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Brightlingsea Harbour.jpg
Brightlingsea Harbour
Brightlingsea is located in Essex
Location within Essex
Population8,076 (2011 Census)[1]
OS grid referenceTM087168
Civil parish
  • Brightlingsea
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtCO7
Dialling code01206
AmbulanceEast of England
EU ParliamentEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
51°49′N 1°02′E / 51.81°N 1.03°E / 51.81; 1.03Coordinates: 51°49′N 1°02′E / 51.81°N 1.03°E / 51.81; 1.03

Brightlingsea is a coastal town and an electoral ward in the Tendring district of Essex, England. It is situated between Colchester and Clacton-on-Sea, at the mouth of the River Colne, on Brightlingsea Creek. At the 2011 Census, it had a population of 8,076.[1]

Its traditional industries included fishery (with a renowned oyster fishery) and shipbuilding. With the decline of these industries, the town is largely a dormitory town for Colchester.

Brightlingsea is a limb of Sandwich, one of the Cinque Ports. The town retains an active ceremonial connection with the Cinque Ports, electing a Deputy from a guild of Freemen.

Brightlingsea was for many years twinned with French oyster fishery port Marennes, Charente-Maritime, but the relationship fell into disuse. In the mid-1990s, the port of Brightlingsea was used for the export of live animals for slaughter, leading to a protest campaign dubbed "The Battle of Brightlingsea".[2]

In the centre of the town is Jacob's Hall, reputedly the oldest timber-framed building in England, built during the fourteenth century. Also in the town centre is Victoria Place, where many local businesses are based.

To the west, on the creek is Western Promenade. It has lines of beach huts, a skate park, swimming pool, boating lake, and paddling pool. It is a popular destination for tourists and Londoners. Bateman's Tower, a local landmark by the sea, has recently been renovated by the Colne Yacht Club with help from a Lottery Fund grant.


Earliest remains[edit]

Brightlingsea sits on a promontory surrounded by the River Colne and its associated marshes and creeks (it was an island until the 16th century), and was settled from an early date. In 1995, an Early Neolithic pot, dated 4,000 to 3,100 BC, was found in a D-shaped enclosure with a ditch on a farm near Brightlingsea.[3] Other early remains in the area date from the Bronze Age, Roman and Saxon periods.[4]

The Middle Ages[edit]

In the Domesday Book of 1087, the population of Brightlingsea (or Brictesceseia) was given as 24 villagers, 26 smallholders and 5 slaves. The lord of the manor had been King Harold Godwinson, but the title had passed to King William I.[5] The medieval town grew up around two centres, firstly around the parish church (see All Saints' Church below) and secondly close to the shore where a port had developed. Trade was in oysters, fish, copperas (a locally found green pigment of iron(II) sulphate) and locally made bricks.[6]

The Cinque Port Liberty[edit]

The Cinque Ports were a confederation of the five most important ports on the coast of the English Channel. They had obligations to provide ships and men to fight for the king in time of war but were compensated by lucrative exemptions from taxation.[7] All of the Cinque Ports acquired "Limbs" or subsidiary ports that would ease the burden of their wartime obligations and share the beneifits of their privileges. Brightlingsea became a Limb of the Head Port of Sandwich, and is the only community outside Kent and Sussex which has any connection with the Confederation of the Cinque Ports.[8] Although these days it is a purely ceremonial affair, every year at the parish church, on the first Monday after Saint Andrew's Day (the first in December), known as "Choosing Day", the Freemen of Brightlingsea gather to elect the "Deputy of Brightlingsea" who is the representative of the Mayor of Sandwich in the Liberty.[9]

The Wars Against France (1793-1815) During the wars against Revolutionary France and Napoleon Brightlingsea was a base for the men and boats of the Essex Sea Fencibles (1798-1810), though in 1809 they disgraced themselves by pirating osyters from the River Crouch. During the 1803=4 invasion scare a naval gun brig and small gunboat were based in the Creek. Warren's Shipyard also built 11 other gun brigs for the Navy (1804–08), and in 1809 the first East Coast Martello Tower was built opposite at "The Stone" (now East Essex Aviation Museum). (E P Dickin's "History of Brightlingsea"—1913, J P Foynes "East Anglia Against the Tricolor--2016; Naval logs and Sea Fencible muster rolls at National Archive).

