Essex (/ˈɛsɨks/) is a ceremonial and administrative county in England, and one of the home counties. North-east of London, it borders the counties of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent across the estuary of the River Thames to the south and London to the southwest.
Essex County Council is the principal local authority for much of the county, sharing functions with 12 district and borough councils.
The county town is Chelmsford.
Essex occupies the eastern portion of the pre-England Kingdom of Essex. Large swathes of the county which are closest to London are part of the Metropolitan Green Belt, which prohibits urban development in its green spaces.
It is the location of the regionally significant Lakeside Shopping Centre and London Stansted Airport, which serves Europe, North Africa and Asia. It also has the new towns of Basildon and Harlow.
The name Essex originates in the Anglo-Saxon period of the Early Middle Ages and has its root in the Old English Ēastseaxe, the “East Saxons”, the eastern kingdom of the Saxons while Middlesex, Sussex and Wessex comprise the “West Saxons” with their more powerful monarchs led by the unifying Alfred the Great, (A.D. 849-899), during the Heptarchy.
Originally, Essex occupied territory (as recorded in A.D. 527), to the north of the River Thames, incorporating all of what later became Middlesex and the most of what later became Hertfordshire as its territory was later restricted to lands east of the River Lea.
Colchester in the north east of the County is Britain’s oldest recorded town, dating back to before the Roman conquest, when it was known as Camulodunum and was sufficiently well-developed to have its own mint.
In changes occurring among the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Kingdom of Essex was subsumed into the Kingdom of England and Essex became a County under King Edward the Confessor.
Following his death, the old Monarch was succeeded to the throne by King Harold who would be the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings before the crossing of the English Channel by King William the Conqueror, of Normandy on the northwest coast of the France in pursuit of his claim to the throne as a heir of the old King Edward.
In A.D. 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, on the south coast of England, resulting in a victory and the battle death of King Harold and the widespread changes, upheavals and exploitation by the Norman conquest.
As centuries wore on and the French Normans were absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon culture with its earlier roots in the invasions of the ancient tribes of Angles, Picts, Celts, Saxons, to the 400-year old Roman Empire and ancient Britons.
The pattern of settlement in the county is diverse. The Metropolitan Green Belt has effectively prevented the further sprawl of London into the county, although it contains the new towns of Basildon and Harlow, originally developed to resettle Londoners following the destruction of London housing in World War II, since which significantly developed and expanded.
Epping Forest also acts as a protected barrier to the further spread of London. Because of its proximity to London and the economic magnetism which that city exerts, many of Essex’s settlements, particularly those on or within short driving distance of railway stations, function as dormitory towns or villages where London workers raise their families.
Part of the south east of the county, already containing the major population centres of Basildon, Southend and is within the Thames Gateway and designated for further development.
To the north of the green belt, with the exception of major towns such as Colchester and Chelmsford, the county is rural, with many small towns, villages and hamlets largely built in the traditional materials of timber and brick, with clay tile or thatched roofs.
Industry is largely limited to the south of the county, with the majority of the land elsewhere being given over to agriculture. Harlow is a centre for electronics, science and pharmaceutical companies, while Chelmsford is the home of Marconi (now called telent plc and owned by Ericsson of Sweden since 2005).
Chelmsford has been an important location for electronics companies since the industry was born and is also the location for a number of insurance and financial services organisations, as well as being the home of the soft drinks producer Britvic. Basildon is home to New Holland Agriculture’s European headquarters and Brentwood is home to the Ford Motor Company’s British HQ. Debden near Loughton is home to a production facility for British and foreign banknotes. Other businesses in the county include metalworking, glassmaking, plastics and the service sector.
Colchester is a garrison town, and the local economy is helped by the Army’s personnel living there. Basildon is the location of State Street Corporation’s United Kingdom HQ International Financial Data Services, and remains heavily dependent on London for employment, due to its proximity and direct transport routes.
Southend-on-Sea is home to the Adventure Island theme park and is one of the few still growing British Seaside resorts, benefiting from direct, modern rail links from Fenchurch Street railway station and Liverpool Street station, maintaining the town’s commercial and general economy. Parts of Eastern Essex suffer from high levels of deprivation, with one of the most highly deprived wards being the port of Clacton.
In 2007, Jaywick was identified as the most deprived Lower Super Output Area in Southern England. Unemployment was estimated at 44% and many homes were found to lack severely basic amenities.
The Brooklands and Grasslands area of Jaywick were found to be the third most deprived area in England; only two areas, one in Liverpool and another in Manchester rated higher.
In contrast, however, West and South West Essex is one of the most affluent parts of Eastern England, forming part of the London commuter belt.
The Port of Tilbury is one of Britain’s three major ports, while the port of Harwich links the county to the Hook of Holland and Esbjerg, Denmark (a service to Cuxhaven which is a port on the Elbe estuary in Germany. having been discontinued in December 2005)
Plans have been approved to build the UK’s largest container terminal at Shell Haven in Thurrock and although opposed by the local authority and environmental and wildlife organisations, it now seems increasingly likely to be developed.
The County’s coat of arms (see above) comprises three Saxon seax knives (although looking rather more like scimitars) arranged on a red background which is also used as the official logo of Essex County Council. The emblem was attributed to Anglo-Saxon Essex in Early Modern historiography.
Over 14,000 buildings have listed status in the county, and around 1,000 of those are recognised as of Grade I or II importance. The buildings range from the 7th century Saxon church of St Peter-on-the-Wall, to the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club which was the United Kingdom’s entry in the “International Exhibition of Modern Architecture” held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932.
The county flower of Essex is the common poppy.