A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1994.
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SOCIAL AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS
NEWSPAPERS. (fn. 1)
For much of the 18th century Colchester relied on the Ipswich Journal, printed in Ipswich by John Bagnall from 1720. At first the paper contained only London and international news, but by 1727 it advertised Colchester events, and by 1740 had a small column of local news in which Colchester occasionally figured. (fn. 2) The paper continued until 1777. A rival edition was launched in 1774 and continued throughout the 19th century. (fn. 3)
The Essex Mercury or Colchester Weekly Journal, the first Colchester newspaper, seems to have started in 1733 and was published by John Pilborough, bookseller and printer of High Street, probably the 'foreign' shopkeeper of that name who owed fines in 1736. Popularly known as 'Pilborough's Journal' to distinguish it from the Ipswich Journal, it continued until 1747 or later. (fn. 4)
The Chelmsford Chronicle or Essex Weekly Advertiser, an uncontroversial Liberal paper, was published in Chelmsford from 1764, but had an agent in Colchester. (fn. 5) In 1766, when c. 100 copies were distributed there, Colchester was added to the title, but was dropped when a new management took over in 1771 after the bankruptcy of the original owners. (fn. 6) The paper continued as the Chelmsford Chronicle, renamed the Essex County Chronicle from 1884 and the Essex Chronicle from 1920. A Colchester edition was published from 1867 to 1874 as the Essex County Chronicle. (fn. 7)
The Colchester Gazette, the first newspaper to be produced in the town after the Essex Mercury, was launched in 1814 as the Colchester Gazette and General Advertiser for Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Herts., a four-page Tory paper published weekly on Saturdays at 6½ d. by Swinborne and Co. of High Street. In its first nine years ownership of the paper changed three times. (fn. 8) In 1829 the Colchester Courier, a Liberal paper, founded the previous year as the Sickle by Samuel Haddon of Manningtree, was incorporated into the Gazette, which was then issued jointly by Haddon and C. J. Ward. It followed an independent policy but failed to attract subscribers. It incorporated the Essex Independent in 1833 and was the Colchester and Chelmsford Gazette, Essex and Suffolk Independent in 1836 when the two outer pages were printed in Colchester and the two inner ones in Chelmsford. (fn. 9) By 1837 John Copland was the sole proprietor, Essex and Suffolk Independent had been dropped from the title, and the paper was printed in Chelmsford. (fn. 10) It was sold in the same year to John Bawtree Harvey who attempted to revive it as an organ of reform under the title of the Essex and Suffolk Times or Colchester, Chelmsford and Ipswich Gazette, (fn. 11) but his full and forthright reporting of Chartist riots led to the collapse of his newspaper business, and the paper ceased publication in January 1841. (fn. 12) The Colchester Gazette was revived in July 1877 by Edward Benham, owner of the Essex Standard, and issued weekly on Wednesdays. (fn. 13) In 1930 it was modernized and published in folio size. When it ceased publication in 1970 Essex County Newspapers Ltd. immediately launched a new daily, the Evening Gazette (fn. 14) which continued in 1992.
The Essex County Standard was founded in January 1831 as the Essex Standard, a weekly Tory paper which filled the gap left by the change in policy of the Colchester Gazette, and was to be 'a Standard around which the loyal, the religious, and the well-affected of our County may rally'. (fn. 15) It was at first printed in Chelmsford, but was aquired by John Taylor in September 1831 and thereafter printed in Colchester. A Wednesday edition was launched in 1855 with the words and General Advertiser for the Eastern Counties added to the title. The paper was sold to Edward Benham, T. Ralling, and Henry B. Harrison in 1866. (fn. 16) The Essex and West Suffolk Gazette, founded in 1852 by rival Tories to counter Taylor's strong anti-Catholic views, was incorporated into the Essex Standard in 1873, and the paper was enlarged to eight pages. (fn. 17) Circulation greatly increased in 1891 when the price was reduced to 1d. In 1892 the title Essex County Standard was adopted. (fn. 18) Ralling had relinquished his interest in the paper before Benham's death in 1869, and Harrison continued as joint proprietor with Benham's widow, Mary, until he retired in 1879. Benham's son William Gurney Benham (d. 1944) became editor in 1884; his brother Charles (d. 1929) was joint editor from 1892. (fn. 19) W. G. Benham retired in 1943 and was succeeded by his son Hervey (d. 1987), who adopted an independent policy. (fn. 20) The paper was enlarged to 10 pages in 1951 when it incorporated the Essex Telegraph. (fn. 21) The interests of Benham and Co. were divided in 1958; the newspaper publishing side continued as Benham Newspapers Ltd. (fn. 22) In 1964 the paper was printed by web-offset lithography, a process pioneered by Benham and fellow newspaper proprietor Arnold Quick at their printing business in Sheepen Road, and the Standard was described by the trade paper Printing World as Britain's best produced weekly newspaper. (fn. 23) Hervey Benham retired from the editorship of the papers in 1965. (fn. 24) In 1970 Benham Newspapers Ltd. merged with Arnold Quick's Clacton-based publishing company as Essex County Newspapers Ltd., which in turn was acquired by the Reed International Group in 1982. (fn. 25) The Essex County Standard continued in 1992.
