ESSEX COUNTY, an eastern county of England, bounded N. by Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, E. by the North Sea, S. by the Thames, dividing it from Kent, W. by the administrative county of London and by Hertfordshire. Its area is 1542 sq. m. Its configuration is sufficiently indicated by the direction of its rivers. Except that in the N.W. the county includes the heads of a few valleys draining northward to the Cam and so to the Great Ouse, all the streams, which are never of great size, run southward and eastward, either into the Thames, or into the North Sea by way of the broad, shallow estuaries which ramify through the flat coast lands. The highest ground lies consequently in the north-west, between the Cam basin and the rivers of the county. Its principal southward extension is that between the Lea (which with its tributary the Stort forms a great part of the western boundary) and the Roding, and east of the Roding valley. The other chief rivers may be specified according to their estuaries, following the coast northward from Shoeburyness at the Thames mouth. That of the Roach ramifies among several islands of which Foulness is the largest, but its main branch joins the Crouch estuary. Next follows the Blackwater, which receives the Chelmer, the Brain and other streams. Following a coast of numerous creeks and islets, with the large island of Mersea, the Colne estuary is reached. The Colne and Blackwater may be said to form one large estuary, as they enter the sea by a well-marked common mouth, 5 m. in width, between Sales Point and Colne Point. There is a great irregular inlet (Hamford Water) receiving no large stream, W. of the Naze promontory, and then the Stour, bounding the county on the north, joins its estuary to that of the Orwell near the sea. There are several seaside watering-places in favour owing to their proximity to London, of which Southend-on-Sea above the mouth of the Thames, Clacton-on-Sea, Walton-on-the-Naze, and Dovercourt adjoining Harwich are the chief. These and other stations on the estuaries are also in favour with yachtsmen. The sea has at some points seriously encroached upon the land within historic times. The low soft cliffs at various points are liable to give way against the waves; in other parts dykes and embankments are necessary to prevent inundation. Inland, that is apart from the flat coast-district, the country is pleasantly undulating and for the most part well wooded. It was formerly, indeed, almost wholly forested, the great Waltham Forest stretching from Colchester to the confines of London. Of this a fragment is preserved in Epping Forest (see Epping) between the Lea and the Roding. On the other side of the Roding Hainault Forest is traceable, but was disafforested in 1851. The oak is the principal tree; a noteworthy example was that of Fairlop in Hainault, which measured 45 ft. in girth, but was blown down in 1820.
Geology. - The geological structure of the county is very simple: the greater part is occupied by the London clay with underlying Reading beds and Thanet sands, with here and there small patches of Bagshot gravels on elevated tracts, as at High Beech, Langdon Hill, Brentwood and Rayleigh; and occasionally the same beds are represented by the large boulder-like Sarsen stones on the lower ground. In the north, the chalk, which underlies the Tertiary strata over the whole county, appears at the surface and forms the downs about Saffron Walden, Birdbrook and Great Yeldham; it is brought up again by a small disturbance at Grays Thurrock where it is quarried on a large scale for lime, cement and whiting. Small patches of Pleistocene Red Crag rest upon the Eocene strata at Beaumont and Oakley, and are very well exposed at Walton-on-the-Naze where they are very fossiliferous. Most of the county is covered by a superficial deposit of glacial drifts, sands, gravel and in places boulder clay, as at Epping, Dunmow and Hornchurch where the drift lies beneath the Thames gravel. An interesting feature in relation to the glacial drift is a deep trough in the Cam valley revealed by borings to be no less than 340 ft. deep at Newport; this ancient valley is filled with drift. In the southern part of the county are broad spreads of gravel and brick earth, formed by the Thames; these have been excavated for brick-making and building purposes about Ilford, Romford and Grays, and have yielded the remains of hippopotamus, rhinoceros and mammoth. More recent alluvial deposits are found in the valley at Walthamstow and Tilbury, in which the remains of the beaver have been discovered.
The roads of this county with a clay soil foundation were for generations repaired with flints picked by women and children from the surface of the fields. Gravel is difficult of access. With the exception of chalk for lime (mainly obtained at Ballingdon in the north and Grays in the south), septaria for making cement, and clay for bricks, the underground riches of the county are meagre.
Agriculture. - As an agricultural county Essex ranks high. Some four-fifths of the total area is under cultivation, and about one-third of that area is in permanent pasture. Wheat, barley and oats, in that relative order, are the principal grain crops, Essex being one of the chief grain-producing counties. The wheat and barley are in particularly high favour, the wheat of various standard species being exported for seed purposes, while the barley is especially useful in malting. Beans and peas are largely grown, as are vegetables for the London market. Hop-growing was once important. From the comparative dryness of the climate Essex does not excel in pasturage, and winter grazing receives the more attention. The numbers of cattle increase steadily, and store bullocks are introduced in large numbers from Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Ireland and Wales. Of sheep there are but few distinct flocks, and the numbers decrease. Pigs are generally of a high-class Berkshire type.
