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Episode 31: Essex

Where is Essex? In our thirty-first episode we mentioned lots of interesting places and things in Essex, so here are some pictures and links if you'd like to find out more.

Colchester Castle

Colchester was the first of the great keeps and the largest built by the Normans in Europe.  

It was constructed on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius, built when Colchester was the first Roman capital of Britain. They incorporated the base of the temple into the foundations of the great tower.

Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castle is a magnificent place with the keep nearly 900 years old and the House now over 300 years old. The grounds encompass over 1000 years of defensive ramparts, medieval husbandry, classical sweeping landscapes and romantic gardens.  Whether you are on the motte and bailey looking out over Essex or wandering through the lime avenue by the lake, there is a tangible sense of history.

Throughout the year, there are exquisite trees, flower drifts and wildlife to see. In spring,  the magnolias, daffodils and bluebells steal the show, until the rhododendrons come out to welcome summer and with it the bird activity on the lake. The autumn colour is stunning which then blows away to reveal the mature trees and the famous snowdrop collection in the winter.

Rayleigh Castle Mount

Rayleigh Mount is the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle – the only castle in Essex to be mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book. Given to the National Trust in 1923 by Edward Francis, it's a scheduled ancient monument so its archaeology is specially protected.

With the outer bailey now completely built over and houses encroaching on the outer rampart bank, the need to conserve the site is greater than ever.

Tilbury Fort

Tilbury Fort on the Thames estuary has protected London’s seaward approach from the 16th century through to the Second World War.

Henry VIII built the first fort here, and Queen Elizabeth I famously rallied her army nearby to face the threat of the Armada. The present fort is much the best example of its type in England, with its circuit of moats and bastioned outworks.

St Peter-on-the-Wall

In 653 Cedd sailed down the east coast of England from Lindisfarne and landed at Bradwell. Here he found the ruins of an old deserted Roman fort. He probably first built a small wooden church but as there was so much stone from the fort, he soon realised that would provide a much more permanent building, so he replaced it the next year with the chapel we see today!

The Chapel is said to be that of "Ythanceaster" (Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica), originally constructed as an Anglo-Celtic Church for the East Saxons in AD 654 by St Cedd, astride the ruins of the abandoned Roman fort of Othona.

Audley End

Audley End was once one of the greatest houses in England, a spectacular early 17th-century mansion set in an outstanding landscaped park. Now just a third of its original size, its history is one of vastly fluctuating fortunes, with episodes of ambitious development followed by periods of decline and retrenchment.

This story is evident in both house and park – in the changing use of the rooms, the contrasting taste in interiors and garden styles, and the diverse collection of paintings and objects that reflect the owners and their times. 

Chelmsford Cathedral

Originally a parish church, the first recorded service dates back to 1223, and the earliest stonework discovered here is from Norman times. In the 15th Century, the church was rebuilt to include the tower, parapets and magnificent South porch. Due to feuding during the War of the Roses between the the Yorkist Bouchiers and the Lancastrian de Veres who were funding the rebuilding, it took nearly a century to complete.

However, as you look at the exterior of the Cathedral from the South side, not all of what you see dates back to medieval times. In 1800 workmen digging to open a vault, undermined the building and the whole roof, north and south aisles collapsed. So the central area, paler in colour than the medieval west end, is made of Coade stone. Coade stone was often called artificial stone but is in fact a high quality and extremely weatherproof stone. It has also been used in St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

Ingatestone Hall

"Sir William hath at his own great costs and charges erected and builded a new house, very fair, large and stately, made of brick and embattl'd."

So, in 1566, wrote Thomas Larke, surveyor to Sir William Petre, about Ingatestone Hall, the new house that Sir William had built twenty-five years earlier in the midst of his Essex estates.  Since then, the house has passed through the hands of fifteen generations of the Petre family who continue to own and occupy it today.

The Hall stands in open countryside, one mile from the village of Ingatestone and substantially retains its original Tudor form and appearance with its mullioned windows, high chimneys, crow-step gables and oak-panelled rooms and is surrounded by ten acres of enclosed gardens comprising extensive lawns, walled garden and stew pond. 

The Hall remains primarily a private family residence - and, no doubt because of this, many visitors have commented on its friendly, welcoming atmosphere

Southend Pier

Southend Pier is the city’s most treasured, historical icon as well as being the longest pleasure pier in the world.

It stretches for 1.33 miles out into the Thames Estuary, putting Southend on the map as well as into the record books.

Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

Come and witness the three lives of the bunker starting with its role as an RAF ROTOR Station, then a brief period as a civil defence centre through to its most recent life as a Regional Government HQ. Designed for up to 600 military and civilian personnel, possibly even the Prime Minister, their collective task being to organise the survival of the population in the awful aftermath of a nuclear war.

The Bunker had three main lives. Initially as an RAF ROTOR Station and latterly a Regional Government Headquarters, with a brief period in the 1960’s as a civil defence centre. There were also spare bunk beds in the tunnel, to help accommodate some of the hundreds of civilian and military personnel that would be stationed here in time of nuclear attack. The bunker was built on land requisitioned from the local farmer J.A.Parrish.

Paradoxically as the heat of the Cold War died down, the bunker and it’s ancillary systems were no longer required by the Government, and were costing up to 3 million pounds a year to keep on standby. Upon decommissioning in 1992 the bunker was bought back from the government by the Parrish family, at a closed bid public auction, and hence is now privately owned.

Borley Rectory

Borley Rectory was a house located in Borley, Essex, famous for being described as "the most haunted house in England" by psychic researcher Harry Price. Built in 1862 to house the rector of the parish of Borley and his family, the house was badly damaged by fire in 1939 and demolished in 1944.

