The ridgetop site of Colchester and its proximity to the River Colne made its value for settlement and defence evident well before the arrival of the Romans, so that it has a long history. The Romans adopted the Celtic name for it, Camulodunum, which characterized it as a fortress dedicated to a Celtic god of war; its importance to the Celtic tribes of the region is shown by their development of an extensive system of ditch/bank earthworks, combined with natural defences, such as the rivers to north and south, to protect it. Already by that period the place was a commercial centre, with agricultural produce and other goods being shipped along the Colne to surrounding regions, so that we must posit the existence of markets in those regions; this trade was based partly on the use of coinage, Celtic Camulodunum being a minting centre. Just north-west of the fortress was an industrial centre, whose products served local needs and were exported, while to the south-west was an area of farming which stretched along the fertile valley surrounding the southern river; at the latter we seem to see an early association of marketplace and place of worship that would characterize early medieval towns.
Thus, when the Romans took possession, they inherited both a military and an economic infrastructure and they sought to preserve it. Their own fortress was put up within a part of the expansive Celtic settlement that was not already densely inhabited, but which offered a view across the surrounding region, where natives continued to live, work, and trade; it also offered good access to the river, which furnished water and a transportation route, along with control of its crossing points. These are the kinds of concerns that governed the placement of many medieval towns. Most of the principal medieval roads connecting to Colchester are suspected of being Roman; they led to London, St. Albans, and into Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, but a continuation to Harwich and the road to Maldon probably emerged at later date. These roads, especially that to London, would carry a growing volume of commercial traffic sufficient to support the emergence of a string of other market settlements over the course of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.
The square Roman fortress was established atop the east-west ridge between the slopes down to the rivers that to the Colne, nearest, being fairly steep. Once southern Britain was considered pacified, the fortress was converted into a town, via some modifications to the roads and buildings and expansion of the colony eastwards; it is not certain what name was given to this civil colony mainly of veterans, their families, and the traders, artisans, and service-providers to whom a new colony offered economic opportunity. The town served as the regional centre for marketing agricultural produce, and there was a port on the Colne. The destruction caused by the Boudiccan revolt prompted the erection of walls around the rectangular colony; these walls and the gateways through them, together with (though to a lesser degree) the Roman street pattern, provided the framework for medieval Colchester. Saxon raids of the third century prompted suburban residents to withdraw into the intra-mural area.
After Britain's imperial association ended, the fate of Colchester is uncertain, but some violence, depopulation, and decay of the fabric is indicated. Although Colchester can claim to be the oldest town in Essex, we cannot say that its urban role was uninterrupted; yet its ancient roots were not entirely forgotten and allowed the formulation of an urban foundation legend aggrandizing the city by linking it, in an eventual form that garbled a number of earlier elements of folklore, with Celts, Romans, early Christians, and Normans. The reality is that, while Colchester saw some Anglo-Saxon occupation scattered across parts of the site, Ipswich and London look like more important trading centres, and Colchester only really re-emerges into the historical mainstream as a site taken back by force, and with some slaughter from Danish occupiers in 917, though the absence of moneyers there until the end of the century suggests it was not yet of any great economic importance. Following the recapture, Colchester's Roman fortifications were repaired by Edward the Elder so that it could serve as a burh and a base for administration of at least part of Essex. As was not uncommon with burhs, there seems in that context (though precisely when cannot be said with certainty) to have been, across the site, some layout and allocation of measured residential plots [using a four-perch standard, conjectures Philip Crummy, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Colchester, Council for British Archaeology Research Report no.39 (1981), pp.50, 71], though still-standing Roman ruins would have inhibited any large-scale reorganization of the town. Since they connected to gateways in the wall, the main streets continued, during the Middle Ages, to follow the line of their Roman predecessors, more-or-less.
The re-establishment of Colchester as a fortified burh could be expected to draw immigrants from the countryside, seeking more security in a contested region, and this re-population of the town was doubtless one of the goals of the tenth century planning effort; before the close of the that century there are signs of marked population growth within Colchester. There was presumably a market there, as was common enough with burhs, but the old Roman harbour was no longer in use and a landing-place used by the Saxons, later known as Old Hythe, was inconveniently a couple of miles away from the burh. It does not appear that Colchester had, at that period, acquired the economic significance it would later have; though coins found there suggest trade was still going on in the eighth century, it is not known to have had a mint pursuant to the coinage reform of Athelstan, but only from about the end of the tenth century. A further episode of planned development, entailing clearing of any Roman structures still standing and layout of plots resembling the burgage type (long but with narrow street frontages), may have been restricted to the High Street for which the route of the present Culver Street has the look of a service lane and indeed once had the name Back Lane and possibly the east side of North Street/Head Street, another of the principal routes through the colonia; this episode, perhaps in the late tenth or early eleventh century, may represent the emergence of part of the High Street as a widened marketplace serving a growing community whose leading members were burgesses concentrated around that street.