Other Industries. - The south-west of the county, being contiguous to London, is very densely populated, and is the seat of large and varied industries. For example, there are numbers of chemical works, the extensive engine shops and works of the Great Eastern railway at Stratford, government powder works in the vicinity of Waltham Abbey, and powder stores at Purfleet on the Thames. The extensive water-works for east London, by the Lea near Walthamstow, may also be mentioned. The docks at Plaistow and Tilbury on the Thames employ many hands. Apart from this industrial district, there are considerable engineering works, especially for agricultural implements, at Chelmsford, Colchester and elsewhere; several silk works, as at Braintree and Halstead; large breweries, as at Brentwood, Chelmsford and Romford; and lime and cement works at Grays Thurrock. The oyster-beds of the Colne produce the famous Colchester natives, and there are similar beds in the Crouch and Roach, for which Burnham-on-Crouch is the centre; and in the Blackwater (Maldon).
Communications. - Railway communications are supplied principally by the Great Eastern railway, of which the main line runs by Stratford, Ilford, Romford, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Witham, Colchester, and Manningtree. The Cambridge and northern line of this company, following the Lea valley, does not touch the county until it diverges along the valley of the Stort. The chief branches are those to Southend and Burnham, Witham to Maldon, Colchester to Brightlingsea, to Clacton and to Walton, and Manningtree to Harwich, on the coast; and Witham to Braintree and Bishop's Stortford, and Mark's Tey to Sudbury and beyond, inland; while there are several branch lines among the manufacturing and residential suburbs in the south-west, to Walthamstow and Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell, Loughton, Epping, Ongar, etc. The London, Tilbury & Southend railway, following the Thames, serves the places named, and the Colne Valley railway runs from Chappel junction near Mark's Tey by Halstead to Haverhill.
On the Thames, besides the great docks at Plaistow (Victoria and Albert) and the deep-water docks at Tilbury, the principal calling places for vessels are Grays, Purfleet and Southend, while Barking on the Roding has also shipping trade, and the Lea affords important water-connexions. Elsewhere, the principal port is Harwich, at the mouth of the Stour, one of the chief ports of England for European passenger traffic. Other towns ranking as lesser estuarine ports are: Brightlingsea and Wivenhoe on the Colne, forming a member of the Cinque Port of Sandwich; Colchester, Maldon on the Blackwater, and Burnham-on-Crouch. The Stour, Chelmer, and Lea and Stort are the principal navigable inland waterways.
Population and Administration. - The area of the ancient county is 986,975 acres, with a population in 1891 of 785,445 and in 1901 of 1,085,771. The area of the administrative county is 979,532 acres. The county contains nineteen hundreds. It is divided into eight parliamentary divisions, and it also includes the parliamentary boroughs of Colchester and West Ham, the latter consisting of two divisions. Each of these returns one member. The county divisions are - Northern or Saffron Walden, North-eastern or Harwich, Eastern or Maldon, Western or Epping, Mid or Chelmsford, South-eastern, Southern or Romford, South-western or Walthamstow, returning one member each. The municipal boroughs are - Chelmsford (12,580), Colchester (38,373), East Ham (96,018), Harwich (10,070), Maldon(5565), Saffron Walden (5896), Southend-on-Sea (28,857), and one county borough, West Ham (267,358). The following are the other urban districts - Barking Town (21,547), Braintree (5330), Brentwood (4932), Brightlingsea (4501), Buckhurst Hill (4786), Burnham-on-Crouch (2919), Chingford (4373), Clacton (7456), Epping (3789), Frinton-on-Sea (644), Grays Thurrock (13,834), Halstead (6073), Ilford (41,234), Leigh-on-Sea (3667), Leyton (98,912), Loughton (4730), Romford (13,656), Shoeburyness (4081), Waltham Holy Cross (6549), Walthamstow (95,131), Walton-on-the-Naze (2014), Wanstead (9179), Witham (3454), Wivenhoe (2560), Woodford (13,798). Essex is in the South-eastern circuit, and assizes are held at Chelmsford. The boroughs of Harwich and Southend-on-Sea have separate commissions of the peace, and the boroughs of Colchester, Maldon, Saffron Walden and West Ham have, in addition, separate courts of quarter sessions. The county is ecclesiastically within the diocese of St Albans (with a small portion within that of Ely) and is divided into two archdeaconries; containing 452 parishes or districts wholly or in part. There are 399 civil parishes.
There is a military station and depot for recruits at Warley, and a garrison at Tilbury. At Shoeburyness there are a school of gunnery and an extensive ground for testing government artillery of the largest calibre.
