A to Z of Essex part 3

PUBLISHED: 12:58 10 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:17 20 February 2013

The river Blackwater in Maldon

The river Blackwater in Maldon

Charlotte Embling concludes her alphabetical tour of the county with a look at R to Z.

There are many rivers that run through Essex including the Stour, Blackwater, Crouch, Chelmer, Lea, Roding, Colne, Brain and Roach. Unsurprisingly they have played a part in the history and shaping the identity of the county. In times gone by they were used to transport freight to towns inland and were thus important for trade and the economy. They are also an important part of the ecology of the county and house many different species.

Rocket Ronnie
Ronnie 'The Rocket' O'Sullivan is probably one of the most entertaining, naturally talented, but at times controversial, snooker players of recent times. He was born in Chigwell in 1975, turned professional in 1992 and since then has: become the youngest player to win a ranking event, recorded the fastest ever maximum break in 5 minutes 20 seconds, has been UK Champion four times, World Champion three times and won The Masters twice. He is also the current world champion.

The town of Rochford lies just to the north of Southend on Sea. It is possibly most famous for its association with the Boleyn family. Anne Boleyn was, of course, Henry VIII's second wife and it was her grandfather who acquired the original Manor of Rochford. The town itself has held a weekly market since 1247 and is one of the few remaining locations with a market town street pattern in England.

Southend Pier
At 1.33 miles long, Southend Pier is the world's longest pleasure pier. It was originally built in 1830 and was used as a drop-off point for boats bringing day-trippers from London. It also served as a landing point for ships during World War II. The pier has been the victim of fire four times, most recently in 2005 and is still being restored.

St Cedd
St Cedd was the man who brought Christianity to Essex. He was educated in a monastery in Lindisfarne where he learnt how to teach the Christian faith. It was King Sigbert of Essex who decided he wanted his people to be Christians and St Cedd was sent to do the job. He arrived in Essex in 653 and founded the Chapel of St Peters in Bradwell. His influence in the county is reflected by the numerous institutions, such as schools, named after him.

A smack is a single-masted English sailing boat, usually with a deep red sail, that was used in the 19th century to bring fish to market. There are still plenty of them about on the Essex coast, many of which are the preserved ex-fishing boats, although some smacks were built as and used solely as yachts. The Colne Smack Preservation Society is dedicated to preserving these old vessels.

Textiles were once an important industry in Essex. The company Warner and Sons was set up in Braintree in 1895 and was active in the county until the 1980s. Today the original site of New Mills has been renamed Warners Mill and houses the Warner Textile Archive, one of the largest collections of textiles in the UK and a record of the history of textile design and manufacture since the 18th century.

The Knights Templar was a military order that existed during the crusades. In Essex, Cressing Temple was the first grant of land given to the Knights Templar in England. This ancient monument was granted to the Templars in 1137 and the two barns and the Templar well all originate from the 12th century. Today the site is open for the public to visit and also has a Tudor walled garden to enjoy.

Tilbury Fort
Henry VIII built the first fort at Tilbury in the 16th century. Since then there has been a fort there in some form, protecting London's seaward approach. The fort that is there today was started in the 17th century by Charles II and is the best example of its kind in England. Although it has never actually been involved in the kind of action it was intended for, the fort has been used for the filming of the television series Sharpe.

Essex is home to some great academic institutions. The University of Essex was only established in 1964 with just 122 students, but today it has a student population of more than 8,000. The university has three campuses: Colchester, Southend and East 15 in Loughton and also a number of partner institutions, including Writtle College, where students can study for degrees validated by the university. It is one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the country with students from more than 130 countries.

Possibly one of the most distinct place names in Essex, the village of Ugley is in fact quite idyllic. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as Ugghelea and the name is thought to be a corruption of Oakley. While the Ugley Vicar is revelling in his identity with his online blog, the Ugley Women's Institute were not quite so impressed and have now renamed themselves the Women's Institute of Ugley.

It may be difficult for some who do not know Essex to apply the word upmarket to the county, but they should read on. Parts of Essex are extremely sought after and attractive. Ingatestone and Brentwood were listed by the Telegraph as being in the top 20 richest towns in Britain, while Epping and Chipping Ongar were in the top 40. The attraction of areas like Epping is the rural location while still remaining close to London.


The Mayflower, the famous vessel that took English pilgrims from Southampton to Massachusetts in America, is thought to have been built in Leigh-on-Sea and was certainly fitted out there. A meeting of the Pilgrim Fathers prior to setting out on their epic journey was held in Billericay and there were a number of people from Billericay on board.