The Church of New Jerusalem Brightlingsea was one of the first places outside the major towns to have a chapel for the doctrines of the Swedish religious mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg. Its "New Church" community dates from 1808. Its first chapel was built in 1814 in what is now New Street, and is now a private house. Its second dates from the 1860s and is in Queen Street. Several local oyster merchants and shopkeepers were early members of the New Church, but the most unusual among them was the former naval lieutenant George Beazeley, illegitimate son of the Russian ambassador—Beazeley and his first wife (daughter of the church's joint founder, Dr Moses Fletcher, lived in Anchor Cottage. (A Wakeling "History of the Brightlingsea New Church", J P Foynes "The Mystery of Lieutenant Beazeley". "Intellectual Repository of the New Church", Swedenborg Society records).

The Mignonette and Cannibalism[edit]

In 1867 the yacht Mignonette was built by Aldhous Successors in Brightlingsea.[10] The Marionette foundered on its way to Australia in 1884. In desperation, three of the four shipwrecked crew killed and ate the sickest member, the seventeen-year-old cabin boy named Richard Parker. The subsequent trial, R. v. Dudley and Stephens, established the common law principle that necessity is not a valid defence against a charge of murder.

Fishing By the 1790s Brightlingsea was a busy fishing port, with oyster beds along the Creek and many smacks, each of about 20-30 tons. In the mid 1800s it had more advertised oyster merchants than anywhere else in England. Its smacks were nicknamed the "Skillingers", after their favourite fishing ground, the Terschelling banks off Northern Holland. They also went down in the opposite direction as far as the Channel Islands, fishing for scallops, and closer to home took sprats from the Thames Estuary—so the town had at least 3 spratyards, where the catch was barrelled for shipment by small coasting vessel or rail to London. The local smacks were also active in salvaging from shipwrecks, till the law was tightened up. Many Brightlingsea fishermen were drowned, especially on the Dutch coast. Their names are recorded in the frieze of tiles inside All Saints' Church, an almost unique kind of memorial. 100 fishing vessels were registered at Brightlingsea in 1914, and 54 in 1939. A combination of wars, changing dietary tastes, shellfish health scares, and easier employment, then caused the local industry to go into sharp decline. No more oysters were bred after 1963, and by the 1980s there were only 4 fishing boats based in the Creek. (E P Dickin; History of Brightlingsea; H Benham; The Salvagers; O'Dell The Skillingers)

The Age of the Big Yachts Between 1860 and 1939 Brightlingsea was the winter laying-up and repair station for many large steam yachts owned by the wealthy, and many local men served in their crews, such as Captains Wringe, French and Sycamore. The wealthy owners dealt with Aldous's Shipyard, which was also the largest builder of fishing smacks on the East Coast and did important work for all 3 armed forces in both world wars. The wealthy patrons included Lipton of the Americas Cup, authors W W Jacobs and Arnold Bennett, the musician Sullivan's heir and nephew Arthur, and most famously the eccentric,reclusive but generous American millionaire Bayard Brown, whose yacht VALFREYA lay in the Colne for almost 30 years. (J Leather: The Northseamen: Brightlingsea Museum Collection: census data: Essex County Standard)

1914-1918 During the First World War the Royal Navy was based at Brightlingsea, calling its base HMS Wallaroo and then HMS City of Perth. It installed and guarded and maintained the booms and nets of the Swin Anchorage, which was periodically used by a squadron of battleships (including HMS Dreadnought), and was the launchpad for the raid on Zeebrugge and Ostend in 1918. It was also an Army Engineer training base, and from 1916 to 1919 trained all the Australian field engineers sent to the Western Front. (J P Foynes "Brightlingsea in the Great War"—published 1994, "The Australians at Brightlingsea"—new edition 2011; records of UK National Archive, Australian National Archives; Australian War Memorial, etc.)

