Heritage > Counties > England


The land of the eastern Saxons, that is how Essex was named. Found in the South East of England the county covers an area of some 1,417 square miles and in Harwich provides a direct link, albeit over the sea, to Holland and the continent of Europe.

The main towns and cities of Essex are Chelmsford, the administration centre of Essex, Colchester, known in Roman times as Camulodunum, Harwich, Tilbury, Clacton and Southend-on-Sea.

Colchester was the earliest recorded Roman town in England and, despite being destroyed by Bodicea and the Iceni tribes, remains a garrison town to this day.

Many historians speculate that Camulodunum gave rise to the legend of Camelot although this is disputed by those favouring areas to the West of England and in Wales.

Essex covers nearly 1,500 square miles and features the former royal hunting ground of Epping Forest (since 1882 controlled by the City of London), the marshy coastal headland of the Naze and the site of London's third airport of Stansted.

Essex enjoys a strategically brilliant position in that it is not very far from the city of London yet far enough to allow for a peaceful existence.

Facts on the region

Origin of name: From the Old English meaning ëland of the East Saxonsí.

Name first recorded: 604 as East Seaxe.

County Town: CHELMSFORD Its railway viaduct is a true monument to Victorian daring and engineering genius. It took over 10 million bricks to build!

County Rivers: Stour, Blackwater, Lea Colne, Chelmer, Crouch, Roding.

Highest point: High wood near Langley at 480 feet.

Essexís local government: The County of Essex has two-tier local government for a large part of its territory, with Essex County Council and 12 District Councils providing the local services: they are Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Colchester, Epping Forest, Harlow, Maldon, Rochford, Tendring and Uttlesford. There are seven unitary councils where Essex County Council has NO authority: Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Thurrock, Southend-on-Sea and Waltham Forest.

The local landscape

The western part of the county is part of the clay based bowl around London, where it touches the Eastern suburbs of the capital. Here Essex is urban is dotted with sleeper towns and railway lines stretching along the Thames and up to the North East.

Fairly level in the middle with few heights except as sudden hills (such as at Colchester) Essex flattens its yielding clay plain even more on the fringes of its indented coastline. It changes to tidal mud as it goes east towards the North Sea and south to the Thames estuary. Here are slow flowing tidal water courses and bays where shallow inlets make a mysterious coastline of shadowy beauty.

Stretching along the Thames estuary the scrubby marshland and wide mud flats with underlying silt means the coast encourages all sorts of wading and shore birds.

The northern half of the county has expanses of high exposed land enfolding handsome villages with plastered and painted houses, set on wide main streets. Along the border with Suffolk is prime agricultural land, rich and lush, and the scenery is mostly wide fields with prosperous farms, broken with coppices and fine big trees.

Local Towns and Villages

BARKING A 7th-century description has it as a town of fishermen whose boats, called smacks, lie at the mouth of a creek and take fish up to Billingsgate.

BASILDON Political heartbeat of Thatcherism and media barometer of Conservative fortunes.

CASTLE HEDINGHAM Is a pretty village with an ancient inn, the Bell.

COLCHESTER A museum 'must-see' and fine zoo; look out for oysters to eat. Oh, and Roman ruins!

DAGENHAM Has the famous Ford factory (one of the largest car plants in Europe).

EPPING TOWN On the edge of a famous forest.

HARWICH Historic port and North Sea ferry terminal with the country's first purpose-built cinema (1911) still flickering.

MALDON A small town rich with centuries of British history.

SAFFRON WALDEN The saffron crocus gave this town its name (and its fortune until the 1700s; 30,000 flowers made one pound of spice for dye, medicine, perfume and flavouring). A pattern of medieval streets and merchant houses reflect this old wealth.

SOUTHEND-ON-SEA Funfairs, candy floss, one-arm bandits on the seafront. Hidden behind that is a resort favoured by the Prince Regent and some fine Regency traces are still left over.

STANSTED MOUNTFITCHET Commonly known as Stansted, home to London's third airport and wildlife park.

TILBURY The docks, opened in the 1880s, are the largest in the country and now handle timber, grain and general cargo bound for Britain.

TIPTREE Near Witham, is famous for fruit-preserving and jam- and marmalade-making industries.


East and West Ham






Places to Visit

Audley End House And Park,Saffron Walden, Essex

Moyns Park,Birdbrook, Essex

Bourne Mill,Colchester, Essex

Hedingham Castle, Hedingham

Colchester Castle, Colchester

Chelmsford Cathedral, Colchester, Essex

Coggeshall Grand Barn, Colchester, Essex


Mid February: Visit the Primrose Festival at Pass Nurseries at Marks Tey, which features up to a quarter of a million bloominí primroses.

End of March: Clactonís traditional ale and jazz weekend makes for a heady mixture.

Fighter Meet at North Weald airfield in Epping is Europeís premier fighter aircraft airshow; not for those of a sensitive disposition.

Sailing events along the Blackwater estuary.

Regular events through English Heritage at Audley End House from craft and country shows to sheepdog demonstrations and teddy bearsí picnics.

June/July: Harwich shows off with concerts, exhibitions, folk dancing and other entertainments.

June: Essex County Show at Chelmsford.

Famous names from the region

Boadicea, or Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe of East Anglia, rose against the Romans and swept down onto the stronghold of Colchester.

The Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabethís last love and a dashing if irresponsible courtier, was portrayed by Erroll Flynn in the famous film Elizabeth and Essex.

One of the favourites of Charles II, Nell Gwyn, was among a motley company that performed The Merry Wives of Windsor in Boreham Hall.

ëDarling Daisyí, the mistress of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) became Countess of Warwick, and is remembered in Little Easton Church.

John Fowles, author of The Magus and The French Lieutenantís Woman was born in Leigh-on-Sea in 1926.

Colchester schoolboys Damon Albarn and Graham Coxton shared a teenage obsession with innovative pop music and went on to form the four-piece band that spearheaded Britpop - Blur.

Gustav Holst composed The Planets in Essex.

TV Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell) was a fanatical West Ham fan.

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