By 1086 Colchester was clearly the most important place in Essex, one of only two certainly accorded borough status, a hundred in its own right this being the walled town and several hamlets surrounding it, an area referred to in Richard I's borough charter as a banlieu. It could even be referred to as a 'city', though perhaps we should not read overmuch into that, for it is difficult to define the concept in technical terms valid for all English applications, and it may only have meant that the Roman heritage of the place was still evident to the Normans; yet J.H. Round ["The Domesday of Colchester," The Antiquary, vol.5 (1882), pp.245-49] made the interesting argument that the term was intended to denote a district comprising borough plus banlieu a concept akin, in some respects, to the city-states of European countries lacking a centralized government, though he saw Colchester as an "imperfectly evolved" version of the continental model. Domesday Colchester had a sizable population for the time, despite which large areas of undeveloped land would continue to be a feature of the town throughout the Middle Ages; unusually, the Domesday entry listed all the burgesses and their holdings, their names [analyzed in more detail in Crummy, op. cit., pp.25-26, app.1] showing a solid Saxon community with only a few members of Norse descent, and a similarly small handful of Norman tenants (and most of those non-resident). As a market centre, Colchester sufficiently dominated its region of Essex that no other markets were able to establish themselves within a ten-mile radius, with the exception of one at Elmstead, a relatively late institution (licensed 1253) which does not appear to have thrived.
At a time when there was concern about the risk of renewed Danish raids on sites along or near the east coast, and of collaboration between the Danes and disaffected Anglo-Saxon inhabitants, the Conqueror assigned one of his trusted officials, Eudo Dapifer perhaps after earlier administrators (such as the rapacious Waleran) had proven unsatisfactory to turn the borough into a secure base of Norman dominion in eastern England, and to develop its value to the Crown. Eudo already held property at Colchester before 1086 and had probably been given his Colchester assignment within the first decade of William taking the throne. His father Hubert de Rie, lord of the small Norman town of Ryes, had already proved a loyal supporter of Duke William, and Hubert's several sons continued that tradition. Following the Conquest it is possible one son was appointed castellan at Nottingham, another given a similar role at Norwich, probably following the failed rebellion of Ralph Guader, while a third was one of the commissioners tasked with compiling Domesday Book, and a fourth was a bishop in Normandy. Eudo received estates in several English counties and by 1072 had been given a post as one of the king's stewards; he continued in his loyalty by supporting first William Rufus and then, after some hesitation, Henry I in their quests to succeed to the throne, remaining under both as steward, a role that, besides a supposed majordomo function when at the royal court, was principally one of administering areas of royal estates, entailing both judicial and financial management responsibilities.
Henry I's rewards to Eudo included the post of Constable of the Tower of London and, in 1101, effective lordship over Colchester, both city and castle. The terminology of this latter grant which was addressed to the Bishop of London (in whose diocese Colchester lay), the sheriff of Essex, and the major land-owners of the county is important in several regards. Its reference to turrim et castellum indicates that the castle comprised both a keep and a bailey by this time. The addition of omnes ejusdem civitatis firmitates to this list, though it might refer to other fortifications (i.e. the walls with their towers and gates), could also be translated as 'farms', or rents; in other words, Eudo's role was to combine that of castellan and farmer. The final element of the grant cum omnibus que ad illam pertinent sicut pater meus et frater et ego eam melius habuimus unquam, referring to the extent of royal jurisdiction over the city, implies a vice-regal role of warden. Taken together, these roles gave Eudo a broad authority over the borough, yet did not amount to a hereditary position though it might have become so, had Eudo produced a male heir nor did the castle belong to Eudo, even though he most probably oversaw its construction. After Eudo's death in 1120 his lordship of Colchester reverted to the Crown, apparently with his estates, although some of the latter subsequently passed, possibly through a daughter's marriage into the Mandeville family, to Geoffrey de Mandeville the first earl of Essex, while others to brothers William and Hamo de St. Clare, who may have been lieutenants or even kinsmen of Eudo, Hamo subsequently being a sheriff of Essex and a farmer/castellan of Colchester.
According to a chronicle in the borough's Red Parchment Book, or Oath Book, William II had granted this broad authority to Eudo in 1089, so that Henry's grant may have been only a confirmation (though not phrased as such), or perhaps we should say reinstatement upon Eudo being reconciled to the king after having at first given his support to Henry's elder brother. The same chronicle stated that William I had placed Eudo in charge of Colchester in 1072 and explicitly credits him with building the castle in 1076, but it was not written, or compiled, until the fourteenth century and we do not know whether it called on local tradition or just other written sources. In the absence of information to the contrary, we may guardedly accept its dates.