The Liberal Essex Telegraph and Colchester, Chelmsford, Maldon, Harwich, and Eastern Counties General Advertiser was founded in 1858 by Wright and Sons of Head Street and owned by the family until 1901. (fn. 26) In 1902 the Colchester Mercury and North Essex Express, a Liberal paper published by Frederick Wright and owned by his family since 1867, was incorporated into the Telegraph, which was then owned and published by Essex Telegraph Ltd. (fn. 27) In 1908 the title was the Essex County Telegraph. (fn. 28) The paper was bought by a group of Colchester businessmen in 1948 and issued as a tabloid Conservative paper; it was incorporated with the Essex County Standard in 1951. (fn. 29)
THEATRES AND CINEMAS.
In 1720 plays were performed in the moot hall probably by the Norwich company of comedians who, by 1726, were paying an annual rent of c. £10 to play there regularly for five weeks from the end of October. (fn. 30) In 1764 the corporation granted the company a 99-year lease at £12 a year of part of the moot hall yard on which to build a theatre for their exclusive use. (fn. 31) The building, financed by subscription, measured c. 64 ft. by 38 ft. and held 300 people; the main access was through the moot hall, but the stage door was reached through a passage from Angel Lane (later West Stockwell Street). (fn. 32) The theatre opened in October 1764; the plays of Goldsmith and Sheridan and Garrick's versions of Shakespeare were among the productions in its early years. (fn. 33) The theatre's popularity waned; by 1810 the building was dilapidated and, with the agreement of the Norwich Theatre Co., was repossessed by the corporation, which paid Benjamin Strutt £200 to buy out the subscribers' interests. In 1812 Strutt opened a new theatre, later the Theatre Royal, seating c. 1,200, on the east side of Queen Street. The Norwich Co. was given a 53-year lease of the building, but the company's visits to Colchester were infrequent after c. 1839 and seem to have ceased in 1852. (fn. 34) In 1843 Colchester was said to be 'not a theatre-going town'. (fn. 35)
For over 20 years from 1852 the theatre was used only occasionally, for professional and amateur productions and for political meetings. In 1878 the run-down building was bought and refurbished by the brothers Edwin, Henry, and John Nunn and their partner Daniel Vale. Well known professional companies brought plays to Colchester, the D'Oyly Carte opera company paid regular visits, and 'grand military evenings' were arranged by the garrison. Nevertheless the owners found it impossible to make the theatre pay, and it was sold in 1889 to a company formed by E. Thompson Smith. Again the building was refurbished, electric lighting and central heating were installed in 1901, and other improvements were made in 1902 and 1907. From 1914 to 1918 the theatre had capacity audiences, but when it burnt down in 1918 it was not rebuilt. (fn. 36)
The Playhouse theatre, St. John's Street, built in pseudo-classical style by E. H. Bostock and Sons Ltd. to replace the old theatre in Queen Street, was opened in 1929 but became a cinema in 1930. (fn. 37) It was taken over by Associated British Cinemas in 1932. The building was remodelled in 1962 and renamed the A.B.C. It was owned by E.M.I. in 1981 when it became a bingo hall. (fn. 38)
The Grand theatre, seating 1,700, opened in High Street in 1905; its name was changed later in the year to the Grand Palace of Varieties, and in 1906 to the Hippodrome. It became a cinema in 1920, (fn. 39) was later acquired by the Gaumont British Picture Corporation, and survived until 1961 when it became the Top Rank Club, a bingo hall. (fn. 40) In 1985 the club closed and the building stood empty until 1988 when it was reopened as a nightclub by Big R Leisure; after the collapse of Big R in 1990 the club was bought by Rollers U.K. Ltd.; it remained a nightclub in 1991. (fn. 41)
The moot hall, the Public Hall, and the Corn Exchange, all in High Street, the Co-operative assembly hall in Long Wyre Street, and the drill hall in Stanwell Street were used for live entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th century. (fn. 42) From c. 1860 music halls were held in the Colin Campbell, later the Gaiety, public house in Mersea Road; they continued into the 20th century. (fn. 43)
From 1926 the Albert Hall in High Street was used as a theatre by the amateur Colchester Stage Society and from 1937 to 1971 by the professional Colchester Repertory Company. (fn. 44) In 1969 the Colchester New Theatre Trust was formed and in one year raised £62,000 towards the cost of a new theatre to be built in the garden of the old rectory house of St. Mary's-at-theWalls. With help from the borough council and a grant from the Arts Council the Mercury Theatre, designed by Norman Downie, was built at a cost of £260,000. The plain, irregularly shaped building contains a hexagonal stage jutting into an auditorium with inner movable walls; offices, workshops, and a restaurant were built around the periphery. The theatre, with seating for 500, opened in 1972. (fn. 45)
