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A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) by Samuel Lewis

ESSEX, a county (maritime), bounded on the north by the counties of Suffolk and Cambridge; on the west by those of Hertford and Middlesex; on the south by the river Thames, which separates it from Kent; and on the east by the German ocean: it extends from 51° 30 to 52° 7 (N. Lat.), and from 0° 3 to 1° 1 (E. Lon.), and includes one thousand five hundred; and thirty-two square miles, or nine hundred and eighty thousand four hundred and eighty statute acres. The population in 1821 amounted to 289,424. At the time of Caesar's invasion this part of Britain was inhabited by the Trinobantes; and in the subdivision of the island by Constantine the Great, the present county of Essex formed part of Flavia Cæsariensis. The origin of its name is coeval with the establishment of the kingdom of the East Saxons, of which London was the metropolis, and of which the tract now comprised within the limits of this county formed a very important part. The foundation of that kingdom took place about the year 530, and it was called East Seaxa, meaning land of the Eastern Saxons, from its relative position to the other Saxon kingdoms. The conversion of Sabert, King of the East Saxons, to Christianity, took place in 604. At the time of the dissolution of the Anglo-Saxon octarchy, it was subjugated by Egbert, in the year 823. From 787 until the period of the division of England between Canute and Edmund, Essex was dreadfully harassed by the frequent descents and depredations of the Danes. The most memorable events which took place within its limits during that disastrous period were, the recovery of Colchester from the Danes by Edward the Elder, in 921, and the decisive battle between Canute and Edmund Ironside, which is believed to have been fought at Ashingdon, in this county. The next historical event of importance which appears to have had a particular reference to Essex, is the great rebellion of the commons, headed by Wat Tyler and Jack Straw, in the reign of Richard II. The Norman Conquest had in this, as in all the other counties of England, occasioned a great revolution of property, which brought large and valuable domains here into the possession of the distinguished family of Bohun, Earls of Hereford, Essex, and Northampton; which, in 1421, were divided between King Henry V. and Anne, Countess of Stafford, the two co-heirs of that family. By act of parliament, in 1414, that portion of the honours, castles, manors, and other estates, once belonging to the Bohun family, and which descended to Henry V., was severed from the crown of England, and annexed for ever to the duchy of Lancaster. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth reviewed at Tilbury the forces assembled to oppose the Spanish invasion. In 1642, at the commencement of the civil war, the popular feeling appears to have displayed itself in the cause of the parliament, the people having assembled in large bodies, and done considerable damage to the houses of different royalists. In the same year this county united with those of Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, Hertford, the Isle of Ely, and the city of Norwich, in an association for preserving the peace of each. The siege and capture of Colchester, and the military execution of its defenders, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, is one of the most remarkable occurrences which took place in Essex during the war. The last important transaction connected with the history of this county was the sea-fight off Harwich, on the 3rd of June, 1665, in which the Dutch fleet was defeated by the Duke of York, the Dutch admiral's vessel being blown up, fourteen others destroyed, and eighteen captured.

This county is in the diocese of London, and province of Canterbury, and comprises the archdeaconries of Essex and Colchester, and part of that of Middlesex. The archdeaconry of Essex contains the deaneries of Barstaple, Barking, Chafford, Chelmsford, Dengie, Ongar, and Rochford; that of Colchester, the deaneries of Colchester, Lexden, Newport, Sampford, Tendring, and Witham; and that portion of the archdeaconry of Middlesex which is in this county, those of Dunmow, Harlow, and Hedingham. The number of parishes is four hundred, of which two hundred and fifty are rectories, one hundred and thirty-four vicarages, and the remainder perpetual curacies. For civil purposes it is divided into the fourteen hundreds of Barstable, Becontree, Chafford, Chelmsford, Clavering, Dengie, Dunmow, Freshwell, Harlow, Hinckford, Lexden, Ongar, Rochford, Tendring, Thurstable, Uttlesford, Waltham, Winstree, and Witham, and the royal liberty of Havering-atte-Bower. It contains the borough and market-towns of Colchester and Maldon; the borough, market-town, and port of Harwich; and the market-towns of Barking, Billericay, Braintree, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Chipping-Ongar, Coggeshall, Dunmow, Epping, Grays-Thurrock, Halstead, Maiden, Manningtree, Rayleigh, Rochford, Romford, Thaxted, Saffron-Walden, Waltham-Abbey, and Witham. Two knights are returned to parliament for the shire, and two representatives for each of the three boroughs; the county members are elected at Chelmsford. This county is in the home circuit: the assizes and quarter sessions are held at Chelmsford, where stands the old county gaol and house of correction; the new county gaol is at Springfield; there are one hundred and eighty-eight acting magistrates. The rates raised in the county for the year ending the 25th of March, 1827, amounted to £306,430.2, the expenditure to £306,794. 16, of which £261,278. 2, was applied to the relief of the poor.

