Braintree, Essex

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For other uses, see Braintree.
Bocking mill.jpg
Bocking Windmill
Braintree is located in Essex
 Braintree shown within Essex
Population 53,477 [1]
OS grid reference TL7522
District Braintree
Shire county Essex
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district CM7, CM77
Dialling code 01376
Police Essex
Fire Essex
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament Braintree
List of places

Coordinates: 51°52′41″N 0°33′00″E / 51.878°N 0.550°E / 51.878; 0.550

Braintree is a town in Essex, England. The principal settlement of Braintree District, it is located 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Chelmsford and 15 miles (24 km) west of Colchester. According to the 2011 Census, the town had a population of 41,634, while the urban area, which includes Great Notley, Rayne and High Garrett, had a population of 53,477.

Braintree has grown contiguous with several surrounding settlements. Braintree proper lies on the River Brain and to the south of Stane Street, the Roman road from Braughing to Colchester, while Bocking lies on the River Blackwater and to the north of the road. The two are sometimes referred to together as Braintree and Bocking.[2]

Braintree is bypassed by the modern-day A120 and A131 roads, while trains serve two stations in the town, at the end of the Braintree Branch Line.

Braintree is twinned with Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, France,[3] and gives its name to the town of Braintree, Massachusetts, in the United States.[3]

Origin of the name Braintree[edit]

The origin of the name Braintree is obscure. One theory is that Braintree was originally Branoc's tree, Branoc apparently being an ancient name. Another theory is that the name is derived from that of Rayne, which was actually the more important settlement in Norman times. Braintree, Essex was also called Brantry and Branchetreu[citation needed] in the Domesday Book and this means "town by the river". The River Brain is another possible origin. "Tree" comes from the Saxon suffix, more usually spelt "try", denoting a big village. In many early American Colonial documents, it is referred to as Branktry. The name "Braint" is well attested as a river name in Britain; there is a river of that name in Anglesey, and it may be conjectured that it was the name of the Blackwater in pre-Saxon times, although the Celtic name "Bran" is also used widely for rivers (derived from the British word for a crow and thought to refer to the dark or crow-black appearance of such a river, making it a good fit for a river now called "Blackwater"). Here again, the reference to a river would indicate that Braintree literally means "town (or village) by the river". The suffix to either Braint or Bran is the common Britonnic "Tre" widely found in Wales and Cornwall, but also noted in towns such as Daventree, with the meaning of initially a farm or settlement and later a town. Another variation can be seen in various Medieval Latin legal records, where it appears as "Branktre".[4]

History of Braintree[edit]

Braintree Town Hall (1926, architect: Vincent Harris)
General view of Braintree in 1851.

Braintree dates back over 4,000 years when it was just a small village. People in the area during the Bronze and Iron Ages, built houses on the lower part of the town, near the River Brain, known as the Brain Valley. This area was also inhabited by the Saxons, of whom occupied the town after the Romans had left. Notable road names in Braintree now coincide with names of people who fought for the town, and locals living here, such as Aetheric Road (a notable Saxon nobleman that died in the Battle of Maldon in 991, and subsequently left most of the land of Braintree to the Bishop of London, as well as the land of Bocking going to the Prior and monks of Canterbury), Trinovantian Way (at one point, the townsfolk were called Trinovantes, who were around during the Iron Age, and could tilled the light sandy soil and hunted animals in the surrounding forests). Other road names are of places that have since been built on, such as Coldnailhurst Avenue (a farm at the top of the current road on Panfield Lane), Becker's Green Road (opposite a field called Becker's Green), Mark's Farm residential estate (based at the site of an old farm where the current Tesco store is situated), and Fairfield Road (directly in the centre of the current town, lied a field called Fair Field).

