Harwich

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Harwich ( /ˈhærɪtʃ/) is a town in Essex, England and one of the Haven ports, located on the coast with the North Sea to the east. It is in the Tendring district. Nearby places include Felixstowe to the northeast, Ipswich to the northwest, Colchester to the southwest and Clacton-on-Sea to the south. It is the northernmost coastal town within Essex.

Its position on the estuaries of the Stour and Orwell rivers and its usefulness to mariners as the only safe anchorage between the Thames and Humber led to a long period of maritime significance, both civil and military. The town became a naval base in 1657 and was heavily fortified, with Harwich Redoubt, Beacon Hill Battery, and Bath Side Battery.

Harwich today is contiguous with Dovercourt and the two, along with Parkeston, are often referred to collectively as Harwich.

The town’s name means “military settlement,” from Old English here-wic.

The town received its charter in 1238, although there is evidence of earlier settlement – for example, a record of a chapel in 1177, and some indications of a possible Roman presence.

Because of its strategic position, Harwich was the target for the invasion of Britain by William of Orange on November 11, 1688. However, unfavourable winds forced his fleet to sail instead into the English Channel and eventually land at Torbay. Due to the involvement of the Schomberg family in the invasion, they were made Marquesses of the town.

Writer Daniel Defoe devotes a few pages to the town in A tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. Visiting in 1722, he noted its formidable fort and harbour “of a vast extent”. The town, he recounts, was also known for an unusual spring rising on Beacon Hill (a promontory to the north-east of the town), which “petrified” clay, allowing it to be used to pave Harwich’s streets and build its walls. The locals also claimed that “the same spring is said to turn wood into iron”, but Defoe put this down to the presence of “copperas” in the water. Regarding the atmosphere of the town, he states: “Harwich is a town of hurry and business, not much of gaiety and pleasure; yet the inhabitants seem warm in their nests and some of them are very wealthy”.

The Royal Navy is no longer present in Harwich but Harwich International Port at nearby Parkeston continues to offer regular ferry services to the Hook of Holland (Hoek van Holland) in the Netherlands and Esbjerg in Denmark. Many operations of the large container port at Felixstowe and of Trinity House, the lighthouse authority, are managed from Harwich, and plans for the development of a new container port in Bathside Bay were approved by the British government in December 2005.

The town’s coastal position, however, made it vulnerable to the North Sea Flood of 1953.

The port is famous for the phrase “Harwich for the Continent” seen on road signs and in London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) advertisements.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its small size Harwich is highly-regarded in terms of architectural heritage, and the whole of the older part of the town, excluding Navyard Wharf, is a conservation area.

The regular street plan, with principal thoroughfares connected by numerous small alleys, betrays the town’s medieval origins although many buildings of this period are hidden behind 18th century facades.

The extant medieval structures are largely private homes. Notable public buildings, all later, include the parish church of St. Nicholas (1821) in a restrained Gothic style, with many original furnishings including a (somewhat altered) organ of the same date in the west end gallery, and the Guildhall of 1769, the only Grade I listed building in Harwich.

On the quayside may be seen the Pier Hotel of 1860 and Great Eastern Hotel of 1864 (the latter now divided into apartments), both reflecting the town’s new importance to travellers following the arrival of the railway line from Colchester in 1854.

Also of interest are the High Lighthouse (1818); the unusual Treadwheel Crane (late 17th century); the Electric Palace Cinema (1911), one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas to survive complete with its original projection room and ornamental frontage still intact and operational; the Old Custom Houses on West Street; and a number of Victorian shopfronts.

There is little notable building from the later parts of the 20th century, but major recent additions include the lifeboat station and two new structures for Trinity House; that organisation’s office building, next door to the Old Custom Houses, was completed in 2005. All three additions are influenced by the high-tech style.

Harwich was the home town of Christopher Jones, the master and quarter-owner of the Mayflower, and was also a base for that ship. The famous diarist Samuel Pepys was the Member of Parliament for Harwich. Christopher Newport, captain of the expedition that founded Jamestown, Virginia, also hailed from Harwich. Captain Charles Fryatt lived in Harwich; his body was brought back from Belgium in 1919 and he was buried at Dovercourt.

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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