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COLCHESTER , country town of Essex, England. In the Middle Ages the town harbored a Jewish community, which ranked ninth in importance among the English Jewries in the *Northampton Donum of 1194. On the organization of the *Exchequer of the Jews, Colchester became the seat of an *archa for the registration of Jewish transactions. The Ashmolean Museum holds a mid-13th century bowl engraved in Hebrew probably owned by Joseph of Colchester. In 1277 a number of local Jews and Christians were involved together in a breach of the Forest Laws. On the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, nine houses owned by the Jews on Stockwell Street, as well as the synagogue, escheated to the crown. A short-lived Jewish community was established at the close of the 18th century. A congregation was established in 1957, and 27 Jews were living there in 1967. In 2004 the Jewish population numbered approximately 100.


Roth, England, index; Roth, in: aja, 3 (1957), 22–25; J. Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England (1893), passim; J. Jacobs, Jewish Ideals (1896), 225ff,; Neubauer, in: rej, 5 (1882), 246ff. add. bibliography: jyb 2004; D. Stephenson, in: Essex Arcaeol. & Hist. Jnl. 16 (1983–84), 48–52; vch Essex, 9 (1994), 27–28; M.M. Archibald and B.J. Crook, English Medieval Coin Hoardsi, bm Occasional Paper 87 (2001), 67–142; H.G. Richardson, English Jewry Under the Angevin Kings (1960), index.

[Cecil Roth /

Joe Hillaby (2nd ed.)]

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Colchester. First ‘capital’ of Roman Britain. Camulodunum was the site of the most important late Iron Age oppidum of southern Britain, seat of Cunobelinus (Cymbeline). After its surrender in ad 43 a legionary fortress was planted, succeeded in 49 by a colonia of retired legionaries living in the former barracks. A temple to the deified Claudius was under construction when the entire town was burned to the ground in the first fury of the revolt of Boudicca. Town and temple were reconstructed, the latter being one of the few in Britain in the fully Roman style. It was the seat of the imperial cult and concilium provinciae (provincial council) for all Britain, and associated with a theatre. Walls to demonstrate the status of the colonia were constructed early in the 2nd cent. The town developed as a prosperous regional seat, its houses sheltering a fine collection of late 2nd-cent. mosaics. In the 4th cent. the density of occupation declined, though a rare example of a Roman-period church has been found outside the south walls. Medieval legend claimed for the town Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine I, as a daughter of Old King Coel.

Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary

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Colchester (kōl´chĬstər, –chĕs´tər), city (1991 pop. 87,476) and district, Essex, SE England, on the Colne River. The city is a grain and cattle market. The oyster fisheries of the Colne are important; an annual event is the October oyster feast. Other industries are flour milling, malting, and the making of boilers, gas engines, shoes, clothing, and farm machinery. Colchester was one of the great cities of pre-Roman Britain, the capital of the ruler Cunobelin (Shakespeare's Cymbeline). It became an important Roman colony and was the particular object of attack (AD 61) by Boadicea. To the Anglo-Saxons the place was known as Colneceaster. The witenagemot met there in 931. During the English civil war, the town was taken (1648) after a long siege by parliamentarians under Baron Fairfax of Cameron. Of interest are the preserved Roman walls and the massive Norman castle, part of which houses a museum of Roman antiquities. Colchester has a military base.

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Colchester Town on the River Colne, Essex, se England. The first Roman colony in Britain was settled here in ad 43, and was attacked by Boadicea in ad 61. It has a Roman wall and a fine Norman castle. It is a market centre for the surrounding agricultural and horticultural area. Pop. (2000 est.) 159,900.