1939-1945 Brightlingsea played a significant part in the early sea war, when it was the base for small experimental magnetic minesweepers and for a mine recovery party. After Dunkirk it became HMS Nemo, a patrol and air sea rescue base, and a Combined Operations boat (and for a time Commando) base. From 1941 it equipped and repaired motor torpedo and motor gun boats and motor launches for the Navy's Coastal Forces; and between 1942 and 1944 the Creek and Point Clear were a large landing craft training base. The shipyards also built many small craft for the Navy and RAF and thousands of pontoons for Army. 6 B'sea- based warships were sunk by enemy action in 1940 and 1941. Local war heroes included the Merchant Navy officer Leslie Frost and the fighter pilot Roy Whitehead, who both lost their lives. (National Archive Admiralty, RAF and Ministry of Defence files in ADM 1 and 199, AIR 27, 28 and DEFE 1 series; research—including veterans' interviews by J P Foynes, used in "Battle of the East Coast 1939-1945"—published 1994; and "Under the White Ensign"-1993).

'The Battles of Brightlingsea'[edit]

In 1984 Brightlingsea Wharf was used to import coal during the Miners' Strike, and up to a dozen ships could be seen out in the river waiting to unload at Wivenhoe. Kent miners came to picket and some were detained by Essex Police.

Brightlingsea port came to national prominence again in the 1990s with an attempt to use the port again for a controversial cargo. Dubbed the "Battle of Brightlingsea" it comprised a series of protests against the live export of animals from the town for slaughter in mainland Europe. Many people believed that the conditions in which the animals were exported were cruel and inhumane. The protest began on 16 January 1995 and ended on 25 October 1995. During this nine-month period, over 150 convoys passed through the town and 250,000 animals were exported; of these, 24 died, 28 were destroyed by the M.A.F.F., and 38 could not be exported. 598 people were arrested by the police, of whom 421 were local residents. The campaigners eventually won and the live exports ceased.[11][12][13] Over 1,000 complaints were made against the police and the estimated cost of policing the protest was over £4,000,000.


All Saints' Church[edit]

All Saints' Church

The ancient parish church of Brightlingsea stands on a hill at the northern edge of the town. The earliest surviving parts of the building, the chancel, the north and south chapels, and the eastern end of the nave and aisles, date from the 13th century. Further additions were made in the 15th century including the four-storey tower, which was completed around 1490. The church contains a number of monuments dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Most notable is a band of 211 square memorial tiles dating from 1872 to 1973; each tile records a Brightlingsea person who has died at sea. A marine chart dated 1590 gives Brightlingsea Church as a navigation mark; Canon Arthur Pertwee, who was the vicar from 1872 to 1917, even in his old age climbed the tower to give a guiding light to the fishing fleet entering the harbour. The church is used as a meeting place to elect the Deputy of Brightlingsea, the officer responsible to the Mayor of the Cinque Port of Sandwich. All Saints is a Grade I listed building.[14]

Bateman's Tower[edit]

Bateman's Tower

Bateman's tower was built in 1883 by John Bateman which he used as a folly for his daughter to recuperate from consumption; however it may have been intended as a lighthouse as part of a failed plan to expand the port.[15] The tower is sited on Westmarsh point at the entrance to Brightlingsea Creek on the River Colne, and is often mistaken for a Martello Tower. During The Second World War the original roof of the folly was removed so that the tower could be used as an observation post by the Royal Observer Corps. In 2005, a restoration project funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund took place to restore the tower to its original condition, including the fitting of a replica of the original roof, refurbishing the interior of the tower and also painting the outside. The tower is now used by the Colne Yacht Club to administer races. During race days, the public can visit the tower, whose new roof makes it a popular gallery from which to watch races.[16] Bateman's Tower is leaning slightly; it is said that its foundations were laid on bundles of faggots.[17] It is a Grade II listed building.

