Our party of 53 headed for Stanway on 13 June to pick up Jan, our guide for the day, and then headed for Tiptree in Essex, the home of traditional jam making. On arrival we were met by the manageress and made welcome. Coffee, cakes and delicious scones were the order of the morning and were served promptly for us. We had plenty of time for a browse around the museum setting out the story of the Wilkins family and their preserve making business. After this a visit to their shop and a little retail therapy was a must and many of us came away with jars of jam or marmalade or chutney.
Heading for the garrison town of Colchester, known to the Romans as Camulodunum, we arrived outside the castle where Jan took us on a tour of the castle grounds. Colchester castle is the largest keep in the UK and built of mixed materials having been used throughout the various ages. The ramparts near to the castle never enclosed water but the slopes have been used by the Dutch weavers who settled here to stretch their cloth attached to 'tenter hooks', hence the derivation of the word today. The siege of Colchester in the Civil War took place in 1648 and lasted eleven weeks. We saw an obelisk in the grounds which commemorated the siege. This was the time of Humpty Dumpty, the name given to a large cannon sited on the thick outer walls beside St Mary's Church. During the siege it was attacked and fell from its mountings and the nursery rhyme refers to the event. As we were about to leave the grounds we were able to watch the Colchester Town Watch march through, which is a civic escort to the mayor. The watch is based on the Elizabethan period of around 1595 with the borough arms and colours on jackets, knee breeches, front and rear plate armour and headgear. This occasion was for the Royal Gun Salute marking the Queen's official birthday.
We left the castle grounds and passed into the Dutch quarter where the weavers worked and lived. We came to a small church which today is used by the Greek Orthodox Church leased from the Church of England. It was dedicated to St Helen who is said to haw gone to the Holy Land and found a part of the 'True Cross' which features in the town insignia together with three crowns. St Helena is the patron saint of Colchester and her son was Constantine the Great. Further up the road we were able to view through a window the recent find of a Roman amphitheatre together with an indication of its size denoted by coloured bricks on the pathway outside. Walking through St Martin's churchyard we could see over the roof tops the Town Hall which was built on the site of a Saxon Moot Hall.
Lunch at this point beckoned and we reassembled at the castle to continue our tour. Jan proved to be a wealth of knowledge giving us a running commentary about the Essex countryside and the villages that we passed through on our way to Maldon. This whole area was renowned for smuggling as there were so many small sea inlets which were unable to be patrolled successfully. The area was also known for its sea salt. One area in particular known as Red Hills dated to Roman times. They used to collect sea water in earthernware pitchers, boil the liquid and then cool it. The pots were then smashed to gain the salt crystals. If seen from the air the ground is red with the colours of the broken pots left there over the years. Labourers were paid in salt as it was such a vital commodity and the more you earned meant that you were 'worth your salt'. Maldon is now a quiet town with a bustling quay giving berth to quite a few of the Thames barges and pleasure craft that take tourists on river trips. We took afternoon tea here before travelling back to Ipswich. Our grateful thanks to Jan, and to June Peck who organised our very interesting and varied day trip to Essex.