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England Articles

The Oldest Towns In England

Ipswich - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Fred In't Hout (view gallery)

There are a few towns that lay claim to be the oldest town in England. Here are the main contenders.
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1. Ipswich, the county town of Suffolk

St Nicholas Street in Ipswich, Suffolk - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Anna Chaleva (view gallery)

This is a town that can trace its history back to the Stone-Age, it has been a successive settlement throughout the ages and has been populated by settlers from the Iron-Age, Roman period and by Anglo-Saxons.

Its Royal Charter was granted by King John in the year 1200, and the town is proud of its long maritime traditions covering centuries of trading, particularly in Suffolk cloth which was despatched to all parts of Europe from its port on the estuary of the River Orwell.

Ipswich is fortunate in its rich collection of historic buildings, one of the most important is the ancient house in the Butter Market - a 15th-century building extravagantly decorated with ornate plasterwork and a centrepiece formed by the coat of arms of King Charles II.

Christchurch Mansion is an amazing red brick Tudor country house built on the site of where an Augustinian priory once stood. This was disbanded during the reign of Henry VIII and was later purchased by the Withypoll family who built the house we see today. Later, during the 18th-century the house became the property of a London merchant of Huguenot descent. At this time the house was added to, features of the extension included a state bedroom with ornate plasterwork. In 1892 Felix Cobold bought the property and gave it to Ipswich to be opened as a museum. Today visitors can see rich and varied collections including paintings by noted Suffolk artists Constable, Gainsborough and Munnings. Also on show is an excellent collection of fine furniture, porcelain made locally in Lowestoft from 1757 - 1799, and Tudor and Stuart portraits of early Suffolk aristocracy.

The town is famous as the birthplace of Cardinal Wolsey who is thought to have been born in Silent Street in around 1475. In 1528 he founded a college here, but this was abandoned when he fell from grace. All that is preserved of the college buildings is the red brick gateway in College Street.

At the heart of Ipswich is Christchurch Park, this green and pleasant place has been open to generations of towns folk and visitors since the 18th-century. It now provides a delightful venue for open air concerts and fairs, it also has a beautiful arboreta, a bird garden and children's play area. St. Margaret's Church lies to the edge of the park bordering Sloane Street and Bolton Lane, this shows parts of its 13th-century origins and restoration work from the 17th-century. With its ancient windows and many historic treasures this is a church well worth seeing.

Today, with smart shopping centres, excellent leisure and entertainment facilities, Ipswich has become a centre for business and commerce offering all that is best for modern day living while destroying nothing of its strong links with the past. It therefore makes an excellent place in which to tarry and enjoy all this fine town has to offer or an ideal centre for exploring the rivers Orwell, Deben and Stour.

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2. Thatcham, Berkshire

Thatcham, Berkshire - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Paul Hilton (view gallery)

Claimed to be the oldest inhabited village in Britain

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3. Colchester, Essex

Colchester - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Fred In't Hout (view gallery)

Fascinating historic Essex town in which there was probably a settlement in both the 5th-century BC, and the Ist-century AD. The invading Roman's occupied Colchester in AD 43, and by AD 48 there was a major colony there. At the time of AD 60 soldiers under the command of Queen Boadicea revolted against Roman rule, they destroyed the temple and massacred the Roman occupants. Thus, we are assured of the long history and illustrious legacy of the town where the Roman's first settled in Britain.

The waters of the River Colne skirt the northern edge of Colchester, the north bridge is built on a site where a Roman bridge once stood, and a few of the cottages that once formed part of a Medieval suburb remain to this day. So too, do parts of the old walls of the town, and the massive Balkerne Gate to the west of the town.

Interestingly, this is England's oldest-recorded town. It has stood on the banks of the River Colne amid fine Essex countryside throughout some of history's most tempestuous times, its main streets still follow the course of those laid down centuries ago and now form part of modern Colchester - a vibrant city with a fine University, major commercial business interests, excellent sporting facilities, cultural enterprises, and modern buildings that blend well in a town crammed with historic properties telling of its ancient past.

The beauty of the Essex countryside is well documented, this surrounds the town and within there are acres of parks and open green spaces so that almost every street offers a glimpse of something fresh and green. Some places of course, look out over the waters of the Colne to meadow views which have inspired centuries of artists, including the noted John Constable.

Places of interest to those visiting the town will be Colchester Castle Museum, this takes you on a splendid historical journey covering over 2,000 years of history. Bourne Mill is another interesting building, this is found beside Bourne Pond and was originally built in 1591 as a fishing lodge. In the centre of the town stands the Town Hall, a gracious building of 1902 crowned with a clock tower topped by a statue of St. Helena facing towards Jerusalem. Legend has it that St. Helena was the daughter of the mythical King Cole of Colchester made famous by the nursery rhyme, other legends link the town to Camelot and Humpty Dumpty.

The attractive "Dutch" quarter of the town is well worth seeing, here there are some lovely houses dating back to before the 16th-century, in other parts of Colchester there are buildings from the Medieval, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. Holly Trees Museum is in a beautiful town house built in 1718, this shows commemorative collections of craft and military objects from the 19th-century onwards. The Minories is yet another attractive property from the Georgian period, this houses a superb collection of art, furniture, china and silver, and the town's Natural History Museum is housed in what was formerly All Saint's Church. Here visitors can see a unique celebration of the county's rural and natural life, this encompasses reclamation from the sea, the salt marshes and a look at local geology.

In East Street visitors can take a look at the Old Siege House, this is an attractive 15th-century building with walls riddled by Royalist bullets from the Civil War siege of 1648. The house is now a comfortable Italian Restaurant.

With treasures from past and present, an abundance of nature reserves, particularly at the mouth of the Colne, fine parks, old churches, historic castles and a wealth of legends, Colchester makes an interesting visit for everyone. There is all of this and much more. It is a thriving, up to the minute city with modern shopping and pleasure facilities catering for all ages and all tastes. It is close to the sea, with a famous harbour and is impressive in the extreme with out of town lanes, rivers and creeks lending enchantment to every road you take.

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4. Abingdon, Oxfordshire

View across the Thames at St Helen's Church, Abingdon, Oxfordshire. - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Ima Von Wenden (view gallery)

One of Britain's oldest towns, Abingdon in the county of Oxfordshire developed around the gates of an abbey founded in 675. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII Abingdon Abbey was 6th richest abbey in the land. Picturesque County Hall dominates the Market Place. Noted almshouses flank 13th-century St.Helen's Church. Banks of the Thames lined with lovely old properties. Two fine bridges spanning the Thames and the River Ock now listed as ancient monuments.

There are delightful riverside walks with the river being a focal point for recreational activities such as boating and fishing. From the comfort of a pleasure cruiser visitors can enjoy splendid river-scapes, river wildlife and good views of the town.

In medieval times the town prospered from the wool trade but in recent times the fortunes of the town have been dependent on the car industry. Printing and brewing play a major part in the town's economy along with other hi-tech industries.

In the pleasant Oxfordshire countryside surrounding the town farms and agriculture continue to flourish.

Hotels, inns and restaurants are plentiful. This handsome town has much to interest and excite the visitor. It makes an ideal base from which to explore rural Oxfordshire.

For further information, please visit This Abingdon - A daily record of events and places in Abingdon.

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5. Amesbury, Wiltshire

St Mary and St Melor Abbey Church, Amesbury - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Jez Taylor (view gallery)

Amesbury is a town near to stonehenge and is one of Wiltshire's most attractive little towns.

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A Pictures of England article submitted by poe


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