Town to Port

This project celebrates the history of the Hythe, the former trading port of Colchester and encourages visitors to explore the area. A trail of wayfinders tell the story of the dis-used port, embedding its history within the landscape, and in so doing, strengthening the Hythe’s identity for locals and visitors alike.

Moors wayfinder with oyster fill
Moors wayfinder with oyster fill
Coal wayfinder
Smuggler's wayfinder
Print wayfinder
Firebrick wayfinder
Diesel wayfinder
Paxman diesel engine
Quay wayfinder

The project combines public art and place-making with consultation and engagement to develop a new art, way-finding and interpretation scheme. An intensive period of consultation and engagement at the start of the project played a major role in securing the project’s success. We embedded ourselves in the local community and established connections with existing community groups and organisations, which led to commissioning local artists and bringing individuals together to help build a collective sense of pride in a place that is rapidly undergoing transformation.

The project consisted of a trail of wayfinders to draw visitors along the River Colne and reveal the Hythe’s past. The locations, chosen by the community, also influenced additional design features such as seating. Inspired by the area’s industrial heritage, the wayfinders were fashioned using bespoke gabion steel cages, of the type often used in civil engineering projects. These cages were filled with materials that were historically traded in the area, such as firebricks, oysters, diesel engines and coal.

Material palette

Commissioned by Colchester Borough Council in 2012, the project formed part of the wider Transcoast project which was funded through the European Union Interreg IVa programme. The initial project completed in Spring 2013 had a budget of £100,000. A second phase of works was completed in Winter 2013 and had a budget of £150,000.

The brief was to celebrate the area’s industrial past and encourage visitors to walk and cycle along the River Colne between the Hythe and Colchester. The Hythe was once the thriving port of Colchester, but only a few signs of Colchester’s maritime history remain in the area as new apartment buildings take the place of former warehouses and factories.

We designed and project-managed the three distinct elements of the Town to Port project; a series of wayfinding and public art installations along the river, a festival to launch the project and a new public space on a disused bridge over the river. Each part of the project was developed with the local community through open days, steering groups and presentations to local councilors. Social media and the local press were utilised to keep the community up-to-date and generate content for the project.

Local historic expertise
Representative of the skateboarding community
Buffalo Tank
Sea cadets
Local history discussion
Local artist
Jewson suppliers
Local boat owner & resident
Silverton Aggregates
Accordion player

“The outcome of this is a project that local people are proud of and feel ownership of.”

Councillor Nick Barlow,
Colchester Borough Council

Each of the metal cage-like structures contains goods formerly imported or exported through the port; diesel engines produced in the Hythe, oysters farmed downriver and coal from Newcastle. Large-scale historic photographs reveal a glimpse of how the area would have been experienced fifty years ago.

Oyster fill
Print & tarmac fill
Rope fill

Local artists and craftspeople made many of the materials and artifacts that fill the gabions and many local companies donated artistic content and building materials. Each wayfinder includes a historical description for which we collaborated with a local historian and also incorporates seating, something the area was previously lacking. A few of the wayfinders also include images or audio interpretation to offer a further layer of understanding of the area’s past.

The launch of the first stage of the project was celebrated with a community festival in May 2013 on the banks of the River Colne. Attended by over 10,000 people, it was an opportunity to thank all who were involved in the project and celebrate the talent and diversity in today’s Hythe.


The Hythe, Colchester 2013
Client: Colchester Borough Council
Collaborators: Broa Sams, The Buffalo Tank, Andrew Philips, Momentum,
Colin Frizzell, The University of Essex
Photography: Tom Gildon

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