BOASTING more than one million visitors every year, Colchester’s Castle Park is one of the jewels in the town’s crown.

The Grade II Listed attraction may be predominantly Victorian but it has some features dating back more than a thousand years.

Many of us will remember summers on the boating lake, playing on the green grass, and more recently enjoying open air concerts and screenings from football to Wimbledon.

The 19th Century public park is set around the remains of the Norman castle, but it is also on the site of a Roman Temple built in around AD 54.

Historians explain the building, which now houses Hollytrees Museum, dates back to the 18th Century.

Charles Gray, Colchester’s MP for a time, and a former pupil of the town’s Royal Grammar School was given Colchester Castle as part of his marriage settlement.


  • The boating lake at Colchester’s Castle Park in 1985

He made a number of efforts to preserve it for future generations which included buying a large part of the surrounding land.

It was this which, 150 years after his death, was given to the town to become Castle Park.

Charles also oversaw the construction the castle’s Italienate domed towers and the library.

He went on to found the Castle Society Book Club in the library in 1750 – who members included Philip Morant.

The library was to contain the books of Samuel Harsnett, bequeathed to the town, and tended to and documented by Morant.[

Charles also oversaw the roofing of the castle in red tile, which remains while Hollytrees museum actually takes its name from holly trees Gray planted when he owned the building.

The bulk of his estate was left to his friend James Round of Little Birch and his wife, Tamar, who was the daughter and heir of Gray’s stepson, Peter Creffeild – another name along with Harsnett and Morant which has been immortalised in the town’s road names.

It was between 1920 and 1922 the Castle and its associated parkland were bought by the Borough of Colchester.

This was done using a large donation from Weetman Pearson, who was the 1st Viscount Cowdray.


  • Wendy Jane Beckett, aged three, with her mum Gwen taking a walk in the Castle park in the 1980s

He was a wealthy industrialist who had also been the town’s Member of Parliament.

The Park was then split into the Upper and Lower Castle Parks and plaque remembering the occasion remains at the entrance to the park.

Long before Sir Tom Jones and Craig David performed there it was also the scene of one of the most famous open air events – the Colchester Pageant.

The week-long event in June 1909 told the history of the town in six plays and is the focus of a series of vintage postcards produced to commemorate such an important occasion, before photography was so commonplace.

It also hosted the Colchester Rose Show for many years.

l If you have any photographs of historic events in Castle Park contact us on 01206 508186.