When it all started

Colchester was the first of the great keeps and the largest built by the Normans in Europe.  

It was constructed on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius, built when Colchester was the first Roman capital of Britain.

It measures 46 by 33.5 metres.




Building the Castle

Construction of the castle began in 1076, probably under the supervision of Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester who built the White Tower at London.

William I ordered a stone castle on the strategic route between East Anglia and London.

Due to a lack of local quality stone, the Norman builders plundered Roman Colchester to build their keep.



Roman foundations

 The Normans built the castle over the ruined Roman Temple of Claudius, built when Colchester was the first Roman capital of Britain.

They incorporated the base of the temple into the foundations of the great tower.


Keep design

Colchester and the White Tower in London were built to a similar plan, both with an apsidal extension.

However, Colchester’s corner turrets are more pronounced and its main staircase is the largest diameter newel staircase in Britain, measuring 5 metres across.

It is thought that the castle was originally single-storey, as it is still possible to see traces of crenellations in the wall.

It could be that during construction it was required to be defended at short notice and was hurriedly crenellated, and then when the danger had passed, work on the other floors was restarted.


Medieval times

Colchester saw little action at first; it was attacked by John in 1216 as it had been taken by the French, but it remained Crown property in the care of a succession of stewards or constables throughout medieval times.


Colchester gaol

By the 13th century Colchester Castle was in use as a prison and at times many hundreds of prisoners of war were confined here in appalling conditions.

Much of the castle was a ruin by the 16th century although it continued in use as a county gaol until 1668 and even after that was a prison until 1835.


Private property

At the end of the 17th Century, the castle was bought by a private owner who wanted to demolish it.

However in 1727 it was given as a wedding present to Charles Gray, a lawyer and antiquarian.

Gray was responsible for the restoration of Colchester Castle, although at the time he believed it to be a Roman construction, hence the Mediterranean style roof tiles visible from within Castle Park.


Castle Museum

Subsequently, the Castle took on its current role as a Museum for archaeological treasures, beginning life as a museum over 150 years ago in 1860.

The 2013/2014 refurbishment of Colchester is the biggest and most valuable development of the site since at the very least the 1920s – and some would argue, for almost 1,000 years!

What's On


Discover something new in Colchester. Browse the diary to find fun, family-friendly events all year round.

Exhibitions + Displays

Our displays showcase the variety of the collections from art to archaeology, costume to clocks.


Where will your adventure start?