History (see also below under Essex, Kingdom of). - Essex probably originated as a shire in the time of Æthelstan. According to the Domesday Survey it comprised nineteen hundreds, corresponding very closely in extent and in name with those of the present day. The additional half-hundred of Thunreslan on the Suffolk border has disappeared; Witbrictesherna is now Dengie; and the liberty of Havering-atte-Bower appears to have been taken out of Becontree. Essex and Hertfordshire were under one sheriff until the time of Elizabeth. At the time of the Survey Count Eustace held a vast fief in Essex, and the court of the Honour of Boulogne was held at Witham. Bentry Heath in Dagenham, Hundred Heath in Tendring and Castle Hedingham in Hinckford were the meeting-places of their respective hundreds. The stewardship of the forest of Essex was held by the earls of Oxford until deprived of it for adherence to the Lancastrian cause. In 1421 certain parts of Essex inherited by Henry V. from his mother were brought under the jurisdiction of the duchy of Lancaster.
Essex was part of the see of London from the time of the foundation of the bishopric in the 7th century. The archdeaconries are first mentioned in 1108; that of Essex extended over the south of the county and in 1291 included eight deaneries; the north of the county was divided between the archdeaconries of Middlesex and Colchester, comprising three and six deaneries respectively. Colchester was constituted a suffragan bishopric by Henry VIII. In 1836 Essex was transferred to the diocese of Rochester, with the exception of nine parishes which remained in London. In 1845 the archdeacon of Middlesex ceased to exercise control in Essex, and the deaneries were readjusted. In 1875 Essex was transferred to the newly created diocese of St Albans, and in 1877 the archdeaconry of Essex was subdivided into eighteen deaneries and that of Colchester into sixteen.
Owing to its proximity to the capital Essex was intimately associated with all the great historical struggles. The nobility of Essex took a leading part in the struggle for the charter, and of the twenty-four guardians of the charter, four were Essex barons. The castles of Pleshey, Colchester, and Hedingham were held against the king in the Barons' War of the reign of Henry III., and 5000 Essex men joined the peasant rising of 1381. During the Wars of the Roses the Lancastrian cause was supported by the de Veres, while the Bourchiers and Lord Fitz-Walter were among the Yorkist leaders. Several Essex men were concerned in the Gunpowder Plot, and in the Civil War of the 17th century the county rendered valuable aid to the parliament.
After the Conquest no Englishman retained estates in Essex of any importance, and the chief lay barons at the time of the Survey were Geoffrey de Mandeville and Aubrey de Vere. The de Veres, earls of Oxford, were continuously connected with the county until the extinction of the title two centuries ago. Pleshey was the stronghold of the Mandevilles, and, although the house became extinct in 1189, its descendants in the female line retained the title of earls of Essex. The Honour of Hatfield Peverel held by Ranulf Peverel after the Conquest escheated to the crown in the reign of Henry I., and in the same reign the fief of Robert Gernon passed to the house of Mountfichet.
Essex has always been mainly an agricultural county, and the ordinary agricultural pursuits were carried on at the time of the Domesday Survey, which also mentions salt-making, wine-making, bee-culture and cheese-making, while the oyster fisheries have been famous from the earliest historic times. The woollen industry dates back to Saxon times, and for many centuries ranked as the most important industry. Cloth-weaving was introduced in the 14th century, and in the 16th century Colchester was noted for its "bays and says." Colchester also possessed a valuable leather industry in the 16th century, at which period Essex was considered an exceptionally wealthy and prosperous county; Norden, writing in 1594, describes it as "moste fatt, frutefull, and full of all profitable things." The decline of the cloth industry in the 17th century caused great distress, but a number of smaller industries began to take its place. Saffron-culture and silk-weaving were extensively carried on in the 17th century, and the 18th century saw the introduction of the straw-plait industry, potash-making, calico-printing, malting and brewing, and the manufacture of Roman cement.
The county returned four members to parliament in 1290. From 1295 it returned two members for the county and two for Colchester. Maldon acquired representation in 1331 and Harwich in 1604. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned four members in four divisions. Under the Representation of the People Act of 1868 Maldon and Harwich each lost one member, and the county returned six members in three divisions.
