ESSEX, a maritime county, 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 North Sea. It extends from 51° 27' to 52° 6' (N. Lat.), and from 0° 3' (W. Lon.) to 1° 17' (E. Lon.); and includes 1532 square miles, or 980,480 statute acres. The county contains 67,618 inhabited houses, 2490 uninhabited, and 499 in the course of erection; and the population amounts to 344,979, of whom 172,348 are males, and 172,631 females.

At the time of Cæsar's invasion, this portion of Britain was inhabited by the Trinobantes; and in the subdivision of the island by Constantine the Great, the county 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 comprised within the limits of this county constituted an important district: the kingdom was founded 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 county is in the province of Canterbury, and comprises the archdeaconry of Essex, containing the deaneries of Barstable, Chafford, Chelmsford, Dengie, Dunmow, Harlow, Ongar, and Rochford, with part of Barking; that of Colchester, containing the deaneries of Colchester, Hedingham, Lexden, Newport, Sampford, Tendring, and Witham; and part of that of London, containing the remainder of Barking deanery: the number of parishes is 400. By the act of the 6th and 7th of William IV., cap. 77, the entire county was transferred to the diocese of Rochester, with the exception of the parishes of Barking, East and West Ham, Little Ilford, Low Layton, Walthamstow, Wanstead, Woodford, and Chingford, which remain in the diocese of London. For civil purposes it is divided into the 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, Gray's-Thurrock, Halstead, Manningtree, Rayleigh, Rochford, Romford, Thaxted, Saffron-Walden, Waltham-Abbey, and Witham. By the act of 1832, the county was divided into the Northern and Southern divisions, each returning two members to parliament; and the three boroughs send two representatives each. The 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 convict gaol is at Springfield.

The soil comprises every species of loam, from the most stubborn to the most congenial; there is also a portion of light gravelly sand, besides a considerable share of meadow and marsh ground, the greater part of which, with suitable management, is very productive. The late Arthur Young divided the soils into eight districts, viz., the crop and fallow district of strong chalky loam, the maritime district of fertile loam, three districts of strong loam not peculiar in management, the turnipland district, the chalk district, and the district of miscellaneous loams. The fertility of the arable land, and the good husbandry practised, enable Essex to rank high among the agricultural counties of England; its proximity to the metropolis affords it great advantages, and the various agricultural societies that have been established have given a stimulus to improvement hitherto without example. The cultivation of potatoes and vegetable crops is extensive in the vicinity of London. Carraway, coriander, rape, canary, and white and brown mustard seeds occupy a considerable portion of the marshy districts, and fine tracts of grazing marshes extend from the mouth of the Thames northward to Bradwell Point, on which small Highland cattle and Welsh "runts" are fed, with numerous flocks of Southdown and Romney-marsh sheep. The hop plantations at present cover about 400 acres, and are chiefly at Castle-Hedingham and in the adjacent parishes: the hop-fair is held at Braintree, early in October. The dairy-district is not considerable: the largest dairy-farms are those in the neighbourhood of Epping, which are deservedly in repute for the richness of the cream and butter; the skimmed milk is used for feeding pigs for the London market. The natural woods have been much diminished, both in number and extent, within the last century; the principal remains are the curtailed forests of Epping and Hainault.

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 cloth of various kinds is still sent to the metropolis, or exported to foreign countries, from Bocking, Braintree, Halstead, Coggeshall, and Colchester. Large silk manufactories have been erected at Halstead, Coggeshall, and Braintree; and English and foreign straw-plat is extensively produced throughout the northern districts. The principal rivers are the Thames, the Lea, the Crouch, the Chelmer, the Blackwater, the Coln, and the Stort. The Thames is navigable for merchant vessels of the largest burthen during the whole of its course along the southern border of the county; and the Lea is navigable along its western border. The Crouch, after forming a long and narrow estuary, falls into the North Sea between Foulness Island and the opposite marshes. The Chelmer and the Blackwater unite near Maldon, 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 Stort is navigable up to Sudbury; below Manningtree it forms a long and wide estuary, which, contracting at its mouth, unites with the North Sea at Harwich. 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 200, varying in burthen from 8 to 50 tons, and employing from 400 to 500 men and boys. The principal breeding rivers are the Crouch, the Blackwater, and the Coln. The oysters are sent to London, and to Holland, Flanders, and France; the quantity annually obtained is estimated at from 12,000 to 15,000 bushels. In Foulness Island are salt-water stews for various sorts of sea-fish. The county derives facility of communication from the Eastern Counties railway, which, entering from Middlesex, divides at Stratford into two great branches; the one proceeding northeast by Romford, Chelmsford, Witham, and Coggeshall, to Colchester; the other proceeding north, sometimes in this county and sometimes in the adjacent counties of Middlesex and Herts, until it quits Essex for Cambridgeshire near the town of Saffron-Walden. Another line connected with the county is the Colchester and Ipswich, which proceeds from Colchester in a north-east direction, and quits Essex at Manningtree.

Under the Roman government this territory was early and thoroughly explored; one great road ran the whole length of it, another skirted its northern border, and many vicinal ways crossed it in different directions. The first Roman colony in Britain was established in the county, and there were several other stations and towns in different parts: those mentioned in the Itinerary of Antoninus are, An Ansam, of undetermined locality; Camalodunum, at Colchester or Maldon; Canonium, at Coggeshall, or near Kelvedon; Cæsaromagus, at Chelmsford or Writtle; and Durositum, below Brentwood; but there are few remains of any of these. The principal relics have been discovered at Colchester: upwards of 1300 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 Mersea, Harwich, and other places; and tumuli, or barrows, at Lexden, Bures ad Montem, West Mersea, 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. Before the Reformation there were forty-seven Religious houses, namely, 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), St. Osyth's Abbey, and Waltham-Abbey Church. Of the ancient Castles, or castellated mansions, which were twelve in number, that of Colchester is the only one not either utterly demolished or extremely ruinous. Fossils are found in various parts, but no where so abundantly as in Harwich Cliff. Essex gives the title of Earl to the family of Capel.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.