huguenot logo

Colchester

The first Huguenots settled in Colchester in Essex, South East England in 1565, with permission from Elizabeth I. Their number had increased to 500 by 1575. The population in the town was further swelled in the 1590s as the Privy Council, concerned about overcrowding in London and supported by the foreign church, looked for a means to disperse immigrants. A new Dutch settlement was first established in Halstead, Essex, but these settlers moved to Colchester, after suffering discourtesies from the locals. Whilst the area the refugees inhabited became known as the Dutch Quarter – as the town centre continues to be known today - many were not Dutch but Walloon and Flemish Huguenots.

Like many English towns with a new Huguenot population, the textile industry grew, as the settlers introduced weaving techniques learnt on the continent, establishing the New Draperies. Colchester owed much of its 17th and 18th century prosperity to the textile industry, particularly specialising in woollen cloth. Most inhabitants were employed spinning, weaving, washing, drying and dressing. The industry in Colchester was served by Bourne Mill, now a National Trust property which was built on the site of a Tudor fishing lodge. Between 1640 and 1840 it served as a Fulling Mill, a mechanised process for eliminating oils, dirt and other impurities from the wool, and making it thicker. The mill drove the fulling hammers.