A SMALL slightly battered book discovered in a Colchester museum is actually an insight into some of the town’s early celebrity figures.

Historian and museum volunteer David Walton discovered the notebook, Colchester Celebrities, when it was an exhibit at the castle.

He says it lay open to reveal a drawing and some script and he was intrigued enough to want to find out more.

Since then he has indeed done that and even written magazine articles about the characters he found in the book.

“As a volunteer at the Museum Resources Centre for Colchester Recalled, I was fortunate to be granted access and was able to see all the wonderful contents,” he explains.

David recently wrote an article for the Colchester Archaeologist magazine after his interest in the book led to him looking further into one of the men featured in it.

The book, which contains about 30 sketches, is thought to have started out as the “drill book” of Captain Charles Alexander Crickitt of the North Essex Militia.

But after he died the eldest son of town Chamberlain Ben Strutt, Edward, got hold of it and filled it with drawings and anecdotes, explains David.

He began to look into the life of coach-master James Hamilton, known as the Duke, who appears in the book alongside Trumpeter Rowe.

The sketches have rarely appeared in print outside of the notebook.

Hamilton was a colourful character who became known as the Duke for always falling on hard times but would disappear and return with enough money to pay those he owed.

His image appears twice in the notebook, once next to John Rowe, who was a noted town chemist also known as Trumpeter Rowe and then once on his own.

Six of the anecdotes, said to have been written by Henry Daniel Bland, were about him.

There is also a reference to Daniel Lye within the picture of Hamilton and Rowe, of whom there is a separate drawing in the notebook.

Lye appeared in court accused of vote-rigging in an election for the town recordership.

David’s research into Duke Hamilton discovered he had a number of sons he was devoted to but they all died before him.

David explains he soon realised Edward Strutt, whose family name continues to this day in the law firm his father Benjamin worked in, had filled the book with sketches and stories.

David adds : “Some of his drawings give the name of the original artist.

“Some may even have been by his father, Ben Strutt, who was a respected artist and painter in oils.

“Inside the front cover is written, ‘This book was given to me by Mr E P Strutt who died in Winsley’s Almshouses, J A Tabor, Crouch, Colchester’.

“We learn from a hand-written label stuck on the front of the book that it had been presented to Colchester Museum in August 1870 by Mr I A Tabor.

“Edward Strutt died supposedly of a fit in 1854 at the age of 75 in Winsley’s Almshouses but according to his death certificate, he was not suffering from any medical ailment at the time.

“He had been living on Fingringhoe Road with his wife, Sarah, a schoolmistress,” he says.

Also featured in the drawings are Bezaliel Angier, a miller who went on to become mayor of Colchester in 1788.

He may have been Hamilton’s opponent in a bet that six horses could not pull one stagecoach loaded with thirty quarters of bran from the miller’s house to a place known as Stone-End.

If the coach completed the journey in two hours of less the horsefeed could be be bought for a reduced price.

Hamilton, well known for his love of a flutter won the bet with 20 minutes to spare.