Witham

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Witham (/ˈwɪtəm/) is a town in the county of Essex, in the south east of England with a population (2001 census) of 22,500. It is part of the District of Braintree and is twinned with the town of Waldbröl, Germany. Witham stands between the larger towns of Chelmsford (8 miles to the south-west) and Colchester (13 miles to the north-east). The River Brain runs through the town and joins the River Blackwater shortly outside it.

Excavations by Essex County Council field archaeological unit at the recent Maltings Lane development discovered evidence of Neolithic occupation of Witham including human remains and several trackways across ancient marsh. Excavations of the Witham Lodge (Ivy Chimneys) area of the town unveiled remains of a Roman temple in the 1970s as well as a pottery kiln. This would have been alongside the main Roman road from London to Colchester and used as a stop over point on the long journey, another notable find during the excavation was a Votive Offering pool in the grounds of the temple, the pool contained several artifacts that would have been offered to the gods.

The name Witham is Saxon in origin and remains unchanged in spelling. The parish of Witham appears in the Domesday Book of 1086. The manor of Witham was given to the Knights Templar in 1148. To the north of the current town is Cressing Temple which was the earliest foundation of Templar lands in Britain, built over 700 years ago.

The town as it is now started life on ‘Chipping Hill’, where the old forge and the church still exists to this day. As the years went by, the hamlet grew to become ‘Witham’ and St Nicolas Church of England Church (a unique spelling) serves a congregation of around 150 people each Sunday. During the latter half of the 18th century and the early 19th century, Admiral Sir William Luard was the town’s most prominent citizen, a resident of Chipping Hill and a founder and patron of St. Nicolas’ Church. His funeral cortege through the town in 1910 was witnessed by thousands.

Witham briefly enjoyed a period as an affluent spa town after the discovery of a mineral-bearing spa in the town by Dr Taverner in the 18th century. Witham was also a centre of the wool trade until the decline of the industry in the late 17th century.

Witham railway station was the scene of a serious accident on Saturday 1 September 1905. The 09:27 London Liverpool Street to Cromer 14 carriage express derailed whilst travelling at speed through the station. 10 passengers and a Luggage Porter were killed when several of the carriages somersaulted on to the platforms causing considerable damage to the rolling stock and the station. 71 passengers were seriously injured. This remains to this day the worst single loss of life in a railway accident in Essex. In 2005 an opportunity to commemorate the centenary was missed and the incident is now largely forgotten. Ben Sainty, a signalman, whose quick action averted the next train hitting the wreckage has a road named after him in the town, Ben Sainty Court.

The town expanded greatly in the late 1960s and 1970s when the Greater London Council built 3 large council estates on the west and north sides of the town and a smaller one to the South for families from London to move to as part of the ‘New Town’ and ‘Expanded Town’ overspill policy of that time.

Starting in the 1980s but accelerating in the 1990s and 2000s a large number of houses were built in several estates to the south and southwest of the town infilling the farmland that used to exist between the town and the A12 bypass. The most recent of which is the Malting’s lane development, which when completed will exceed 1200 homes, a school, business park and community shopping area.

A one time famous resident of the town is the author Dorothy L. Sayers whose statue stands opposite the town’s library. The library stands on the site of the old Whitehall cinema, which closed in the late 1970s.

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