Roman Invasion[edit]

When the Romans invaded, they built two roads; a settlement developed at the junction of these two roads but was later abandoned when the Romans left Britain.[3] The town was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1085 when it was called Branchetreu and consisted of 30 acres (120,000 m2) in the possession of Richard, son of Count Gilbert.[5] Pilgrims used the town as a stop-over, the size of the town increased and the Bishop of London obtained a market charter for the town in 1190.[3]

Flemish Cloth Trades[edit]

As early as the 14th Century, Braintree was processing and manufacturing woollen cloth, a trade which it had seen the use of up until the late 1800s. The town prospered from the 17th century when Flemish immigrants made the town famous for its wool cloth trade.[3] They took the then current manufacturing methods to a finer detail, and the main markets for the production in the Braintree area were mainly abroad, notably in Spain or Portugal. In 1665, the Great Plague killed 865 out of the population of just 2,300 people.[3]

Silk Manufacturing[edit]

The wool trade died out in the early 19th century and Braintree became a centre for silk manufacturing when George Courtauld opened a silk mill in the town.[3] Others followed, including Warner & Sons.[6] By the late 19th century, Braintree was a thriving agricultural and textile town, and benefited from a railway connection to London.[3] The wealthy Courtauld family had a strong influence on the town, supporting plans for many of the town's public buildings such as the town hall[7] and public gardens established in 1888.[3] The town's influence on the textile weaving industry is remembered today in the Warner Textile Archive and at Braintree Museum.

Modern History & World War Two[edit]

Braintree played its part during World War Two, providing men for battle in Britain's armed forces, but also recruiting women into the town's engineering works or munitions work at Crittalls. Braintree and its surrounding areas were also the drop-zone for excess bombs that were left over from raids on London. One particular bomb hit the corner of Bank Street and Coggeshall Road, near the White Hart Inn. The inn stayed intact, but on the opposite side of the road, two buildings were demolished by the bomb. It opened up the town and provided what you see today, with the unimaginative building that houses the Lloyds Bank, built in 1958.

Since World War Two ended, Braintree has seen many changes in peacetime. The town centre itself is more pedestrianised than it used to be, with a one-way system moving around the town. Local shops have come and gone, with larger outlet-style shops opening in the nearby Freeport Designer Village, and plans have been made for a complete overhaul of the area that is currently the bus station, with plans including a Doctor's surgery, and shops that could possibly improve the footfall of the town.

Geography of Braintree[edit]

Braintree lies in north Essex, about 46 miles (74 km) from London, with factories and housing to the south and rural areas to the north, where arable crops are grown.[3] It lies about 150 feet (46 m) above sea level.[8] Essex is rather flat on the whole, and the Braintree area is no exception; however, there is a general downward trend in the height of the ground from the northwest towards the coast to the southeast. Two rivers flow through Braintree in this direction. Pod's Brook approaches the western side of the town, forming a natural boundary between Braintree and the neighbouring village of Rayne about two miles (3 km) to the west. Pod's Brook becomes the River Brain as it passes under the Roman road, before running through the southern part of Braintree. The River Pant (or Blackwater) runs roughly parallel to it, through the north of Bocking and away to the east of the town. The Brain eventually flows into the Blackwater several miles away, near Witham.


St Marys Church, Bocking Churchstreet

The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales gave the following description of Bocking in 1870-1872:

Bocking: a village, a parish and a sub-district, in Braintree, Essex. The village stands on the left bank of the Blackwater river, and on the Braintree railway, adjacent to Braintree; forms a suburb of that town; consists chiefly of one long street; and is a seat of petty sessions.

A trade in baizes, called 'bockings', was at one time prominent; and a manufacture of silk and crape is now carried on.

The parish includes also Bocking-street and Bocking-Church-street, 3/4 and 2 miles distant from Braintree, both with post offices under that town, and the former situated on the branch Roman road from Chelmsford. Acres: 4, 607. Real property: £15, 156. Pop.: 3, 555. Houses: 768. The property is much sub-divided.

The Manor was given by Ethelred to the See of Canterbury; and belongs now to the corporation of the sons of the clergy. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Rochester. Value: £923. Patron: the Archbishop of Canterbury. The church is early English, had anciently 3 altars and 5 chantries, and contains some monuments and 2 brasses. There are: an Independent chapel, much improved in 1869; a charity school, with £50; and other charities, with £172. Dr. Dale, the author of 'Pharmacologia', was a native.

The sub-district contains 5 parishes. Acres: 11, 507. Pop.: 5,281. Houses: 1, 171. Bocking have two schools called The Edith Borthwick School and Bocking Church Street School

Culture, media and sport[edit]


Braintree's museum, containing displays relating to the history of the town, is named after John Ray and has a number of relatively famous patrons, including the Essex-born artist, Jennifer Walter and Lesley Killin, an influential member of Essex Council of Education (the ECE). The associated Warner Textile Archive contains the second largest collection of publicly owned textiles in the UK (after the Victoria & Albert Museum).[9]

The Braintree Arts Theatre opened in 2009 on the Notley High School campus.

