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The Colchester Town Watch was formed in 2001 as a part of the Colchester Festival. The Colchester Festival Association was delighted to receive substantial financial support from the Colchester Evening Gazette for the project. Indeed, through their generous support, they made it possible to produce the necessary historical costumes and equipment to a very high standard.
The Watch is based on Colchester's history as follows:
In the days of William the Conqueror (or William the Bastard as his loving Saxon subjects called him), a Couvre Feu or Curfew was imposed at 8 p.m. When the curfew bell tolled, all fires and lights had to be put out. The official reason for this was to prevent fires and other forms of flame getting out of control while the inhabitants of mainly wooden houses were asleep. The other undeclared reason was that it served to keep townsmen in their houses and in their beds thus cutting down the opportunities for plotting against the new regime.
In 1103, Henry I repealed the curfew law so that commercial and social life did not come to a dead stop at 8pm. However, the new freedom not only benefited the good citizens of cities and towns, but allowed footpads, thieves and other undesirables free rein to pursue their trades as well. By 1253, the situation had become so unruly that Henry III commanded that watches be kept for the preservation of peace in cities and borough towns. Colchester having held its charter for 64 years by this time, the town Bailiff was forced to raise a body of good men and true to patrol the streets during the hours of darkness and take into custody any malefactor to appear before a magistrate at the earliest opportunity.
The Colchester Town Watch is a revival of the ancient body, not to arrest malefactors - as the Police Service now does this - but to provide the town with a ceremonial bodyguard for festive occasions. It is also hoped to re-create some of the ancient festivals in which the Watch took part, such as 'The Marching Watches 146; of the vigils of St. John the Baptist (23 June) St. Peter and St. Paul (29 June)'. During these festivals, community groups set up tables of sweete bread and good drink for the watch, as a thankyou for its attention to duty through the rest of the year. Also, houses were decorated with branches of Birch, St. Johns Wort, Orpin and White Lilies - and bonfires were lit.
At a date as close to the 23rd June as possible, we mark the vigil of St John the Baptist. The Watch marches, usually accompanied by the Mayor of the Borough of Colchester, led by Colchester's official Town Crier, Mr Bob Needham, with divers followers. They set out on their circumnavigation of the town's 3000 metre long Roman walls. This is to continue the custom from the time of King Henry III, who commanded that watches be kept in cities and towns to preserve the peace of the realm. Starting at the Town Hall, the procession, sets off, with various brief stops for a cry of 'all's well' at the several gates and a stop for refreshments. A short ceremony is led by the Mayor for the oath taking followed by a generous libation at a favoured hostelry.
Our musical accompaniment comes from the watch drummer. (We are always looking for other musicians, example penny whistle, recorder, etc.) We were once accompanied by the Colchester Waits. Please go here for more details.
In keeping with tradition the Watch seeks donations from the general public. In years gone by this would have been in the form of 'cakes and ale', to thank the Watch for keeping them safe throughout the year.
This web page's background shows illustrations from the book entitled
originally produced by Jacob de Gheyn, but edited by David J Blackmore
The first edition of Jacob de Gheyns drill book, Wapenhandelinghe van Roers Musquetten ende Spiessen, first appeared in 1607, although the illustrations were produced some time before that, perhaps as early as 1595. The book proved to be very popular, with the result that the drill shown by de Gheyn became common throughout Europe.
Pike drill remained constant throughout the 17th century and these illustrations help to make clear some of the more complex movements or postures. We have adopted this drill.
Gentlemen! Have a care!
Key Celebratory Dates in our Calendar15th January 1558 - Queen Elizabeth I acceded to the throne, Westminster Abbey, London, England
23rd March 1603 - Queen Elizabeth I died, Richmond Palace, London, England and was later buried at Westminster Abbey, London, England
24th May 1544 - William Gilberd's birth
23rd June - The vigil of the birth of John the Baptist . We celebrate this on the nearest Saturday.
7th September 1533 - Queen Elizabeth I born at Greenwich Palace, London, England
30th November 1603 - William Gilberd's death
and ye 56th year of the reign of our sovereign ladye, Queen Elizabeth II
Updated ye 26th April in the year of our Lord 2010
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