The climate in Essex, with high sunshine levels and low rainfall, makes it ideal for making wine. One of the oldest English wine producers is New Hall Vineyard in Purleigh, established in 1969, that today produces more than 250,000 bottles a year. There are vineyards all over the county including Carters Vineyards, Nevards and Coggeshall Vineyard in Boxted, Bardfield in Braintree, Castle in Ongar, Mersea in East Mersea and Sandyford in Saffron Walden.

Sir Winston Churchill was famously the Prime Minister at the end of World War II and victory in Europe. On that day he told crowds in Whitehall, 'This is your victory' and his famous V for victory sign while smoking a cigar is one of the country's most iconic images. Churchill had had a long political career by this point and in 1924 had been elected MP for Epping and Woodford. To this day he is still remembered there by a bronze statute standing on Woodford Green.

Waltham Abbey
There has been a church on the site of Waltham Abbey for hundreds of years. It was made an abbey by Henry II in 1177 and was then the last abbey to be dissolved by Henry VIII with most of it pulled down except for the nave, which stayed to serve as the local parish church. The current church is mostly Norman with later additions including the tower at the west end of the building. The body of Harold II was buried on the site after his defeat at the Battle of Hastings.

This charming coastal town is a lovely seaside resort and boasts the second longest pier in Britain. It first became a popular bathing resort in the 19th century and is now popular with those who want to explore the wonderful scenery. The cliffs of the Naze are world-famous for the fossils found there and also for the fact that they are eroding at a rate of two metres per year.

In the 16th and 17th centuries witch-hunts occurred all over Europe. In England, Essex had a particularly high number of trials. Between 1560, when the first law was passed against witchcraft, and 1675, the date of the last trial, hundreds of people were tried and accused of being witches or associating with them. This trend peaked in 1645 with the arrival of Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder General, who may have had as many as 400 people hanged for witchcraft.


A xerophyte is a plant that can grow in dry conditions and you will find examples of these in the Beth Chatto Gardens in Colchester and RHS Hyde Hall in Chelmsford. Both have excellent dry gardens exhibiting drought-resistant species of plants that are perfect for our county's naturally dry climate and showing how to work with nature instead of fighting against it.

X Chromosome
It is inevitable that we come to this, the Essex Girl. While the white stiletto-wearing girls of Essex provide perhaps the most enduring stereotype associated with the county, it is only a small part of the picture. Olympic gold medal-winning athlete Sally Gunnell and Oscar winner Dame Helen Mirren are both from Essex and act as great role models for Essex females. Of course, there are also some who have used the Essex Girl image to their advantage and still done pretty well for themselves.

Essex has some strange links with Christmas. Just one of these is the fact that there is a burial record for a Father Christmas in Dedham from the 16th century. But before anyone gets upset about Father Christmas dying, the word 'Father' was a common way of recording a man, usually old, who had died without a known first name.


Essex is a county with an incredibly rich and diverse history, with evidence of human occupation pre-dating the Romans in some areas. Across the land there are Roman and Saxon monuments and many of the churches of Essex date back to the time of the Normans. With so many delightful villages with pubs and cottages dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, Essex is a county that really has preserved its past and kept up the traditions of yesteryear.

Y Chromosomes
The Essex Boy cliché, while perhaps not quite as well known as the Essex Girl stereotype, still readily brings a particular personality to mind. But the real Essex man of today is widely regarded as a hard working and down to earth individual, often an entrepreneur who likes to have a good time. This is surely a persona worth celebrating.

With the county's wonderful coastline there are plenty of opportunities to get on the water, and unsurprisingly many residents take full advantage of this. The Essex Yacht Club, based at Leigh-on-Sea, dates back to 1890 and boasts more than 700 members. As well as the myriad of yachting clubs based along the coast you will also find numerous manufacturers of these wonderful vessels.

Colchester Zoo was first opened in 1963 when it was called Stanway Hall Zoo Park and covered just 25 acres. Today it covers more than 60 acres, houses more than 250 different species and is one of the finest zoos in Europe. It is ultimately a conservation centre and through its charity, Action for the Wild, it supports conservation projects throughout the world.

Z-bikes is a project that is attempting to tackle the rural isolation of young people in the district of Uttlesford. By offering a loan of one of the project's 50cc bikes, it enables young people to gain better access to training and employment and makes them more self-sufficient. At present there are 12 bikes in the Uttlesford district and the project has been deemed so successful the organisers are looking to expand it to other areas of the county.

With Essex being on the east coast of England, it was inevitable that at some point it would become the front line in World War I. This is exactly what happened in 1916 when two Zeppelins, returning from a raid on London, came down over Essex. The first was shot down and came to ground in Great Burstead. The second was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and had to land near Little Wigborough.

To read A-H click here

To read I-Q click here

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