Essex is one of the UK’s largest counties, and across it, you’ll find a diversity of landscapes, from the rural north to the more built up south. Here are 20 Essex villages you should not miss.
Wendens Ambo is a quintessentially English, chocolate box village. Many of its cottages are thatched in the traditional manner. The village dates back centuries – there are the remains of a Roman villa and no shortage of heritage properties.
However, its curious name refers to an event in the 17th century when two neighbouring villages were merged: Ambo means both.
Though there’s been a bridge there since at least the 14th century, there was never a battle at Battlesbridge. Instead, it gets its name from a reference to the Battaille family.
From mediaeval times to the 20th century, Battlesbridge was a port, collecting flour and hay from London, trading coal from the North of England and dealing in fish, malt, lime and chalk. The Victorian granary is now a popular antiques centre.
Pretty as a picture, the village of Finchingfield is one of the most phootgraphed in Essex. Centred around a village green and a duck pond, it also boasts a windmill, which some people believe is the oldest in the county.
Technically, the current structure dates from about 1756 and was active until 1890. Known variously as the Post Mill, Duck End Mill and Letch’s Mill, it used to have company – there were once six others in the village.
The area surrounding Stock was once heavily wooded, prompting the Saxons to name it accordingly – to them woodland would have been “stocce”.
The road was once heavily rutted, so it is no surprise that highwayman Dick Turpin lived locally. Today, the village has several thriving pubs, among them The Hoop, which has been serving ale for around 450 years.
Standing at the head of Alresford Creek is the Thorrington Tide Mill. The structure dates from 1831 and is one of only two functioning tide mills in the country; the other is across the border in Suffolk.
The lucam, which sticks out from the upper part of the mill, would have been used to hoist sacks of corn to be ground. There was once a windmill too, but it was blown down in a 19th century storm and never rebuilt.
If you’re a voracious reader, you’ll know Tillingham as the village mentioned in H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, from which the narrator’s brother flees the Martians.
Less well known is the decision taken by the village vicar years ago to lock up a young woman dubbed “The Ranter’s Monster” after she claimed to be the Virgin Mary.
She’s not the titular monster, though: that was her severely deformed stillborn child.
Smuggling was once common in Essex and a section of its coastline is still dubbed the “Smugglers Coast” to this day. Further south, however, lies the village of Paglesham.
One notorious regular at the Punch Bowl Inn was an oysterman named William Blyth who would nip over to Dunkirk to pick up illicit cargoes of tea, gin and tobacco.
Nobody dared challenge him; he was a fiercesome character who once drank two glasses of wine and then ate both the glasses.
Cressing is known for its Temple, but that’s not a place of worship, it’s where you’ll find two 13th century barns, a 16th century granary and a 17th century farmhouse.
In 1137, the land on which they stand was gifted to the Knights Templar by the King. After many years in private ownership, it passed to Essex County Council.
That was unfortunate timing, as the storms of October 1987 did some pretty major damage to the ancient structures, leaving them with a hefty repair bill.
Coggeshall might technically be deemed as a town, but its small population prefer to call the place a village. It’s a characterful one at that, with a main street lined with historic buildings.
Highlights include a beautiful 16th century wool merchant’s house called Paycockes and another National Trust property in the form of Grange Barn, a timber-framed barn dating from the early 13th century.
Danbury Common boasts the UK’s largest resident population of adders, so be careful if you take a walk. Together with nearby Lingwood Common, Danbury Common creates the second largest area of common land in Essex after Epping Forest.
Villagers would have once grazed their animals here and cut down scrub and trees for fuel, though doing so is no longer permitted!
Don’t be distracted by Fingringhoe’s name: this is an attractive village with a fascinating past. Actually, the name of the former port reflects its geography. It snuggles inside a bend of the Roman River, a tributary of the Colne.
The suffix “hoe” means a protruding piece of land like a heel which encloses the village inside the meander. The “ing” comes from the ancient “ingas” or people and the “Fingr” is likely to refer to the shape of the site.
When artist Grayson Perry was looking for a location for a new project, he stumbled on a field in Wrabness which was just perfect. “A House for Essex”, as it’s called, looks out across farmland close to the River Stour.
Along the riverbank are lovely walks which make the most of the village’s peaceful setting.
Castle Hedingham lures visitors with the promise of a well-restored Norman keep. Located just west of Halstead in the Colne Valley, it was built by the de Vere family who also established a nunnery near the gates.
Eventually, a family member won the right to hold a market in the town and also founded a hospital.
The Museum of Power at Langford is an industrial heritage enthusiast’s dream day out. Though it’s situated near Maldon, it was once the pumping station of the Southend Waterworks Company.
Don’t miss Marshall, a huge steam-driven engine which took a dedicated team of volunteers around six years to completely restore.
There are several Bradwells in Essex – this one sits on the edge of the Dengie peninsula not far from a decommissioned nuclear power station, the site of a Roman fort and a 7th century chapel.
In the heart of the village, in the wall of St Thomas’ church, The Cage is an 18th century brick structure containing oak whipping posts, once used to punish petty thieves and drunks.
Greensted’s church isn’t just the oldest wooden church in Essex, it’s the oldest in the world, containing timbers that date back to the 6th and 7th centuries. The oldest grave in the churchyard is that of a 12th century Crusader; you’ll find it right by the front door.
Chappel & Wakes Colne
Chappel & Wakes Colne has two big claims to fame: a stunning brick viaduct and a fascinating railway museum.
In the latter, you can take a ride on one of its working steam engines, learn about the impact Beeching’s cuts had on the local rail network and learn how the colour-coded levers in the signal box prevent a train crash.
One of two settlements on Mersea Island, East Mersea is the smaller. It’s home to Cudmore Grove Country Park whose crumbling cliffs from time to time offer up fossils and bones, including 300,000 year old monkey and hippo bones from a time when the climate was considerably different to today.
If you visit Great Easton, don’t miss its church. The Church of St John and St Giles is Norman, but it stands on the site of a Saxon church and is built from Roman bricks.
Once there was a timber tower but it was struck by lightning, so the wood was repurposed in some of the local homes.
The porch bears an inscription about a 19th century murder; the victim’s ghost allegedly haunts the village. Another ghost, bearing the form of a headless monk, wanders by the river at night. Come in the daytime if you are of a nervous disposition.
Our final pick is Dedham, perhaps the most famous of the county’s villages thanks to its proximity to Flatford Mill where artist John Constable enjoyed to paint.
The main street is crammed with historic properties including an imposing church and buildings which contain a plethora of shops and cafes.
Take a walk to see the nearby mill, before following the banks of the River Stour all the way to Willy Lott’s Cottage on the Suffolk side of Dedham Vale.