A busy shopping and commercial centre on the River Blackwater in Essex.
Braintree Town Hall © Jim Osley
Braintree started out as a small settlement at the junction of several ancient highways, including the old Roman Road from St Albans to Colchester (A120). It developed as a textile manufacturing area during the Middle Ages and became a major centre for the woollen industry in the 14th-c, mainly due to the settlement of Flemish weavers.
At the beginning of the 19th century the Courtauld family introduced silk weaving, which further increased the town's wealth. Window manufacture was later established by Francis Crittal in 1884, which has since developed into an important international enterprise. The town expanded greatly over the decades and has now merged with its close neighbour Bocking.
Leahurst Nurses Home © Jim Osley
The old town area boasts centuries-old houses in virtually every street, once occupied by workers in the textile industry. One of the most attractive old buildings is the timber-studded Swan Hotel on Bank Street. Other buildings of interest include the 18th-c Horns Hotel, Georgian Constitutional Club, 19th-c Corn Exchange and 16th-c Manor House.
The Leahurst building, a former nurses home, was gifted to the town by the Huguenot, William Julien Courtauld. It was completed in 1939 to a design by Vincent Harris.
The Town Hall (1928) is another legacy of the Courtauld family. Also designed by Vincent Harris, it has a finely panelled interior and several murals of social history by Maurice Greiffenhagen. The outdoor market, which is still held in the square outside the hall, was first chartered in 1199 by King John.
The 13th-c church of St Michael stands in the middle of the town, with a fine 13th-c tower and shingled broach spire. The remainder of the building is mainly 19th-c, although it includes some older Roman brickwork.
Several of the original Pilgrim Fathers came from the Braintree area including John Bridge and John Carver; who was involved in the planning of the voyage. A stained glass window in the church at Bocking commemorates the pilgrimage. Later sailings include the 1632 voyage of the ship Lyon from England to America. A famous oil painting of this journey, by Maurice Greiffenhagen, can be seen in the Braintree museum.
The history of the town is told in the Braintree District Museum on Manor Street. Housed in a converted Victorian school, the museum has both permanent and regular changing exhibitions. Displays cover industrial, cultural and artistic, including the John Ray natural history gallery. A key part of the museum is the Warner Textile Archive, located on Silks Way; one of largest collections of publicly owned textiles in the UK. The museum is open all year round (Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10am till 4pm). The Warner Textile Archive is open for prebooked group visits and heritage open days only.
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