The blessings of Billericay

PUBLISHED: 17:15 07 February 2008 | UPDATED: 15:01 20 February 2013



From acres of ancient woodland to a unique High Street packed with far more than just shops, Elaine Sivyer explores the diverse attractions of this surprising town

TAKE a walk down Billericay High Street and you will notice something rather different. Few places can offer the latest fashions and varied eateries along the same pavement as a tour of rich architecture and local heritage. But Billericay achieves just this, for on closer inspection its attractive shopping centre not only serves a vibrant modern town, but also reveals a wealth of historical interest.
The High Street is dotted with many surprising and attractive period buildings. Among them is the Red Lion pub that sits proudly as one of the oldest properties in Billericay, dating back to the 15th century.
Another notable landmark is The Chequers, which has been an inn since 1765 and harks back to a time when these establishments provided much needed hospitality to travellers. This was particularly the case in Billericay, which stood at the junction of a number of road routes but lacked a monastery.
A little further down the High Street stands St Mary Magdalen Church. This was St John's Chapel until the dissolution of the monasteries, when it was obtained by the Tyrell family and sold to the people of Billericay. The beautiful 15th century tower, restored in the 1880s, is the oldest part of the church and a prominent feature of the skyline. The rest of the building dates from the late 18th century when the old chapel was entirely rebuilt.
One of the most interesting features of this stretch of Billericay is also one of the easiest to miss. The Cater Museum, at 74 High Street, nestles quietly amid the shops and transports its visitors to a world away from the hustle and bustle beyond its doorstep.
This quaint, compact building dates back to the 18th century. It was purchased by Mrs Cater to provide a museum for the town and officially opened in 1960. Admission is free and it is well worth stepping inside to see this beautifully maintained display of local artefacts. With Roman relics, old maps, toys and war memorabilia among many other curiosities in this treasure trove, the museum is a wonderful celebration of the town's past.
However, Billericay's charm and interest is not confined to its built-up areas. Only a short distance from the thriving High Street you'll find the 165-acre expanse of Norsey Wood.
The wood is associated with an astonishing 4,000 years of history. It holds an important collection of archaeological features unique to the region, including occupation areas and burial sites dating from prehistoric and Roman periods. This is fertile ground for excavation that has produced rare insights into the lives of our ancestors. One particularly significant find lay within a burial mound which unearthed three clay urns each containing the cremated remains of a Bronze Age person.
Norsey has tales to tell from across the ages. It has even been suggested as the site of the last stand of the peasants, finally crushed by the Earl of Buckingham during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381.
From more recent history, a network of trenches from the two world wars stretches along the eastern part of the wood. This was dug by the London Defence Volunteers, who used a long stretch of medieval wood bank as part of the inner London defence line. During World War II, the wood was used for Army manoeuvres and ammunition storage.
Norsey Wood's topography also sets it apart in Essex. Its clay valleys and gravelly, sandy hilltops are not only rare and interesting, but also botanically significant. This has led to the site's designation as a local nature reserve by the Nature Conservancy Council.
The area is particularly famous for its bluebells, which cover the woodland floor between April and May. The brightly coloured domes create a beautiful spectacle - especially valued as this protected species does not easily colonise new woodlands. Visitors can either join one of the guided wildflower walks or explore alone to their hearts' content.
The area is much loved and many of the local people take an active interest in preserving its natural beauty. The Norsey Wood Society receives community input, while a volunteer work party meets every Thursday to undertake conservation work.
'The combination of history, wildlife and recreational value make Norsey Wood unique,' says Chris Huggins, countryside ranger for Basildon District Council. 'This is one of the finest bluebell woods in the world. The area is also important for dormice - a protected and endangered species - and we are part of the national dormouse monitoring programme.
'The significance of Norsey Wood's history and wildlife is underlined by its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as a scheduled ancient monument,' says Chris. 'Ancient woodland is threatened everywhere so each bit that we have left is extremely valuable.'
Billericay captures the local imagination with its rich historical tapestry and diverse landscape. Whether you want to pursue specific interests or just soak up its unique identity, it is easy to see why this fascinating town is so loved by residents and visitors.


More from Out & About

Yesterday, 09:07

Of all Britain’s coastal counties, Essex can surely claim to be one of the best. With more than 350 miles of shoreline to choose from, the Essex coast is very much what you make of it, so even on those days when you’re planning a little run out to the seaside and want more than just the beach, Essex has the answer

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From James Bond to Batman, Essex has been known to bask in a little Hollywood glitz. Here are 19 that have used our county’s incredible locations on the big screen

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Spend Halloween hunting down ghouls and ghosts in the county’s most haunted places and spaces. We pick 10 absolutely terrifying locations to visit this October.

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Chelmsford is on the rise, blossoming from its city status. One iconic landmark which has been part of the landscape for 300 years, and is also enjoying a renaissance, is Hylands House. Petra Hornsby reveals more

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Laurie Page of the Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council shares with us this beautiful six-mile walk around Bradwell’s stunning coastal delights

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

With one of the warmest and driest summers on record, this year has been a difficult one for gardeners. Susie Bulman from The Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmstead Market shares some top tips for plant survival, even in these conditions

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Our county’s remaining windmills stand the test of time as a tribute to a bygone era. Mica Bale highlights some of the best examples in Essex

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Whether you’re looking for a memorable day trip or an impromptu weekend getaway, Essex is a perfect patchwork of all the little things we love about Britain. Proudly showcasing the charm of the county, we pick 13 towns you must visit when planning a trip to Essex

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

This walk from the town of Bures on the Essex and Suffolk border leads you through the Essex countryside to the little villages of Alphamstone and Lamarsh | Words and photos: Laurie Page Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search