To the Town Hall! …on Saturday morning. Via The Minories! Plus don’t forget the Quakers Meeting House! Hang on – Slack Space as well! And what about the St John’s Orthodox Church?! Oh, and the Colne Light!
You see Saturday in Sunny Colch was all about Heritage Open Day. This is the national initiative that is perversely played out at a hyperlocal level. The premise is that you get to poke your hooter around all the places where hooters really shouldn’t be poked.
It is a day tailor made for any curtain twitching type around Sunny Colch. The Chronic signed up for EVERYTHING.
Actually that’s not quite true. There was no signing up involved, and to try and fit in the four pages of online events provided by @VisitColchester would have led you to an early grave. Which is no bad thing, seeing as though guided tours of Colchester Cemetery were also on the agenda.
People are dying to get in there, dontchaknow.
But first, a bit of a bus ride.
Our Open Heritage Day started off down at the Hythe with the charming folk of the Colne Estuary Preservation of Buses group.
Snappy name, smashing fellas.
The broad aim of @ColneEstuaryPB is to share knowledge and skills to help keep these beautiful old buses on the road. But is a bus still a bus if it has no passengers?
Ahh – Heritage Open Day does the philosophical transport question.
The answer of course is all aboard. The lovely folk of @ColneEstuaryPB very kindly provided their services for free in transporting folk around the town from location to location. The start (and end) location of the Hythe would serve the Colne Light well.
But that’s a blog post scroll down waiting to happen.
Meanwhile, here’s Richard describing more about the day and the joy of On the Buses, Sunny Colch style:
To the Town Hall! …was then the rallying cry, and not for the tittle-tattle of the local political twaddle that we sat through at Cabinet last Wednesday.
Our friends from Colchester Borough Council had very kindly opened up the historic building for the Heritage Open Day. Brilliant tours were given by a charming blue badge chap. The phrase ‘Joyce Brooks House’ wasn’t mentioned once. All visits to the Town Hall should be like this.
With the Music of Place crowd greeting any visitors perched up above on the balcony of Mr Mayor’s Parlour, the musical strand to Sunny Colch Heritage Open Day could be heard all the way down the High Street.
The Grand Jury Room was our first destination. We thought that we had gatecrashed a wedding ceremony at first, but thankfully the signs on the door showed a later start in the afternoon for the happy couple.
We heard of how the Town Hall was built after an architectural competition to find the best design. John Belcher’s plans emerged as the preferred choice with the building that we now know and love being officially opened in 1902.
Visitors were invited to look around at some of the many civic items that were on display. We had to be restrained from picking up the Guild Mace and running amok.
The Silver Galion in Mr Mayor’s Parlour was a particular delight. This doubles up as a device for serving up bottles of bolly. Talk about pushing the boat out, etc.
Dontcha just love Council Tax?
The Chronic and others were then invited to take up a seat in the Chamber. We made a concerted effort to claim the seat of The Coroner, sitting there looking incredibly smug, sniffing power but never actually having any overall political control (The Chronic, not The Coroner.)
The Moot Hall was a stain glass window depicting a diver and a man from Mexico waiting to happen.
BONKERS, but it is a great story all the same.
We scanned the plaque that profiled the Colchester Martyrs, but sadly there was no sign of @AndyAbbott.
Take him away!
All the way down towards the back of the building and the now redundant old Magistrates Court and the cells even further down below. Two courts sit at the back of the building, with two holding cells looking incredibly intimidating. A bulletproof screen surrounds the section of Court No. 2.
CBC is considering hiring this out for party venues…
The final attraction as part of the Town Hall contribution to Sunny Colch Open Heritage Day was the old Library building down the side of West Stockwell Street. With the books having long since gone, the beautiful old building has even been used as a CBC staff canteen over the years.
The centerpiece is the six-ton marble feature depicting a scene from the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. This was commissioned by old Mr Paxman, who although didn’t actually attend the exhibition, he still managed to build his own representation into the marble.
And so that was the Town Hall experience, what’s next on the Heritage hyperlocal list?
How about the lovely Minories?
The Folly at the foot of the garden was the main attraction on the day. A pot of tea mid-morning refreshment in the delights of garden was also high up on the Heritage agenda. The all round good egg Dorian Kelly was greeting Folly folk, telling great tales as to how such a BONKERS structure has somehow managed to remain standing in Britain’s Oldest Recorded.
Long may it continue – both The Folly and the all round good egg Dorian.
Something a little more sedate was awaiting us over on the other side of town. The Colchester Quakers Meeting House had also got in on the Heritage Open Day act. It’s not as though the Quakers aren’t welcoming on any other day, but the very ethos of Heritage Open Day made sense to the message of the Quakers.
