Essex, a maritime county of England, bounded on the N by Cambridge and Suffolk, on the E by the German Ocean, on the S by Kent, on the W by Middlesex and Herts. Its boundary line along a great part of the N is the river Stour, along all the S is the river Thames, along much of the W is the rivers Lea and Stort. Its outline is irregularly four-sided, the longest line along the N, the shortest along the S. Its greatest length from north-east to south-west is about 63 miles, its breadth from N to S is 50 miles, its circuit is about 225 miles, and its area is 987,028 acres, making it the tenth English county for size. Its coast is so irregular and broken that the exact length of it cannot easily be ascertained, but including all on the Thames, and not reckoning estuaries, may be estimated at about 105 miles. Its chief headlands are the Naze, 5 1/2 miles S of Harwich, Foulness at the mouth of the Crouch river, and Shoeburyness at the mouth of the Thames. Shoals of sands lie off some parts, and numerous inlands, situated within the general coast-line, and divided by only narrow belts of water from the interior tracts, diversify others. The chief islands are Horsey near the Naze, Mersea at the mouth of Blackwater river, Wallasea and Foulness at the mouth of the Crouch river, and Canvey on the Thames. The seaboard is low, flat, and partly marshy, has suffered much devastation and fracture by encroachments of the sea, and except to a trifling extent at Harwich, Southend, and Purfleet, is protected from further injury by strong embankments. The tracts inland to the centre and further west are champaign, not totally flat but possessing many gentle hills and dales, and the tracts thence to the western boundary so roll and rise as to present continuous diversity of contour. The highest grounds are Langdon Hill and Danebury Camp, and these have an altitude of about 620 feet. Much of the surface, from combination of natural feature and artificial embellishment, exhibits a pleasing and ever-varying succession of rural landscapes. The chief rivers, besides those which run on the boundaries, are the Colne, the Blackwater, the Chelmer, the Crouch, the Roding, the Ingerburn, the Wid, and the Brain. The geognostic formation of much of the seaboard is fresh water deposit, of most of the rest of the county is London clay, and of the tract around Castle Hedingham and Thaxted, and thence to the northern and western boundaries, is chalk.
The soil throughout this county is exceedingly various; on the seaboard both of the ocean and of the Thames is generally marshy with intermixture of gravel, in the district of the Rodings is strong wet loam, in the central and northern parts is variously strong and moist, light and loamy, in the western parts varies from tough clay upon brick earth to thin loam upon gravel, and in many places is either good meadow, light gravel, or rich loam. Much improvement has been done by draining, top-dressing, and other georgical practices. The farms are of many sizes, but may be stated to average from 150 to 200 acres, and some are held on lease at 7 to 14 years, but many are held by annual tenure. Wheat usually produces from 20 to 30 bushels per acre, barley about 34 bushels, oats about 36 1/2 bushels, beans about 27 bushels, potatoes about 300 bushels. Carraway, coriander, and teasel are grown in a conjoint or treble crop, coming to maturity at different periods, and the first yields about 4 1/2 cwt., the second about 12 cwt., the third about 6000 heads. Vegetables for the London market, especially potatoes, cabbages, turnips, and pease, are grown so extensively in some of the south-western tracts as to give these almost the appearance of market-gardens. Cabbages and turnips are largely cultivated in other parts also as food for live stock, the artificial grasses likewise receive much attention, and mustard, cole-seed, and some other peculiar crops are grown on marsh lands. Saffron was formerly so prominent a product around Saffron-Walden as to give its name to that town. Hogs of a small superior breed are reared for the London market. Sheep of the Southdown and other breeds, chiefly from Sussex and Wilts, are fattened. Calves, of breeds from Suffolk, from Devon, from other parts of England, and even from Scotland, are reared in great numbers for the London market. Dairy produce from the same breeds, particularly about Epping, Barking, and London, is an object of much attention. Essex cheese is celebrated in old balladry, and Essex butter has a high name in London, and is estimated by the dairymen at about 212 Ibs. a year per cow. Horses comprise many breeds, but more the Suffolk punch than any other, and many are sent from London to feed on the salt marshes.
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Archives and Libraries
For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.
Directories & Gazetteers
The Historical Directories web site have a number of directories relating to Essex online, including:
Kelly's, Pigot, Slater, etc.
Old map of Essex circa 1848 (Samuel Lewis)
Old map of Essex circa 1895 (Gazetteer of England and Wales)
Newspapers and Periodicals
The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Essex online:
Parishes and places
The towns and parishes have now been moved to a separate page.