterprises: mills, clothing and boot factories, breweries and building firms. The most prominent of these new industries was engineering: Britannia machine tools, Mumford's marine engineers and Paxman's steam engines and boilers. Export led, Paxman's was to be for almost a hundred years the town's largest employer. The company continued to supply major contract in recent years, including the diesel engines for British Rail's high speed train fleet.

Colchester Borough Council, with the active assistance of these booming local industries, developed an impressive range of new public facilities in the late Victorian and Edwardian town. Much loved Castle Park, a public library, new schools and an electricity supply which also fed a council run tramway system were all opened in this period. During the Victorian era the town's population had more than trebled, rising to 40,000 by 1901.

Colchester's Victorian Landmarks

Two surviving landmarks on the Colchester skyline symbolise Victorian civic pride and achievements. The first is the great water tower erected in 1882, known locally as Jumbo after the famous elephant at London Zoo.

The second is the Town Hall, completed in 1902 and still the town's grandest building. Its elaborate ornamentation in stained glass and carved stone includes most of the key figures in Colchester's long history.

It is a confident, if rose tinted, celebration of the town's heritage, serving as a constant reminder of Colchester's historic past.

Town Hall and Jumbo view of Town Centre, photo: RT Photography
Colchester Town Hall and 'Jumbo'