Essex: A County of History, Culture and Nature

Essex is a county in the East of England that has a rich and diverse history. From ancient kingdoms and Roman colonies to medieval rebellions and modern industries, Essex has witnessed many events and changes that have shaped its culture and identity. In this article, we will journey through time and explore some of the highlights of Essex’s history.

When the Romans invaded Britain, they made Colchester in Essex their capital. Lying in the southeast of England and bordering Greater London, this former Roman stronghold boasts some great sites.

Beach Huts at Thorpe Bay, Essex
Beach Huts at Thorpe Bay, Essex
What is Essex Famous For?

Essex is a county in the East of England that has a lot to offer to visitors and locals alike. Essex is famous for its history, culture and nature, as well as its celebrities and quirks. Some of the things that Essex is known for are:

The oldest recorded competition in Britain: the Great Dunmow Flitch Trials, where married couples have to prove their love and devotion to each other.

The longest pier in the world: Southend Pier, which stretches for 1.34 miles into the Thames Estuary.

The birthplace of Robert the Bruce: the legendary Scottish king who was born in Writtle near Chelmsford in 1274.

The home of TOWIE: the popular reality TV show that follows the lives and dramas of a group of Essex residents.

The origin of the Essex girl joke: a stereotype that portrays Essex women as unintelligent, promiscuous and materialistic.

The county of jam: Tiptree is one of the few places in the world where the Little Scarlet strawberry can be found and used to make the famous Tiptree jam.

The county of culture: Essex has produced many famous artists, writers, musicians and comedians, such as John Constable, Douglas Adams, The Kinks and Monty Python.

Essex is a county that has something for everyone, whether you are looking for history, entertainment, relaxation or adventure. Come and discover what makes Essex unique and special.

The Ancient Kingdom of Essex

Essex derives its name from the Kingdom of the East Seaxe or Kingdom of Essex, which Aescwine founded in AD 527. One of the seven kingdoms, or heptarchy, formed the Anglo-Saxon England. The kingdom occupied the territory north of the River Thames and east of the River Lea and had its capital at Colchester, also a Roman city called Camulodunum.

The kingdom was often involved in wars with its neighbours, especially the Kingdom of Mercia and the Kingdom of Wessex. It also faced raids and invasions from the Vikings, who eventually conquered most of East Anglia in the 9th century. The last king of Essex was Sigered, who abdicated in 825 and ceded his lands to King Egbert of Wessex.

The Norman Conquest and Beyond

The Norman conquest of England in 1066 brought significant changes to Essex. The county was divided into hundreds, which were administrative units under the control of feudal lords. The Normans built many castles and churches, such as Hedingham Castle, Hadleigh Castle, Colchester Castle and Waltham Abbey.

The county also witnessed several rebellions against Norman rule, such as the revolt of Hereward the Wake in 1070-71 and Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1143-44. In 1381, Essex was one of the centres of the Peasants’ Revolt, led by Wat Tyler and inspired by John Ball, a former priest from Colchester. The rebels marched to London to demand social and economic reforms from King Richard II.

The Tudor and Stuart Periods

Essex played an essential role in the Tudor and Stuart periods, especially in the religious and political conflicts that marked these eras. Many prominent figures from Essex were involved in the Reformation, such as Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor; William Tyndale, Bible translator; and Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. Essex was also a stronghold of Puritanism and Parliamentarianism during the English Civil War, with leaders such as Oliver Cromwell, John Hampden and Robert Rich. The county suffered royalist attacks and sieges, such as the Siege of Colchester in 1648. After the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, Essex experienced some economic recovery and social stability.

The Industrial Revolution and Modern Times

The Industrial Revolution significantly changed Essex in the 18th and 19th centuries. The county developed new industries such as textile manufacturing, shipbuilding, engineering, brewing and agriculture. The railways also improved the transport and communication links between Essex and London, and other parts of Britain. Many towns and villages increased as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation. Some areas became popular seaside resorts for Londoners, such as Southend-on-Sea, Clacton-on-Sea and Frinton-on-Sea. In the 20th century, Essex faced two world wars and their aftermaths.

The county was bombed by German aircraft during World War II, especially along the Thames estuary. After the war, many new towns were built to accommodate the population growth and housing demand, such as Basildon, Harlow and Chelmsford. Essex also became a centre of cultural and social movements, such as rock music (e.g., The Kinks), art (e.g., John Constable), literature (e.g., Douglas Adams) and comedy (e.g., Monty Python).

Essex is a county that has a lot to offer to anyone interested in history. From ancient to modern times, Essex has witnessed and participated in many events that have shaped England’s history. Whether you want to visit historic sites or museums or enjoy the natural beauty and diversity of Essex’s landscapes and coastlines, you will find something to suit your taste and curiosity.


The naming of Colchester, supposedly from a mythical king, ‘King Ceol’, is said to have inspired the nursery rhyme ‘Old King Cole’. Colchester is rich in history and ancient stories and is the oldest recorded town in Britain. Colchester Castle Museum takes you through its history with exciting exhibitions and events.

Learn how the castle was first a Roman temple, which Boudica destroyed by burning to the ground. From this ruin, the Normans built Colchester Castle. This impressive historical site is a great place to visit in the UK school holidays, combining learning with a family day out.

