A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) by Samuel Lewis

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“BRAINTREE, a market-town and parish in the hundred of HINCKFORD, county of Essex, 11 miles (N. by E.) from Chelmsford, and 40 (N. E.) from London, containing 2983 inhabitants.

This place is described in Domesday-book under "Raines," including also the village of "Raine," to which it was at that time a hamlet, and from which it was separated in the reign of Henry II. Owing to its situation as a great thoroughfare on the road leading from London into the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, it is supposed to have derived considerable benefit from the numerous pilgrims who passed through it, on their way to the shrines of St. Edmund, at Bury, and Our Lady of Walsingham: the population having consequently increased, it was made a market-town in the reign of John.

The bishops of London formerly, had a palace here, but there are no remains of it. In the early part of the reign of Elizabeth, the Flemings, fleeing from the persecution of the Duke of Alva, settled at Braintree, and introduced the manufacture of woollen cloth.

The town, pleasantly situated on an eminence, consists of several streets irregularly formed and inconveniently narrow; the houses are in general ancient, and many of them are built of wood. The woollen trade has given place to the manufacture of silk, which is carried on extensively. The market is on Wednesday: the fairs are on May 7th and October 2nd, each for three days.

The government was formerly vested in twenty-four of the principal parishioners, who in 1584 were styled "governors of the town, and town magistrates;" but this body has been dissolved, and the county magistrates now hold a petty session here for the division every Wednesday.

The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Middlesex, and diocese of London, rated in the king's books at £12. 13. 4., endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £200 royal bounty, and in the patronage of Mr. and Mrs. Olmins. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, is a spacious structure, erected on the summit of a mount, apparently the site of an ancient camp; it is principally in the later style of English architecture, with a tower in the early English style, surmounted by a shingled spire of later date: it was enlarged in the reign of Henry VIII., the expense having been defrayed out of the proceeds of three plays performed in the church, of which some curious particulars are recorded in the parish register.

There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Methodists.

A school was founded in 1702, by James Coker, Esq., a native of the town, who endowed it with a farm at Stoke, near Nayland, producing £10 per annum, for the instruction of ten boys. John Ray, a writer on natural history, was educated in this school.

In the reign of Charles I., Henry Smith, Esq., alderman of London, who is said, from the habit of going about like a beggar accompanied by his dog, to have obtained the appellation of "Dog Smith," bequeathed £2800 for the relief of the poor of Braintree, and the adjoining parishes of Henham and Toxling. In conformity to his direction, that sum was invested in the purchase of an estate at Tolleshunt D'Arcy, in this county, producing a rental of £350 per annum.

About half a mile from the town are the ruins of a very ancient church, formerly the parish church; consisting of the east wall of the chancel, in which are three very narrow lancet-shaped windows; and in the town and neighbourhood Roman coins and sepulchral urns have been frequently discovered.”

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