When they think of Essex, far too many people automatically think the tired stereotypes: the loud drunken woman with bleached blonde hair and white stilettos; the ill-educated and violent lout in ostentatious clothing. Not everyone is like that (although like any other stereotype it is hard to shake off) and Essex is, of course, a county of many firsts.
One of these firsts (one that makes my chest with a dubious pride as an Essex-boy, born and bred) was the discovery in 2001 of the remains of a medieval woman that showed signs of syphilis.
The origin of the disease in Europe is has been debated for centuries but it had been thought that the disease was introduced after the Columban voyages to the Americas in the late 15th Century. The bones, which were unearthed in the churchyard of St Mary & All Saints, Rivenhall were dated to between between 1296 and 1445.
Dr Simon Mays, who led the archaeological team, said: "This is very important discovery.This puts the theory that syphilis was not brought to Europe by Columbus on a much firmer footing." Documentary evidence had suggested that epidemics, which raged through Europe in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, could be connected with the return of Columbus from America.
The bones belonged to a woman aged somewhere between 25 and 50 years old. The roughness of the bones and the pitted surface indicate she had syphilis. Archaeologists from English Heritage believe this was the venereal form of the disease, caught through sexual intercourse.
So there you have an Essex first to be proud of. We will never know her identity but she paved the way for many other English pox sufferers in the centuries that followed.....
Seriously, Essex does not deserve its low grade image. Romford (which has been part of Greater London since the 60s) may not be that attractive but it's no different to suburbia elsewhere. The dormitory towns may lack some spirit but is there a dormitory town elsewhere that does? As for the behaviour of the inhabitants is it any different to that of anywhere else? Of course not
Essex may not have the rugged scenery of the Lake District but it does have its own beauty and its fair share of remarkable places and fine people. See here, here, here, here and here for parts 1-5