Essex (/ˈɛsɨks/) is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is one of the home counties located northeast of the city of London. It borders the counties of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent and the estuary of the River Thames to the south and London to the southwest. Essex County Council is the principal local authority for much of the county, sharing functions with twelve district and borough councils. The county town is Chelmsford. Essex is also a region at the second level for statistical purposes. It is the southernmost of three constituent parts of the East of England – a first level region. The Essex region and ceremonial county comprises three areas of local government: the two-tiered non-metropolitan county of Essex and the unitary authority areas of Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea.
Our town list is:
- Canvey Island
- Chipping Ongar
- Frinton and Walton
- Great Dunmow
- Saffron Walden
- South Woodham Ferrers
- Waltham Abbey
- West Mersea
The historic county can be considered the oldest as Wessex and Mercia were replaced for administration since before the Norman period and a vestige of the term Northumbria exists in Northumberland, Essex occupies the eastern portion of the pre-England Kingdom of Essex. Large swathes of the county which are closer to London are part of the Metropolitan Green Belt, which prohibits urban development in its green spaces. It is the location of the regionally significant Lakeside Shopping Centre and London Stansted Airport; and the new towns of Basildon and Harlow.
The name Essex originates in the Anglo-Saxon period of the Early Middle Ages and has its root in the Old English Ēastseaxe (i.e. the “East Saxons”), the eastern kingdom of the Saxons. Originally (recorded in 527 AD) it occupied territory to the north of the River Thames, incorporating all of what later became Middlesex and most of what later became Hertfordshire as its territory was later restricted to lands east of the River Lea. Colchester in the north east of the county is Britain’s oldest recorded town, dating back to before the Roman conquest, when it was known as Camulodunum and was sufficiently well-developed to have its own mint. Subsequently the Kingdom of Essex was subsumed into the Kingdom of England and Essex eventually became a county.
Essex County Council was formed in 1889. However County Boroughs of West Ham (1889-1965), Southend-on-Sea (1914–1974) and East Ham (1915–1965) formed part of the county but were unitary authorities (not under county council control).
A few Essex parishes have been transferred to other counties. Before 1889, small areas were transferred to Hertfordshire near Bishops Stortford and Sawbridgeworth. At the time of the main changes around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries; parts of Helions Bumpstead, Sturmer, Kedington and Ballingdon-with-Brundon were transferred to Suffolk and Great Chishill, Little Chishill and Heydon were transferred to Cambridgeshire. Later, part of Hadstock, part of Ashton and part of Chrishall were transferred to Cambridgeshire and part of Great Horkesley went to Suffolk and several other small parcels of land were transferred to all those counties.
The boundary with Greater London was established in 1965 when East Ham and West Ham county boroughs and the Barking, Chingford, Dagenham, Hornchurch, Ilford, Leyton, Romford, Walthamstow and Wanstead and Woodford districts were transferred to form the London boroughs of Barking, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest. Essex became part of the East of England Government Office Region in 1994 and was statistically counted as part of that region from 1999, having previously been part of the South East England region.
In 1998 the boroughs of Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock were granted autonomy from the administrative county of Essex after successful requests to become unitary authorities.
The remaining administrative county of Essex is divided into a number of local government districts. They are Harlow, Epping Forest, Brentwood, Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Chelmsford, Uttlesford, Braintree, Colchester, Tendring,
Essex Police covers the administrative county and the two unitary authorities. The county council chamber and main headquarters is at the County Hall in Chelmsford. Before 1938 the council regularly met in London near Moorgate, which with significant parts closer to that point and the dominance of railways had been more convenient than any place in the county. It currently has 75 elected councillors. Before 1965, the number of councillors reached over 100. The County Hall, made a listed building in 2007, dates largely from the mid-1930s and is decorated with fine artworks of that period, mostly the gift of the family who owned the textile firm Courtaulds.
The highest point of the county of Essex is Chrishall Common near the village of Langley, close to the Hertfordshire border, which reaches 482 feet (147 m). The ceremonial county of Essex is bounded to the south by the River Thames and its estuary (a boundary shared with Kent); to the southwest by Greater London; to the west by Hertfordshire with the boundary largely defined by the River Lea and the Stort; to the northwest by Cambridgeshire; to the north by Suffolk, a boundary mainly defined by the River Stour; and to the east by the North Sea.
