Oyster ceremony enjoyed by dignitaries

ONE of Colchester's oldest civic ceremonies was played out yesterday - in honour of one of the borough's most famous exports.

Roddy Ashworth

ONE of Colchester's oldest civic ceremonies was played out yesterday - in honour of one of the borough's most famous exports.

A group of around 40 councillors, dignitaries and guests were taken on board a Thames barge, the Hydrogen, which took them from Brightlingsea to the Pyefleet Channel where the first official oyster dredge of the season took place.

The annual gin and gingerbread ceremony was marred only by the absence of Colchester's mayor, Peter Crowe, who was unable to attend due to ill health.

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Instead his deputy, Henry Spyvee, conducted the dredge alongside Mr Crowe's wife, fellow councillor and Mayoress Margaret Fairley-Crowe, who later hosted a celebratory seafood lunch below decks.

As part of the traditional ceremony - which dates back to a Royal Charter signed in 1189 - town clerk and chief executive Adrian Pritchard read “The Proclamation”, an ancient tongue-twisting text that each year formally declares the Native Oyster season open.

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Colchester Native Oysters are renowned throughout the world. As long as 2,000 years ago they were exported from Britain to ancient Rome, where they were considered a highly sought-after delicacy.

Today they are transported from Mersea Island to top restaurants all over the world where only the best is demanded by expert gourmets.

The UK's oyster season runs “whenever there is an R in the month”, due to the fact that the molluscs' breeding season covers the period from May to August.

In line with tradition, before yesterday's ceremony was completed - and the Queen's health toasted with gin - a telemessage was sent to Her Majesty reading: “According to ancient custom and charter dating back to Norman times, the mayor and councillors of Colchester Borough Council will formally proclaim the opening of the Colne Oyster Fishery for the coming season and will drink to Your Majesty's long life and health and request respectfully to offer Your Majesty their expressions of dutiful loyalty and devotion.”

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