Billericay High Street and St Mary Magdalen Church
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||CM11, CM12|
|Ambulance||East of England|
Billericay (// (listen) BIL-ə-RIK-ee) is a town and civil parish in the Borough of Basildon, Essex, England. It lies within the London Basin and constitutes a commuter town 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of Central London. The town has three secondary schools and a variety of open spaces. It is thought to have been occupied since the Bronze Age.
The origin of the name Billericay (previously Billerica) is unclear. It was first recorded as "Byllyrica" in 1291. The urban settlement, which was within the manor and parish of Great Burstead, was one of many founded in the late 13th century in an already densely populated rural landscape. Several suggestions for the origin of the place name include:
- Villa Erica (Heather Villa), suggesting a Romano-British origin.
- bellerīca, a medieval Latin word meaning 'dyehouse or tanhouse'.
- billers, a traditional name for watercress, for which Bilbrook in Somerset and Staffordshire are named. Watercress was farmed in Billericay springs during the 20th century.
Although the precise etymology of the name is not known, England has other places named Billerica:
- Billerica, Kent. A deserted town adjacent to the settlement of Court-up-Street by Port Lympne. Significantly this is adjacent to a Roman "Saxon Shore" fort as well as being on spring lines suitable for growing watercress.
- Billerica Farm, near Upton Noble, Somerset. Although this farm might be named after the other Billericas, the site is also close to springs suitable for farming watercress.
The Tudor antiquarian John Leland believed the already-abandoned Billerica in Kent was a variant of Bellocastrum, ‘fair castle’ in Latin. In Billericay there is a Roman fort at Blunt's Wall Farm; likewise ‘Burh’ gives its name to Great Burstead. This suggests that a Romano-British place name was reused by the Anglo-Saxons following the end of Roman rule in Britain.
Some of the earliest records of human occupation of Billericay are the burial mounds in Norsey Wood, showing evidence of occupation in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Evidence of Roman occupation has been found at a number of locations in the town and there may have been a small cavalry fort at Blunts Wall.
The Saxons did not settle in the centre of Billericay. They established themselves two miles (three kilometres) south, at Great Burstead. In the late 10th century, it was known as "Burhstede". Billericay was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, as it lay within Great Burstead. At this time, the parish church for Billericay was at Great Burstead.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, some pilgrims to Canterbury journeyed via Billericay. Some of them may have spent the night in Billericay before crossing the River Thames at Tilbury. This may account for the large number of inns in the town.
The Wycliffe preachers influenced the town. Four local people (Thomas Watts, Joan Hornes, Elizabeth Thackwell and Margaret Ellis) were burnt at the stake. Two other residents (Joan Potter and James Harris) were tortured for their faith during the reign of Queen Mary.
A meeting of the Pilgrim Fathers, prior to their sailing in the Mayflower, is said to have taken place in Billericay; many local names and much historical imagery reflect this, such as Mayflower House, Morris Men, Taxis, School and Hall. Sunnymede School's houses were called Mayflower, Pilgrim, Chantry and Martin (after Christopher Martin, a Billericay merchant who travelled on the Mayflower as Ship's Governor).
The Mayflower set sail once the Pilgrim Fathers had all boarded and set to meet the Speedwell in the English Channel; the Speedwell was sailing from the Netherlands. Unfortunately the Speedwell developed leaks and so the ships headed for the Devon coast to repair her, but this proved impossible; the Mayflower eventually sailed from Plymouth without her.
Four people from Billericay were on board, including Christopher Martin. He and his wife Mary, along with Solomon Prower and John Langemore, perished shortly after their arrival at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Christopher Martin remained and lived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, until his death in 1640. His wife Mary (Mayflower) Martin perished in Plymouth in 1621.
The unfortunate fate of the would-be pioneers did not deter other inhabitants of Billericay from setting sail for the New World. The town of Billerica, Massachusetts was established in 1655 by colonists from Billericay and named after their home town in England.
Georgian and Victorian eras
In the Georgian period many excellent examples of the period's houses were built in Billericay. One of those remaining today is Burghstead Lodge in High Street, which used to house the library. Sadly a number were demolished in the 1980s to make way for new developments, notable examples being on Western Road.
In the town, the Union Workhouse was built in 1840 to continue to implement the Poor Law. Parts of this building were later incorporated into what was St. Andrew's Hospital.
The 20th century
In 1916, during the First World War, a German Zeppelin airship was shot down during an aerial battle over Billericay. During its fiery demise, it narrowly missed the High Street, crashing into a field off Greens Farm Lane. A plaque was erected at the site in 2016, to commemorate 100 years since the incident. Parts of the aluminium frame can be seen at the Cater Museum in Billericay High Street. Recent research has indicated that this may be identified with the 'ghost Zeppelin' of Tonbridge which was allegedly seen floating over that town earlier in the day.
St. Andrew's Hospital, which was formerly the site of the town's Victorian workhouse, continued to function as an important communal building. From 1973, it housed the internationally renowned Regional Plastic Surgery and Burns unit until this was relocated to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford in April 1998. After the relocation, most of the hospital was redeveloped into housing. The listed buildings remain intact but are now residential.
Billericay is within the London Basin and lies on a mixture of London clay, Claygate Beds and Bagshot Beds. Near the High Street, there is a change in soil type from sandy to clay, which gives rise to local underground springs. Open spaces include Norsey Wood, Mill Meadows Nature Reserve, Queen's Park Country Park, Sun Corner, Lake Meadows, Hanningfield Reservoir and South Green. Billericay contains Billericay School, Mayflower High School and St John's School.
Mill Meadows is a local nature reserve near the centre of Billericay, one of the finest ancient meadow systems in Essex. Centuries of grazing have created the ideal conditions for a wonderful diversity of wild flowers, fungi, insects and invertebrates, many of which are very rare. It also contains an area of 16.63 acres (6.73 ha) that has been declared as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its unimproved neutral grassland.