Several small islands in the German ocean and the estuary of the Thames are included within the limits of this county; the first and most valuable, to the south east, is the island of Mersea, eight or ten miles south of Colchester, between the mouths of the rivers Colne and Blackwater, a rich and fertile spot, about five miles from east to west, and two from north to south. The islands towards the south, in the hundred of Rochford, are, Foulness, Wallasea, Potten, Havengore, and New England, lying contiguous to each other, and bounded to the north by the Crouch river; to the east aid south-east by the German ocean; and to the west by the continental part of the hundred of Rochford; being about four or five miles from the town of Rochford. The remaining island, towards the south-west, is Canvey Isle, which is in nine several parishes; it is surrounded by branches of the river Thames, and situated nearly at its mouth. The most beautiful part of Essex, without the addition of a river, is in the liberty of Havering- atte-Bower. From Romford to Brentwood is a fine country; but the more striking scenes are not within view of the road. From Thorndon to Epping is all nearly of the same description, exhibiting a perpetual variety of hill and dale, thickly wooded, with gentlemen's houses interspersed in every direction. Between Hockley and Rayleigh there is a beautiful view of a richly cultivated and well wooded vale, terminated by high grounds in the distance. Langdon Hills command the most extensive and the finest prospect in the county: the Thames is distinctly seen for several miles, and the distant hills of Kent bound the view with an interesting outline. Danbury is the highest ground in the county, and commands a striking view, but not equal to that from Langdon Hills. The high lands at Put-fleet, formed by a chalk cliff projecting toward the Thames, without the intervention of marsh, present an animating scene not common on the Essex side of that river; the bustle of the shipping being agreeably relieved by the rural features of the landscape. The vale on the northern verge of the county, through which the river Stour flows, has great variety in breadth and features; and the bounding hills offer in all directions rich scenes of cultivation. The climate is generally mild; but part of the eastern and southern limits of the county, for ten or twelve miles from the sea and the river Thames, in the hundreds of Thurstable, Dengie, Rochford, Barstable, and Chafford, are subject, during the autumnal months, to thick and noisome fogs, which are often productive of quartan agues. The draining of marshes and the highly improved cultivation of the lands, however, have greatly abated this evil.

