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 ths 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.
The trade of Essex consists chiefly in its vegetable and animal produce, and receives great and constant stimulation from the county's vicinity to London. Commerce to any great distance is inconsiderable, and commerce to any quarter has no better ports than the inferior ones of Harwich, Maldon, and Colchester, yet the home commerce, including that to London, is very great. An oyster fishery, carried on all round the coast from the Colne river to Canvey Island, employes a large number of boats, and is of great value and importance. Other fisheries, and the catching of wild fowl, also are carried on. The woollen manufacture was formerly of some importance, but has become nearly extinct. Crapes are manufactured at Braintree, Bocking, and other places, and silk and crape at Halstead. Agricultural implements are also made on a fairly large scale at several places, and there are large powder mills at Waltham, The county has no important mineral product. In this estimate the Metropolitan districts are excluded. In the suburbs of London manufactures of all kinds are carried on, but these cannot be considered as indigenous to the county.
According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:Professional, 17,864 males and 9111 females; domestic, 3320 males and 39,625 females; commercial, 46,739 males and 714 females; agricultural, 45,991 males and 654 females; fishing, 960 males; industrial, 113,355 males and 26,356 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 49,794 males and 204,876 females; or a total in the county of 278,023 males and 281,336 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries were as follows; Agricultural labourers, 34,382; general labourers, 19,762; seamen, 7609 ; boot and shoe makers, 3463; and farmers, 2984. The chief occupations of women were, domestic service, with a total of 31,440; and those of millinery and dressmaking, 8007. There were also in the county 501 blind persons, 502 deaf, 294 deaf and dumb, and 2280 mentally deranged.
Railways all connected with the G.E. system have numerous lines and branches within the county. A network of them lies in the corner adjacent to London, a line with several branches goes along the south coast to Southend, and there is also a branch from the main line of the G.E.R. from Shenfield and Hutton Junction to Southend; a great line goes through the central district by Romford, Brentwood, Chelmsford, and Colchester, into Suffolk, and sends branches to Maldon and thence on to Southminster, to Walton and Clacton, to Wivenhoe, and to Harwich; another line on the W goes north-north-eastward to Ongar; another line goes along all the west border, partly within Middlesex and Herts, and past Bishop-Stortford and the vicinity of Saffron-Walden toward Cambridge; a branch strikes eastward from this at Bishop-Stortford, and goes past Dunmow to Braintree; another branch goes from Braintree south-south-eastward to the branch from the central line toward Maldon; a branch goes from the Marks-Tey station of the central line northward into Suffolk toward Bury St Edmund; and a branch from the Chapel station of this goes west-north-westward past Halstead and Castle Hedingham to Haverhill. Connection with the Northern and Midland railways is effected via Peterborough. Excellent roads traverse all parts of the county. The Stour is navigable to Sudbury, the Colne to Colchester, the Blackwater to Maldon, the Chelmer to Chelmsford, the Thames to its utmost connection with the county, and several short canals facilitate and extend the inland navigation.
The county is divided for parliamentary purposes into eight divisions; it also includes the parliamentary boroughs of Colchester and West Ham, the latter consisting of two divisions. The county has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into 17 petty sessional divisions. The boroughs of Colchester, Maldon, Saffron, Walden, Harwich, and West Ham, have separate commissions of the peace, and the three first-named have also separate courts of quarter sessions. The central criminal court has jurisdiction over certain civil parishes adjacent to London. All those civil parishes within the county of Essex, of which any part is within 12 miles of, or of which no part is more than 15 miles from Charing Cross, are within the Metropolitan police district. The county contains 410, and the county borough of West Ham one, entire civil parishes. There are also 3 civil parishes which are situated partly in other counties. The county contains 436 ecclesiastical parishes and districts and parts of 8 others, it is situated partly in the dioceses of Ely and partly in that of St Albans. It is in the south-eastern circuit, Chelmstord being the assize town. The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant and a county council, consisting of 84 membersviz., 21 aldermen and 63 councillors, The chief seats are Easton, Audley End, Terling, Mistley, Thorndon, Danbury, Belhus, Bigods, Berechurch, Boreham, Hadleigh, Dagnam, Debden, Down Hall, Dudbrook, Felix Hall, High Beech, Newton, Suttons, Roydon, Albyns, Belchamp, Birch Hall, Bower Hall, Champine Lodge, Colne Park, Coopersale, Copped Hall, Coptfold, Elsenham, Faulkbourn, Forest House, Gosfield, Greensted, Hallingbury, Hyde, Kelvedon, Langleys, Mark's Hall, Orsett, Priory, Skreens, Spaim Hall, Stisted, Warley, Warlies, Weild Hall, and Wivenhoe. Population (1801) 227,682, (1821) 289,424, (1841) 344,979, (1861) 404,834, (1881) 576,434, (1891) 785,445.
