The Hythe, Colchester, Essex


Colchester, United Kingdom

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Another from my series of images taken at the Hythe this summer (2008). This is looking out to sea at low tide.

“The Hythe”

The settlement at the Hythe or New Hythe, Colchester’s port, was physically distinct from the town, being separated from it by arable fields, although it was legally and constitutionally part of the town. It presumably began about the 11th century when the port moved north from the old hythe or Old Heath. The move at Colchester, as at other ports, was probably associated with the construction of quays and possibly with the first improvements to the river.

A cut across the marshes in Wivenhoe parish opposite Old Heath was made after the parish boundary had been fixed but probably before the surviving borough records begin in the early 14th century. St. Leonard’s church at the Hythe was founded before the mid 12th century, but its compact parish contrasts with the dispersed parishes of the intramural churches and suggests that it was relatively late.

In the late 12th century and the early 13th the settlement was called Heia as well as Hythe, the former name presumably referring to inclosures, perhaps of meadow, made when the port was laid out. A tenement there was given to St. John’s in 1160, and a rent from a house there in the later 12th century. St. Leonard’s church stands half way up Hythe Hill, well back from the water front and probably on the edge of the 12th-century settlement; there was still arable land near it in the mid 13th century.

The Hythe was developed, both as a port and as a suburb, in the 14th century, the borough leasing land for quays and warehouses in the 1330s and 1340s. By the mid 14th century the quays and the road behind them may have extended some distance southwards from the bottom of Hythe Hill. Buildings were similar to those in the rest of the town, and there are indications of pressure on street frontages. A shop with a solar above it had apparently been built on a tenement at the Hythe by 1384. A new building encroached on the road in 1392-3.

Most if not all houses stood along Hythe Hill or behind the quays, but by 1352 there was a back lane, North Lane or Church Lane, behind houses on the north side of Hythe Hill. South Lane, recorded in 1427, may have been the road behind the quays. (fn. 96) A footbridge built across the river in 1407 was replaced by a cart bridge in 1473-4, but there was no building on the eastern bank of the river in the Middle Ages.

Artwork Comments

  • clisue
  • newbeltane
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