Films were shown in the Corn Exchange in 1898. (fn. 46) In 1910 Grand Electric Empires Ltd. opened the Electric theatre in the former Liberal club lecture hall in Headgate. The programme, which ran from 2.30 p.m. until 11 p.m., included a selection of piano pieces and several different films; afternoon tea was served in the interval. The cinema, known as the Headgate, was acquired by Ager's Cinema Circuit Ltd. in 1922 and screened Colchester's first talking picture. (fn. 47) In 1924 Arthur Askey, the comedian (d. 1982), made his professional stage debut in one of a series of concert parties in the cinema. (fn. 48) A leading cinema circuit, County, were the owners in 1937. (fn. 49) The cinema was known as the Cameo Arts cinema by 1967, when a branch of the National Film Theatre met there monthly. (fn. 50) In 1972 it became part of the Star Group of enterprises; the cinema closed in 1976. (fn. 51)
The Vaudeville Electric theatre in Mersea Road, opened by David Ager in 1911, was the town's first purpose-built cinema. The Gaumont British Picture Corporation acquired it in 1927 and renamed it the Empire. In 1959 it closed and the building was used as a warehouse; it was demolished in 1971. (fn. 52)
The Regal, opened in Crouch Street in 1931, was designed in Spanish style by the cinema architect Cecil Massey, and was the headquarters of Ager's Cinema Circuit Ltd. (fn. 53) In 1937 it was owned by the County circuit, in which Oscar Deutsch, who had opened the chain of Odeon theatres, had a controlling interest, and in 1938 it was acquired and renamed the Odeon. The building was extensively remodelled in 1964; 10 years later the interior was completely reconstructed to provide three screens, and it became the Odeon film centre; (fn. 54) a fourth screen was added in 1987 and two more in 1991 when alterations to the building gave a 30 per cent increase in seating capacity. (fn. 55) In 1992 the Odeon was the only cinema in Colchester.
MUSEUMS AND ART GALLERIES.
Many antiquities found in the town in the 18th and 19th centuries were bought by private collectors, notably Charles Gray, whose collection was displayed in the castle crypt by 1756, and William Wire, who set up his own museum in 1840. In 1846 the corporation assigned a room in the town hall to store 'articles of antiquity or curiosity', but there were no arrangements for public access. In 1852 a former mayor, Henry Vint, bequeathed to the borough a fine collection of mainly Roman bronzes on condition that a suitable fire-proof building be provided for them. Charles Gray Round, treasurer of the newly formed Essex Archaeological Society, offered a room in the castle as a museum for both the society's and the corporation's collections. (fn. 56) The museum was established in 1855 and opened to the public in 1860; it was extended in 1920 when the castle was acquired by the corporation. (fn. 57) The separate collections of the Archaeological Society and the corporation were permanently amalgamated in 1926 and the museum was named the Colchester and Essex Museum. (fn. 58) In 1992 the collections covered all periods from the palaeolithic to the early modern, with a particularly fine collection of Roman objects, including the Colchester Mercury. A major modernization programme, begun in 1990, introduced video and audio-visual equipment to illustrate different events in the town's history. (fn. 59)
The corporation in 1929 opened Charles Gray's house, Hollytrees, acquired with the castle, as a museum of later antiquities. (fn. 60) In 1991 its collection included 18th- and 19th-century costumes, needlework, tools, and toys, and the 17th-century plaster ceiling of a former High Street house. In 1958 All Saints' church became a museum of natural history, and by 1992 an experimental wildlife garden had been established in the churchyard. Holy Trinity church became a museum of social life in 1974. (fn. 61) A clock museum was opened in 1987 in Tymperleys in Trinity Street, to display the Colchester-made clocks collected by Bernard Mason (d. 1981), which he had presented to the borough in 1973. (fn. 62)
The Albert Hall was used as an art gallery from 1926 until 1972. (fn. 63) In 1956 the Minories, a Georgian house in High Street, was bought and furnished by the Victor Batte-Lay Trust and opened as an art gallery in 1958. It was extended into the neighbouring house in 1976. With the help of funds provided by the Eastern Arts Association, concerts, lectures, and art exhibitions were held throughout the year until the gallery closed in 1992. (fn. 64)
LIBRARIES, BOOK CLUBS, AND READING ROOMS.
