HARWICH, a sea-port, borough, and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the hundred of Tendring, union of Tendring, N. division of Essex, 42 miles (N. E. by E.) from Chelmsford, and 72 (N. E. by E.) from London; containing 3829 inhabitants. The name of this place, which is expressive of circumstances connected with its early history, is by Camden derived from the Saxon Harewic, signifying a station or harbour for soldiers; and by the same authority it is supposed that, during the time of the Romans, the counts of the Saxon shore had a stronghold here, in which a force was stationed to repel the Saxons and the Danes, who at that time made frequent incursions. This opinion is in some degree confirmed by the remains of a Roman camp and tumulus in the vicinity of the town, near which coins and fragments of tessellated pavements have been found at various times; and by the discovery of teeth and bones of large animals in the southern cliff, which are by some antiquaries thought to be the remains of elephants brought into England by the Emperor Claudius. After the departure of the Romans, Harwich, with the district adjoining, was wrested from the Britons by Erchenwine, or Erchwine, a Saxon chief, who held it under Octa, grandson of Hengist. In 885, a considerable battle was fought near this port, between the fleet of Alfred and sixteen Danish ships, which terminated in the entire defeat and capture of the latter.

In 1326, Prince Edward and his mother Queen Isabel, landed here from Hainault, with a force of 2750 soldiers, and being joined by several of the nobility, and headed by Thomas de Brotherton, Duke of Norfolk, then lord of the manor and resident in the town, proceeded to Bristol, to make war against the king. In 1338, the same prince, now Edward III., embarked at the port with a fleet of 500 sail, manned with archers and slingers, on his first expedition against France; and in the year following, the French, in retaliation, made an unsuccessful attempt with eleven galleys to set fire to the town. In 1340, the French navy, consisting of 400 ships, having been stationed near Sluys, in Flanders, to intercept the king's passage to France, Edward assembled here his naval forces, and, sailing on Midsummereve, and forming with the northern squadron under the command of Lord Morley, encountered the enemy, destroyed one-half of their ships, and killed or captured nearly 30,000 of their men. Henry VIII. visited Harwich in 1543; and in 1553 preparations were made here for the reception of Philip, King of Spain, on his arrival to celebrate his nuptials with Mary, Queen of England. Queen Elizabeth was sumptuously entertained in 1561 by the corporation, who escorted her as far as the windmill on her return. In some of the naval engagements between the English and the Dutch, in the reign of Charles II., the contending parties approached so near to the town as to render their operations visible to the spectators on the cliffs. When Harwich was fortified against the Dutch in 1666, Charles II., having proceeded from Newmarket to Landguard fort, sailed hither in his yacht, accompanied by the Dukes of York, Monmouth, Richmond, and Buckingham, and, with others of his suite, attended divine service at the parish church; in the evening the royal party embarked for Aldborough, whence they proceeded by land to Ipswich. William III., George I., and George II., visited Harwich on their respective tours to the continent; and the Princess of Mecklenburgh-Strelitz landed at the port on her arrival in England to celebrate her nuptials with King George III. In 1808, the Countess de Lille, consort of Louis XVIII., the Duke and Duchess of Angoulême, the Count and Countess de Damas, and others of the nobility of France, seeking an asylum in this country, during the sway of Napoleon Buonaparte, arrived here in the Euryalus frigate, commanded by the Hon. Captain Dundas. On the 16th of August, 1821, the remains of Queen Caroline, consort of George IV., were brought to the place, whence they were conveyed by the Glasgow frigate to be interred at Brunswick.

Harwich is situated on a peninsular projection at the north-eastern extremity of the Essex coast, bounded on the east by the North Sea, and on the west and north by the estuaries of the Stour and the Orwell, which, uniting previously to their influx into the sea, form a spacious and secure harbour, nearly three miles in breadth. The town is in general well built, and consists principally of three streets: an act of parliament was obtained in 1819, for watching, paving, and lighting it, and for supplying the inhabitants with water. An assembly and a reading room were lately erected in West-street, and a theatre was opened in 1813. The foundations of a castle and fortifications, by which the town was defended, might be seen previously to the encroachment of the sea, at an extraordinary tide in 1784; but of its ancient walls and gates, with the exception of a very small portion serving to indicate their former strength, the memorial is preserved only in the record of tolls, levied in the reign of Edward III. for their repair. Harwich is much resorted to during the season for bathing; and hot and cold baths, arranged with every accommodation, are supplied from a large reservoir of sea water: there are also bathing-machines near the jetty.