A narrative account [within British Library, Cotton MS Nero D viii], of the foundation and founder of the Abbey of St. John, with brief digressions into other matters relating to Colchester, survives, but only in a single copy that is part of a seventeenth century compilation; the copyist identified his source as a chronicle of Marianus, but the text is found neither in the work of Marianus Scotus nor John of Worcester's adaptation of the same. The original [whose text is transcribed and translated by H. Dukinfield Astley, "Medieval Colchester town, castle, and abbey from MSS. in the British Museum Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, n.s. vol. 8, (1903), 122-35, and receives some critical examination from Antonina Harbus, Helena of Britain in Medieval Legend, D.S. Brewer: Cambridge, 2002, pp.67-72] may have been produced at the abbey itself, perhaps within a customized version of Marianus, or perhaps at some other monastery by someone with a knowledge of and interest in Colchester. Although the credibility of this narrative became the subject of acrimonious argument between J.H. Round (characteristically skeptical) and Walter Rye, once we allow that the narrative is more encomium than chronicle, and set aside its more fanciful elements and the exaggerations intended to aggrandize the abbey, its location, and its founder, much of what remains seems plausible enough, though not error-free (the castellanry appointments of Eudo's brothers have, for example, been challenged) and often vague on chronology of events this being a reflection not of the text's unreliability so much as its encomium character. It is consonant in some regards with the evidence of other sources, and archaeology has corroborated other of its details (just as it has some of the information in the Red Parchment Book chronicle). Date of authorship is uncertain, but its references to the legend associating Colchester and St. Helena, together with its description of Richard Fitz-Gilbert as earl (a title not accorded his descendants before 1141), suggest it written in the latter half of the twelfth century.
The foundation narrative begins with a statement that William II entrusted Colchester to Eudo (no specific date given) at the request, backed up by a gift of money and goods, of the burgesses (perhaps tired of oppressive predecessors), and that he had received the same appointment from William I. It later praises Eudo as not simply a fair and just administrator but one who actively worked to benefit the citizenry; although we can hardly expect such an account to portray the abbey's founder otherwise, there is no evidence to the contrary about Eudo. Certainly he worked, as a steward ought, to improve the value of Colchester, but his aim was also to Normanize it, both in terms of control and acculturation.
Eudo approached the challenge at Colchester in typical Norman fashion, as at Norwich and probably Ipswich, by first giving attention to a castle though it is uncertain whether he initiated its erection or just saw the project through to completion. If the Red Parchment Book chronicle's date of 1076 is accepted, the castle might be seen as a response to the rebellion of the earls of East Anglia and Hereford, but we do not know whether the chronicler meant the beginning or completion of construction; the absence of reference in Domesday to a castle does not counter that date, for there would be no need to make reference to a castle that belonged to the king. This project was accomplished without the displacement or impoverishment of large numbers of residents, such as Domesday evidences at Norwich, Ipswich, and Hereford, and archaeology suggests at Winchester, Oxford and Northampton, probably because the site chosen for Colchester's castle had previously been an estate allocated to the king and so was only lightly occupied; only the diversion of the eastern stretch of the High Street southwards was required to make room for the bailey wall. Rather than strengthen the Norman presence in the same way done at Norwich, by planting a colony explicitly characterized by Domesday as a 'new town' of Normans within the Saxon community, and establishing a monastic community in a location that disrupted the earlier town centre, Eudo constrained by the limited open space within the defensive walls chose to do something along similar lines by building up an existing but modest suburb outside the town's south-east gate (the probable Roman south gate, but known as St. Botolph's Gate in the medieval period). Site constraints similarly dictated the establishment of a planned Norman colony at Shrewsbury as a suburb. Colchester's suburb had probably developed pre-Conquest in association with the church of St. Botolph there; settlement was contained, to east and west, by fields that belonged to the burgesses in common.
It was in this suburb that Eudo focused his developmental efforts. At its southern end, on a roughly rectangular site free of the Roman ruins that hindered development within the town walls, Eudo in 1095 founded a Benedictine abbey; that some suburban settlement stretched close to that far south has been suggested by discovery of the foundations of an older church, pulled down to make way for the abbey. Over the years that followed, as construction progressed, Eudo gradually provided for the abbey's maintenance with endowments which included the castle chapel and his share in the profits from the castle's mill (Middle Mill, at the north end of the castle site, by the riverside) as well as compensating the burgesses, who complained that the site had spread into lands that belonged to them. Endowments by others (including William and Hamo de St. Clare and the latter's son Hubert, who succeeded his father as castellan at Colchester) followed, particularly at the time of the abbey church consecration. The church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was completed by about 1115, in time for Eudo to receive burial there in 1120 his body being brought back from Normandy so that it could lie in his preferred resting-place.