The territory now forming Essex was inhabited in the ancient British times by the Trinobantes. It yielded early and easily to the sway of the Romans, and was included in their province of Flavia Cæsariensis. It and Middlesex, and parts of Herts and Beds, formed a kingdom during a period of the Saxon heptarchy, and this, from its relative situation to the other Saxon kingdoms, bore the name of East Seaxa or East Sexe, which passed by corruption first into Exsessa and next into Essex. East Seaxa was the least and weakest of the Saxon kingdoms, lay generally subordinate first to Kent, afterwards to Mercia, and became in 823 a province of Wessex. Sebert or Saebyrht, who occupied its throne in 593, was its first Christian king, and was nephew of St Augustine's convert, Ethelbert of Kent, and founded the cathedral churches of London and Westminster. The Danes frequently attacked or overran East Seaxa between 878 and 1016, and Canute in the last of these years fought his great battle with Edmund Ironside at Assandune in Essex, a place identified variously with Ashdon and Ashingdon. Colonies of subjugated Northmen were planted in Essex and East Anglia, and the inhabitants of these territories were treated more favourably than those of any other part of England by the Danish dynasty. The people of Essex submitted readily to the Norman Conquest, and they thenceforth made only three notable separate appearances in the great mutations of the countrythey began the insurrection which culminated in Wat Tyler's Rebellion, they rose under Colonel Far and Sir Charles Lucas to support Charles I., and they took part with Fanshaw in 1659 to promote the restoration of Charles II. The ancient British Ermine Street traversed part of the west border of Essex, and a Roman road crossed the county from Colchester, by way of Coggeshall and Dunmow, to Bishop-Stortford. Ancient British camps or barrows occur at Ruekolt, Bluntswalls, Ambreys, Walbury, Grime's Dyke, Bartlow Hills, and Roman stations stood at Canonium, Camalodunum, Cæsaromagus, and Durolitum. Old castles are at Colchester, Clavering, Hadleigh, Heddingham, Walden, Ongar, and Stansted-Monfichet; old mansions, or parts of them, are at Havering, Nether Hall, Mark's Hall, Heron Hall, Creping, and Upminster; old churches are at Thaxted, Walden, Inworth, East Ham, Greensted, and other places; and remains of monastic houses are at Waltham, Barking, Stratford, Colchester, Bileigh, Titley, Latton, Little Leighs, and Bychnacre. Essex gave the title of Earl till 1184 to the De Mandevilles; from 1199 till 1216 to the Fitzspiers; from the 13th century till 1372 to the De Bohuns; in the latter part of the 14th century till 1397 to Thomas Duke of Gloucester; from 1443 to 1454 to William Parr; from 1461 till 1539 to the Bourchiers; in 1540 to Thomas Cromwell; from 1572 till 1646 to the Devereux, and from 1661 till the present time to the Capels.
Essex South-Eastern Parliamentary Division was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 69,837. The division includes the following;Brentwood (part of) Rainham, Wennington, DengieAlthorne, Asheldam, Bradwell-near-the-Sea, Burnham, Cold Norton, Creeksea, Dengie, Fambridge (North), Hazeleigh, Heybridge, Latchingdon, Mayland, Mundon, Purleigh, St Lawrence, Southminster, Steeple, Stow Marks, Tillingham, Woodham Mortimer, Woodham Walter; OrsettAveley, Bulphan, Chadwell, Corringham, Fobbing, Horndon-on-the-Hill, Laindon Hills, Mucking, Ockendon (North), Ockendon (South), Orsett, Stanford-le-Hope, Stifford, Thurrock (Grays), Thurrock (Little), Thurrock (West), Tilbury (East), Tilbury (West); Rochford Ashingdon, Barling, Benfleet (South), Canewdon, Eastwood, Fambridge (South), Foulness, Hadleigh, Havengore Marsh, Hawkwell, Hockley, Leigh, Paglesham, Prittlewell, Rawreth, Rayleigh, Rochford, Shoebury (North), Shoebury (South), Shopland, Southchurch, Stambridge (Great), Stambridge (Little), Sutton, Thundersley, Wakering (Great), Wakering (Little).
Archives and Libraries
For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.
List of Registration Districts in Essex from 1837 to 1974.
Directories & Gazetteers
The Historical Directories web site have a number of directories relating to Essex online, including:
Kelly's, Pigot, Slater, etc.
We have transcribed the entry for Essex from the following:
- Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858. (Essex)
- Kelly's Directory of Essex, Hertfordshire, and Middlesex, 1914
A listing of the Hundreds in Essex, with the parishes contained in them.
Land and Property
The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Essex is available to browse.
The Essex pages from the Return of Owners of Land in 1873 is online.
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 & places
A listing of the poor law unions in Essex, with the parishes contained in them.