Essex has the longest coastline of any English county.
The pattern of settlement in the county is diverse. The Metropolitan Green Belt has effectively prevented the further sprawl of London into the county, although it contains the new towns of Basildon and Harlow, originally developed to resettle Londoners following the destruction of London housing in World War II, since which significantly developed and expanded. Epping Forest also acts as a protected barrier to the further spread of London. Because of its proximity to London and the economic magnetism which that city exerts, many of Essex’s settlements, particularly those on or within short driving distance of railway stations, function as dormitory towns or villages where London workers raise their families.
Part of the south east of the county, already containing the major population centres of Basildon, Southend and Thurrock, is within the Thames Gateway and designated for further development. Parts of the south west of the county such as Buckhurst Hill and Chigwell are contiguous with Greater London neighbourhoods and so for some purposes these are included in the statistical unit the Greater London Urban Area. A small part of the south west of the county (Sewardstone), is the only settlement outside Greater London to be covered by a postcode district of the London post town (E4). To the north of the green belt, with the exception of major towns such as Colchester and Chelmsford, the county is rural, with many small towns, villages and hamlets largely built in the traditional materials of timber and brick, with clay tile or thatched roofs.
Industry is largely limited to the south of the county, with the majority of the land elsewhere being given over to agriculture. Harlow is a centre for electronics, science and pharmaceutical companies, while Chelmsford is the home of Marconi (now called telent plc and owned by Ericsson of Sweden since 2005), Basildon home to New Holland Agriculture’s European headquarters and Brentwood home to the Ford Motor Company’s European HQ. Debden near Loughton is home to a production facility for British and foreign banknotes. Chelmsford has been an important location for electronics companies since the industry was born, is also the location for a number of insurance and financial services organisations, and is the home of the soft drinks producer Britvic. Other businesses in the county are dominated by mechanical engineering including but not limited to metalworking, glass manufacture and plastics and the service sector. Colchester is a garrison town, and the local economy is helped by the Army’s personnel living there. Basildon is the location of State Street Corporation’s United Kingdom HQ International Financial Data Services, and remains heavily dependent on London for employment, due to its proximity and direct transport routes. Southend-on-Sea is home to the Adventure Island theme park and is one of the few still growing British Seaside resorts, benefiting from direct, modern rail links from Fenchurch Street railway station and Liverpool Street station (placing housing in high demand, especially for financial services commuters), which thereby maintains the town’s commercial and general economy.
Parts of Eastern Essex suffer from high levels of deprivation, with one of the most highly deprived wards being the less used port of Clacton. In the Indices of deprivation 2007, Jaywick was identified as the most deprived Lower Super Output Area in Southern England. Unemployment was estimated at 44% and many homes were found to lack severely basic amenities. The Brooklands and Grasslands area of Jaywick were found to be the third most deprived area in England; two areas in Liverpool and Manchester rated higher. In contrast, however, West and South West Essex is one of the most affluent parts of Eastern England, forming part of the London commuter belt. Here there is a large middle class and the area is widely known for its private schools. In 2008, The Daily Telegraph found Brentwood and Ingatestone to be the 19th and 14th richest towns in the UK respectively.
The main airport in Essex is London Stansted Airport, serving destinations in Europe and Asia. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government formed in May 2010 has agreed to resist an additional runway at Stansted, so curtailing the operator’s ambitions for expansion. London Southend Airport, once one of Britain’s busiest airports, opened a new runway extension, terminal building and railway station in March 2012. The station is on the Shenfield to Southend Line, with a direct link to the capital. Currently the airport offers scheduled flights to Ireland, the Channel Islands and multiple destinations in Europe. There are several smaller airfields, some of which owe their origins to military bases built during World War I or World War II. These are popular for pleasure flights or flying lessons; examples include Clacton Airfield, Earls Colne Airfield, and Stapleford Aerodrome.
The Port of Tilbury is one of Britain’s three major ports, while the port of Harwich links the county to the Hook of Holland and Esbjerg (a service to Cuxhaven which is also in Denmark having discontinued in December 2005). Plans have been approved to build the UK’s largest container terminal at Shell Haven in Thurrock and although opposed by the local authority and environmental and wildlife organisations, it now seems increasingly likely to be developed.