Eudo seems also to have established in the southern suburb a liberty over which the abbey had jurisdiction, his endowments including areas, such as Greenstead (probably held as lord of Colchester), that the burgesses considered part of the liberty of Colchester. Thus Eudo created a future bone of contention between the abbot and the burgesses, until an agreement of 1338 effected a compromise by which the abbey acknowledged that it was part of Colchester's banlieu and, as such, had limited obligations in regard to the borough farm and suit of court at the lawhundred sessions, but that it retained a certain independence, in terms of the abbey and its tenants not otherwise being answerable to the borough court, and being exempted from any local taxation or from tolls. The grant of toll exemption was originally made in 1254/55, in the context of an earlier agreement between the abbot and the borough's bailiffs, and applied to goods bought or sold for the use of the abbey or its tenants, excluding any goods bought for the purpose of resale. Evidently the liberty of the abbey incorporated a community some of whose members were engaging in trade.
Among the rights granted the abbey were, according to a document copied into the abbey's cartulary, a fair, in place by 1104 [for this date see J.H. Round. "The Early Charters of St John's Abbey, Colchester," English Historical Review, vol. 16 (1901), p.723 ], when Henry I confirmed what were purportedly grants by Eudo; the cartulary itself states that no original foundation charter could be found by the second abbot, Gilbert, so he had one drafted embodying all the grants made by Eudo, and in 1119 sent it to the declining Eudo to approve and to forward to the king with a request for endorsement. The king's reiteration of the grants, also recorded in the chartulary, added a grant to the abbey of the same liberties as Westminster. The Charter Rolls record a confirmation by Henry III (1253) of Richard I's charter (1198), itself a confirmation of earlier grants as far back as the abbey's foundation, including the four-day fair around the festival of St. John Baptist. In the context of a legal contest between abbey and borough in 1289, the abbot unsurprisingly described the fair as a grant of Henry I; one of the accusations against the abbots, upheld by an inquisition jury, was failure, over the previous twenty-five years, to make a customary payment of 3s. to the borough bailiffs each time he held a fair this being to compensate the borough for deprivation of tolls on market days occurring during fair-time, a revenue which went towards paying the king his fee-farm. Later references to the fair indicate it continued throughout, and beyond, the Late Middle Ages.
It may just possibly have been on the basis of the grant of Westminster liberties that the abbey assumed the right to hold a market, for Westminster seems then to have been operating a market, albeit on the basis of spurious charters attributed to William I. More probably, however, Eudo gave to the abbey the land on which market activities were already occurring in the suburb; such a market may have been in existence since Colchester was a burh, for burh markets were often held just outside one of the entrances through the defensive enclosure. A market, or marketplace, is mentioned among grants to the Abbey of St. John in its foundation charter; though it is unclear if this lay in Colchester or London, Samantha Letters accepted it as evidence for a suburban market within the liberty of the abbey. The presence of a market is hinted at obliquely in the foundation narrative, which states that the first housing built for the monks had to be moved from the north side of the site facing into the suburb, close to the posited market site (see below) due to the noise and bustle there, to the quieter south side. This was a not uncommon problem experienced by monasteries situated immediately adjacent to market settlements. A separate account of the abbey foundation [Bodleian MS. Gough Essex 1 Crummy, op.cit. pp.27-30 attempts to establish the relationship between the several accounts] attributes the move to a fire. While the two explanations are not incompatible, they seem to refer to separate events, for the Nero manuscript indicates that the north side of the abbey precinct contained the residential buildings and workshops, but that it was the former moved because of the noise (which would not have been a problem for the workshops); whereas Gough places the city fire in 1133 - outside the chronological scope of Nero's narrative and indicates that it was only workshops, closest to the town itself, that remained to be relocated.
Further possible evidence of a market in the southern suburb is found in Colchester's oldest surviving borough court roll (1310), which records a complaint by a tanner that he had set up his stall to sell leather beside the precinct wall of St. Botolph's priory, on Saturday after the feast of St. Denis, but that another tanner subsequently substituted his own stall, though the accused defended that the spot was unoccupied when he placed his own stall there. The parties settled out-of-court and it is not stated whether the context was market or fair; the authors of the Colchester volume of the Victoria County History suspected a fair, but a market is suggested by two points: first that the event occurred on a Saturday, which was the borough's principal market-day; second that the implication behind the complaint is that one stall-holder's regular spot was taken by another, which points to a weekly rather than annual event. By the fourteenth century (and conceivably for some time prior) a stream emanating from a spring (Stanwell) and running eastwards across St. John's Green and through the priory precinct is seen as an area where dyers and other cloth-workers were living, so it may well have been a suitable neighbourhood for tanners as well.