The Bocking Arts Theatre based at The Literary and Mechanical Institute at the top of Bocking End, and promotes pantomimes, drama and a range of live entertainment events. It is also used extensively for local Community activities including regular NHS Blood Donor Sessions, Record and Stamp/Coin Collectors Fairs, and Charity Fundraising Events. The management of the building is now reliant on unpaid volunteers under the auspices of the Bocking Arts Theatre Charitable Trust. Built in 1863 this Grade II listed building was bequeathed to the citizens of Braintree by George Courtald and his family and will celebrate its 150-year anniversary in 2013.

The Braintree and Bocking Carnival takes place each June. The event starts with a procession of floats through the town centre, finishing at Meadowside. Events, including a fair and sideshows, continue throughout the afternoon at Meadowside until around 10pm.


Braintree Town Football Club, known as "The Iron", have made much progress in recent years and were promoted to the Conference South as champions of the Isthmian League in 2006. The 2006–2007 season saw them just miss out on a second successive promotion to the Conference National. Having finished in third place, they went down 1-0 in the Conference South play-off final. Braintree continued their good form during season 2007-2008. After a slow start and a change of first team manager, they took 60 points from their last 30 games to finally secure fifth place and another tilt at the play-offs. This fine form continued in the 2010/2011 season when they were promoted to the Conference Premier as champions. The Football conference is a national competition and the most senior level of non-league football. The Iron in their third season at this level achieved their highest ever season finish in 6th place and just short of a play off position. The Iron are in the planning stages to move to a new stadium in the West of the town, just off of Panfield Lane. The club have played at the Cressing Road Stadium (off Clockhouse Way) also known as the Amlin Stadium since 1928.

Braintree Rugby Union Football Club was formed in 1963 by a group of old boys from Margaret Tabor Secondary School and celebrated its 50th anniversary in May 2013. The club is run on a community basis and has a policy of not paying first team players as well as bringing through its own new players from the Minis and Colts Section.


Braintree's local newspaper is the Braintree and Witham Times, whose office is based on Bank Street. The East Anglian daily times is a regional daily newspaper.

There is a multiplex cinema - Cineworld located alongside the Freeport designer centre on the outskirts of the town. Opposite the cinema, there's also a bowling alley and various restaurants and shops. The Town also has numerous public houses and bars both in and around the town centre.

Braintree Musical Society perform two shows a year (in April and October). For 61 years these were performed at The Institute at Bocking End, but in 2012 they moved to a new venue at the Braintree Arts Theatre, part of Notley High School.

The world famous recording artists, The Prodigy, originated in Braintree, and still live in the area, in nearby Harlow.

A local radio station for the Braintree area - Leisure FM 107.4 commenced broadcasting on 10 July 2009.

Education and schools[edit]

Braintree has four secondary schools: Gosfield School Independent Co-Educational, Alec Hunter Academy, Notley High School Technology College (which is also the location of the Braintree Sixth Form) and Tabor Academy.

Post 16 education is provided by Gosfield School, The College at Braintree and Braintree Sixth Form.

Economy, industry and commerce[edit]

Braintree has two main market areas that link throughout the town, which are run twice weekly, on a Wednesday and a Saturday. They are based outside the Town Hall in Market Square, and also run along Bank Street and the High Street. The High street is mainly a pedestrianised area, which allows only buses to commute through the town.

Freeport is a shopping area on the outskirts of Braintree, described as a "designer outlet village". It has approximately 90 departments where designer brands sell surplus stock for lower than the recommended retail price. Freeport also has its own railway station, namely Braintree Freeport railway station, which is the first stop on the journey from Braintree to London Liverpool Street via Witham.

There are also various industrial centres located around the main Braintree town area, including the Springwood Industrial Estate, Park Drive Industrial Estate and Broomhills Industrial Estate off Pod's Brook Lane. The latter is owned by Sainsbury's and has been dilapidated for renewal for a new superstore that has failed to be given the go ahead.