With regard to the soil, every species of loam, from the most stubborn to the most congenial, is to be found: the county has also a portion of light gravelly sand, and a good share of meadow and marsh ground, the major part of which, with management adapted to its different qualities, is very productive. The late Mr. Arthur Young, Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, has divided these soils into eight districts, viz., the crop and fallow district of strong loam; the maritime district of fertile loam; three districts of strong loam not peculiar in management; the turnip land district; the chalk district and the district of miscellaneous loams. The first of these, called also the district of the Roothings, or Rodings, from six or seven parishes which are named from the river Roding, is, with respect to similarity of soil and husbandry, much more extensive than the limits of those parishes; it lies in the north-western part of the county, verging towards the borders of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire; extending nearly twenty miles from south to north, from the neighbourhood of Chipping-Ongar to that of Saffron-Walden, and averaging about nine miles in breadth, having the town of Great Dunmow nearly in the centre. It is a hilly tract, in which the surface loam in the vales is dryer and better than on the hills, and in some cases forms a very good soil; but the general feature is a wet loam on a clay marl bottom. The second district extends, with an average breadth of about three miles, along the whole southern and eastern border of the county, along the margin of the Thames and on the sea-coast, environing the estuaries of the rivers Crouch and Blackwater, and including the islands before mentioned: the soil of Foulness island is the richest in the whole county. Of the strong wet land, or clay districts, one is situated in the north-western part of the county, on the borders of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, its length being about twelve miles from east to west, and its average breadth about seven; another is a small tract, about six miles long, and four broad, adjoining the marshes on the north side of the Blackwater: of the third, the western boundary, commencing near Maiden; runs in a south-westerly direction by South Hanningfield, Great Burstead, and Langdon Clay, to Vange, and on every other side it is bounded by the marsh district. The turnip loam district lies in the north-eastern part of the county, on the banks of the rivers Colne and Stour, being bounded on the north by the latter river; on the east by the marsh district; and extending about twelve miles from east to west, and nine from north to south. Considerable tracts near Colchester, which is situated in this district, are in the occupation of gardeners, who, besides supplying that town with vegetables, raise a considerable quantity of garden seeds for the country. The chalk district is of small extent, its length being about twelve miles, and its average breadth about four; it lies at the north-western extremity of the county, and is a continuation of the chalk districts of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. The district of miscellaneous loams extends the whole length of the county, from the marshes on the banks of the Thames to the border of Suffolk; and, commencing on the borders of Middlesex and Hertfordshire, occupies nearly two-thirds of its breadth towards the German ocean, excepting the two intervening districts of clay, and the one of chalk, already mentioned, in the north western part of the county. The extent of these several districts in square miles is as follows: that of the Roodings, one hundred and fifty-six; the maritime district, two hundred and fifty-five; the three districts of strong loam, or clay, two hundred and twenty-two; the turnip land, one hundred and fourteen ; the chalk, forty-five; and the miscellaneous district, six hundred and eighty one.

Essex has for several centuries been an enclosed county: it possesses rich marshes, extending a hundred miles in length, but the leading feature is its arable land, the fertility of which, and the good husbandry practised upon it, enable Essex to occupy a prominent station among the agricultural counties of England. Part of the plan of the Essex farmers in the tillage of their lands, is, to keep the soil clean by the interposition of a fallow, or a fallow crop between every two of white corn; there is, however, no regular course of crops throughout the whole county. The average produce of wheat per acre, is estimated at twenty-four bushels, two pecks; of barley, four quarters, six bushels, and three pecks; of oats, five quarters, five bushels, and half a peck; of beans, twenty-seven bushels; and of peas, twenty bushels and a quarter. Potatoes are extensively cultivated in Essex, which circumstance is chiefly attributable to its proximity to London, which it largely supplies, with that vegetable. The culture of hops is confined to a small number of parishes. In the islands of Foulness, Wallasea, &c., and in the embanked marshes, white or brown mustard seed is sown, the average produce of which is twenty-four bushels per acre. Some of the extensive marsh lands are very valuable, and the district of Epping feeds considerable herds of cattle; but, excepting these, the grass lands are of inferior consideration. The annual quantity of grain sent to London is estimated at about two hundred and fifty thousand quarters of wheat, and one hundred and fifty thousand quarters of malt; besides a vast quantity of oats, peas, and beans. An agricultural society, holding its meetings at Chelmsford, was established in this county about the year 1792.