The Quakers movement has a history going back 350 years in Britain’s Oldest Recorded. James Parnell arrived in the town as a passionate 19 year-old back in 1655. He was to die a year later inside Colchester Castle for standing up for his religious convictions.
The Quakers in Sunny Colch moved into their current Church Street building back in 1974. St Mary’s House was in need of much structural repair, leading to the construction of the hexagonal main meeting room as part of the modern re-build.
The old building has been beautifully restored. The front retains the Victorian presence, but once through the main front door and you have a very functional and modern meeting room in which local groups are able to use.
A slight break in the Sunny Colch Heritage Open Day as the To Slack Space! …call went out [um, it actually did go out, we're not afraid to say.]
The crazy cats of Slack Space had got their seasons all mixed up. The ACE Autumn Fest was being staged on one of the hottest days of the year.
The main banking area was full; not with folk that had a fiscal interest, but slowly, slowly, word is getting around that Snippet is the Nicest Man in Sunny Colch. The late luncheon interlude worked wonderfully as tracks from the forthcoming Window Shopping album were performed alongside Cara Burns on keyboards.
“From Brightlingsea to Mersea, this is Colchester sending love”
…went down particularly well when This is Essex was played.
This was then all washed down with some wise words from the Sunny Colch Some Kind of Poetry Thing collective that loosely operate out of Slack Space.
Hyperlocal heritage in the making.
Back on the historical beat around Britain’s Oldest Recorded and a short trip up Military Road was next up on the checklist. This was an incredibly rare opportunity to have a look around the stunning St John’s Orthodox Church opposite the old Barracks.
As well as being a blue-sky photo opportunity in the making, St John’s had a major WOW factor as soon as you walked in past the beautiful, but rather basic outer wooden structure.
The structure has a mainly military history, opening in 1856 having been built from kit. Now Grade II listed, the MOD had a bit of problem when it wanted to get rid of the old building along with developers Taylor Wimpey back in 2007.
English Heritage and CBC both put in place firm restrictions for any possible re-sale. The Orthodox Church of Colchester had been operating out of many random buildings for over a decade. A permanent home was sought, but this looked unlikely with funds of only £4,000.
An online appeal took this figure to £180,000 within six weeks (which gave The Chronic an idea…)
A tender was made in March 2008, leading to the first Orthodox service in November of the same year. The MOD then tired to buy back the building in 2010, but it is now firmly established as the base for the Orthodox Church in North Essex.
Inside and it is simply spectacular. It is a mixture of the minimal with the intricacies of iconography. With seating and no musical instrumentation required during worship, the main shell has a shed like structure.
Around the four walls however are images and ornate decorations that form part of the ritual of worship within the Orthodox Church. It is the exact opposite of the method used by the Quakers. This is what makes Heritage Open Day in Sunny Colch so ACE.
St John’s can boast being the largest wooden church in all of Europe. Nine hundred churchgoers can be accommodated. An MOD geophysics survey in 2007 revealed that 469 graves are located around the grounds.
A smaller mid-week Chapel is built on to the right hand side of the building. Local connections are in place here, with imagery of St Osyth being included along one of the walls.
It was back down to the muddy banks of the Colne, and a friendly wave for the good folk of the Colne Estuary Preservation of Buses crowd that would conclude The Chronic’s Heritage Open Day.
We had traveled via bus, bicycle and foot.
Fancy taking to the water?
Colne Light was another big hitter for the day in Britain’s Oldest Recorded. This is a structure that The Chronic cycles past every day, always envious of the young Cadets on board who are keeping alive the Hythe traditions of learning the ropes.
Built in 1953, the Lighthouse is a former working boat that spent much of her time out towards the Humber. A crew of eight would have manned her, being towed out to a location and then dropping anchor.
A helicopter pad is on the top deck, used back in the day for dropping off both supplies and crew. Our wander down the different levels led to the toilets, the cabins and then the engine room.
As an overnight stay for the young Sea Cadets of Sunny Colch, this must be an ACE weekend sleepover. Sadly it was the end of our Heritage Open Day. Time ‘n tide – we had run completely out of the former, with the latter also starting to limit our options.
And so a brilliant Heritage Open Day in Britain’s Oldest Recorded. Sadly there was no Jumbo action; likewise for the old Odeon. Not everything is perfect, but we’re moving in the right direction folks…
Heritage Open Day continues around Sunny Colch on Sunday. Which we know is a bit of a misnomer, and maybe it should be called the Colchester Weekender.
But hey! Hyperlocal heritage.
You cant stretch it out long enough.
How was your Heritage experience?
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