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Braintree, Essex

Braintree is a town of about 30,000 people in the county of Essex, in the south east of England. It is located at the junction of two Roman roads: one coming from the county town of Chelmsford, about ten miles or so to the south-west, and the other (known as Stane Street[?]) running westwards to Great Dunmow[?], and eastwards to Colchester. Stane Street was a main road (the A120) until the bypass system was built in the late 20th century.

In fact, there are two contiguous towns here: Braintree proper lies to the south of the Roman road, and Bocking lies to the north. The two together can be referred to as "Braintree and Bocking", although most people just lump them together as "Braintree".

Table of contents

Physical geography

Braintree lies about 50 metres above sea level[1] (http://www.daysoff.co.uk/essex/braintree/braintree-history). 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 (three kilometres) 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.

History

The origin of the name Braintree is obscure. It is believed by some scholars that the name of the River Brain came later, and so was named after the town, rather than the other way round. One theory is that Braintree was originally Branoc's tree, Branoc apparently being an old personal name. Another theory is that the name is derived from that of Rayne, which was actually a more important settlement in Norman times. Braintree was called Branchetreu in the Domesday Book.

The wool industry was important to the town for centuries, but silk manufacture became the dominant industry in the 19th century, thanks to George Courtauld's silk mill, which he opened in 1809.

Neighbouring villages

Villages in the Braintree area include Black Notley[?], White Notley[?], Great Notley Garden Village[?] (a very recent construction), Cressing[?], Felsted[?], and (of course) Rayne.

Notable people from the area

  • The naturalist John Ray (1627 - 1705), born in nearby Black Notley[?], is perhaps the most talked about local person, among historians.
  • The Courtauld family[?] were 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.
  • The Prodigy, a famous dance music group, are probably Braintree's best known export in recent years. The band's leader Liam Howlett was 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"[2] (http://www.prodigycenter.com/?iviews8). 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 to the west.

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