The large Gothic-style rectory had been alleged to be haunted ever since it was built. These reports multiplied suddenly in 1929 after the Daily Mirror newspaper published an account of a visit by Price, who wrote two books supporting claims of paranormal activity.

Price's reports prompted a formal study by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which rejected most of the sightings as either imagined or fabricated and cast doubt on Price's credibility. His claims are now generally discredited by ghost historians. However, neither the SPR's report nor the more recent biography of Price has quelled public interest in these stories, and new books and television documentaries continue to satisfy public fascination with the rectory.

Borley Church

Borley Church is the parish church in Borley, Essex. The church is in the ecclesiastical parish of Borley and Liston, one of the Fifteen Churches of the North Hinckford Benefice in the Diocese of Chelmsford of the Church of England. The church is a Grade I Listed building, notable for its topiary walk and a large monument to Sir Edward Waldegrave (a member of Mary I of England's privy council) and his wife.

The church is claimed to be haunted although with much less activity than the former Borley Rectory. Alleged paranormal activity includes "phantom organ music, ghostly chanting, and the ghost of a nun moving about the churchyard". Ghost stories from the church and the rectory are frequently connected to a supposed Benedictine monastery in the area.

The legend about the ghostly monks that appear in both Borley Church and the nearby Rectory says that the Monk, a member of a Benedictine community existing in that area, had begun to maintain a forbidden relationship with a Nun from nearby Barking Abbey. They wanted to move in together openly as a couple, but unfortunately, their love affair was discovered. The monk was sentenced to death by hanging and the nun was walled up alive within the walls of the Barking Convent.

Saint Osyth Priory

The St Osyth Priory estate can trace its history back almost 1,400 years, to the legend that gives the estate its name. Osgyth (or Osyth) was an English saint who died c700 AD. Forced by her father into a dynastic marriage with the King of Essex, she produced a son.

But her heart had always been set on service to God, so while her husband ran off to hunt down a beautiful white stag, Osyth persuaded two local bishops to accept her vows as a nun. After her husband’s death, she established a convent in the hamlet of Chich, which later took her name.

The convent became renowned for its piety, but according to legend a Danish raiding party tried to force Osyth to pray to their gods. When she refused, the Danes beheaded Osyth as she kneeled, praying. The body of St Osyth then stood up and picked up her head and walked a third of a mile to the church door where she knocked three times and collapsed. A healing spring emerged on the spot where her head had fallen.

Layer Marney Tower

Henry Marney was Henry VIII’s Lord Privy Seal and Layer Marney Tower is his statement house, built to shows his wealth and his power, reflecting his relationship with the King.

Layer Marney Tower is England’s tallest Tudor Gatehouse, standing within the Essex landscape, commanding views to the River Blackwater.

St Nicholas' Church, Canewdon

Canewdon, in Essex, has gained the reputation of being the most haunted place in the U.K. The village has been long associated with historic witches and witchcraft; as well as the occult and paranormal phenomena, which includes ghosts and much other unexplained activity.

The church (the 12th century Church of St. Nicholas) appears to be the focus of events and even has folk-lore attached to it – if you run round it three times in an anti-clockwise direction on Halloween, you will travel backwards in time. This has added to the reputation of the church being a portal to other dimensions.

Another part of the church’s folk-lore relates to the occult. Being a hotbed for witchcraft, it was claimed that any female novice seeking membership of the dark coven had to dance round the church twelve times at midnight; by doing so, she summoned the devil who appeared in order to perform her initiation into the sisterhood. Occult indeed.

Legends and witches have another twist here. If you see a stone fall from the church tower, you can be certain that a witch has died, but another has replaced her in her coven.

Pitsea Mount

Pitsea Mount is situated right by the A13, on the east side of Basildon. St. Michaels church stands tall and overlooks Pitsea and the surrounding area. The church was built in the 13th century. Only the tower and the cemetery remain and is no longer a place of worship, but instead houses transmitters and receivers for mobile phone companies.

It’s been reported that in 1988 a group of youngster were playing in the churchyard and witnessed two black dogs. The dogs were described being very large and had red eyes. But not as tall as previous reported Shuck dogs. The dogs seemed to mirror each others in manoeuvres, mannerisms and appearance and appeared out of nowhere, snarling, slavering. They had seen them at the north side of the church near the ‘Witch’s Grave’. The group had tried to climb higher to get away from the dogs, but the dogs, disappeared as quickly as they appeared.

The ‘Witch’s Grave’ is believed to be that of a which and she is buried on the cold, unconverted grounds on the north side of the church.

Dunmow Flitch Trials

A common claim of the origin of the Dunmow Flitch dates back to 1104 and the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow, founded by Lady Juga Baynard. Lord of the Manor Reginald Fitzwalter and his wife dressed themselves as humble folk and begged blessing of the Prior a year and a day after marriage.

The Prior, impressed by their devotion bestowed upon them a Flitch of Bacon. Upon revealing his true identity, Fitzwalter gave his land to the Priory on the condition a Flitch should be awarded to any couple who could claim they were similarly devoted.

West Mersea Barrow

Just up the East Mersea road as you come on to Mersea Island, is a conspicuous mound on the left. It is thought to be a Roman burial barrow, dated around 150 AD. The mound was excavated in 1912 and an entrance passage built. In the centre was a small burial chamber built of Roman bricks capped by septaria (clay nodules) and inside was a lead box with a wooden lid. The box contained an urn of green glass containing cremated remains.

The barrow is also known as Mersea Mound, Mersea Mount or Grim's Hoe.

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