A second fair, of two days at the festival of the Invention of Holy Cross in May, was granted the abbey by Henry II in 1157, on the occasion of a royal visit to Colchester, in association with royal confirmation of the abbey's possession of the chapel of St. Helen (the legendary finder of the Cross); the fair was to be held in an undeveloped space near the castle between the chapel and the High Street, which the king granted to the chapel, and we should understand the fair as essentially an endowment of the chapel. Again we rely on the cartulary for this evidence, which is unsupported from any other source, but Eudo's abbey endowments included tithes belonging to the chapel, land around it, and, according to the Red Parchment Book chronicle, the chapel itself, restored by Eudo from a state of disrepair. Such work on the chapel, as well as that on the castle and other building projects under Eudo's watch, indirectly contributed to rehabilitating the town: cannibalizing Roman ruins opened up space for the layout of new streets and residential plots, a process that must have been going on since Saxon times, if only to build local churches, and continued beyond Eudo's time [Philip Crummy, Colchester: Recent Excavations and Research, Colchester Excavation Committee, 1974, pp.27-31]. The May fair is not otherwise documented and may not have lasted long; being so close to the central marketplace it would likely have been a source of friction with the burgesses, who may have been able to impede fair activities. Difficulty in realizing income from the fair and the distance of the chapel from the abbey site could explain the abbey's loss of interest in maintaining and staffing the chapel, to the annoyance of the borough authorities.
The establishment of the abbey was not the only initiative tentatively attributable to Eudo in this neighbourhood of the extramural area of Colchester. The conversion of St. Botolph's church, already collegiate, into a priory of Augustinian canons, took place during his lordship, in the later 1090s, though it retained a parochial function. To its Saxon dedication, which was to a Benedictine pioneer, was added the name of St. Julian, possibly the French saint associated with Le Mans, whose festival was introduced into southern England by the Benedictines. It has been suggested [W. and K. Rodwell, Historic churches: a wasting asset, Council for British Archaeology Research Report, no.19 (1977), p.34, probably drawn from Dugdale's Monasticon] that St. Denis (a saint associated with Paris) was also added to the dedication, but if so, it was probably a late addition around the time of the grant (1421) of a papal indulgence to any who at that festival visited and gave alms to the priory; the monks presumably wishing to capitalize on those frequenting the town fair held at that date. The priory is generally considered the first Augustinian foundation in England, another import from France. A papal bull dated 1116 made it the mother-house of all others of Augustinian canons in England, and granted it exemption from episcopal oversight; but the bull is considered a forgery, though possibly embodying elements of a genuine grant [J.H Denton, "The forged bull of St Botolph’s, Colchester," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. v.55 (1973), 324-45]. William Rufus in 1095 granted its community of priests permission to hold all lands with which they had been endowed; the source of their initial endowments is nowhere specified, though some may have been held prior to the conversion, while others could have been made by Eudo. It was the only extra-mural church to be endowed with land inside the walls of Colchester, carved out of two parishes (St. Nicholas and All Saints) just inside the city gateway this being suggestive of an act of which only Eudo, as lord of the city, was capable. Henry I granted the priory his one-third share of Middle Mill.
The conversion of the church, if not influenced by Eudo directly for the only record of its origins attributes the initiative to priests (one a 'Norman' who imported knowledge of the Augustinian rule) already at St. Botolph's may have been prompted by Eudo's general efforts to develop the Colchester suburb. Eudo also founded, on behalf of the king, a small leper hospital dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, built on the street leading eastwards from the suburb to a new harbour on the Colne. Since this street was subsequently known as Magdalen Street, it may have found its main use after the creation of the hospital and, conceivably, it was part of Eudo's development plans to establish a new port at the end of that street. Not only was that port, known as New Hythe, in existence by the early twelfth century (implicit from a reference to 'Old Hythe'), but it was by the middle of that century attracting enough settlement around the river end of Magdalen Street, which became known as Heth Street to warrant having its own parish church; this was dedicated to St. Leonard, whose cult was spread (probably by pilgrims and merchants) from France across Europe during that century. By the close of the Middle Ages this small suburban parish had become one of Colchester's wealthiest. The placement of the hospital, while avoiding the main residential part of the suburb, and similarly distanced from any emerging settlement of fishermen and mariners around New Hythe, would have enabled the inmates to solicit donations from traffic using the road from the harbour to the borough. At the same time, the site chosen for the hospital institutions often somewhat isolated suggests that no settlement had yet taken place along Magdalen Street, other than possibly at either extreme; although by the late twelfth century some secular buildings are evidenced in the vicinity of the hospital, which by 1237 had acquired a parochial role, leading to the rebuilding of the church mid-century. After Eudo's death, Henry I placed the hospital in the charge of the abbey and provided it with an annual income from a manor he had granted to the abbey, though this would later lead to conflict between the two institutions. Richard I in 1189 granted a two-day fair to the hospital, to be held at the festival of its patron saint; held on a green near the hospital, this fair too remained in evidence throughout the medieval period, but cannot have generated much income for the hospital, which was not well endowed.
