Colchester Town Hall and Victoria Tower, Essex, on the north side of Colchester High Street, built on the site of an earlier town hall, and the medieval Moot Hall long before it. Designed by Sir John Belcher, who won the commission for it in 1897, this Grade I listed building was opened in 1902, and is very different from its predecessors. These municipal offices are not stone-faced but built of red brick with contrasting Portland stone dressings and a range of sculptural adornments, including statues of figures associated with Colchester, such as Boudicca and the sixteenth-century Natural Philosopher William Gilbert, in niches on the façade. The façade itself is striking, with "three pairs of giant columns, gigantic giant columns, each carrying a broken pediment" (Pevsner 138).

At 162' high, the clock tower is even more imposing, its main stage surmounted by further baroque levels decorated with high-relief figures of Fishery, Engineering, Military Defence and Agriculture, crowned (literally, for there is an elaborate crown-like platform here) with a bronze statue of Colchester's patron saint, St Helena, surrounded by stone lions' heads and four bronze ravens. St Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great, and is seen here facing Jerusalem and carrying the true cross, which, according to legend, she discovered on her pilgrimage there. The tower makes a dramatic landmark for the city, and the whole building makes a fine statement, especially from the broader part of the High Street, as seen in the photograph above.

The town hall is, therefore, a prime example of Belcher's ability to design "in the exuberant display style of c.1900-10 with more braggadocio than anyone" (Pevsner 138). In particular, St Helena's presence in such a prominent position reminds us of Colchester's exceptionally rich historical past as an important Roman city, and helps to make the town hall, like others of its time, a symbol of great municipal pride.

Diagram of Decoration in Council Chamber, Colchester Town Hall, JOHN BELCHER, FRIBA, Architect. Source: Academy Architecture and Architectural Review, Vol. 15-18, Vol. 15 (1899), 19.

The interior was designed with equal panache to be commensurate with the exterior, with a fine marble staircase and richly ornamented function rooms. The painted centrepiece of the Council Chamber ceiling, as shown to the right, depicts the twelve months of the year as dancing maidens.

Photograph © David Hawgood, originally posted on the geograph site and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence (many thanks for this). Scanned image, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the scanned image too without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit its source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Related Material


Academy Architecture and Architectural Review, Vol. 15-18. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, the University of Toronto. Web. 4 May 2015.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, rev. Enid Radcliff. The Buildings of England: Essex. 2nd ed. London: Penguin, 1965.

"Town Hall, Colchester." British Listed Buildings. Web. 4 May 2015.

Created 4 May 2015