Cities and Towns in Essex


With thanks to The East of England Tourist Board



Until the railway arrived in the 19th C. Basildon was a small rural village, whose cottages clustered around the 14th C. Holy Cross Church. In 1949 it become a new town and now has a new population of around 160,00. The Eastgate Centre is one of the county’s major shopping centres.



Small town, set in well-wooded countryside. Numerous Georgian and period houses. The impressive church tower was built around 1500. Chantry House was the 17th C. home of Christopher Martin, treasurer to the Pilgrim Fathers. Nearby is Norsey wood Nature Reserve, where 500 men were massacred by King Richards soldiers in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381.



Bustling market town standing on the old Roman road. King John gave Braintree its market character in 1199. The textile industry has brought prosperity here for more than 400 years, firstly with wool, then from the 19th C. silk weaving. Bradford St has fine houses once occupied by those in the industry. Close by is the Freeport Outlet Designer Village.



The town grew up in the late 12th C. (around a forest clearing), as a convenient stopping place for pilgrims travelling from East Anglia and the Midlands to Canterbury. It later developed as an 18th C. coaching centre with some good inns. Surrounding the town are rural areas of countryside and parkland, offering an excellent centre for walking.



A maritime heritage town, Brightlingsea is the only cinque port outside Kent and Sussex. Sitting at the mouth of the river Colne, it is a major yachting centre with one of the best stretches of sailing on the East Coast. The town is also home to one of the England’s oldest timber-framed buildings, the 13th C. Jacobs Hall. Superb walks alongside the creek and river.



Quiet, unspoilt riverside town, one of England’s leading yachting centres. Known as the ‘Cowes of the East Coast’ the attractive quayside is lined with colour-washed houses, boat-building yards and sailing clubs. The famous clock tower dates from 1877. The town is also noted for its annual regatta, oysters, smuggling tales and long walks along the sea walls.


Canvey Island

This silt island was created by the currents of the Thames estuary. In the 17th  C. the land was reclaimed by a group of Dutchmen, under the guidance of Cornelius Vermuyden. From an agricultural area, with a few villages, the island has developed into a large residential area. 16th C. inn Old Dutch cottages and water sports.


Castle Hedingham

A former market town, granted a character by King John in 13th C. Today the winding lanes of this medieval village are lined with timber-framed buildings and elegant Georgian house. Dominating the village is the magnificent 12th C. castles keep of the De Vere family, Earls of Oxford.



Founded in 1199, Chelmsford has been the county town of Essex for more than 700 years. Imposing 18th C. Shire Hall, and 15th C. parish church designated a cathedral in 1914. Pedestrianised shopping areas and excellent entertainment leisure facilities, including the Essex county cricket Ground. In 1899, the world’s first radio factory was opened here by Guglielmo Marconi.


Chipping Ongar

Surrounded by open farmland, this pleasant little country town owes its existence to the Normans. In 1162, Richard de Lucy, Chief Justice of England, built a great castle here. It was demolished in the 16th C. and today only the impressive mound remains. The wide High St has houses dating from 1642, and within its parish church are Roman bricks.


Clacton On Sea

The capital of the ‘Essex Sunshine Coast’, Clacton is a popular seaside town with tree-lined streets, long sandy beaches and beautiful sea front gardens. The 19th C. pier offers a range of entertainment and attractions. Water sports, two theatres and a good shopping area. Close by is the Clacton Factory Shopping Village.



Once an important place in the trade of wool and lace making, Coggeshall is now a major antiques centre. There are many fine timber framed buildings, including 16th C. Paycockes once home to a wealthy wool merchant. Grange Barn, erected by Cisterican monks in 1140, is all that remains of the former abbey. The clock tower was built in 1887.



Britain’s oldest recorded town, with over 2,000 years of history to explore. Discover the largest Norman castles keep in Europe (now an award winning museum), and Britain’s best preserved Roman gateway, close by are the quaint narrow streets of the Dutch Quarter, where the cloth industry once flourished. Excellent shopping and leisure facilities. Lovely parkland and gardens.



Hilltop town, built on the site of an Iron Age fort. There are views on the Blackwater Estuary with its barges and yachts. The church is 600 years old and contains notable wooden effigies of knights. Set within a country park is the 19th C. Danbury palace, a former bishop’s residence.



Set by the River Stour, Dedham is in the heart of Constable Country. It was there that the 18th C. Landscape painter went to school. The attractive main street is lined with Georgian-fronted houses, old inns and an old arts/crafts centre. The magnificent 15th C. church is noted for its heraldic symbols. East of the village is the former home of the artist Sir Alfred Munnings.



Founded in the 13th C. by the canons of Waltham Abbey, Epping is set on the old coaching route from London. Its long, wide High Street is full of attractive buildings and old inns. To the north is the famous Epping Forest, covering some 6,000 acres. This former royal hunting ground was the haunt of legendary highwayman Dick Turpin.


Frinton On Sea

With a reputation as an exclusive resort, Frinton retains an atmosphere of the 1920s and 30s. Tree lined residential avenues sweep down to the elegant Esplanade cliff-top greensward. The long stretch of sandy beach is quiet and secluded. The main tree lined shopping street (Connaught Avenue) has been dubbed the "Bond Street" of East Anglia.


Grays / Thurrock

The manor of Thurrock was granted to Richard de Grays and his family. In those early days, fishing was the local industry, but later Grays became renowned as a brick-making centre. To the west is the popular Lakeside shopping centre, and Europe’s longest cabled-stayed bridge.