Although it is possible Eudo's main interest in the southern neighbourhood was in establishing there an abbey and meeting the needs of its monastic community and its lay servants (as for example at Battle), the overall impression given by Eudo's initiatives in the area south and south-east of the walled town is that they went beyond just the abbey, towards the establishment of a new urban component combining religious institutions and market settlement. There is no evidence that he actively sought out new settlers or lay out new burgage plots for them the junction end of Magdalen Street being the likeliest candidate for such a unit but it may have been his hope to enlarge the Norman segment of the local population, and an Augustinian priory and Benedictine abbey would have made the suburb more attractive to Normans, even at a time when there was still ample space within the walls for new settlers although admittedly some of that space was occupied by ruinous Roman buildings, gradually cleared as scavenged for building materials. There was at least one Norman Eudo actively recruited for, having become dissatisfied with the first abbot, supplied along with other monks from from York, Eudo had Gilbert de Lungvill (the surname indicative of Longueville-sur-Scie) come from the abbey at Bec a Benedictine foundation that, as a centre of learning and the source of successive archbishops of Canterbury under the Conqueror, was very influential in Norman England to take up the abbacy in 1104.
The Colchester suburb focused around the convergence of two streets one a Roman approach road from the south, the second the road south-east from the old harbour; into the latter; just east of the convergence, Magdalen Street merged. This junction, just beyond the north end of the abbey site and immediately south-west of St. Botolph's, would have been a likely site for the suburban market, although the fair was held on St. John's Green (or Field, as then known), on the north-west corner of the abbey site. That the presence of the abbey and the priory stimulated growth of the suburb's population is indicated by the construction, probably in the twelfth century, of the church of St. Giles in the north-east corner of the abbey site, by the junction posited as the suburban marketplace; it is supposed the church was needed to service a growing population, particularly of the abbey servants and tenants. Furthermore, the legal battle of 1289, already mentioned, included the complaint that the abbey was preventing those of its tenants who engaged in commerce or crafts from contributing to borough revenues whether in terms of market tolls or royal taxes assessed on the borough is not specified and implies these tenants had been settled around the green used as fair site and elsewhere in the southern suburb [J. L. Fisher, "The Leger Book of St. John's Abbey, Colchester", Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, vol.24 (1944), p.86]. The abbot defended that from the time of its consecration the abbey had a grant of exemption from tolls, though did not have on hand the pertinent documents to support this claim; Eudo's foundation charter would have to be very broadly interpreted to back up such a claim, but the1254 settlement between the abbot and borough (if we may trust a copy entered in the abbey cartulary) had conceded toll exemption for the abbey's tenants, except those who regularly bought and sold in the market (i.e. made their living from commerce) [Stuart Moore, ed., Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Johannis Baptiste de Colecestria , Roxburghe Club Publications, no. 131 (1897), vol.2, p.505].
The access to landing facilities on the river is likely to have been a factor in Eudo's decision to develop the suburb, as this would give its market an advantage; we may note that the endowments of the abbey included a wharf on the Thames just east of London, in which city the abbey also had some property. It may well be that Eudo himself was instrumental in developing, or fostering, a port at the end of Magdalen Street; moving the older-established port north to be closer to the town would likely have required improving navigability by deepening the river there and perhaps adjusting part of the river's meandering course. At Shrewsbury too the suburban Norman colony soon had harbour facilities established. While Colchester's Old Hythe continued in some use, the New Hythe is heard of by mid-twelfth century and thereafter gradually became built up, as wharves, quays (public and private), warehouses, and cranes were added by merchants. Though separated from the walled town by fields, it was considered a suburb within the jurisdiction of the borough. The civic authorities, in the 1340s, negotiated with Sir John de Sutton for use of a beaching area beside his land at New Hythe, for the landing and repair of ships, and issued leases of several plots there for the construction of quays and warehouses; these were part of a broader effort to further develop the port potential of Colchester. The opposite bank of the river was not owned by the borough and was not similarly developed, nor was there even a bridge connecting New Hythe to the other side of the river until the fifteenth century.