Samuel Harsnett, archbishop of York and a native of Colchester, by will proved 1631, left his library to the corporation for the use of the clergy of the town. (fn. 65) It was placed in a room at the east end of the Dutch Bay hall and librarians were appointed from 1635; Edmund Warren, rector of St. Peter's, was the librarian in 1653. (fn. 66) The books were moved to the grammar school, in the schoolmaster's charge, before 1668 but when Philip Morant undertook their care and repair c. 80 years later he found them neglected and decayed; they were transferred to a room in the castle in 1749 and into the newly built library there in 1755. (fn. 67) The extensive range of theological works included those of Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, Ulrich Zwingli, Johann Bullinger, and Roberto Bellarmino. From 1894 the collection, with its examples of early letterpress printing, was kept in successive public library buildings. (fn. 68)
Charles Gray established a library, mostly of antiquarian books, in the castle in 1749; it included Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy printed by William Caxton. In 1750 Gray formed the Castle Library book club; membership was initially by invitation, but seems to have been by ballot after Gray's death in 1782, when it was limited to c. 30 gentlemen. The library was extended by gifts including James Deane's collection of books on architecture. In 1763 Gray and Philip Morant bought travel books and the works of contemporary authors such as Addison, Newton, Swift, Voltaire, and Montesquieu with a £100 legacy. In 1788 new purchases by the book club committee included the works of David Hume and Adam Smith. (fn. 69) The club continued in 1873 but was not recorded thereafter; its collection of 959 volumes passed into the care of the public library in 1920. (fn. 70)
In 1786 William Keymer advertised a subscription library with c. 1,300 books at his premises opposite the Three Cups in High Street; borrowing charges in 1791 were 16s. a year, 5s. a quarter, and 1d. an evening. A catalogue of 3,316 books published c. 1797 listed many novels. (fn. 71) Among several other 19th-century subscription libraries and reading rooms were the Colchester Library established in High Street in 1803, the Conservative reading room in Head Street in 1825, a reading room in the Three Cups by 1840, the Co-operative Society reading room in Culver Street c. 1861, a library in the Public Hall, High Street, by 1855, and the Liberal reading room in 1863. (fn. 72) A library in the garrison in 1856, which included French and German books, was apparently well used by the military. (fn. 73) Headgate chapel ran a book society in 1878, (fn. 74) and three book societies were connected with Lion Walk church in 1883. (fn. 75)
In 1890 R. D. Catchpool, formerly of Colchester, left £1,000 to the corporation towards the cost of a free public lending library to be built within five years of his death. (fn. 76) In 1892 the corporation opened short-lived reading rooms in Lexden, Mile End, Old Heath, and Parsons Heath, (fn. 77) but the main library was not opened until 1894. It adjoined the law courts in West Stockwell Street, and was designed in neo-Jacobean style by Brightwen Binyon of Ipswich. (fn. 78) In 1902 an extra room was added in the new town hall, communicating with the original building. (fn. 79) In 1911 the library had c. 10,000 lending and 5,000 reference books. (fn. 80) By the 1930s a larger building was required, and the site of A. G. Mumford's iron foundry in Culver Street was acquired. A neo-Georgian building was designed by Marshall Sisson; it was built by Henry Everett and Sons with bricks made in their Land Lane yard and was almost complete in 1939, when it was requisitioned for use as a food office. It did not open as a library until 1948. (fn. 81) The site was scheduled for redevelopment in the 1970s, and a new library in Trinity Square was opened in 1980. (fn. 82) Most of the old building was demolished in 1987 but part remained standing as a bookshop in the Culver Precinct in 1992. (fn. 83) The library, hitherto run by the borough, became part of the Essex county library service in 1974. (fn. 84) Branch libraries were opened in Prettygate and Greenstead in 1975. (fn. 85)
Organized games were played at the garrison, the grammar school, and at some private schools in the early and mid 19th century, but sports facilities were not generally available to the public until 1885, when the corporation aquired the old barrack ground as a recreation ground. (fn. 86) By the 1880s and 1890s local firms such as Paxman's and Mumford's had started football and cricket teams; some clubs had their own pitches. (fn. 87) Rugby was apparently played in the 1870s and cycling clubs had started by 1882. The Colchester and Essex Lawn Tennis Club was formed c. 1878 and played on courts at Cambridge Road; it continued in the 1930s but was not recorded later. (fn. 88)
