When I was born Romford was still part of the county of Essex. It became part of Greater London a few years later. However I can still call myself an Essex boy with pride, if pride be the right word to associate with what is a rather pejorative term in the eyes of many - An ill educated wide boy in ostentatious clothing undertaking a range of semi legal activities - the hell with the snobs I say.
A fair few inhabitants do live up to the stereotype and parts of the County are not exactly scenic, the “Thames Corridor” from Thurrock to Southend on Sea (aka Saarfend on Sludge) being a case in point, but I think Essex is much maligned .
Those who run Essex down will not get to see some of the county’s gems and that is their loss. If you are interested in history then Essex has a lot to offer. Of particular interest to me are three of the most unusual churches in England:
St Peter’s Chapel, Bradwell on Sea
Snuggling under the shadow of a decommissioned nuclear power station St Peter’s is the oldest church in England having been built by St Cedd on the ruins of the Roman fort of Othona in 654CE. It fell into disuse as a place of worship in the 14th century and was used as a barn until its reconsecration as a chapel in 1920. It may not be a particularly grand building but there is no other completely Saxon building left in England
St Andrews, Greensted
Greensted church is a strange mix of architectural styles with a 17th century tower, and a Tudor chancel. However, the most striking feature is the wooden nave. The church is an example of a Saxon palisade church and it is the oldest wooden church in the world, and the oldest wooden building still standing in Europe.
St Michael and all the Angels, Copford
From the outside the church does not look particularly special but inside its walls portray some of the few frescoes to survive the iconoclasm of the English Reformation.
Painted over with a lime wash in the 1540s the frescoes were uncovered again in the 1870s. Sadly the Rector at the time had many of the frescoes over-painted to give them a Pre Raphaelite style and his use of the wrong type of plaster has effectively destroyed much of the original artwork. That said there are some original works including one depicting New Testament story of Jesus the daughter of Jairus. While they are of course rather faded they are impressive.
Other people may prefer the awesome splendour of the mediaeval cathedral but these churches are well worth visiting whether you are religious or (like me) an atheist.