In 1584 Elizabeth I issued a charter containing a ‘grant to the town of Colchester for the erection of a Free Grammar School’. In practice this formalised the status of an already existing school – in fact there are documents confirming the existence of a school in Colchester dating back to 1206 and possibly earlier. It is likely that this was the forerunner of CRGS giving our grammar school a history stretching back nearly 900 years!
The influence of Old Colcestrians is considerable. From William Gilbert, physician to Elizabeth 1 and the ‘father of electricity and magnetism, to Admiral Ramsey who masterminded the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Normandy landings.
This thoroughly researched book examines the long history of CRGS and its links to the changing fortunes of Colchester across the centuries. And at 600 pages it is indeed a mighty tome.
But how would today’s students fit in to the school in times gone by? Scholars in Tudor times, we find, had to be present in school by 7 am in winter and 6 am in summer – and the schoolmaster was authorised to use ‘reasonable correction’ to discipline latecomers!
Paragon paperback, £27.99
The River Stour Festival runs events and exhibitions throughout the year. Just published is a small anthology celebrating the river, its culture, people and surrounding landscape.
An essay by John Thorne examines how John Constable developed his gloriously accurate portrayal of clouds and skies by meticulous observation and recording of weather conditions as he sketched repeatedly the towering Suffolk skies.
Jules Pretty relates some of the dragon tales of the area: including how Richard the Second was given an egg in the Holy Land which hatched a dragon in the Tower of London. The dragon grew and escaped eventually swimming out of the Thames estuary and up the River Stour.
There is a piece on the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree and the Witch trials of 1645-7; observations by Ronald Blythe on new grass growing in Springtime and a wonderful description of ‘wild swimming’ in the river one chilly morning in early spring. Together with poems and photographs this is a fine little introduction to some of the writers associated with the beautiful River Stour.
River Stour Festival booklet, £5
The author might be a Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex but this book is no dry academic text. In rich evocative prose Jules Pretty explores the landscape of Essex and Suffolk through the seasons. Mixing history, autobiographical sketches and personal reflections into his description of the natural history of our ever-changing landscape.
He describes the thrill of nightingales at dawn at Fingringhoe Wick and the glory of bluebells in springtime at Hillhead Wood but writes also of lay-bys along the A12 and what they show both of nature and mans impact upon the land. He ponders on why we tend to value the rarity over the commonplace – the single orchid for example, over cow parsley, without which spring would be so much poorer
Through 74 short sections the message emerges that spending time with nature is an important antidote to the stressful disconnect of twenty first century life and we are encouraged to ‘slow down, take time, live local, keep your mind deep.’
Imbued with a timelessness and a recognition that human civilisations come and go whilst the countryside remains, this is a personal study of our local landscape that resonates with deep attachment and understanding.
Cornell University Press, paperback £13.99