The History and Geography Page
Braintree is in the north of the county of Essex, England. It is near the southern edge of an area known as East Anglia, and lies at a height of approximately 50 metres above sea level. To the north the countryside is progressively rural where wheat, oil-seed rape, maize, sugar beet, and recently linseed etc. are grown along with other crops. To the south it becomes gradually urban, with housing and factories predominating as you get closer to London.
Braintree is situated at the junction of the road from Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk to Chelmsford (A131) and the road from St Albans in Hertfordshire to Colchester (A120). It is also a crossing point of two rivers.
The River Pant comes in from the north-west, crosses the old road leading north, and heads to the east by which time it has become the River Blackwater. Pods Brook also comes in from the north-west, crosses the old road to Rayne, crosses various other roads within the town where it becomes the River Brain, and then crosses under the by-pass and heads south-east towards Witham. (see local map)
London is about 45 miles to the south-west and the coast is to the east where Clacton and Harwich are both about 40 miles away.
Braintree has a population of about 30,000 people and is rapidly growing. For many years Braintree has been a dormitory town for London, with a high percentage of residents commuting daily into the city. The journey takes just over an hour by train, or about two hours by car. Of course these times can vary with traffic density, weather conditions, time of year, day of the week etc.
Freeport is an outlet centre, on the edge of Braintree, with many famous brands at discount prices. It has its own station, ample parking, 12 screen cinema, bowling, go-karting, night clubs and restaurants etc.
Since Stansted Airport became a designated London airport the air traffic, from there, has increased which means more jobs at Stansted. Many of these people live in Braintree which is only half an hour away but not under the main flight paths. Within the last twenty five years several large housing estates have been developed in Braintree, along with many smaller estates, however the town centre still has many buildings dating back several hundred years. Property values are said to be rising above the national average.
Why is Braintree here?
Habitation in Braintree dates back over 2000 years although there would only have been a farmstead or small village before the Romans invaded. When the Romans came they built their road east west (Stane Street), and another to the north east from Chelmsford. A Roman settlement developed at this junction. However it was not as important as nearby Rayne until after the Doomsday Book was written in 1086. At that time Braintree was called Branchetreu and this is the first written record of the town. When pilgrims started using it as a stop-over on their way north to St. Edmundsbury and Walsingham it began to grow and its market charter in 1199 (over 800 years ago) increased its popularity and size.
The wool-cloth trade, which brought prosperity to the town and local villages, was due to Flemish immigrants who moved into the empty inns, vacated because of the Reformation. This was good for the town as the supply of pilgrims was rapidly dwindling. The cloths known as Bockings, after the nearby village, still have this name in parts of the USA. Hand woven wool cloth production died out in the early 1800s due to mechanisation in the north of England, but luckily around this time silk weaving was just taking off and Braintree became a centre for this industry with Courtauld being the dominant family.
Silk is a natural fibre made by caterpillars, into a cocoon which is then unwound by man. It was first produced in ancient China but not introduced to Europe until the 12th century. It arrived in England in the 16th century but was not produced in Braintree until 1809, when George Courtauld opened his mill. By 1838 the Courtauld family were employing over 600 people in their local factories. Silk was produced until the early 1900s, and the mills continued until the 1980s producing other fibres. For more detailed information visit:
Silk industry, George Courtauld, Samuel Courtauld .
Crittal Windows Ltd - Francis Crittal bought an existing ironmongery business in Bank St in 1864. He expanded into engineering and by 1886 was already making metal framed windows. With continued expansion he was employing 500 men by 1905 and 2000 during the First World War. The company was again involved in engineering production during the Second World War when they made parts for Baily Bridges amongst others. The firm was taken over in 1968 and then later by Norcros. In 1990 they moved to Springwood Drive.
Lake and Elliot - W B Lake began in the bicycle business in 1892 and was shortly joined by E F Elliot. They ran their business from the Albion Works in Rayne Road making cycle tools and accessories. They expanded from a few men to over a hundred in the space of fifteen years or so moving into castings with their own foundry. They continued to expand during the First World War, supplying parts to various government departments. The business continued through the Second World War when they made components for tanks, warships and other military vehicles. With the coming of North Sea oil they supplied parts for oil rigs, but then they were taken over and closed.
Warner and Son moved to Braintree in 1895 having taken over buildings already used in the silk industry. They specialised in high quality fabrics, and supplied the material used in various Royal ceremonies for King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales. The company ceased weaving in Braintree in 1971 but some of the old hand looms were rescued and can be seen in use at The Working Silk Museum in the town.
A comprehensive history of the local industry can be seen at the Braintree District Museum in Manor Street (See Braintree-Museums)
Connections With The USA
Wartime Air Bases
During the Second World War there were many American Air Force Bases in East Anglia as this area, and Kent, were closest to the continent. Within a 30 minute drive of Braintree there are several old bases, many have memorials to the American servicemen who were based there and died:
Andrews Airfield - Previously known as RAF Great Saling. Hangers, perimeter roads and runways still there. Now used by Andrewsfield Flying Club.
Birch Airfield - Now mostly agricultural.
Boreham Airfield - Part of airfield now used by Essex Police Air Support who use the old control tower.
Boxted Airfield - Now mostly agricultural.
Chipping Ongar Airfield - at Willingale. Now mostly agricultural with some remains of Nissan huts, Perimeter track and operations block.
Earls Colne Airfield - Now mostly agricultural. Control tower still there but unused. Part of site used for modern hotel and golf course.
Gosfield - Control tower and one runway now in private use.
Great Dunmow - Now mostly agricultural with just a few storage buildings left.
High Garrett - Now mostly fields.
Matching - Now mostly agricultural with a few Nissan huts, part of runway and disused control tower.
Ridgewell - Privately owned and mostly agricultural but with many buildings left.
Rivenhall - Much remaining. Partly used for testing radar. Dangerous area especially if you wear a pacemaker.
Stansted - Now Londons third international Airport. Very long runway.
Wethersfield - Used, off and on, up to 1990. Now a Military prison. RAF Wethersfield web page
Wormingford - Now mostly agricultural.
Braintree Massachusetts was founded in the 17th century by a group of religious dissenters called the Braintree Company from Braintree and Bocking led by William and Ozias Goodwin.
Back to Top
Home Braintree index page