Jacobe's Hall Halfway along High Street, this double-fronted half-timbered house is the oldest in the town (probably 15th century) and one of the oldest in East Essex. A striking feature is a small brick tower with a ponted roof, tucked into one corner. The house was at various times a teashop and shop, but is today a private residence. It is a listed building. Opposite is House's Newsagents, whose late owner, Brian House, was a generous and kindly local celebrity, and who has now been commemorated with a street name.

Brightlingsea Open Air Swimming Pool[edit]

Brightlingsea open air swimming pool was built in 1933 and is one of the few remaining lidos (open air swimming pools built mainly in the art-deco period) still in use in the UK. Brightlingsea Lido was originally a salt water pool, but is now a two-level, non-heated freshwater facility. The pool had recently been threatened with closure, but local opposition and the pool's status as listed lido helped save it. The pool comprises a 15m children's pool and a 50m main swimming pool, with a 2.0m diving pit located in the deep end. The facility is always popular and regularly used by residents and visitors to the town.


Beach at end of Western Promenade with Bateman's Tower in distance

The Wivenhoe and Brightlingsea railway opened in 1866 and was a branch line that operated rail services from the nearby town of Wivenhoe into the town centre of Brightlingsea.

The service unfortunately fell victim to the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, and was eventually axed in 1964 supposedly prompted by the high maintenance costs of the swing bridge over Alresford Creek, which was necessary to allow boat traffic to the many sand and gravel pits in the area.

Brightlingsea railway station was located on the southern side of Lower Park Road where the town's community centre now sits. It stayed in place for four years after the railway's closure until it was destroyed by fire in 1968.

The visible relics of the railway's presence today are the Railway public house and micro-brewery, and the old embankment which is now a footpath. It is possible to walk along virtually the whole length of the former route from very near the site of the old station in Brightlingsea along the old embankment to the site of the former swing bridge. This makes for a pleasant, scenic walk alongside the River Colne with its ecologically interesting salt marsh environment.

The closest railway station with parking facilities is now Great Bentley. The station at Alresford is closer but lacks parking.

Being almost totally surrounded by the Colne Estuary, Brightlingsea Creek & salt marsh, Brightlingsea's road links are unusually limited for a town of its size, with only one road linking the town with the outside. During the North Sea Flood of 1953 Brightlingsea was cut off from the outside, though the town itself was not as severely affected as some neighbouring communities.


From To Via Operator Notes
62 Brightlingsea Wivenhoe, North Station Thorrington, Alresford, Wivenhoe, Colchester Town First Essex Monday to Saturday every 30 minutes. Timetable: [1]
87 Brightlingsea Colchester ASDA Alresford
Colchester Town Centre
Hedingham Mon-Sat (every 30 minutes) Sun & evenings (every 60/120 minutes).
Timetable [2]
87C Weeley Brightlingsea, Colne School Elmstead Market, Wivenhoe Hedingham One return journey – school days only

Brightlingsea to Alresford[edit]

One of the reserve schemes of Sustrans's Connect2 scheme is a new swing bridge over Alresford Creek. This is to give an alternative crossing over the waters around Brightlingsea.[18]


Brightlingsea is home to the Colne Community School, a secondary school which serves an extended catchment area which includes Wivenhoe, Alresford, Great Bentley, Thorrington as well as Brightlingsea itself. Ex-principal Terry Creissen, who now resides in Qatar with his family, was honoured (whilst still in the position of headmaster at the Colne) with an OBE. The next Principal of the Colne Community School, Nardeep Sharma, was also awarded with an OBE in 2016.