Between 1 July 1837 and 1 July 1939, Billericay was a registration district. Since 1974, the town has been part of the Basildon district. The registry office is located in Basildon, in the council offices. There is also the facility to register deaths in Basildon Hospital.
Since major boundary changes in Essex for the 2010 general election, Billericay has been part of the parliamentary constituency of Basildon and Billericay, whose MP is John Baron of the Conservative Party. The town was previously represented by Teresa Gorman from 1987 to 2001, a Conservative rebel who had the whip withdrawn for opposing the Maastricht Treaty. Her predecessor, the Conservative MP Harvey Proctor, was also prominent in the news in 1987, when he was charged with indecency.
Billericay is part of the Basildon district. Basildon District Council is Conservative-controlled. Billericay is served by a town council of 20 members elected in 3 wards. There is also a youth town council, elected in schools around the town. The town council has powers related to local planning and finance, while the youth council has an annual budget of £500 to spend or invest in local services or entertainment.
Billericay parish was not formed until 1937; before then, the area had been part of the ancient Great Burstead parish. In 1894, Billericay Rural District was created, which covered a wide area stretching as far as Brentwood and Pitsea. In 1934, the core of this district around Basildon and Billericay became Billericay Urban District and, in 1937, a Billericay civil parish was created covering the same area. The urban district, but not the parish, was renamed Basildon in 1955. In 1974, the district was abolished and became the present-day Basildon district.
Billericay is a part of the London commuter belt.
Billericay is close to two primary routes: the A12 to the north and the A127 in the south. The A176 provides a road link to Basildon to the south of Billericay, as well as to the A127. The only secondary road in the town, the B1007, passes from just south of the town centre as Laindon Road, then meets the A129 at Sun Corner, continues northwards as Billericay's High Street and then Stock Road. It continues north to the county town of Chelmsford. Along its route is the village of Stock and an interchange to the A12. The town is a destination on the A129, linking it to the neighbouring towns of Brentwood and Wickford.
- Billericay Town Football Club
- Billericay Rugby Football Club
- Essex Spartans
- Mayflower Archers
- Billericay Striders Running Club
Culture and trivia
Billericay is served by a community radio station, Phoenix FM, which is based in Brentwood.
The Cater Museum, a charity, is a local history museum containing artefacts recording the lives of people in the area. It is housed in an 18th and 19th century Grade II listed building in the High Street.
The Billericay Community Archive strives to record photos, memories and history relating to the town and surrounding areas on their website.
Billericay's commercial cinema "The Ritz" closed its doors in 1971. However, in 2015, the Billericay Community Cinema was established. Less than a year after it started, the not-for-profit, volunteer-based group won a national award: the "Best New Film Society" at the Cinema for All Community Cinema Awards.
Billericay is twinned with:
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- Neal Asher, science fiction writer, born in Billericay
- Francis Thomas Bacon, engineer, born in Billericay
- Lee Barnard, footballer, went to school in Billericay
- Peter Bone, politician, born in Billericay
- Nick Cater, author and journalist in Australia, born in Billericay
- Daniel Corbett, TV weather forecaster, lived in Billericay as a child
- Robert Denmark, middle and long distance athlete
- Lee Evans, comedian, went to school and lives in Billericay
- Mark Foster, swimmer, born in Billericay
- Teresa Gorman, politician, former Member of Parliament
- Lee Harrison, footballer, born in Billericay
- Chris Haywood, actor/producer, born in Billericay
- David Hopwood, banker, born in Billericay
- Ralph Izzard, journalist, born in Billericay
- Perry McCarthy, racing driver
- Christopher Martin, Mayflower pilgrim, lived in Billericay
- Alison Moyet, pop singer, born in Billericay
- Richard Osman, TV personality ("Pointless Friend" on BBC show Pointless), born in Billericay
- Kevin Painter, darts player, born in Billericay
- Paul Parker, was raised in Billericay and lived there when he became a professional footballer
- Gemma Ray, musician, singer, composer and producer, was raised in Billericay
- Stewart Robson, footballer, born in Billericay
- Russell Tovey, actor, has Billericay as his hometown
- Charlie Richardson, gangster, lived in Billericay
- Patrick W. Welch, painter, born in Billericay
- Charlie Wernham, comedian and comedy actor, born and lives in Billericay
- Ben Wheatley, film director, born in Billericay
- "Town population 2011". Archived from the original on 3 October 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
- 'Oxford Dictionary of British Place-Names', A.D. Mills, Oxford University Press
- Basildon District – Essex County Council. Retrieved 22 September 2006.
- BBC: On this day 16 April 1987, Retrieved 7 September 2006.
- Billericay Town Council. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- Billericay Youth Town Council. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- Vision of Britain Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine – Great Burstead parish (historic map) Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- Vision of Britain – Billericay RD (historic map). Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- "Twinning Ceremony in Billericay". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
- "Billericay Mayflower Twinning Association". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
- "Le Comité de Jumelage" (in French). Archived from the original on 19 August 2011. Retrieved 3 July 2011.
- "French Charter". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
- "Bacon, Francis Thomas [Tom] (1904–1992), engineer and developer of the fuel cell | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". www.oxforddnb.com. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50801. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
- "Teresa Gorman, Tory MP - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 28 August 2015. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
- "Parker reflects on career blighted by racist abuse ; Billericay resident was sent racially abusive letters by Everton fans". Brentwood Gazette. 2 November 2011. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013.
- Gordon, Byrony (17 March 2009). "Russell Tovey interview: A History Boy with a big future". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Billericay.|
- The Billericay Society – Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- Billericay Community Archive - Preserving Memories of an Essex Town