The Colchester and Essex Cricket Club, formed c. 1861, leased part of the old barrack ground in 1865, moving to Cambridge Road in 1878 and to Castle park in 1908. (fn. 89) Colchester Town Football Club was founded in 1873, (fn. 90) its managers founded a professional club, Colchester United, in 1937 and Town club players formed a reserve team. (fn. 91) United, popularly known as the U's, joined the Football League division 3 (south) in 1950; the club was relegated to the non-league G.M. Vauxhall Conference in 1990, but was promoted to division 3 of the Football League in 1992. (fn. 92) Colchester Town played at Cambridge Road and then on several other pitches until 1909, when it rented land in Layer Road. (fn. 93) Colchester United bought the ground c. 1970, but sold it in 1991 to the borough council, which leased it back to the club for three years. (fn. 94)
Colchester Swimming Club was established in 1884; members swam in the river Colne until 1932, after which they used the borough's swimming pools; sessions were also held in the garrison pool from the 1960s. (fn. 95) Colchester Rovers Cycling Club was formed in 1891; cycle races were held on the recreation ground. (fn. 96)
Colchester Bowling Club started in 1902 at Lewis Gardens off Queen Street; it moved to Castle park in 1961. The West End Bowling Club was formed in 1926 and played at Harper's sports ground, later West End sports ground, at Shrub End. The Brotherhood Bowling Club, started as a specifically Christian club at Harper's ground, was the Castle Bowling Club by 1933. Colchester Ladies' Bowling Club opened at Harper's sports ground c. 1931. Colchester Men's Hockey Club was founded c. 1908 probably at Harper's sports ground. In 1992 the club played at Castle park and on the new 'Astroturf' at Leisure World. Colchester Women's Hockey Club was founded before 1936; it played at Shrub End and Leisure World in 1992. Colchester Golf Club was formed in 1909 at Braiswick; the nine-hole course was enlarged to 18 holes c. 1937. Colchester Croquet Club was formed c. 1929 and initially played in a private garden. In 1931 the club rented land in Elinore Road; members subscribed to buy the whole ground in 1961. (fn. 97)
Among other sports clubs formed during the 20th century were those for boxing, indoor bowls, judo, orienteering, volleyball, and water ski-ing. (fn. 98) In 1980 the Triangle rollerskating rink opened off East Hill; it was replaced in 1990 by Rollerworld, which incorporated a rink of international standard, the largest in the United Kingdom. (fn. 99) Sports centres which opened in 1975 on the Thomas Lord Audley school site in Monkwick Avenue, and in 1981 at Gilberd's school, were available to the public. (fn. 100) A sports centre was built on land off Cowdray Avenue in 1975; in 1991 it was incorporated into a new leisure centre, Leisure World. (fn. 101) A private leisure centre, Arena, in Circular Road East, was opened in 1983. (fn. 102)
Of the many societies founded in Colchester in the 19th and 20th centuries, several survived for 20 years or more. The Philosophical Society, started in 1820 'for the promotion of scientific and literary pursuits', had its own library, lecture room, and museum in Queen Street; it was dissolved in 1843. (fn. 103) The Colchester and Essex Botanical and Horticultural Society was formed in 1823, and established a nursery and botanic garden on 8½ a., part of the Greyfriars site, behind High Street in 1824. The society continued to meet until c. 1843; the gardens had been closed by 1851. (fn. 104) Colchester Music Society was formed in 1825 and continued until 1934, when it failed for lack of support. (fn. 105) Members of the Colchester Antiquarian Society, founded c. 1850, joined other antiquaries in the county to form the Essex Archaeological Society in 1852. (fn. 106) Meetings were held in the lecture room of the Literary Society in St. John's Street; (fn. 107) in 1985 the society became the Essex Society for Archaeology and History. (fn. 108) The Morant Club, formed in 1909 to investigate local barrows, was dissolved in 1925, and part of its funds passed to the Archaeological Society. (fn. 109) The Colchester Chess Club started in 1888 at Banks's restaurant in High Street; in 1911 it met at the Shaftesbury hotel. (fn. 110) A debating society flourished from 1926 until 1980, (fn. 111) and the Gardeners' and Allotment Holders' Association from c. 1945 until 1985. (fn. 112) Among the many societies in the town in the 1990s were the Art Society started in 1946, the Civic Society, started in 1964, and St. Botolph's Music Society, started in 1967. (fn. 113)