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Halstead is a town and civil parish located in Braintree District of Essex, England, near Colchester and Sudbury. It has a population of 11,053. The town is situated in the Colne Valley, and originally developed on the hill to the north of the river. The name Halstead is said to have derived from the Old English hald (refuge, shelter, healthy) and stede (site, place or farm), meaning ‘healthy farm’ ‘safe place’ or ‘place of refuge’.

The single wide High Street is dominated by the 14th century church of St Andrew which was extensively renovated during the Victorian period but retains much earlier decoration including tomb monuments dating from the 14th century and earlier.

Nearby Moyns Park, a Grade I listed Elizabethan country house, is said to have been where Ian Fleming put the finishing touches on his novel From Russia, with Love. Hedingham Castle keep is also close by.

Halstead has a number of restaurants, bars and pubs including: Scenarios nightclub in Trinity Street; The Locomotive in Butler Road; The Bull Hotel in Bridge Street; The White Hart and Whispers Wine Bar in the High Street. An historical society holds regular monthly meetings throughout the year and a town museum attached to the town council offices features some historical artifacts and various objects of limited local interest. The Empire Theatre in Butler Road hosts occasional bingo nights. Halstead Public Gardens were established in 1900 contain various floral displays. A River Walk runs through the town from east to west, and just outside the town is Broaks Wood, a popular area for walking owned by the Forestry Commission. Halstead has a great library, situated in a large open-plan building that was formerly the Corn Exchange. It was built during 1864-1865.

Halstead residents are reserved by nature and tend to remain within their extended family groupings which in many cases go back over several generations. A local accent or vocal “twang” prevails which is relatively difficult for outsiders to understand. This separation was encouraged by the towns single major employer, Courtaulds weaving mill which closed in 1979. Many local facilities were also endowed by the Courtauld family so that outsiders have limited access.

Christopher Portway, the famous war hero, explorer and author, was born in Halstead in 1923. After leaving school he joined the Army and fought in the Second World War. Captured in Normandy, he later escaped from three prison camps in Eastern Europe. Whilst on the run from the Germans in Czechoslovakia he met Anna who was later to become his wife. After 1945 he made repeated attempts to reach Anna though her home was sealed off behind the Iron Curtain. On one such attempt Christopher was caught after cutting his way through electrified fences and crawling over a minefield, to be awarded 104 years in jail by the Communist authorities. Christopher Portway was a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, as well as being a recipient of the Winston Churchill Award for biography and travel. He was a frequent contributor to various magazines and newspapers and was the author of no less than seventeen books. His brother Michael Portway is a Poet and the chairman of Halstead in Bloom, a local charity dedicated to floral displays in Halstead.

Halstead is undergoing huge social change in 2012 as Tesco attempts to build a small supermarket on a site in the centre of the Town destroying the last open area which is not yet developed east of the High Street. The proposed development will split the historically important High Street area in two by constructing a mini roundabout but the change is promoted by the Council although it will destroy a number of historically important buildings. Braintree District Council also closed the only Community Centre in July 2012 whilst announcing plans to develop the site for multiple occupancy housing. The railway was closed and the track lifted as early as 1961.

Halstead has limited employment opportunities and has become a dormitory town for Colchester and Braintree. Halstead has an ageing population who are mostly content with the town’s limited facilities. A significant number of residents have moved on retirement to Halstead in the past decade from East London and are now seeking a quieter lifestyle.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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