This port could not be reached by sea-going ships, but was viable for barges trans-shipping goods to Brightlingsea, in the Colne estuary, which could be reached by mercantile vessels and was probably where larger vessels owned by the burgesses, as well as the abbot, were moored. Yet New Hythe was significant enough to give Colchester official standing as a port and incorporate it into the Ipswich district of customs collection. It provided trading links to other east coast ports, London, and the Low Countries a few Flemings are seen as having settled in Colchester as early as the late twelfth century, but they are not noticeable again before the latter half of the fourteenth, when over a hundred settled in Colchester, about a quarter of them cloth-makers [Bart Lambert and Milan Pajic, "Drapery in exile: Edward III, Colchester and the Flemings, 1351-1367", History, vol.99 (2014). pp. 733-753]. By the late thirteenth century obstructions weirs, piles, fish-kiddles and the like in the stretch of the Colne linking Colchester to the estuary were becoming increasingly problematic.
Eudo's wife and/or her family could have influenced Eudo's plans for Colchester's suburb. He was married to Rohais the daughter of Richard Fitz-Gilbert, descended from a branch of the ducal family of Normandy, who was also known as Richard de Clare, after one of the estates he received during the reign of William I; there Richard put up a castle, making use of older earthwork fortifications, and made it the caput of his honour. Situated on the border between Angle and Saxon kingdoms of East Anglia, Clare's fairly large population included 43 burgesses by 1086; Domesday indicates that a market had existed before the Conquest, but the borough looks like a compact single-street neighbourhood planted immediately north-west of the castle by Richard Fitz-Gilbert, with the church (of typical Norman dedication to SS. Peter and Paul) situated at the opposite end of the marketplace/High Street to the castle. Within the castle site was a small Saxon priory dedicated to St. John the Baptist; in 1090 Gilbert Fitz-Richard, having just succeeded his father in the lordship, gave this to the Benedictine abbey of Bec and imported a number of its monks to to staff the priory. A later de Clare lord ca. 1249 invited Augustinian friars, whom he encountered in France, to establish a house at Clare, which was done immediately south-west of the castle; it became the mother-house of subsequent Augustinian friaries in England. In certain ways Clare is quite reminiscent of the southern suburb of Colchester, if we substitute the walled town for Clare Castle. When Eudo Dapifer initiated the project to build St. John's Abbey, a ceremony was held in which foundation stones were laid, the first by Eudo, Rohais, and her brother Gilbert.
Insufficient evidence exists to prove that Eudo's plans for the suburb amounted to a new town foundation. But developments there during Eudo's time are reminiscent of the Norman establishment just beyond Norwich's fortified area (burh augmented with castle) of Mancroft, combining market settlement and a new church, whose dedication to St. Peter was a popular one for Normans. At Wallingford too Domesday shows us the Normans putting their stamp on an important and prosperous former Saxon royal borough, stronghold, and commercial centre by interposing a castle here with relatively little displacement of Saxon dwellings founding a collegiate chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas and a Benedictine priory, and apparently introducing a small French colony, perhaps of traders and craftsmen who could further develop the existing Saturday market in the secure environment assured by the castle. Eudo has been attributed with founding St. Peter's church in Colchester, and certainly he held a minority share in the advowson and may well have been a benefactor; but its location on high ground near the intersection of the two main intramural streets and its mention by name in Domesday point to Saxon origins, so that it is more likely to represent the original focus of the burh after the initial re-planning phase of the tenth century, and before the more easterly stretch of the High Street was redeveloped.
Both the Colchester and Norwich projects are in turn reminiscent of the continental castrum-borgo model of urban development. Regardless of what Eudo's conscious plans for Colchester may have been, the initiatives we may more confidently attribute to him the sizable castle and the abbey together with Colchester's trading links via road and river, its access to the large consumer and producer population of East Anglia, and the development of a cloth industry there, assured Colchester's emergence as the economic powerhouse in Essex. Its economic importance is also reflected in the presence, by ca.1180, of a modest Jewish community, mostly resident in the vicinity of the High Street, Stockwell Streets, and Culver Street, some of whose 'tools of the trade' have been unearthed by archaeologists. If however Eudo was minded in that direction, the St. Botolph's suburb was not to become the 'tail that wagged the dog', as happened at Norwich, as well as at Hereford, where too the French colony's marketplace became predominant.
