Kennedy speaks at town's oyster feast

THE former leader of the Liberal Democrats was among guests in Colchester who yesterday saluted the town's mayor Ray Gamble at the traditional oyster feast.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE former leader of the Liberal Democrats was among guests in Colchester who yesterday saluted the town's mayor Ray Gamble at the traditional oyster feast.

Charles Kennedy was among hundreds of people gathered in the town hall to mark the annual event, which dates back hundreds of years.

The politician addressed diners at the feast including the Lord Lieutenant, the High Sheriff of Essex, the chairman of Essex County Council and representatives of Colchester's twin towns Imola, Avignon and Wetzlar.

Mr Kennedy spoke about life as leader of the Liberal Democrats and how on previous occasions he had wished he could join his fellow party member Bob Russell at the oyster feast but had been unable to do so.

He also admitted that over the last 18 months he had possibly not been a perfect example of the theme of the feast - healthy families - and said during the festivities he had escaped to the roof of the Town Hall for a couple of cigarettes.

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Fellow speaker Carol Thatcher said she was honoured to be an “Essex girl” for the day and remarked upon the importance of Colchester to her mother, the former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who once lived there.

Also speaking were Marie Partner, chief executive of Colchester United, The Right Reverend John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford and local historian Andrew Phillips.

Music throughout the celebrations came from the Colne Valley Youth Orchestra and a Barbershop Quartet.

Mr Gamble said: “We are particularly pleased that members of the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment are able to attend.

“It is a wonderful event that represents Colchester's rich history and the town's world famous oysters.”

The origins of the oyster feast are shrouded in mystery, but the cultivation of oysters locally pre-dates the coming of the Romans and “Colchester Natives”, grown in the creeks off Mersea Island, have been discovered in Rome by modern day archaeologists.

The earliest evidence in borough records thought to possibly relate to the start of the modern event is found in the then Chamberlain's Accounts for 1667, where “two hole barrells and 4 halfs of oysters” were bought by the mayor's orders “at a cost to the town of 16 shillings.”

Nowadays councillors, guests and members of the public - selected by lottery - pay around £80 to attend the event, which includes a drinks reception in the mayor's parlour followed by a four course lunch in the Moot Hall.