IN honour of the celebration of the Colchester oyster feast, we are looking back into the history of the extravagant and glamorous event. 

According to Colchester historian Andrew Phillips, the oyster feast originates from the celebration of Michaelmas on September 29, which marked the turning of the year when new contracts were made, payments for the harvest were settled and employment for the next year was arranged. 

The money from the harvest was spent on the Michaelmas fair, called St Dennis fair in Colchester, which was held on October 9 on the “Beryfield”, nowadays Colchester Bus Station. 

These celebrations date back to 1318 and after Britain adapted to the European calendar, the celebrations were moved to October 20. 

Oysters came into play in the 1790s as October oysters of the Colne dredgermen were gifted to the proclamation of the St Dennis fair to the mayor and council leaders. 

The oyster feast as a celebration we know now was invented by mayor Henry Wolton in 1845 who re-invented the Mayor’s Dinner, a tradition which was banned in 1835 by a local government reform banning all forms of civic feasting to fight corruption. 

Not every mayor after Mr Wolton hosted the feast but Thomas Moy solidified it in 1878 as a part of the Colchester events calendar. 

Cabinet ministers and London dignitaries were invited from now on as well as media and showbiz personalities during the 20th century. 

In 1924, Catherine Alderton became the first woman to attend the feast as the first female mayor of Colchester with the Duke of York as the principal guest. 

High-ranking visitors like former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill attended in 1925, while Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan attended in 1950. 

In 2015 the Hollytrees Museum in Colchester dedicated an entire exhibition to the long-standing tradition of the feast, including historic programmes. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the feast was moved online in 2020 and the mayor and mayoress councillor Robert Davidson and Liz Davidson visited the Colchester Oyster Fishery situated on the Pyefleet Creek on Mersea Island. 

This year’s festivities have also seen a change as its usual location as the Moot Hall in Town Hall is undergoing works.

Instead, one of Colchester’s most prestigious venues, the Talbooth restaurant in Dedham has the honour of hosting the historic event. 

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: David Holt, October 1978, at the annual Colchester Oyster Feast

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: The Colchester town clerk proclaims the St Dennis Fair for the last time in 1931.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: he Oyster Feast of 1902, held in the old Corn Exchange, was paid for entirely by the mayor of the time, Wilson Marriage.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: It’s a yes from Dermot – the X Factor presenter and son of Colchester, Dermot O’Leary tries the oysters at the 2004 feast

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: This year’s Colchester Oyster Feast