There are many cherry orchards at Burnham, Southminster, &c. The natural woods of Essex have been much diminished both in number and extent within the last seventy years; the principal remains of them are the curtailed forests of Epping and Hainault. The Forest of Epping was formerly called the Forest of Essex, and comprehended the whole county: by a charter of King John, dated the 25th of March, in the fifth year of his reign, and confirmed in the 8th of Edward IV., all that part of the forest which lay to the north of the highway from Stortford to Colchester, was disafforested. The forest was further reduced by a perambulation made in the 29th of Edward I., in pursuance of the Charta de Forestd; but the metes and bounds of it were finally settled by an inquisition and perambulation on the 8th. of September, 1640, by virtue of a commission under the great seal of England, in pursuance of the act of the 16th of Charles I., for settling the bounds of the forests. The boundaries fixed by that perambulation comprehend twelve parishes lying wholly within the forest, and parts of nine other parishes: the former are Wanstead, Layton, Walthamstow, Woodford, Loughton, Chigwell, Lambourn, Stapleford-Abbots, Waltham Holy Cross, Epping, Nazeing, and Chingford. The whole forest contains about sixty thousand statute acres, of which about forty-eight thousand are estimated to be enclosed private property, and the remaining twelve thousand the amount of the unenclosed woods and wastes. The crown has in this, as in other forests, an unlimited right to keep deer in all the unenclosed woods and wastes within its bounds; and the owners and occupiers of land have a common right of pasturage for horses and cows; no other cattle being commonable in the forest. Those within the parishes of Stapleford, Lambourn, Chigwell, Barking, and Dagenham, and at Woodford Bridge turn in their cattle on the part called Hainault Forest. The cattle are sent in as early in the spring, and remain as late in the winter, as the owners choose; but the forest is constantly cleared of them during the  fence month; they are marked by the reeves of the respective parishes, with a particular forest mark for each parish.

Essex has never been famous for its live stock, having no breed of its own; the general object of the farmers being to keep cows for suckling calves, and to fatten cattle in the marshes. The dairy district is not considerable; the largest dairy farms are at or in the neighbourhood of Epping, so deservedly famous for the richness of its cream and butter: there is no particular choice or preference as to breed or stock of cows. Skimmed milk is usually applied to the purpose of feeding small pigs for the London market. The sheep generally preferred are the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire breed, with a cross of the west country and Hertfordshire: in the marsh districts the rot is unknown, but agues are very prevalent. The favourite breed of hogs in the southern part of the county is the Berkshire; in the northern there is every variety. The breed of horses most esteemed is the Suffolk. This county producing no coal, wood is much used for fuel by the poor. In the Blackwater river is a considerable oyster fishery; and West Mersea is one of the principal stations of the dredgers: the number of vessels engaged is about two hundred, varying in burden from eight tons to fifty, and employing, from four hundred to five hundred men and boys. The principal breeding rivers are the Crouch, the Blackwater, and the Coin; the oysters are sent to London, Hamburgh, Bremen, and in time, of peace to Holland, Flanders, and France. The quantity annually obtained is estimated at from twelve thousand to fifteen thousand bushels. In Foulness island are salt water stews for various sorts of sea fish, which are well contrived, and answer the purpose completely. Among the manufactures, from time immemorial, until of late years, the woollen manufacture was the principal; and although it has long been declining, a considerable quantity of woollen cloth of various kinds is still sent to the metropolis, or exported to foreign countries, from Bocking, Braintree, Halstead, Coggeshall, and Colchester.

The greater part of Essex is well watered by the many rivers and brooks which run through its vales. The principal rivers are, the Thames, the Lea, the Crouch, the Chelmer, the Blackwater, the Coin, and the Stort. The Thames forms the southern boundary of the county in the whole of its course along it, from the influx of the Lea to the German ocean, except a space of about two miles, where a slip of land on the Essex side of the river, forming part of the parish of Woolwich, is included in the county of Kent; in the whole of this course the Thames is navigable for merchant vessels of the largest burden. The Lea, coming from Hertfordshire, forms the western boundary of the county, from its junction with the Stort to its confluence with the Thames, separating it from Hertfordshire and Middlesex, and is navigable in all this part of its course. The Crouch rises from two springs in the parishes of Little Burstead and Langdon, flows eastward, and after forming a long and narrow estuary, falls into the German ocean between Foulness island and the opposite marshes. The Chelmer, the Blackwater, and the Colne, rise among the hills in the north-western part of the county; the Chelmer flowing south-eastward by Chelmsford, and the Blackwater by Braintree and Coggeshall, and near Witham, unite near Maiden, and form the broad estuary of the Blackwater, which joins the sea twelve miles below and the navigation of which, by the Chelmer, is continued up to Chelmsford. The Colne, flowing eastward by Halstead and Colchester, falls into the German ocean opposite Mersea island, and near the mouth of the Blackwater. The Stort, rising near Haverhill, on the border of Suffolk, becomes near Sturmer the boundary between this county and Suffolk, and so continues for the remainder of its course, passing by Manningtree, then forming a long and wide estuary, which, contracting at its mouth, unites with the German ocean at Harwich; it is navigable up to Sudbury. The Roding rises in the north-western part of the county, and running southward through the district called the Rodings, by Chipping-Ongar, through Epping Forest, and by Barking, falls into the Thames about two miles below the latter town. The London and Cambridge canal passes along the north-western verge of the county.

