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Essex Area Guide

Epping Forest, Essex Image courtesy of Flickr user martin_vmorris

Essex has grown in notoriety thanks to a certain television show, but there is much more to the county than fake tans and hair gel. Many people moved from London to Essex following the second world war, as newfound prosperity made buying property achievable and the Blitz created a housing shortage in London. Near London, the county is part of the Metropolitan Green Belt, so its natural beauty is protected from urban sprawl. The towns and villages there attract London commuters, as they have plenty of green spaces with excellent transport links to the capital. Going northeast away from London, Essex becomes rural with small villages. Generally, the affluence of the county follows the same pattern: most of the wealth is in the southwest near London, and it becomes more deprived towards the northeast.

The districts are Harlow, Epping Forest, Brentwood, Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Chelmsford, Uttlesford, Braintree, Colchester and Tendring, and there are two unitary authorities, Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea. Harlow has recently had some significant redevelopment, resulting in new shops and shopping districts being constructed. Epping Forest is considered part of Greater London, as it has Underground stations at Buckhurst Hill, Epping Station and Chigwell. The Borough of Brentwood has large areas of woodland, including the 700-year-old Weald Country Park. Basildon District is centred on the town of the same name, and because it is popular with commuters to London, it is one of the most densely populated areas in Essex.

As part of the Thames Gateway, Castle Point is benefiting from several investments in development, especially on the Canvey seafront. Rochford has lots of waterways and coastline, and it includes the towns of Rochford and Rayleigh. Maldon, named for the town it surrounds, is quite rural and green. Essex's county town, the City of Chelmsford was granted city status in June of 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

Uttlesford is best known as the home of Stansted Airport, the district's largest employer. Braintree is quite a rural area, and in contrast Colchester has the second largest population amongst non-London boroughs. Tendring includes Clacton-on-Sea, a popular retirement town, and Jaywick, which has one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

Demographics

Not including the unitary authorities of Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea, Essex has a population of almost 1.4 million people. About 60% of the population is of working age, lower than the 62% nationally. The population of Essex is aging, too. In Essex, the proportion of the population aged 15 and under and that aged 65 and over is almost equal, 18.6% and 18.3%, respectively. In England, however, 16.3% of the population is aged 65 and over and 18.9% is aged 15 and under. The aging populations are more concentrated in Tendring, where 20% of the population is aged 65 and over, and in Castle Point, where 25% of the population is that age.

Despite the aging population, the unemployment rates are similar in Essex and England as a whole. In Essex, 3.8% of the population is made up of economically active unemployed people, and 1.5% of the population has been unemployed for a long time. In England, more people - 4.4% - are economically inactive unemployed, and 1.7% of people have been in long-term unemployment.

Essex is not particularly ethnically diverse, with only 5.6% of the population identifying themselves as being from mixed, Black or Minority Ethnic (BME) groups. This is much lower than the national proportion of 14.5%.

Education

Both the rural and the more populated parts of Essex have a good mix of primary schools rated 'good' or better by Ofsted. Outstanding primary schools include Elm Hall Primary School in Witham, Perryfields Junior School in Chelmsford and St Thomas More's Catholic Primary School, Colchester, which has recently converted to academy status.

The outstanding secondary schools in Essex include academies like Harlow's Burnt Mill Comprehensive School and The Honywood Community Science School near Colchester, as well as state-run schools like Newbridge School in Romford and The FitzWimarc School in Rayleigh.

Further education institutions include the University of Essex as well as campuses of the Anglia Ruskin University and University Campus Suffolk, a collaboration between the University of Essex and the University of East Anglia.

Transport

The M25 and the M11 send commuters from Essex directly into the centre of London, as well as Kent, Hertfordshire and Cambridge. The  A127 and A13 are radial routes between London and the M25 in Essex, and the  A12 crosses the county from the northeast to the southwest.