The harbour is protected on the east by the isthmus on which the town is built, verging towards the north, and on the west by a similar projection of the coast towards the south. The entrance is defended by Landguard fort, erected on the eastern promontory of the opposite coast; by a large martello tower; and by a number of shoals near the fort, which so much contract the passage as to admit only of one large vessel at a time, rendering the harbour difficult of access, except to expert navigators. Though of unequal depth, the harbour and the bay together form a capacious roadstead for the largest ships of war, 100 of which were assembled here during the war with Holland, in the reign of Charles II., exclusively of their attendant vessels, and 300 or 400 sail of vessels carrying coal. To facilitate the entrance into the harbour by night, two lighthouses were erected, under letters-patent of Charles II.: in the eastern part of the town, where they are situated, is a convenient stone quay, and near it a delightful promenade called the Esplanade. By means of these lights, vessels are guided off a sand-bank named the "Andrews," forming a bar across the entrance to the harbour from Landguard fort into the Rolling grounds, from which the passage leading into good anchorage is safe. The custom-house establishment consists of a collector, comptroller, and other officers. The trade of the port principally arises from the quantities of stone obtained here, from which cement is manufactured; about 100 small vessels and boats being employed in and near the harbour in dredging for stone for making it. The North Sea fishery, though it has materially declined, still affords employment to a considerable number of vessels; and a constant traffic is carried on, by means of steamers and wherries, with Ipswich and Manningtree. The number of vessels of above 50 tons' burthen is 61, and their aggregate tonnage 5497. Ship-building is carried on to a good extent, the dockyard here being provided with launches, storehouses, and other requisites; several third-rate and other vessels have been built, and a patent-slip has been constructed, on which ships of very large burthen may be hauled up for repair with great facility. The manufacture of copperas from stones that are found in abundance on the shore, was carried on in the seventeenth century, about which time an attempt was made to obtain potash from various sea-weeds. The market-days are Tuesday and Friday; the fairs, principally for toys, are on May 1st, and October 18th, each for three days.

The borough was first incorporated by charter of Edward II., which was renewed, with additional privileges, by James I., through the interest of Sir Edward Coke, and confirmed by Charles II. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the corporation now consists of a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors; the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and the total number of magistrates is 12. Harwich first sent members to parliament in the 17th of Edward III., but discontinued till the 12th of James I., since which time it has made regular returns. The right of election was formerly vested in the mayor, aldermen, and capital burgesses, 32 in number; but, by the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., cap. 45, it was extended to the £10 householders of the borough, the limits of which contain 1461 acres. The mayor is returning officer. The mayor and eleven of the corporation, until the passing of the Municipal act, which abolished admiralty jurisdictions, possessed conjointly the powers of the court of admiralty, with all its privileges and profits, without accounting to the exchequer; and at the admiralty sessions the mayor was usually preceded by a person bearing a silver oar. A court of record used to be held under the charter of Charles II., every Tuesday, for the recovery of debts not exceeding £100; but from the expensiveness of the proceedings, it has fallen into disuse. The powers of the county debt-court of Harwich, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-district of Tendring. There are petty-sessions weekly. A new guildhall was erected a few years since, of which the lower part is used as a prison for the borough, chiefly for the confinement of prisoners previously to their committal to the county gaol, and the upper is appropriated to the holding of the courts, and to the transaction of public business. In the old guildhall, a small brick building, were several buckets bearing the arms and names of members of the corporation, among which were those of Sir Edward Coke, attorney-general in the time of James I.; Christopher Monk, Duke of Albemarle; Colonel Sir Charles Lyttleton, governor of Landguard fort in the reign of Charles II.; Sir Harbottle Grimstone, master of the rolls in the same reign; the Duke of Schomberg; Lord Bolingbroke; and Edward, Earl of Oxford.

Harwich comprises the parishes of All Saints Dovor-Court, containing 813, and St. Nicholas, 3016 inhabitants. The living of Dovor-Court is a vicarage, with the perpetual curacy of St. Nicholas' annexed, valued in the king's books at £5. 0. 10., and in the patronage of the Crown; net income, £221; impropriator, N. G. Garland, Esq. The church contains several ancient monuments, and was celebrated for a rood held in high veneration, for the destruction of which three men from Dedham, who had stolen it from the church and burnt it, were hanged in 1532. The church of St. Nicholas, rebuilt in 1820, at an expense of £18,000, is a handsome edifice in the later English style, with a lofty embattled tower: in the chancel are three finely-painted windows, presented by John Hopkins, Esq., and containing severally the arms of that gentleman, those of the town, and of Dr. Howley, then Bishop of London; among the monuments is a well-sculptured bust of Sir William Clarke, secretary-at-war to Charles I. and II. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyans. A fine spring of water, which was much esteemed for its medicinal properties, and possessed a petrifying quality, is noticed in the Philosophical Transactions for the year 1669. Quantities of amber, and, according to some, ambergris, are occasionally met with on the shore; and in the vicinity of Landguard fort, transparent pebbles are found, which were formerly set in rings by the inhabitants.

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