The town has an active recreational boating scene. Brightlingsea Sailing Club runs an active competitive sailing programme, and has produced many champions at international and Olympic level. The club is one of the oldest, largest dinghy and certainly friendliest sailing clubs in the East of England. The Club is situated on the north east coast of Essex where the Colne Estuary meets the North Sea and offers sailing in sheltered waters at all times of the tide for, dinghies, catamarans, and windsurfers and caters for novices to national champions. An active Sailing School provides training.

Colne Yacht Club is one of the oldest established clubs on the East Coast, with its origins stretching back to the 1870s. The Clubhouse overlooks the harbour and estuary with access to the water at all states of tide via the Club's jetty. Ideally located for local or distance sailing, Colne Yacht Club was the first UK club to offer sail training in the use of keelboats to its members. The club has an active cruiser racing fleet, cruising programme and social events throughout the year in addition to hosting community events and private functions including weddings. Brightlingsea is also a popular destination for visiting yacht clubs and the CYC clubhouse provides shower facilities 24/7 in partnership with Brightlingsea Harbour Commissioners.

Brightlingsea Waterside Yacht Club is a co-operative venture between the University of Essex it's sports centre and Brightlingsea sailors. There is also a waterski and wakeboard club that operates on Brightlingsea creek.

Brightlingsea Regent Football Club plays its matches at North Road in the Isthmian League.

Brightlingsea Cricket Club plays home matches at the Recreation Ground, and competes in the Two Counties Championship during the summer months. The Rugby Club plays its matches at Strangers Corner.

Brightlingsea One Design[edit]

The Brightlingsea One Design is a class of wooden dinghy designed in 1927 by Robbie Stone of Stone's shipyard (now the waterside marina). The boats are of clinker construction, originally planked in elm and later boats in mahogany. The boats numbered 5x boats are constructed in GRP.[citation needed]

Notable residents[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Key Figures for 2011 Census: Brightlingsea". Office for National Statistics (Neighbourhood Statistics). Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  2. ^ The Battle of Brightlingsea
  3. ^ Seax Archeology – Brightlingsea Ringditch
  4. ^ Seax Archeology – Brightlingsea Search Results
  5. ^ Open Domesday: Brightlingsea
  6. ^ Tendring District Council: Brightlingsea Conservation Area
  7. ^ The Cinque Port Liberty: History – The Cinque Ports
  8. ^ The Cinque Port Liberty: History – Brightlingsea and the Cinque Ports
  9. ^ The Cinque Port Liberty: The Freemen – Choosing Day
  10. ^ Simpson, Alfred William Brian (1994). Cannibalism and the common law : a Victorian yachting tragedy. Hambledon Press. ISBN 1-85285-200-3.
  11. ^ Brown, Paul (31 October 1995). "Livestock exports suspended". The Guardian. London. p. 7.
  12. ^ "Animals trade halted". The Independent. London. 31 October 1995. p. 2.
  13. ^ "Livestock dealer suspends exports". The Times. London. 31 October 1995. p. 1.
  14. ^ British Listed Buildings: Church of All Saints, Brightlingsea
  15. ^ British Listed Buildings – Bateman's Tower, Brightlingsea
  16. ^ Colne Yacht Club – Bateman's Tower Archived 1 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Thames Sailing Barge Trust – 11G Bateman's Tower Archived 16 April 2013 at
  18. ^ "Connect2 Schemes Brightlingsea to Alresford". Archived from the original on 19 October 2007. Retrieved 19 October 2009.
  19. ^ "Archived Document". Archived from the original on 27 August 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
Brightlingsea One Design
  • Nancy Mathams. (1991). Sixty Years on: With the Brightlingsea One Design. ISBN 0-9512297-0-2.
  • Lance Edwards. (2008). Brightlingsea One Design. Brightlingsea One Design Association. Retrieved
  • Wayne Lockwood.(2006). Local DJ & budding Entrepreneur. Loves protecting animals and running for Mayor, to name a few.


External links[edit]