The great road from London to Norwich, through Ipswich, enters the county at Bow bridge, and passing through Stratford, Romford, Brentwood, Ingatestone, Chelmsford, Witham, and Colchester, enters Suffolk at Stratford on the river Stort. The road from London to Norwich, through Sudbury, branches off from the latter at Chelmsford, and passing through Braintree, Halstead, and Sudbury, quits the county at the last place. The road from London to Norwich, through Newmarket, enters Essex at Lea bridge, passes through Walthamstow, Epping, and Harlow, a mile beyond which it crosses the Lea into Hertfordshire, but re-entering the county near the thirtieth mile-stone, passes through Saffron-Walden, and quits Essex for Cambridgeshire about forty-seven miles from London. The road from London to Harwich branches off from the Norwich road at Colchester, and passes through Manningtree.

Under the Roman government this territory was very early and thoroughly explored; one great road ran the whole length of it, another skirted its northern borders, and many vicinal ways crossed it in different places. In it was established, the first Roman colony in Britain, with several other stations and towns in different parts of it: the following are the names of such of them as are mentioned in the Itinerary of Antoninus; Ad Ansam, of undetermined locality; Camalodunum, at Colchester, or Maiden; Canonium, near Kelvedon; Caesaromagum, at Chelmsford, or Writtle; and Durositum, below Brentwood. Camden, and all subsequent antiquaries, testify that both the ancient roads and stations throughout this county are more obliterated and difficult to settle than in any other county of England; owing, probably, in part to the nature of the soil, and in part to the general extent of its tillage. The great battle between Suetonius and Boadicea was fought somewhere between Epping and Waltham, near which, a fine camp remains. The principal Roman remains have been discovered at Colchester, in great abundance; among the rest, upwards of thirteen hundred Roman and British coins were collected by Morant, the historian and antiquary, in a period of thirty years, during which he resided in that town. There are also Roman remains at Leyton, Wanstead, Great Burstead, Tolleshunt-Knights, West Mersey, Harwich, and other places; and tumuli, or barrows, at Lexden, Bures ad Montern, West Mersey, and Wigborough. The remarkably large tumuli, called Bartlow Hills, are in this county, though taking their name from the neighbouring village of Bartlow, in Suffolk. Of the ancient castles, or castellated mansions, which were twelve in number, the castle of Colchester is the only one which is not either utterly demolished, or extremely ruinous. Before the Reformation there were forty-seven religious houses, viz., two mitred and six other abbeys, twenty-two priories, three nunneries, nine hospitals, three colleges, and two preceptories of the Knights Templars. The most remarkable monastic remains are those of St. Botolph's priory, Colchester, of St. Osyth's abbey, and of Waltham Abbey church. Greenstead church, with its nave of timber, is one of the most ancient and curious in the kingdom; and that of Little Maplestead is one of the very few now remaining that are built on the model of the Holy Sepulchre. Fossils are found in various parts of the county, but no where so abundantly as in Harwich cliff. Essex gives the title of earl to the family of Capel.

[From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) - copyright Mel Lockie 2016]