East of the Dartford Road Crossing to Dartford, Kent, across the Thames Estuary a ferry for pedestrians to Gravesend, Kent operates from Tilbury during limited daily hours and ferries for pedestrians operate across some of Essex’s rivers and estuaries during spring and summer. The M25 and M11 motorway both cross the county in the extreme south and west, enabling regular commuting to/from parts of the county with Kent, Hertfordshire and Cambridge. The A127 and A13 trunk roads are important radial routes connecting London and the M25 to the south of Essex. The A12 runs across the county from the south west to the north east and not only carries traffic within Essex but also traffic between London and Suffolk, east Norfolk and the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich.
There is an extensive rail goods and public transport network. The main railway routes in Essex include:
- 2 lines from the City of London to Southend-on-Sea, operated by c2c from Fenchurch Street railway station (including a route via Tilbury) and by Greater Anglia from Liverpool Street station;
- The Great Eastern Main Line from Liverpool Street connecting to Harwich and onwards into Suffolk and Norfolk;
- The West Anglia Main Line from Liverpool Street linking to London Stansted Airport and onwards into Cambridgeshire.
The Epping Forest district is served by the London Underground Central Line. The routes operated by Greater Anglia were formerly operated by National Express East Anglia and have been previously branded as ‘one’. There are also a number of branch lines including the Sunshine Coast Line linking Colchester to the seaside resorts of Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze via the picturesque towns of Wivenhoe and Great Bentley. The Crouch Valley Line, another branch line, links Wickford to a number of riverside communities including South Woodham Ferrers and Burnham-on-Crouch and leads to Southminster.
South Essex Rapid Transit is a proposed public transport scheme which would provide a fast, reliable public transport service in, and between, Thurrock, Basildon and Southend.
The University of Essex, which was established in 1963, is located just outside Colchester, with two further campuses in Loughton and Southend-on-Sea. University Campus Suffolk, with a main campus in Ipswich and five centres in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, is a joint venture between University of Essex and University of East Anglia. Anglia Ruskin University was awarded university status in 1992 and has campuses in Chelmsford and Cambridge.
The County’s coat of arms comprises three Saxon seax knives (although looking rather more like scimitars) arranged on a red background (Gules three Seaxes fessewise in pale Argent pomels and hilts Or points to the sinister and cutting edges upwards); the three-seax device is also used as the official logo of Essex County Council having been granted as such in 1932. The emblem was attributed to Anglo-Saxon Essex in Early Modern historiography. The earliest reference the arms of the East Saxon kings was by Richard Verstegan, the author of A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence (Antwerp, 1605), claiming that “Erkenwyne king of the East-Saxons did beare for his armes, three [seaxes] argent, in a field gules”. There is no earlier evidence substantiating Verstegan’s claim, which is an anachronism for the Anglo-Saxon period seeing that heraldry only evolved in the 12th century, well after the Norman conquest. John Speed in his Historie of Great Britaine (1611) follows Verstegan in his descriptions of the arms of Erkenwyne, but he qualifies the statement by adding “as some or our heralds have emblazed”.
Essex is also home to the Dunmow Flitch Trials, a traditional ceremony that takes place every four years and consists of a test of a married couple’s devotion to one another. A common claim of the origin of the Dunmow Flitch dates back to 1104 and the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow, founded by Lady Juga Baynard. Lord of the Manor Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed themselves as humble folk and begged blessing of the Prior a year and a day after marriage. The Prior, impressed by their devotion bestowed upon them a Flitch of Bacon. Upon revealing his true identity, Fitzwalter gave his land to the Priory on the condition a Flitch should be awarded to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted. By the 14th century, the Dunmow Flitch Trials appear to have achieved a significant reputation outside the local area. The author William Langland, who lived on the Welsh borders, mentions it in his 1362 book The Vision of Piers Plowman in a manner that implies general knowledge of the custom among his readers.
Over 14,000 buildings have listed status in the county, and around 1000 of those are recognised as of Grade I or II* importance. The buildings range from the 7th century Saxon church of St Peter-on-the-Wall, to the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club which was the United Kingdom’s entry in the “International Exhibition of Modern Architecture” held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932.