Rayleigh has real charm
PUBLISHED: 10:31 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013
A vibrant town with a rich heritage, Rayleigh is an unexpected jewel. Joanne Jarvis discovers why a visit is sure to leave you with plenty to ponder
RAYLEIGH residents can be thankful that their town is in perfect balance. Take a walk through Rayleigh and not only will you encounter a bustling town centre, but you will also find a wealth of fascinating architecture that dates back as far as the 14th century.
But this finely-tuned juxtaposition is no accident. Since the 1960s the town has seen massive development which has resulted in a boom in the number of shops, restaurants and cafes. But where some towns lose their identity, Rayleigh has managed to retain its charm.
Historian Mike Davies, chairman of Rayleigh Through the Looking Glass, explains: 'The Town has always been considered very photogenic with the vista of Holy Trinity Church at the end of the wide High Street. Up until the end of the 1960s, like many other towns, some of the ancient houses and shops were replaced by what Prince Charles would no doubt call 'carbuncles' but in the early 1970s Rayleigh Town Council took a far-reaching decision to retain all remaining buildings for future generations.'
Visitors to the town can discover its hidden history by following Rayleigh Town Council's Heritage Trail. The trail takes visitors on a journey of discovery through the High Street and to landmarks such as Rayleigh Windmill. The council has put plaques on buildings to give walkers a brief history of the site.
'Some of the prime places to visit include Rayleigh Mount, The Dutch Cottage and Holy Trinity Church,' adds Mike.
Holy Trinity Church is the focal point of the High Street and dominates the skyline. The current building dates back to the Perpendicular Period (mid 14th to 16th century), although many believe it was a religious site since Saxon times. Spectacular views of the town can be seen from the top of its 15th century tower which is 70ft high. Rayleigh also has some fine old houses including Barrington Hall, which is now home to the council offices, and the Dutch Cottage - a 17th century listed building which is believed to have been built by Dutch workers who helped establish the sea defences for Canvey.
Rayleigh Windmill was built in 1809 and is the last remaining mill of five which once existed within the town. It is the highest mill in Essex at 68ft and on the ground floor there is now a museum containing local artefacts. Rayleigh Mount has been owned by the National Trust since 1923 and represents the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle. The defences have formed a haven for wildlife in the heart of the town and during the summer it is used as an open-air theatre.
The fact that Rayleigh is such a thriving town today is thanks in no small part to its rich history, a fact that is not lost on Martin Hodson, secretary of the Rayleigh and District Chamber of Trade.
Martin adds: 'Maintaining the character of the town is very important and it makes all the difference for shoppers and the community.'