Three train services connect Southend-on-Sea with London, two of which go to Fenchurch Street and on which goes to Liverpool Street. The Great Eastern Main Line runs from Liverpool Street into Suffolk and Norfolk via Harwich, and the West Anglia Main Line also goes from and terminates at Liverpool Street, though it goes to Harlow, London Stansted and on to Cambridgeshire. Regional lines include the Sunshine Coast Line, which connects Colchester with Clacton-on-Sea and many villages along the way. The Crouch Valley Line branches off of the Shenfield to Southend (Victoria) Line at Wickford, then continues to Southminster.

Essex does have two major airports, London Stansted and London Southend Airport. Often called London's third airport, Stansted offers flights from many budget airlines. Most notably, Ryanair flies to more than 100 destinations from Stansted. Southend also offers services from budget airlines to several European destinations. The Port of Tilbury is the main port for London, making it one of the three main ports in the country. The Port of Harwich has services between the town and both the Hook of Holland and Esbjerg in Denmark.

Amenities and Shopping

As alluded to above, there is much more to Essex's amenities and shopping than the Sugar Hut and Minnie's boutique.

Museums and galleries

In addition to local museums and galleries exhibiting artefacts relating to the history of the area, Essex has several museums dedicated to other subjects. The Chelmsford Museums is made up of Chelmsford Museum, the Essex Regimental Museum and Sandford Mill, with exhibitions on science, military history, art, archaeology and more. The Barleylands Farm Museum in Basildon has a large collection of early farm machines, tools and tractors. The Colne Valley Postal History Museum in Braintree is dedicated to the history of post.

The Beecroft Art Gallery in Southend-on-Sea has paintings ranging from 17th century Dutch paintings to modern artwork. Castle House in Colchester is dedicated to the life and works of Sir Alfred Munnings. Firstsite in Colchester promotes and exhibits contemporary arts, and the Fry Art Gallery promotes local artists.

Theatres and venues

Most theatres and venues are concentrated in the built up areas of the county. Colchester, for example, is home to the Headgate Theatre, the Colchester Mercury Theatre and the Lakeside Theatre. Clacton-on-Sea has the West Cliff Theatre, and in Chelmsford is the Chelmsford Civic Theatre.

Colchester also has a high concentration of venues. Amongst these are The Bull, with its silent discos and varied gigs, and Twisters Bar, the rock and indie venue. Rural areas have some great venues, too. The High Barn in Great Bardfield is an intimate music venue, once called "the UK's best small music venue" by NME. The Benson Bar in Braintree is a restaurant and venue in a 16th century, Grade II listed building.

Sport

The county as a whole is represented by Essex County Cricket Club, which plays most of its games in Chelmsford and Colchester. Brentwood is home to the Essex Leopards, an English Basketball League Division 1 team.

Colchester and Chelmsford host many sports teams. Colchester United plays League One football, and Chelmsford City Football Club play in the Conference South League. Chelmsford is also represented by the Chelmsford Hockey Club, the Chelmsford Chieftains ice hockey team, rugby union's Chelmsford R.F.C. and the Chelmsford Water polo club. Colchester, meanwhile, is home to the Colchester & East Essex Cricket Club, the Colchester Rugby Football Club and the Colchester Gladiators American Football Club.

Shopping

Essex has quite a few shopping centres. Lakeside Shopping Centre, with its more than 250 shops, boutiques and department stores, is in the unitary authority of Thurrock. The Meadows Shopping Centre in Chelmsford has about 50 high street shops. Extensive savings can be found in Clacton-on-Sea at the Clacton Factory Outlet and just outside of Braintree at the Freeport Braintree Outlet Shopping Village.

Just about every village has a local, seasonal farmers' market, and there are many market towns and independent shops throughout the county in both rural and more populated areas.

Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure the above information is up to date, some inaccuracies may occur. If you notice any inaccuracies please contact editor@primelocation.com

All information was correct at time of publication and is provided in good faith.