COME the summer and Colchester’s Castle Park is full.

Children play, sun lovers sunbathe, friends chat and share a picnic and all is right with the world.

Castle Park was a gift to the town 125 years ago - and what a gift.

It has won numerous awards including profuse praise from Britain in Bloom judges and the Keep Britain Tidy campaign.

The park hosts musical events, food festivals, park runs, charity events, Scottish bagpipers, film showings. It is alive and vibrant and yet in between the events it manages to remain a beautiful sanctuary away from the hubbub of Colchester town centre.

The origins of the park go back 2,000 years. It was first landscaped by the Romans and in 1066 the Normans built the castle to defend eastern approaches to London on the site of the former Roman temple.

They used rubble from the Roman town to build the castle.

During the Civil War in 1648, the town was under siege for 11 weeks and the castle and park were used as a prison and execution ground.

But by the 18th century the park had become part of the garden of the Hollytrees Mansion.

One of its best known residents was a lawyer called Charles Grey, a former MP for Colchester.

In 1892, the park was first opened to the public in 1892 and later, in 1929 the castle, Hollytrees Mansion and its back lawn and meadow were also opened to the public.

The quiet but generous Victorian Richard Catchpool donated enough money to create Castle Park as it looks today.

The park now features on the register of Historic Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England and its guardians, Colchester Council, and volunteers from the Friends of Castle Park, work to ensure it is maintained in prime condition.

Historian Andrew Phillips, who has written a book entitled Colchester in the Great War, said the park and war memorial represents England’s green and pleasant land.

He said: “It twins with the recreation ground at Old Heath, together they represent a realisation that ordinary people were entitled to the lawn and trees which posh people had.

“We have to realise all land was privately owned.

“It’s an important thing about raising democracy and the great achievements of the Victorians.”

Mr Phillips added: “The town was growing and prosperous and well-to-do people who cared paid for Castle Park, which was owned by a wealthy family.

“It came in several instalments between the 1890s and the First World War. After the war the castle was the last episode in the park.

“It was a great place to push the pram as people lives in houses with no gardens, it was a great green lung.”

The Friends of Castle Park, who work tirelessly to care for the Grade II historic park, said the park now welcomes more than a million visitors a year.

The group was set up in 2003 with the 12 original members brought together by Colchester Council.

Will Jaques, who is a former chairman of the group, said the group was formed as a labour of love consisting, as it did, of people who loved and care for the park.

He said: “You only need to walk through the park on a sunny day and you will see a play area full of families.

“People can just enjoy the outdoors, we are so lucky that the park is brilliantly maintained. It means a lot to a lot of people.”

As well as providing stunning serenity, Castle Park has hosted some of the town’s biggest music and entertainment events - including the Colchester Pageant in 1909.

Sir Bob Russell, Colchester’s High Steward and former MP, said: “It’s just something so special and I think those who live here take it for granted, but when visitors see it they are deeply im - pressed.

“It has the splendour of a former Victorian garden in a historic setting and it’s special with the Roman Wall separating the two parks.”

The wall winds through the park separating it into Lower and Upper Castle Park.

For 50 years, the charity group King Coel’s Kittens has held its annual fireworks display in the upper park and the recent Nearly Festival of music is among hundreds of music festivals, medieval re-enactments and sporting food events which have attracted thousands upon thousands of visitors to the park.

Colchester mayor Gerard Oxford said the park was an important part to Colchester as part of its tourist package.

“I call it the manicured show piece of the town,” he said.

“It’s really well maintained and it’s brilliant it’s being used by so many different organisations to hold events. I’m just delighted as it’s a wonderful park.”

To mark the 125th anniversary of the park’s public access, a floral display featuring the Colchester Coat of Arms and the words Castle Park 125 has been unveiled on the flowerbed of Hollytrees Lawn.

Gardeners spent three hours planting more than 15,000 individual plants to create the colourful masterpiece.

Tina Bourne, Colchester councillor responsible for communities, said: “We are so fortunate to have such a beautiful award-winning park in the heart of our tow which residents and visitors can enjoy all year round.

“Set, as it is, alongside two other gems in Colchester’s crown, the castle and Hollytrees Museum, no other park comes close to matching Castle Park’s unique history and appeal as a vibrant public space and thriving community asset.”

A talking bench has been installed in the park giving recorded memories of people who played and walked there.

A number of anniversary celebrations planned for October is set to be announced in the coming months.

To find out more visit www.colchestercastlepark.co.uk and to get involved with Friends of Castle Park email familyfitt@tiscali.co.uk