Braintree has two railway stations, Braintree and Braintree Freeport next to the Freeport shopping area. Trains depart from Braintree station to Witham, where the Braintree branch line joins the Great Eastern Main Line to London Liverpool Street. Service frequency is approximately once an hour during the daytime.

Nowadays the track terminates at Braintree, however, it used to continue westwards, as the Bishop's Stortford-Braintree Branch Line, through the village of Rayne, to Great Dunmow, but this section of the route was closed and has been disused for decades (it has now become part of a country walk and cycle route, known as Flitch Way). The original station in Braintree was a timber frame building, built as early as 1848, but it was later removed when the Victorian station (originally named Braintree and Bocking station) we see today was built in 1869, as a two platform station. The second platform was removed in the 1950s when the rail line was discontinued further than Braintree.

Bus Links[edit]

Regular bus services run within Braintree and services also include routes to neighbouring towns and cities, including Chelmsford, Colchester, Halstead and Witham. These bus services are all run by First Essex, however, there are other services in the area, including Hedingham Omnibuses, Regal Busways and the occasional service from Stephensons of Essex. There is a shuttle bus service to Stansted Airport that runs regularly through the town also. The bus depot at Braintree has been changed several times, with the return to the current depot a few years ago.

Road Links[edit]

Access to Braintree can also be done by use of the A120 road, which serves the Western and Southern sides of the town. It provides a quick link to Stansted Airport, which is situated almost 16 miles (26 km) away from the town. A regular bus service between Colchester and Stansted runs frequently through Braintree. Other routes include the A130/A131, which serve people between Sudbury and Chelmsford, and the B1018, which links Braintree to Witham.

Places of Interest[edit]

Bocking Windmill, technically a part of Bocking, the windmill stands proud over the countryside at the North end of Braintree & Bocking, having been restored to a degree by the Friends of Bocking Windmill. Although the mill does not work, the majority of the mechanics and infrastructure are still in place. The group running the project hold open days for people to go and see it, and it can be reached via the Number 21 bus service from Braintree town centre.

The Braintree District Museum is located opposite the Town Hall, along Manor Street, and was originally the Manor Street School. It was built in 1863, to replace the former British School located in the same place. Nowadays, it houses a selection of items showing the history of Braintree and Bocking.

The Braintree & Bocking Public Gardens are situated on the northern side of Braintree, and are close to the District Council offices on Bocking End. They house a garden that was built in 1888, and given to the town of Braintree by Sydney and Sarah Courtauld. There are a set of guidelines for the gardens to keep it in good condition that have been set in place since it opened, and are still governed to this day.

There are several churches around Braintree that may be of interest to people who visit, including St. Michael's along South Street/High Street, St. Mary's Church along Bocking Church Street, and St. Peter's church along St. Peter's Road, just off of Bocking End.

Neighbouring villages[edit]

Villages in the Braintree area include Bocking, Black Notley, White Notley, Great Notley Garden Village (a recent construction), Cressing, Felsted, Rayne and Panfield.

Notable residents[edit]

