History of Braintree
Braintree has a long and fascinating history - emerging from a Bronze Age valley settlement as an important and flourishing market town located at the crossroads of two Roman roads.
The 14th century woollen cloth trade brought prosperity to the area leaving a legacy of fine architecture and listed buildings whilst the 18th century heralded the arrival of silk weaving and the famous Huguenot name of Courtauld. Generations of this generous family not only provided the increasing population with work and housing but also donated many public buildings including the magnificent former Town Hall. The grand central tower with striking clock dominates the Market Square whilst inside murals by Maurice Greiffenhagen depict scenes of Braintree's history.
A bronze fountain of a young boy with shell and fish, designed by John Hodge, standing alongside St Michael's Church was yet another gift to the people of Braintree. By the mid 19th century the opening of a railway line offered the opportunity to transport bulk materials, which led to the establishment of large engineering firms such as Crittall's metal window company and Lake & Elliot iron foundry. A full story of Braintree's diverse industrial heritage and traditions is told at the Braintree District Museum in the town centre.
The Warner Archive is a unique record of the history of textile manufacture since the 18th century and includes examples of woven and printed fabric produced by Warner's as well as examples produced by other companies.
In 1199 King John granted the town a charter to hold a weekly market. Today the market is held twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when the streets abound with colourful stalls and friendly faces. Discerning shoppers are attracted to the town throughout the year by the traditional and specialist smaller shops while bargain hunters are well served by the discounted designer village on the outskirts of the town at Freeport.
Halstead derives its name from the Old English word 'heald' meaning a sloping hillside and 'stede' a place of shelter. Archaeological evidence indicates that Halstead has been occupied since the early Bronze Age.
One of the main sources of employment in the town was weaving, initially of cloth and latterly silk and crepe. The Courtauld silk weaving mill was the major employer in the town until its closure in 1982. Other large employers included Charles Portway & Son Limited and The Tortoise Foundry Co. Limited, which made the well known tortoise stoves. There were two major breweries namely T. F. Adams & Sons and G. E. Cook & Sons. Henry Cocksedge & Son were timber merchants and wood turners who also operated steam saw mills. These and other industries used the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway which operated to Halstead from 1860 until 1965.
A number of fine buildings remain in the town such as the former Corn Exchange built 1864-65 now the Library, the Cottage Hospital opened 1884, the Townsford Mill and many old buildings which adorn the High Street. The industrial housing built by members of the Courtauld family during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is particularly attractive as are the public gardens opened in 1901.
Witham is twinned with the town of Waldbröl, Germany. The River Brain runs through the town and joins the River Blackwater shortly outside it.
The town as it is now started life on 'Chipping Hill', where the old forge and the church still exists to this day. As the years went by, the hamlet grew to become 'Witham' and St Nicolas Church of England Church serves a congregation of around 150 people each Sunday. During the latter half of the 18th century and the early 19th century, Admiral Sir William Luard was the town's most prominent citizen, a resident of Chipping Hill and a founder and patron of St. Nicolas' Church. His funeral cortege through the town in 1910 was witnessed by thousands.
Witham briefly enjoyed a period as an affluent spa town after the discovery of a mineral-bearing spa in the town by Dr Taverner in the 18th century. Witham was also a centre of the wool trade until the decline of the industry in the late 17th century.
The town expanded greatly in the late 1960s and 1970s when the Greater London Council built 3 large council estates on the west and north sides of the town and a smaller one to the South for families from London to move to as part of the 'New Town' and 'Expanded Town' overspill policy of that time.
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