Antiquities. - It is supposed by many antiquaries that Saxon masonry can be detected in the foundations of several of the Essex churches, but, with the exception of Ashingdon church tower, believed to have been erected by Canute after his victory over Edmund Ironside, there is no obviously recognizable building belonging to that period. This is probably to be in part ascribed to the fact that the comparative scarcity of stone and the unusual abundance of timber led to the extensive employment of the latter material. Several of the Essex churches, as Blackmore, Mountnessing, Margaretting, and South Benfleet, have massive porches and towers of timber; and St Andrew's church, Greenstead, with its walls of solid oak, continues an almost unique example of its kind. Of the four round churches in England one is in Essex at Little Maplestead; it is both the smallest and the latest. The churches of South Weald, Hadleigh, Blackmore, Heybridge and Hadstock may be mentioned as containing Norman work; with the church of Castle Hedingham for its fine Transitional work; Southchurch, Danbury and Boreham as being partly Early English; Ingatestone, Stebbing and Tilty for specimens of Decorated architecture; and Messing, Thaxted, Saffron Walden, and the church of St Peter ad Vincula at the small town of Coggeshall, near Colchester, as specimens of Perpendicular. Stained glass windows have left their traces in several of the churches, the finest remains being those of Margaretting, which represent a tree of Jesse and the daisy or herb Margaret. Paintings have evidently been largely used for internal decoration: a remarkable series, probably of the 12th century, but much restored in the 14th, exists in the chancel of Copford church; and in the church at Ingatestone there was discovered in 1868 an almost unique fresco representation of the seven deadly sins. The oldest brasses preserved in the county are those of Sir William Fitz-Ralph at Pebmarsh, about 1323; Richard of Beltown, at Corringham, 1340; Sir John Gifford, at Bowers Gifford, 1348; Ralph de Kneyton, at Aveley, 1370; Robert de Swynbourne, at Little Horkesley, 1391; and Sir Ingelram de Bruyn, at South Ockendon, 1400. The brass of Thomas Heron, aged 14, at Little Ilford, though dating only from 1517, is of interest as a picture of a schoolboy of the period. Ancient wooden effigies are preserved at Danbury, Little Leighs and Little Horkesley.
Essex was rich in monastic foundations, though the greater number have left but meagre ruins behind. The Benedictines had an abbey at Saffron Walden, nunneries at Barking and Wickes, and priories at Earl's or Monk's Colne and Castle Hedingham; the Augustinian canons had an abbey at Waltham (see Waltham Abbey; the portion remaining shows Norman work of the finest character), priories at Thoby, Blackmore, Bicknacre, Little Leighs, Little Dunmow and St Osyth (see Brightlingsea); there were Cistercian abbeys at Coggeshall, Stratford and Tilty; the Cluniac monks were settled at Prittlewell, the Premonstratensians at Beleigh Abbey, and the Knights Hospitallers at Little Maplestead. Barking Abbey is said to date its first origin from the 7th century; most of the others arose in the 12th and 13th centuries. Besides the keep at Colchester there is a fine Norman castle at Castle Hedingham, and two dilapidated round towers still stand at Hadleigh near Southend. Ongar, the house of the de Lacys, and Pleshey, the seat of the earls of Essex, have left only mounds. Havering-atte-Bower, the palace that was occupied by many queens, is replaced by a modern house; Wickham, the mansion of the bishops of London, no longer stands. New Hall, which was successively occupied by Henry VIII., Elizabeth, the earl of Essex, George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, and Cromwell, is now a nunnery of the order of the Holy Sepulchre. Audley End, the mansion of Lord Braybrooke, is a noble example of the domestic architecture of the Jacobean period; Layer Marney is an interesting proof of the Italian influences that were at work in the time of Wolsey. Horeham Hall was built by Sir John Cutt in the reign of Henry VII., and Gosfield Hall is of about the same date.
See Norden, Speculi Britanniae Pars: an Hist. and Geogr. Descrip. of the County of Essex (1594) (edited for the Camden Society by Sir Henry Ellis, 1840, from the original MS. in the Marquis of Salisbury's library at Hatfield); Nicholas Tindal, Hist. of Essex (1720); N. Salmon, The Hist. and Antiq. of Essex (London, 1740) - based on the collections of James Strangman of Hadleigh (v. Trans. of Essex Arch. Soc. vol. ii.); P. Morant, Hist. and Antiq. of the County of Essex (London, 1768); P. Muilman, New and Complete Hist. of Essex from a late Survey, by a Gentleman (Chelmsford, 6 vols., 1770-1772, London, 1779); Elizabeth Ogbourne, Hist. of Essex (London, part i., 1814); Excursions through Essex, illustrated with one hundred engravings (2 vols., London, 1818); T. Wright, Hist. and Topography of Essex (1831); W. Berry, Pedigrees of Families in Essex (1841); A. Suckling, Memorials of the Antiquities, etc., of the County of Essex (London, 1845); W. Andrews (ed.), Bygone Essex (London, 1892); J.T. Page (ed.), Essex in the Days of Old (London, 1898); Victoria County History, Essex; Transactions of the Essex Arch. Soc. from 1858. An account of various MS. collections connected with the county is given by H.W. King in vol. ii. of the Transactions (1863).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)