The Princess Royal is to open the newly renovated Colchester Castle Museum, in Essex, on Friday 2nd May.
A £4.2 million redevelopment was recently completed at the Grade I building with help from the Heritage Lottery fund. The castle is the largest Norman keep in Europe and is approaching its 1000th birthday.
The castle has been in the hands of Colchester Borough Council since 1920, and the historic keep was closed in March 2013 to start repair and restoration work. £3.2million of the redevelopment costs came from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, while the remaining expenses were provided by EU Norman Connection, Colchester Borough Council, Arts Council, Roman Wall Society and the Friends of Colchester Museums. The money has been used in a variety of ways, including making the castle wheelchair-access friendly, by installing a glass lift, opening up other areas of the castle to visitors, as well as issuing a traditional restoration, with general maintenance and repair works.
Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for the East of England, Robyn Llewellyn, has said “Colchester Castle is one of the finest surviving Norman buildings in Britain, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I listed. We are delighted to see the opening of the refurbished museum in sight, and look forward to the reinterpretation of some the most fascinating stories in our Island’s history.”
Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, is thought to have also designed this military stronghold around 1076, but the building was not completed until the 1100s. Gundulf also designed the White Tower at the Tower of London, and the buildings share many similarities, although Colchester is roughly one and a half times larger.
Over the centuries, Colchester Castle has had various purposes after ceasing to be used for military uses. By 1350, the dungeons were created into prison cells, with suspected witches interrogated there during the 1640s. The Civil War saw Colchester Castle change hands from Royalists to the Parliamentarians, and then was sold towards the end of Charles II’s reign in a state of disrepair. A collection of historic objects were moved from the Town Hall to the Castle crypt, then opened to the public in 1860, after a Mr Charles Gray restored parts of the castle and created a surrounding park.