I wanted to write this to give you some kind of insight into my life and where my slight obsession with history stems from. If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, you totally should) then you’re probably familiar with my periodic gushing about how awesome my home town, Colchester, is, and I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on that slightly.
As a settlement, Colchester has been continuously occupied since the Bronze Age, with Archaeology in the area surrounding the town being datable to as far back as the Palaeolithic period. Finds such as Acheulian Handaxes from the Paleolithic and Tranchet Axes from the Mesolithic, through to Neolithic Henges and Bronze Age Barrow cemeteries, the pre-history of Colchester and the surrounding areas is just as rich as its later history.
I was considering doing a brief run down of the history of the town but honestly, with near constant occupation for over 2000 years, it’s a lot to get through, but it’s something I will tackle (bit by bit) at some point. For now though, if it is something you would be interested in, I recommend getting yourself a copy of Colchester: A History by Andrew Philips, published in 2017. It’s the first full and comprehensive history of the town that has been published in over half a century and is well worth the read.
What really captured my heart as a kid though, was the Roman and Norman history that I grew up surrounded by. Sat in the middle of town, just a 10 minute walk along the river from the house I grew up in was a Norman Castle, the ‘dungeons’ of which (there aren’t actually any dungeons, they’re just foundations, something which was drilled into us as kids) were the ruins of the Roman Temple of Claudius, some of which can still be seen to this day. On my walk, I would pass through at least two gated roman walls depending on what direction I went, and would pass through Castle Park, the grounds of which (and the Hollytrees House Gardens) were laid out in 1729 by Charles Grey. None of it seemed like history, yes, these things were very old, but they were there, they weren’t just part of the past, they were present and real and you could touch them interact with them and you didn’t have to go to a museum to do so, you just had to go to the park or go for a wander into town! Even my primary school was a grade II listed building built in 1894 as a split gender school. History was everywhere growing up and it has shaped my life.
It wasn’t exactly a shock when I fell in love with history as a subject at school. One of the clearest memories I have from primary school is a term in year 4 where we spent Wednesdays after lunch learning about Greco-Roman mythology and rewriting the myths ourselves, at the end of term we all got to bind all the stories we had written and drawings we had done into a book which we took home, I’m pretty sure my mum and dad still have somewhere. At 11, in my first year of secondary school, I stayed behind on a Monday with my History teacher and built a to-scale replica of a motte-and-bailey castle with chicken wire and mod-rock for a display for parents evening. I moved to Leeds at 12 and probably not surprisingly, took GCSE History, where we studied the Normans, Saxons and Vikings, and their styles of Warfare, Trade and Daily Living, the final exam being a comparison between two of the peoples and their approach to one of these three topics. It was a 4 hour exam over two days, finished it in two hours and came out with an A… (should have been an A* but grade boundaries were moved last minute) I loved it, and couldn’t wait to do more.
So after a… questionable first year at 6th form (aged 16), I moved back to Colchester and started my madness. At this point I already had an AS in English Literature, so I continued that in my second year, and chose to pick up Medieval History, Archaeology, and Theatre Studies. Third year rolls around and I chose to drop Theatre Studies but continue and complete my Medieval History and Archaeology A Levels.I also picked up Classics and Ancient History at AS Level and for some reason did pre-GCSE Latin and a group of friends and I roped our Ancient History tutor into teaching us Ancient Greek in two of our free periods a week. I’ll be honest, it’s not a collection of subjects I would advise studying all at once, especially with two ancient languages alongside, but despite the workload and the serious pressure I put myself under, I wouldn’t change it for the world, but this is what I mean by ‘slight obsession’, give me the opportunity to learn more and I will, even if life does get in the way of obtaining my degree.
My love and my passion for history of all periods has been built and nurtured by what surrounded me, be that through my studies or as part of the surrounding landscape. If it wasn’t for the amazing history teachers I have had throughout my education and being given the opportunity to take the subjects I did at 6th form, then I probably wouldn’t be doing this now and would likely have dropped out of a Music degree instead of Classics. If I had grown up somewhere else, somewhere with less visual history (and I’ve honestly barely scraped the surface here) I doubt my education or personal interests would have matured the way they have over time. At some point I will finish my degree, I just have to wait till the time is right. For now, I’m happy doing what I’m doing and sharing my passions with you all through my slightly odd blog.