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daysoff Guide to Essex - History and Geography page

daysoff Guide to Essex - History and Geography page



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The County of Essex is in the south-east of England and lies just to the north-east of London, in fact the south-west part of the county forms the north-east edge of Greater London.

There is a coastline around the south-east edge which is deeply indented, but flat, due to several river estuaries. These include those of the River Stour to the north and the River Thames to the south. Along the coastline are many seaside resorts, ports and harbours. The largest resort is Southend-on-Sea, and there are docks at Harwich, Colchester and Tilbury.

The terrain is gently rolling lowland. The soil is mostly clay based but is fertile. Wheat, barley, and oil-seed rape are among the most common agricultural crops. Livestock is common. Plant nurseries and market gardens abound where the clay soil is covered by lighter, more fertile soils. Oyster fishing is important around the coast

The area of Essex is 1418 sq ml (3672 sq Km), its population around 1.5 million.

The county is divided into administrative districts of: Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Colchester, Epping Forest, Harlow, Maldon, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea, Tendring, Thurrock and Uttlesford. Chelmsford is the administrative centre. The University of Essex is based in Colchester.

The population is growing both residentially and industrially. House prices are high throughout Essex, but in general terms the closer you get to London the higher the prices are. Commuters to London live in most towns of Essex now, with easy access to the city on electrified trains. Some towns, such as Basildon and Harlow, have been deliberately designed and built to carry the over-spill of London. Fifty years ago they were just being started from small villages.



Until the Iron age there was little agriculture due to the hardwood forests which covered most of the county, even today in areas such as Epping Forest there is land that has never been cultivated.

The Romans captured Camulodunum (or Colchester) in AD43 under Emperor Claudius I. In AD60-61 queen Boudicca (or Boadicea) rebelled against them and destroyed the colony. However she later committed suicide, to avoid capture by the Romans, and they took the city back again. The walls, around the city, built by the Romans can still be seen in places.

Essex got its name because the area was conquered by the Saxons around the 6th century and it became the kingdom of the East Saxons

In the 9th and 10th centuries Essex was held by the Danes.

Because stone was scarce timber was the chief building material. It was generally agreed that if a ship was built from wood from an area, then once that ship was de-commissioned the wood came back to the area for re-use. This is the reason that many old buildings, such as pubs, have beams which are curved, or have slots and holes in them. Bricks were used from the 16th century for large houses such as Audley End. There are two surviving Norman castles, at Colchester and Castle Hedingham.


Various facts (with thanks to The East of England Tourist Board )

County Town: Chelmsford

Population: 1,610,600 approx (including Southend / Thurrock)

Highest Point: High Wood, nr Langley 146 (480 feet)

Rivers: Brook, Blackwater, Brain, Can, Chelmer, Colne, Crouch, Lea, Roach, Roding, Rom, Stour, Ter, Wid.

Landmarks: Colchester Castle, ‘Constable Country’, Dartford tunnel and Queen Elizabeth 2nd Bridge, Epping Forest (over 6,000 acres), M25 Motorway, The Naze, Southend Pier (the longest in the world), Stansted Airport, Tilbury Port.


Industry Past and present (with thanks to The East of England Tourist Board )

Essex has always been an agricultural county, with superb corn-growing countryside – the subsequent grain giving rise to associated milling, malting and brewing industries. The rich soil was also used to grow the much-need gardener’s seeds, remembered in such names as the ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ pea. Essex is also the jam (soft fruit) capital of Britain, with both ‘Wilkin and Son’ and ‘Elsenham’ producing their preserves here. Saffron Walden gets part of its name from the ‘Saffron Crocus’ which was once grown in the area, and used for dyeing, medicine and flavouring. The coastline has also brought great wealth, with important trading, fishing and shipbuilding centres. Many goods were carried in the famous Thames Sailing Barges. Today you can try sea salt from Maldon, oysters from Colchester and cockles at Leigh-on-Sea. To the north of the county came the prosperous medieval wool, and later lace and silk weaving industries. While to the south there was cement works and brick-making at Grays, and gravel extraction in the Lee Valley. Today Essex is home to Tilbury Docks, the Port of Harwich and Bradwell Power Station. Famous names include - Britvic (beverages), Ford (car manufacturing), GEC Marconi (engineering/research) and Ridleys (brewing).


Famous People (with thanks to The East of England Tourist Board )

Thomas Audley (lord Chancellor), Queen Boadicea, Anne Boleyn (Henry 8th’s second wife), John Constable (painter), Daniel Defoe (author), Queen Elizabeth 1st , King Harold, William Harvey (discovered circulation of blood), Gustav Holst (composer), Matthew Hopkins (witch finder General), Christopher Jones (Master of the Mayflower), Guglielmo Marconi (father of wireless), Frances Evelyn Maynard (‘Darling daisy’), Alfred Munnings (artist), Captain Oates (explorer), John Ray (botany), Dorothy L. Sayers (author), Samuel Pepys, Dick Turpin (highwayman), Lawrence Washington (great, great grandfather of George Washington).


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