Facing the ‘Low Countries’ across the narrow divide of the North Sea, and for centuries the front line of defence against European invasion, Essex’s history has been shaped by a wide variety of cultures. Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans – all have made their mark. Echoes of their influence can still be seen today: from the ancient town walls and temple remains beneath the castle in the old Roman capital of Colchester, and the tiny Saxon chapel of Bradwell-on-Sea, buffeted by North Sea breezes, to the magnificent Norman keep at Hedingham Castle, the best preserved in England.
Facing the ‘Low Countries’ across the narrow divide of the North Sea, and for centuries the front line of defence against European invasion, Essex’s history has been shaped by a wide variety of cultures. Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans – all have made their mark.
Romans, Saxons and Normans all left their mark
Roman remains in Colchester are some of the earliest and most impressive examples. The town wall, surrounding much of the centre for 1.5 miles is the oldest of its kind in Britain while the foundations of the enormous Temple of Claudius can still be seen beneath the castle.
With the departure of the Roman army, Saxon raiding parties from the Germanic heartlands of Europe became more frequent and eventually settled in the fertile Essex countryside. Little remains of their influence, although a famous battle fought at Maldon between Saxons and Vikings was commemorated in a rare piece of Saxon epic poetry.
Throughout Essex the consequences of the Norman invasion are still visible. Castles were built, churches reconstructed, towns developed and hunting forests protected. Finest of the Norman castles is that at Hedingham, home of the de Vere family Earls of Oxford, whilst Colchester’s vast keep is the largest in Europe.
Yet it is not only external cultures that have left their impression on the Essex landscape. Our rich industrial heritage has also had a profound impact. Crooked timber-framed houses and vast beautifully decorated churches stand throughout the county as testament to the medieval wool trade, which brought great prosperity to the region. Traces of more recent industries also remain, from gunpowder factories to utopian workers’ towns, while lovers of architecture will find some stunning examples of the different eras, from the stately splendour of historic houses like Audley End House and Gardens to art deco by the sea in Frinton.
Roman remains in Colchester are some of the earliest and most impressive examples. When the Roman army departed, Saxon raiding parties from the Germanic heartlands of Europe became more frequent and eventually settled in the fertile Essex countryside. Whilst evidence of the Norman invasion is still visible. Castles were built, churches reconstructed, towns developed and hunting forests protected.
Explore our historic past
Countless reminders of Essex’s historic industries remain in the landscape. Beside our many rivers and streams, weatherboarded mills and maltings have evolved a new life as attractive pubs, restaurants and prestigious homes while around the county, visitors will find exquisite examples of timber-framed houses, built with the wealth of medieval trades.
A county of contrasts, Essex houses a rich variety of architectural styles, influenced both by its historical associations with the European mainland and by its strong industrial links with East Anglia and ties with London, via the river Thames. The over 14,000 listed buildings are testament of the county’s rich architectural heritage.
Since 1606, when the first ships bravely set sail for the New World from London’s Blackwall pier under the command of Harwich-born Christopher Newport, Essex has held strong links with North America which continue to the present day.
Calling all Teachers and Teaching Assistants!
Are you a teacher or teaching assistant in Essex?
Do you want to know about educational visits focusing on heritage, the arts and culture?
Are you looking for a dynamic way to teach, using cross-curricular projects?
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions then you’ll be interested in a new booklet.
Explore Culture: Schools is a guide for teachers about the cultural organisations that exist across Essex, and helps teachers to plan for visits linking with their curriculum, available in schools from July 2016.
An online version of the guide can be found here. To search for a key word in the PDF document, press Ctrl and the letter F.
For further information and to feedback about Explore Culture: Schools please contact:
Cultural Access, Learning and Participation Officer