Great Dunmow

Historic market town, which prospered from the medieval wool trade. It is home of the Flitch Trials, which date from 1104. This custom takes place every four years, and awards a flitch of bacon to a newly married couple who can prove that they have lived in harmony for a year and a day. The Doctor’s Pond is the scene of the first lifeboat experiments in 1784.



Lively and picturesque with a 600 year old church and interesting country-style shops. With the decline of the wool industry, Halstead turned to silk manufacture, started by the Courtauld family in the 1800’s. Their weather-boarded mill, which straddles the River Colne, is now a large antiques centre.



Designed to relieve the congestion of London in 1947, this New Town has set residential areas. Its long history still survives though, in the rural parishes that surround ‘The High’, it’s modern centre. ‘The Lawn’ is the first tower block in Britain in 1951, now listed for preservation. Wide range of sculpture.


Harwich and Dovercourt

Harwich is famous for its sea-faring history and heritage. It was once the headquarters of the Kings’ Navy, and home of Christopher Jones ‘Master of the Mayflower’. Narrow streets, historic buildings and museums, including the Redoubt Fort. Adjacent is the Edwardian style resort of Dovercourt with its sandy beaches, boating lake and park.



Lying beside the busy A12, this little country town has Georgian brick houses and 16th C. inn. The church is noted for its 15th C. red brick tower. Inside is a chapel housing the tombs of the Petre family. Sir William Petre moved here in 1539, building Ingatestone Hall.



Ancient hilltop town, port and sailing centre, at the head of the Blackwater estuary. Famed for its unique crystal salt and majestic Thames Sailing Barges. Attractive lanes and ‘chases’ with many historic buildings, including the 15th C. Moot Hall and 17th C. Dr Plume’s library. All Saints’ Church has a unique triangular shaped tower. Edwardian Promenade Park.


Manningtree and Mistey

At the head of the Stour Estuary, these two small towns are joined by a waterfront area, noted for its swans. Manningtree is a sailing town with fine Georgian buildings, while Mistley with its swan fountain, was all set to become a spa town in the 18th C. Both places are connected with Matthew Hopkins, the infamous 17th C. ‘Whitchfinder General’


Rayleigh and Rochford

Rayleigh is noted for its handsome 14th C. church, and the mound of its former royal castle built by the Saxons. Adjacent Rochford has a square surrounded by attractive buildings, the oldest dating from 1270. The red-brick tower of the church was once used by smugglers. Nearby is 15th C. Rochford Hall, reputedly the birthplace of Anne Boleyn.


Saffron Walden

The ancient town takes its name from the saffron crocus, which grew here in the 16th C. Once a centre of wool production, the wealth generated has left many lovely timber framed buildings, some decorated with pargetting. The parish church, with its elegant spire, is one of the largest in Essex. Also remains of Norman castle and rare turf maze.


Southend On Sea

Traditional family seaside resort with seven miles of seafront, award-winning beaches, and magnificent parks and gardens. The famous 100-year-old pier is the longest in the world – take a ride to the end aboard the little trains. Also excellent shopping centre, Kursaal entertainment complex, bandstand concerts, theatre and full calendar of special events.


Stansted Mountfitchet

Best known for its airport, this small town owes it earlier importance to a castle built here by the Mountfitchet family. The extensive earthworks are now home to the only reconstructed motte and bailey castle in the world. The main part of the town is grouped along a hill. Close by is a 18th C. windmill.



Developed from a Saxon settlement, Thaxted prospered from the cutlery industry in the 14th C. Quaint streets are lined with fine medieval buildings, including the 15th C. Guildhall and thatched almshouses. Beautiful church with 181-foot high tower, and John Webb’s 19th C. windmill. Home of the British composer, Gustav Holst and highwayman Dick Turpin.



Modern town, now one of Europe’s largest container ports. Henry 8th built riverside block houses at East and West Tilbury, these later becoming Coalhouse and Tilbury Forts. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth I gave her morale boosting speech at Tilbury Fort, as her troops prepared to meet the Spanish Armada.



Best-known for its production of jam, this little town is surrounded by orchards. Fruit farming began here in 1864, and today the family firm of wilkin and son’s is world-famous for their jams and preserves. The brick windmill was reputed used to hide contraband smuggled up the river Blackwater.


Waltham Abbey

Well preserved town, home to one of the county’s most outstanding Norman buildings, ‘Waltham Abbey’. It was endowed by King Harold, who was reputedly buried here. Beside the abbey is a lovely area of parkland and gardens. Sitting on the Meridian Line, the town has former coaching inns, and a fine ‘Art Nouveau’ Town Hall.


Walton on the Naze

Family seaside resort with clean sandy beaches, seafront gardens and quaint narrow streets. The pier is the second longest in Britain. The Naze is a headland jutting into the sea, where the healthland nature reserve is a haven for birdwatchers. Behind the town are ‘The Backwaters’, a series of saltings and little creeks leading into Harwich harbour.



Standing on the River Brain, the manor of Witham was given to the Knights Templar in 1148. It has been a cloth making centre, spa and coaching town. Newland Street has many fine Georgian buildings, including the council offices with its period garden. Statue of crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers who lived in the town for 27 years from 1929.



Set on the wooded slopes of the River Colne, Wivenhoe has attractive old inns and a pretty quayside. The earliest record of boat building was in 1575, then in the 18th C. it developed as a port and shipyard. An earthquake in 1884 damaged the church. On the outskirts of the town is Wivenhoe Park, home of the University of Essex.


With thanks to The East of England Tourist Board


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