First Christian King of Essex is discovered – around 1,400 years old.
This Saxon ancestry has recently been rekindled at the coast nearest to the East End of London - Southend-on-Sea. Despite many peoples snobbish condescension about this part of the world, in 2003 a chance discovery made everyone sit up and take stock. Here a perfectly preserved royal Anglo Saxon burial chamber, almost 1,400 years old, thought to belong to the first Christian king of Essex was discovered.
A day out in Southend-on-Sea is a cockney pastime. Along the seafront, sandcastles, plastic cartons of vinegar-sodden chips, candy floss and cylinders of rock candy are the order of the day. The pleasure pier is the longest in the world and well worth a visit. You can take a leisurely stroll which will take you around 2 hours but if you have kids on tow, hop on the small train that runs twice-hourly.
If however, you wish to get away from the crowds, go almost 3 miles further up the coast where you will find the fishing village of Leigh. The sheds are open daily where you can buy pots of jellied eels – a truly cockney snack cooked with water, salt and lots of parsley, then set in the gelatin they have released - surprisingly delicious, but douse them in the vinegar first.
Henry VIII King of England secretly wooed Anne Boleyn at Rochester Hall.
Take the A127 (the main road from Southend to London) and after six miles you may decide to turn off for Hockley where a story unwinds that changed the course of history. The striking manor house Rochford Hall (which is now used as a club house for a posh golf course) is where King of England, Henry VIII wooed his mistress Anne Boleyn who became his Queen. Henry cut off from Rome and became the head of the Church of England. Few people know this place exists and it is not open to the public but you may feel like spying this piece of history.
Resting place for pilgrims at Brentwood:Travelling around 9 miles from here will take us to the contrasting town of Brentwood which St Thomas Becket made famous as he kick-started a huge pilgrimage tradition. Around 1221 a special chapel dedicated to St Thomas Becket was built in the town of Brentwood as a resting place for pilgrims on their way to his shrine in Canterbury. Today Brentwood is a Cathedral Town. If you enjoy choral or classical music phone the Cathedral for details of events. Tel: 01277 265288 for details of performances. Tickets are very reasonable. email@example.com.
Despite the broken down chapel’s distinctive position in the middle of modern bustling Brentwood high street, it appears largely forgotten. Even the tourist information office that sits beside it has absolutely no information on its mysterious medieval next-door neighbor.
The pilgrimage to Canterbury was so heavily ingrained into medieval life that the pace of the horses adopted by Canterbury pilgrims apparently gave us the word “canter”.
Sign posted all the way from Brentwood high street is: “Secret Nuclear Bunker” which I always find quite amusing. It's a bit off the beaten track and located at Kelvedon Hatch around 4 miles away taking a North West direction. An audio guide is your only companion as you mooch around this extensive underground ex-government site – perhaps not everyone's cup of tea - rather spooky but a great experience. There is also a reasonably priced cafe and gift shop Tel: 01277 364883 www.secretnuclearbunker.com
Lord Petre's Heritage
This 16th century manor house was acquired by Sir William Petre, (the secretary of State to four Tudor monarchs) in 1539. A number of Jesuits were given refuge by Sir William Petre’s widow, Lady Ann Petre as well as John Payne (later to become St John Payne) who posed as a steward at the house.
The current Lord John Petre, disheveled with cigar in hand, greets me smiling. He leads me to the study with its oil paintings, huge fireplace and carved oak panels. He shows me a priest hole where priests were hidden so that the practice of the Catholic Mass could still take place. The entrance could be sealed and the hatch at the far end of the cell could be used to pass food to the priest. There is something intriguing about being able to feel what was intended never to be seen or found.
Liturgical music is part of the Petre heritage. William Byrd, arguably the greatest Elizabethan composer is most famous for his liturgical music for the Catholic Church, which was banned under Queen Elizabeth I. His family joined the Catholic community presided over by the Petres and took part regularly in secret masses celebrated at Ingatestone Hall. Ingatestone, Essex CM4 9NR Tel: 01277 353 010 www.ingatestonehall.com
Around a mile away the sleepy village of Ingatestone is one long narrow street - in the middle you'll find The Star Inn, a tiny 15th century pub with low-beamed ceilings, a huge open log fire and they serve real ale. Sometimes they have live music at the weekend (you have to check.) Tel: 01277 353339
Where the last Saxon King of England was allegedly buried:If you wish to experience the finale of the Saxon world you will have to take a bit of a trek about 20 miles to the north of the county. King Harold, the last Anglo Saxon ruler of England, famously killed on the coast of Hastings in 1066 is traditionally believed to be buried at Waltham Abbey. A sacred stone cross (or apparently it could have been a piece of the cross Jesus died on) was brought to Waltham, from which comes the old name for the district: Waltham Holy Cross. Apparently Harold was miraculously cured by the cross as a child.
King Harold’s corpse was supposed to have been identified by the inscription Ealdgyth tattooed over his heart. Incidentally both his wife and mistress were called Ealdgyth!
If you are looking for something a little bit different try the Royal Gunpowder Mill with 21 rooms of major historical interest. It’s a 3 minute drive from the Abbey or you can walk it. Check the website out: www.royalgunpowdermills.com. After your sightseeing enjoy a cuppa and some of the best scones I have tasted at the 16th century timber framed Philpott's Tea Room near the Abbey. However they are not particularly child-friendly here.
Despite Essex’s reputation for villains, the nouveau riche; footballers and page three girls, the county is also jam-packed with history and culture. It certainly has its share of factories and scrap yards, and yet its ancient woodlands are among the best-preserved in Britain. Perhaps this hotchpotch of the gritty and the prized are what make Essex unique.
Essex : A county of approximately 1400 square miles adjoining London to the east, with a population of 1.7 million
East End: It's east of the City of London but has no formal boundaries. It is a working-class area, remembered for its sense of community during the World War II when it was badly bombed. It still is one of the most deprived areas in Britain. But it has become fashionable and expensive in parts, particularly trendy “Docklands”.
Cockney: A Cockney is traditionally thought of as a person who has been brought up in the East End. They are known for their dialect – particularly dropping their “T’s” and “H's”.
Canterbury St Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury was the most important for pilgrims during the medieval period. The town of Canterbury was also made famous by the great medieval writer Chaucer whose spicy play tells of hearty characters during their pilgrimage from London to Canterbury.
Page three girls: Topless models who have appeared in the Sun newspaper - a popular tabloid first published in the 1970s
M25: An orbital motorway which runs around London
• All towns/villages mentioned are Essex commuter towns with easy access to London
• Stansted in Essex is London's 3rd major airport
Susan Hegedus began her career as a newspaper reporter for the Daily Jang in London. Her interests include exploring old churches, reading novels and playing the banjo Currently she works as a freelance writer. She lives in England in Billericay, Essex and has a BA (Hons) English degreewww.susanhegedus.com
Read more articles about England on GoNOMAD
Like this on Facebook: