Like-minded residents in Colchester have been successful in their efforts to re-brand their idyll. Spring Lane is now located in ‘Lexden Bridge Hamlet’.
As you approach Colchester from the south on the A12, there’s a sign to remind you that it’s Britain’s oldest town. A fact that’s sometimes easy to forget given its more recent tag, Britain’s fastest growing town.
Photographs: David Cawdell / The Photographic Resource Dept of Colchester Museum.
A group of like-minded residents from a corner of Colchester steeped in history have been successful in their efforts to re-brand their idyll. Helped by their local councillors and Essex County Council, Spring Lane is now located in ‘Lexden Bridge Hamlet’.
Plans are in place for planters, an original millstone and signage to complement the new white gates. It is hoped the village feel will slow drivers down that currently present a danger to pedestrians on their way to the tennis courts or golf club.
Just how much do you know about Lexden’s newest/oldest settlement?
Lexden appeared in the doomsday book as Lessenden but its blood-soaked history goes back further than that. On this spot in AD 60 Iceni Queen Boudica joined forces with the local Trinovantes tribe and stormed the Roman garrison to kill every man, woman and child and burn down every building, including the Roman Temple of Claudius, now the site of Colchester’s famous Norman castle.
Around Spring Lane there are two designated Local Nature Reserves, home to kingfishers, herons and otters, a bridge that spans the River Colne and two ancient watermill sites. Spring Lane nursery has log piles to provide stag beetle habitats and a tree bank for the native black poplar.
Lexden Bridge Hamlet as it is today.
The Bridge, opened and dedicated for public use by Alderman Edwin J Sanders on the 19th December 1904, was built in 6 weeks at a cost of £400 – a tad quicker (and cheaper) than the current bridge, which opened in April 2015 after a series of delays. The iron bridge replaced an earlier wooden footbridge built in the same lattice design which had been the only pedestrian crossing of the Colne in Lexden for hundreds of years.
All wheeled traffic had to use the ford, including Colonel Fairfax’s parliamentarian soldiers who took up position at Lexden Lodge during the siege of Colchester in 1648. They used West House Farm as a field hospital which is rumoured to have been visited by Oliver Cromwell.
There were two watermills either side of the Colne. Lexden Mill, first referenced in 1311, was originally a corn mill powered by a spring fed lake but converted to a fulling mill as Colchester’s cloth industry flourished, attracting protestant Flemish weavers fleeing religious persecution in the mid 16th century.
These weavers settled into the Dutch Quarter of Colchester (Dutch being a name loosely applied to all foreigners). Lexden Mill also attracted the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, who held witch duckings in the mill pond, picking up 20 shillings per victim along the way.
The undershot watermill on the Braiswick side of the Colne was built over a man made cut which diverted some of the river flow through the mill buildings.
So next time you drive up Spring Lane and through Lexden Bridge Hamlet, take a moment to reflect on its heritage. After all, you’re in Britain’s Oldest Town!