English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.


Major Settlement in the Parish of Colchester

Historical Forms

  • Cam(v), Camvl(odvno) t.Cunobelinus Coins
  • τὸ Καμουλóδουνον τὸ το Κυνοβϵλλίνου βασίλϵιον 43 DioCassius 15th
  • colonia Camulodunum 50 Tacitus,Annals 11th
  • in coloniam Camulodunum, Camuloduni (gen.) 61 11th ib
  • Camuloduno 4th PeutingerTafel 13th
  • Camoloduno 4th AntItix 8th
  • Camaloduno a.79 Pliny,Nat.Hist. 11th
  • colonia victricensis quae est in Brittannia Camaloduni 3rd CILxiv,3955
  • πóλις Καμουλóδουνον c.150 Ptolemy c.1200
  • veteranorum colonia, coloniam 63 Tacitus,Agricola 15th
  • Colonia 4th AntItv 8th
  • Cair Colun 9th Nennius 10th
  • to Colneceastre 921 ASC c.925
  • Colenceaster 931 BCS674 12th
  • Coleceastra 1067 BM
  • Colecestr(i)e, Colecestria 1070–87 WDB 1291 Tax
  • Colecestra, in cole castro 1086 DB
  • Colescestr' 1242 P 1291 Tax
  • Colcestre 1195 FF 1308 Londin
  • Colcestrie 1205 France 1306 Londin
  • Colcestria 1306 ib
  • Kair-Collon, id est Coleceastria, (regis Britannici de) Colecestre (cui nomen erat Coel) 12th HH
  • Kaercolvin id est Colecestriae 12th GeoffreyofMonmouth
  • Cair Coel (Kair Koel), Colecestre c.1300 Gaimar
  • Colchestre 1223 Rental c.1300 RG 1388,1391 Fine
  • Colchithe 1413,1414 Cl 1428 FA
  • Colchester 1491 FF
  • Colecessa, Colessa 1235 Ass
  • Colestr 1275 RH
  • Golchestre c.1300 RG
  • Caercolden (v.l. Caergolden) id
  • est Colecestriae, Coelcestre, Colecestriae 15th Higden
  • Caercolden þat is, Colchestre, Co(i)lchestre, Coelchestre 15th Trevisa
  • Colnechester, The Walshe call it Caer Colyne 1594 N
  • Northward(e), Suthward(e), Estward(e), Westward(e) 1272 Ass
  • Hauedward(a), Heuedward(a) 13th Colch 1311 Ct
  • Heddward t.Ric3 Paper


The Kαμουλóδουνον of Ptolemy is a conjecture, but in view of the Camvl of the coins, there can be no doubt that the original form was Camulodunum and not Camalodunum . The name is Celtic, 'the fort of Camulos ,' the war god of the Celts, and the first element is found also as the first element in the pers. name Camulogenus (Caesar, de Bello Gallico vi, 57). The first military colony in Britain was established here during the governorship of Ostorius Scapula (a.d. 47–52), hence colonia veteranorum , which was also called Colonia Victrix , probably in commemoration of the defeat of the Trinobantes, at which the emperor was present (a.d. 43). It has been suggested that the modern Colchester is pleonastic, consisting of the addition of OE  ceaster to a syncopated colonia . There can be no doubt, however, that the first element is the name of the river Colne on which the town stands (the river-name cannot be a back-formation as there are on the river, some distance from Colchester, four parishes which are named Colne , a form that occurs twice in the 10th century). The Cair Colun of Nennius is an exact equivalent of the Colne ceastre of the Chronicle, and is paralleled by Geoffrey of Monmouth's Kaerleir or Leircestre for Leicester, 'the camp on the Leire.' Cair is the Welsh caer , 'fort.' The forms from some of the annalists are due to the legend of King Cole, cf. Robert of Gloucester 1832:

“Cole was a noble mon. & gret poer adde an honde.

Erle he was of colchestre. here in þisse londe.

& Colchestre after is name. icluped is ich under stonde.”For Golchestre v. IPN 114, and for -hithe v. Old Heath infra 376.