Take a trip to the coastline near Colchester, and you’ll find uncomplicated seaside fun and a slow pace of life. Tendring, known as ‘the sunshine coast’, is a quiet and peaceful area to base your Essex holiday.

This area has the lowest rainfall in the UK and earns its nickname, The Sunshine Coast, by maintaining the mildest climate in England. Clacton-On-Sea offers a traditional seaside experience, and the surrounding villages are picturesque and quaint.

Southend-on-Sea Memories

For seaside fun in the half-term break with a little more excitement, Southend-On-Sea is the place to go. Southend stretches from Leigh-On-Sea in the west to Shoeburyness in the east, giving visitors a wide choice of things to see and do. Southend Pier is the longest in the world, and this stretch of coastline boasts seven miles of seafront. Adventure Island Theme Park has over sixty rides and attractions for thrill-seekers in the family. Adventure Island operates with free entry, and visitors only pay for the rides they use.

Essex has a mostly flat landscape with a gentle coastline of calm shores and quiet river estuaries. Some of this unspoilt coastline presents the perfect opportunity for spotting wildlife. Essex has over thirty nature reserves and visitor centres, which form part of its wildlife trust. This makes Essex one of the best areas in England for birdwatching and wildlife spotting.

Much of this wildlife can be seen in Epping Forest. Epping Forest, sprawling across the border with Greater London, was once a royal forest. Kings hunted deer here until the forest was taken over by The City of London Corporation in 1878. In 1882 Queen Victoria dedicated the woods to her people. Today Epping Forest makes a fantastic day out on the half-term dates. Visitors can take guided walks, cycle the paths or wander through the grounds at their leisure. The forest also organises events, including open-air theatre, and has digital displays for all the family.

High Street, Maldon, Essex
High Street, Maldon, Essex

How Essex Became a Seaside Destination

Essex is a county in East England with a long and varied coastline stretching from the Thames Estuary to the North Sea. Along this coast, you can find many seaside resorts and towns that attract visitors from near and far. But how did Essex become a seaside destination? And what makes it so appealing today? Let’s look at the history and development of seaside resorts and tourism in Essex.

The Origins of Seaside Tourism

The origins of seaside tourism in Essex can be traced back to the 18th century when wealthy Londoners began to visit the coast for health and leisure reasons. They were attracted by the fresh air, the sea bathing and the mineral springs believed to have healing properties. Some of the earliest seaside resorts in Essex were Southend-on-Sea, Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton-on-Sea, which catered to the upper-class clientele with elegant hotels, spas and promenades.

The Railway Revolution

The railway revolution of the 19th century changed the face of seaside tourism in Essex. The railways made travelling from London and other parts of the country to the coast easier, faster and cheaper. This opened the seaside to more visitors, predominantly middle-class and working-class families who could afford day trips or weekend breaks. The railways also stimulated the development of new seaside resorts and attractions, such as Clacton-on-Sea, Brightlingsea and Mersea Island, which offered entertainment, amusement and recreation for all ages.

The Golden Age of Seaside Tourism

The golden age of seaside tourism in Essex was in the early 20th century when the coast was at its peak of popularity and prosperity. The coastal resorts were bustling with visitors who enjoyed the sandy beaches, the colourful beach huts, the piers, the pavilions and the funfairs. The seaside was also a place of culture and innovation, where artists, writers and musicians found inspiration, and new forms of entertainment emerged, such as cinema, radio and music hall. Some famous names associated with Essex’s seaside culture include John Constable, Douglas Adams, The Kinks and Monty Python.

View west of Havering-atte-Bower
View west of Havering-atte-Bower

The Decline and Revival of Seaside Tourism

The decline of seaside tourism in Essex began after World War II when people’s tastes and expectations changed. The coast faced competition from other destinations, both domestic and foreign that offered more variety, comfort and affordability. The seaside resorts suffered from neglect, decay and decline as they struggled to adapt to the changing times. However, interest and investment in Essex’s seaside tourism have been revived in recent years. The coast has seen a resurgence of visitors who appreciate its heritage, charm and diversity. The coastal resorts have also transformed, with new developments, improvements and attractions catering to modern needs and desires.

Essex is a county that has a rich and diverse history of seaside tourism. From its origins as a health resort for the elite to its peak as a mass destination for all classes, from its decline as an outdated destination to its revival as a contemporary destination, Essex’s coast has always been a place of change and adaptation.

Whether looking for relaxation or adventure, culture or nature, history or novelty, you will find something to suit your taste and curiosity at Essex’s seaside resorts.

Share Your Essex History With Us

Essex holidays successfully combine modern life with ancient history. In this historical county, you’ll find a diverse mix of seaside activities and old English tales. Whichever part of Essex you visit, history comes to life and family days out offer excitement and fun.

Clacton Airfield 1970s
Clacton Airfield 1970s

That’s little me in the photo above!

Please comment below and share your memories of day trips to the seaside—a visit to the famous Rossi ice cream parlour. As a family, they have been producing award-winning ice cream in Essex since 1932 and finish off with a walk up the mile-and-a-quarter-long pier, bliss.

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