Travel through the ages and discover historic Essex

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.

Picture of a folly that looks like an ancient Greek temple in the sunset.
Folly at Audley End House and Gardens.

Romans, Saxons and Normans all left their mark

Picture of a man in period costume sitting on a horse in front of Audley End House.
Audley End House and Gardens
Exterior of the castle with flower beds on front lawn.

Colchester Castle

Picture of the Saxon chapel standing a midst big open skies.

St Peters-on-the-Wall

Frontage of the very ornate building.
Electric Palace Cinema
Picture of the exterior as seen through the trees.
Hedingham Castle
Picture of two Georgian Towers that used to be part of a church.
Mistley Towers
Picture of the tower from the back with steps leading to the entrance.
Layer Marney Tower
Richly carved and decorated timberframed merchants house with terracotta coloured plaster in between
National Trust Paycocke's House
Picture of a white timberframed building that is over 500 years old.
Thaxted Guildhall
Picture of the outside front of Hylands House with some tree on the left.
Hylands House

 

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

PIcture of a brick windmill in the green countryside.

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.

Frontage of the building showing the architectural Jacobean features.

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.

Stained glass window depicting American and British soldiers and children.

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.