  • Louie Spence - English dance expert, choreographer and television personality best known as the artistic director at the Pineapple Dance Studios.
  • Rupert Everett - British actor born in Norfolk, 1959, spent a short time as a child in Braintree and frequented the former Embassy Cinema (now closed and occupied by Wetherspoons).
  • Malcolm McFee, (1949–2001), British actor born in Forest Gate, Newham, played Peter Craven in Please Sir! 1968-1971 and The Fenn Street Gang 1972-1973. Also was landlord of the Wagon & Horses, South St.for a while in the '90s.
  • Lawrence D. Hills founded the Henry Doubleday Research Association headquarters and test site at Bocking, and also developed the Bocking 14 strain of comfrey, which has properties of particular interest to organic gardeners.
  • John Ray (1627–1705) - naturalist, born in nearby Black Notley, is perhaps the most talked about local person, among historians.
  • The Courtauld family was one of the most prominent families of Braintree and Bocking during the 19th century. Their highly successful silk business made them very rich, and provided much employment in the area. They were very major benefactors to Braintree & Bocking, e.g. Town Hall, Corner House, Leahurst Hostel, William Julien Courtauld Hospital, land and buildings for the High School, Public Gardens, Institute ...
  • Sir Evelyn Wood, (1838–1919) - British Field Marshal, Victoria Cross recipient.
  • Katherine Parnell - younger sister of Sir Evelyn Wood, and wife of Irish Nationalist leader, Charles Parnell.
  • The Prodigy - famous dance music group, are probably Braintree's best known export in recent years. The band's leader Liam Howlett was not only educated at Alec Hunter High School, but was also the cause of much indignation among some residents when he criticised the town in an interview for the music magazine Q. He reportedly used "an abusive term." He and fellow band member Keith Flint moved out of the town around 1998, to live in seclusion in a small village five or six miles (10 km) to the west. Now living just outside of Harlow, Essex.
  • Barry Douglas Lamb - avant-garde/experimental composer and musician, lived in Braintree following the demise of the insane picnic from 1989 to 1993. Although this appears to have been a period of very little musical output on his part, there is an unofficial recording from the period called "Braintree - the concubine harvester".
  • Steve Harley - singer/composer and founder of Cockney Rebel, lived in Bradford Street, Braintree, from 1969 to 1971. He worked as a reporter for the Braintree and Witham Times under his real name Stephen Nice. The novelist Jay Merrick, author of Horse Latitudes, worked on the newspaper at the same time under his real name John Thompson.
  • Andrew Phillips, Baron Phillips of Sudbury, noted politician and lawyer in the field of civil liberties lived in Bradford Street, Braintree for much of the 1980s
  • Giles Long MBE - triple Paralympic Gold medallist and former World Record holder in the 100m Butterfly lived in Braintree from 1979 to 1994, briefly returning in 2007. He swam for Braintree and Bocking Swimming Club 1986 to 1996.
  • Next of Kin - pop group who had two top 40 hits in 1999.
  • The ancestors of US Founding Father John Adams, Henry Adams of Braintree emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from Braintree.
  • James Challis - astronomer, was born in Braintree 12 December 1803.
  • Louisa Nottidge - Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White - was born at Fulling Mill House, Bradford Street in 1802. She was abducted from the religious community in Somerset, called The Agapemone, in 1846.

Source materials on Bocking[edit]

Hoffman, Ann. (1976) Bocking Deanery: The Story of an Essex Peculiar.

H. G. Wells, in his What Is Coming? A European Forecast (1916), in the fourth chapter, "Braintree, Bocking, and the Future of the World," uses the differences between Bocking and Braintree, divided, he says, by a single road, to explain the difficulties he expects in establishing World Peace through a World State.

Efficiency, perhaps the supreme virtue for Wells (and others in the Fabian Society), meant someone in authority preventing waste and inefficiency at every level from water mains to wars. The difficulty of establishing it at the local level was a reflection of the difficulty of establishing it at the global level. In that same chapter he mentions his friend but ideological foe, G. K. Chesterton, who would have been delighted by those same local differences (particularly if it included the beer in the pubs) and whose 1904 novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, praises them. Wells wanted to end war by establishing an authority that could ban any difference between people that might lead to disagreements and perhaps war. Chesterton wanted to reduce the likelihood of war by reminding people that a healthy love for your country meant respecting the love others have for their country. In the December 31, 1910 issue of Illustrated London News he wrote:

Further reading[edit]

Published histories of Braintree & Bocking include:

  • May Cunnington & Stephen Warner:'Braintree & Bocking'(1906);
  • W. F. Quinn: A History of Braintree & Bocking (Lavenham Press, 1981);
  • Michael Baker: The Book of Braintree & Bocking (Barracuda Books, 1981, Baron Books 1992);
  • John Marriage: Braintree & Bocking A Pictorial History (Phillimore, 1994).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ For example The Braintree & Bocking Constitutional Club, The Rotary Club of Braintree and Bocking, Braintree and Bocking United, Braintree and Bocking Civic Society, Braintree & Bocking Community Association.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jarvis, Joanne (January 2009). "Braintree is reborn". Essex Life (Archant). 
  4. ^ Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas; National Archives; CP 40/837; ; third entry, where William Clarke, a chapman, lived
  5. ^ Dr Ann Williams, Professor G H Martin, ed. (2003). The Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-143994-7. 
  6. ^ staff (8 April 2010). "The Warner Silk Mill in Braintree". Essex Life. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  7. ^ Town hall history
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Warner Textile Archive, Braintree District Museum Essex". Gulbenkian Prize. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 

External links[edit]