Trade and Industry

In the post-medieval period, Colchester was an important regional centre for trade. The port at the Hythe enabled coastal trade with London, Newcastle and other coastal centres. Continental trade links flourished with ports in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. Documentary sources record a wide variety of trades in Colchester in the post-medieval period, and this is supported by archaeological evidence recovered from excavations within and beyond the town. Colchester's economy grew significantly from the 1560s when a new wave of skilled Dutch immigrants were accommodated in the town. Colchester's non-conformist sympathies made it an attractive destination for Dutch Protestants who faced persecution in their homelands where Philip II of Spain was determined to eradicate this form of religion. In 1571 several Dutch immigrants formed a guild in the town which was granted exclusive rights to produce lightweight cloths, which would underpin Colchester's commercial success throughout the 17th century. By the end of the 16th century Colchester was at the centre of a regional cloth-making revival which extended as far as Bocking, Braintree, Coggeshall, Dedham and Halstead. Colchester dominated the regional cloth-making industry, with manufacturers in smaller towns being required to bring their products to Colchester to have them sealed for quality at the Dutch Bay Hall. The size of the Dutch community in Colchester is difficult to estimate, but it is thought that by 1622 almost 20% of Colchester's population of 8,000 was of Dutch origin. In 1612 the Privy Council granted the guild of Dutch craftsmen the right to trade freely in London. 

Although there is considerable documentary evidence relating to Colchester's flourishing cloth industry, the archaeological evidence is more sparse. Lead cloth seals, which were used as a means of identification and quality assurance, have been found at several excavations within the town and further afield, and thimbles used in the manufacturing and working of cloth have also been found on several sites in Colchester. The names of numerous local clothiers are recorded on trade tokens found in excavations within and beyond the town. 

Alongside the cloth industry, Colchester was also home to a variety of other trades and industries. Most of the pottery found in and around Colchester was produced nearby with documentary sources recording potters at Tiptree, Dedham and Ardleigh. Several field names in West Bergholt such as 'Clay Field' and 'Kiln Field' indicate post-medieval brick and tile-making. A small kiln likely to have been used for the manufacture of tiles was recorded during excavations on North Hill in Colchester, and a 17th-century tile kiln was recorded at Layer-de-la-Haye in 1959. Several excavations in the town have yielded large assemblages of post-medieval pottery. Clay tobacco pipes have also been recorded from numerous sites and a late 17th-century pipe kiln was found at the corner of High Street and Maidenburgh Street.