WE all have our own memories of Christmases past.

For my wife and me, the season reminds us of the birth of our grandchild – Lucas.

He was named after the Colchester road where his parents had their first home together. That road is itself a reminder of a much earlier Colchester-born resident – the Royalist Lieutenant-General of Horse, Sir Charles Lucas.

He was a prominent player in the defence of Colchester during its three-month siege.

Sir Charles was on the losing side and paid the ultimate price – executed on August 28, 1648, in the Castle Yard.

There is still evidence of the siege in Colchester today – not least the Siege House on East Street, with its bullet holes picked out by red circles.

I often take our grandson there and usually have a Civil War item or two tucked away in my pocket – a musket ball (which fits those holes perfectly), a Charles I shilling, a clay pipe bowl, or some other such object.

It was not just Colchester that experienced the turmoil of that time. Charles Lucas’s arch-rival was Parliamentarian Lord-General ‘Black Tom’ Fairfax.

They had encountered each other at the earlier Battle of Marston Moor (1644) and there were clearly old scores to be settled.

Maldon’s borough records indicate that, between 1642 and 1648, the greatest expenditure was for self-defence.

There was a gun emplacement built at Fullbridge, road blocks on the main roads and the old Saxon ‘Burh’ fort was refortified with earthen ramparts.

Assistance was given to forces raised by the town’s MP, Sir Henry Mildmay, to fight for Parliament and then, in 1648, costs really spiralled as the New Model Army marched into town.

Under the command of the “Right Honourable the Lord Fairfax” the Parliamentarian soldiers set up camp in a field off London Road, below Beacon Hill.

Although there were undoubtedly plenty of closet Royalists living here at the time (some noticeable by their absence), borough officials were keen to physically preserve the town and its reputation, and so, purely out of self-interest, ingratiated themselves with ‘Black Tom’ and his troops.

They lavished Maldon oysters “and other things” on them, and provided extra men, food and wages.

But that didn’t stop the Parliament of 1648 demoting some of our key local officials, such as town bailiff James Starling.

There must have been a palpable sigh of relief when the army finally left for the beleaguered town of Colchester – albeit in the anxious knowledge that some Royalist Maldonians were part of Colchester’s occupying forces.

The history books tell us the outcome of the siege and the fate of Lucas who, having been found guilty of high treason, declared: “I am no traitor, but a true subject to my king and the laws of the kingdom…”

Despite his plea, he was “by the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax in cold blood barbarously murdered”.

The king’s trial would follow just five months later.

Advocate Isaac Dorislaus, who had helped draw up the charges, was married to a Maldon woman, Elizabeth Pope, and lived here for a while. His legal input ultimately contributed to the execution of Charles I on the afternoon of January 30, 1649.

England had well and truly become a Puritan-led commonwealth and Christmas 1648 was very different to the one that we will be enjoying.

Since the 16th Century, the Puritan movement had voiced objections to Christmas and this was enforced with an ordinance in June 1647 confirming the abolition of the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun.

From then on, Christmas was officially “illegal”, seen as “a popish festival with no biblical justification” and a “time of wasteful and immoral behaviour”. It was replaced with a day of “fasting and humiliation for Englishmen to account for their sins”.

With a total ban on everything festive, from decorations to gatherings, rebellions broke out across the country.

Maldon’s voices are apparently silent, but one wonders what resident families like the Paynes, Lawes, Browens, Tylers and Scarletts really thought about the prohibition.

Did they secretly harp back to the old ways and did they continue to keep their traditional Christmases behind Maldon’s closed doors?

Following Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658, his son Richard became Lord Protector Although our own Dr Thomas Plume appears to have been a Royalist and an Anglican, he never got into trouble over his beliefs.

In fact, it was Richard Cromwell himself who appointed him to the living of Greenwich.

The Restoration in May 1660 and coronation of Charles II on April 23, 1661, were red letter days, marked in Maldon with the re-hanging of the Royal Arms in All Saints’ church and the ringing of the bells.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: The royal arms in All Saints ChurchThe royal arms in All Saints Church

Those bells also heralded a new tolerance, making earlier legislation null and void. Both the religious and secular elements of the Twelve Days of Christmas returned and could once more be celebrated freely.

The diarist Samuel Pepys (an advocate of Thomas Plume’s sermons) marked Christmas 1660 with a visit to his church in the morning and a dinner of mutton and chicken. He knew, just as we do this year, that the smell of cooking and the sight of holly decorating his front door would no longer lead to his arrest.

If you attend a service at All Saints’ this Christmas, have a look at those Royal Arms and reflect on all they represent.

Enjoy your seasonal fayre and may I wish you all a very merry and tolerant Christmas 2021.