Eudo's death without male heir left Colchester without a further benefactor interested in fostering the suburban neighbourhood, except for the abbey, which wished to preserve independence of the area from the borough proper, while the intramural area attracted rapid population growth and cultural fusion so that it could develop its own institutions and intent to be the dominant element in Colchester's development. Whereas at the time of Domesday Colchester, unsurprisingly, seems to have had a predominantly (about 74) Anglo-Saxon population, the few known names of twelfth-century bailiffs of the borough not just Christian names, but also surnames show little if any sign of Anglo-Saxon traditions and suggest either that immigrants following the Conquest had become the dominant element in the community or, perhaps more likely, that Anglo-Saxon and foreign elements had intermarried and fused culturally. Colchester's first royal charter (1189, though possibly an enhanced re-issue of an earlier grant), in its affirmation of the right of the burgesses to a fishery in the Colne, extending from the northern side of the borough into the Colne estuary, and to tolls levied on merchandize landed from boats within the banlieu (which revenue was to go towards the borough farm), as it had in the time of Henry I, suggests some ability on the part of the community to act corporately from that period, including in holding the borough at fee farm. By the time of Stephen we see in the borough some rudimentary form of self-government, headed by bailiffs, which would have been able to assert the primacy of borough institutions; the original moothall seems to date from around the time of Henry II and stylistic features again suggest a primacy attained by Norman cultural elements within the borough. By the close of the century the town's street system had taken the shape it would retain throughout the remainder of the medieval period. The burgesses or at least those who were leaders within that community wanted a marketplace more centrally located and close to where they lived, and the High Street was widened to serve that purpose, if indeed it had not already been so used for some time.
The High Street was clearly the spine of medieval Colchester; onto it faced several churches to serve the growing population in the town centre, while off it gradually developed a series of streets running downslope, northwards and southwards. The greater part of the High Street served as the marketplace, from its western end where it met North Street/Head Street, to the church of St. Nicholas (patron saint of merchants) in the east. It was widened in its central portion, where could be found St. Runwald's church perhaps originally serving as a market chapel, and the moothall centrally located for administration of, among other things, market matters, and even direct integration into market activities in the 1370s. However, reference in the 1260s to the 'Tholuhus' as a ground-floor component of a building in the market suggests that might have been where market tolls were payable. The marketplace saw some later medieval division, probably in the fourteenth century, as stalls became permanent and before the close of the Middle Ages this process had created Middle Row (the shops east of St. Runwald's), the butchery (perhaps part of Middle Row, or slightly more in the middle of the marketplace, near St. Runwald's), Cook Row (also near the moothall), Cordwainer's Row, and Red Row (at the west end of the marketplace, where the cornmarket was located, in front of St. Peter's church) a number of 'new rents' erected by William Reyne in the 1370s. There may not have been a rigorous division of market space according to type of merchandize, but a 1341 deed indicates a grouping of tanners' stalls and there are indications the borough authorities sought to focus certain trades presumably those needing closer supervision, such as the butchers at particular points. However, since burgesses were exempt from market tolls, most local traders seem to have had some freedom to choose where they set up temporary stalls (or later to operate from their own shops or houses), it was primarily outsiders who were expected to sell their goods in the designated marketplace; the country producers of butter, for example, were assigned a spot outside the moothall.
By 1285 formal markets were being held in town each Wednesday and Saturday, though these days may have fluctuated; since Colchester's market existed prior to licensing, there was nothing limiting it to a particular day. Yet local traders engaged in commerce on a daily basis and by the mid-fifteenth century it could be argued that markets took place every day, even if not all types of goods were available each day. Saturday seems to have been the day for the full market, and the only day on which butchers from outside the town would bring in meat to sell.
The first known royal charter of privileges granted to Colchester was that of 1189; it authorized the burgesses to elect their own executive officials, who would preside in an independent court, limited the financial penalty imposable by that court, exempted the burgesses from various royal exactions or demands, as well as from tolls throughout England, provided recourse (through retaliation) if any toll was unjustly taken from a burgess or any debtor to a burgess refused to repay or address the matter through the court, and it protected certain burgess rights within Colchester's banlieu, in terms of hunting and harvesting timber, as well as assuring them control over the fishery in the stretch of the Colne curving round the banlieu and the right to tolls on goods landed on the riverbank. This charter was modelled mainly on London's charter of ca.1131, whereas other boroughs favoured London's 1155 charter as their model. Since Richard and John both were inclined to disguise confirmations as original grants (in order to charge a higher fee), it is conceivable that the Colchester burgesses might have had some of these privileges in a now-lost charter of Stephen at least, so thought the Victoria County History authors perhaps associated with an attempt to take over the borough fee farm and/or with the erection of the moothall; but this must remain a question-mark.
There is a further clause in the charter which is unique to Colchester:
"We forbid that the market of Colchester be hindered by any other adulterine market, but that the markets and customs be in such a state as they were confirmed by the oath of our burgesses of Colchester before the justices in eyre of our lord the king our father."
[Adolphus Ballard, British Borough Charters 1042-1216, Cambridge University Press, 1913, p.201]