Alice Goss

Book review – Centuries of Change by Alice Goss

If you are a history lover, especially local history, then Centuries of Change by local historian Alice could be the perfect holiday read for you.

Everybody is familiar with Colchester’s Arts Centre, which occupies the old redundant church near the Mercury Theatre. Most of our younger residents have grown up knowing this building only as an arts centre, with the more senior of us remembering the building as the church of St. Mary’s at the Walls. There are many people who still live in the town who were either married or baptised there, many of whom still having fond memories of the building as a church.

Church Historian, Alice Goss, has delved into the archives and produced a wonderfully illustrated book on the history of this building, charting its origins and development over the centuries. This book, not only gives a fascinating insight into the three separate buildings which were constructed here, but the lives of the people who were once associated with the church over the past seven hundred years. These people, and in particularly some of the church’s past rectors, have worked together through the good times and through hardship to make the church their own.

Everyone is familiar with the Siege of Colchester in 1648 and probably thinks they know the story of the cannon on the roof; but do you? This book has a great deal to say on the subject, and there is more to this story that many people might realise. St. Mary’s was at the centre of the siege throughout its eleven weeks and there is more to this story than just a cannon on the roof. The church’s parishioners also had their part to play in the story, including Dr. Francis Glisson and James Bond. Yes, you did read that name correctly. You’ll have to read the book to find out what he did!

There are also many people within the town who are familiar with the modern church of Christ Church in Ireton Road. Perhaps you worship there or have attended a wedding or baptism at some point. Did you know that Christ Church was founded back in 1904, and that the current building is actually the second church to have stood on that sight? Christ Church was founded and paid for by the parishioners of St. Mary’s and this book charts that story, as well as the social developments of the modern church.

As history books go, this one is very topical, as the story of the parish also covers the first part of this year, in which it talks about the changes to Balkerne hill and the homeless problem which the former cemetery now has to endure. The book talks about this issue, drawing on the thoughts and intentions from past parishioners, putting this situation into an historical context.

Throughout the book, Alice makes reference to other aspects of Colchester’s history, using information from other church’s parish registers to highlight some of the events which have occurred throughout history. In particular, she highlights disease and plague as well as some of the executions which have occurred near the church.

Finally, Alice charts a little of her own story and fascination with church history, highlighting her journey of discovery in researching this former church over the past two years. She has not only uncovered the story of one of Colchester’s most historic areas, but several social stories which have never been told. Whether you’re interested in church history, social history or the history of Colchester, this book contains so much undiscovered information about this area of Colchester, spanning the years 43AD to 2017.

This hardback book is available from Waterstones, Red Lion Bookshop and Amazon.

Kindle and e-book versions are available online.

The Colchester Community Poetry Project

Alice Goss, one of Colchester’s historians, talks about her latest project to assist our town’s homeless guests.

The homeless situation in Colchester, as in other towns, is rising alarmingly and there are too many people living on our streets, all trying to access the few resources that are open to them. There are many people and organisations in the town who are trying to assist them, Beacon House, Emmaus and the GO4 café, along with many individuals who give up their time to help this sector of our community. Yes ‘our community’ as these homeless people are as important in our town as those with homes to go to. How would you feel if someone you knew or a family member was sleeping in a doorway in wet, freezing conditions? There is a small army of volunteers who give up their time to help homeless people, many professional people who help, and there are those through the church who help, with the St. Peter’s Guest House project is a success story now active in its third year. This project ensures that some of our homeless are kept warm and nourished, in a safe, sheltered accommodation over the winter months.

So why am I doing this project? I spent all of last year unemployed, which drove me into a severe financial situation, so much so that I could have lost my home and potentially been homeless myself. The thought of losing everything and then having to rely on the generosity of others to help me rebuild my life, was a situation I did not want to face, and the reality of my situation began to hit home. As I looked into the state of homelessness in Colchester I was struck by the limited resources available and by the generosity of the good people of Colchester in supporting homeless charities. I am now working (albeit part time, working nights) doing a job that I don’t want to do, but it’s a job and one which will keep me housed. I therefore set out to find some way of assisting the community to which I could have belonged, and as a business woman (self-employed for 18 years) I had all the skills to which I could utilise in devising and executing a project like this.

So, what exactly is this project?

This project is to establish a poetry book, which will consist of 100+ poems, all on a theme relating to Colchester (the castle, River Colne, churches, arts scene, transport, aspects of the town’s history, priory, Hythe, military, Roman Circus etc..) accompanied by photos of the town, articles, case studies profiles, an introduction, illustrations, a preface and a foreward. There will also be an index of poets and an acknowledgements section for those businesses who have contributed to the costs of the book. I already have two businesses who are contributing their resources and I expect others will follow shortly.

The finished book will be a hard back, of around 200-250 pages and all the profits generated will go to help fund homeless projects (through Emmaus – although the exact details of how the money will be allocated is still to be finalised) within the town to help our homeless guests.

What I’m asking of the good people of Colchester to please support this project in either of two ways. Either be one of the many who will contribute a poem if they feel able to write one or alternatively, people can support the project by making a financial contribution towards the production/advertising/marketing costs of the book by donating through the gofundme page.

This is a bold initiative undertaken by myself, but with the help and support of Colchester’s people, then together we can make this project a reality. In my opinion, there is something very wrong with our society if we have people living on our streets. Homelessness is a nationwide problem which seems to be escalating and it’s time that our homeless guests were helped more by the housed community. Thank you for reading this and for your support.

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Alice Goss