The ancient maritime town of Harwich stands on a broad headland along the east coast, between the Blackwater Estuary and the River Stour in Essex. The surrounding coastline here is deeply contoured with creeks, islands and mud flats.
Harwich beach © Hamish Griffin
The town's historic port boasts a very long seafaring heritage. It become an important naval base during the 14th/15th century. When many famous seafarers disembarked from here, including Hawkins, Frobisher and Sir Francis Drake. It is believed that the internationally famous Mayflower was built in Harwich around 1590. It set sail from the port of Rotherhithe in 1620, carrying 102 pilgrims across the Atlantic to America. Later during the 17th-c, the port became the naval headquarters of Charles II. This and other important local history is detailed in the Maritime Museum, housed in the harbour's iconic Low Lighthouse.
Harwich is still an important port to this day, where busy ferries carry cars and passengers to the Hook of Holland and other European destinations.
Harwich Tower (by Maximilian Barth)
The settlement was a walled town during medieval times. Much of the current street plan dates back to this era, with its narrow streets and passageways. The oldest house can be found on Tower Hill, dating back to 1450, which was formally an inn. The Guildhall, in Church Street, was rebuilt in 1769 and contains the original Council Chamber, Mayor's Parlour and other municipal rooms. The Electric Palace Cinema, on King's Quay Street, is an early Georgian picture house (circa 1911). One of the oldest purpose-built working cinemas in England, still providing regular film showings and live music.
The Grade II listed timber-framed house at 21 King's Head Street (near the docks), was once the home of Captain Christopher Jones, master of the Mayflower. Harwich forms part of the "Mayflower 400" trail, which follows the route of the Pilgrim Fathers, through the villages and towns of England on their escape to America. For further details visit the Mayflower 400 website.
This sizeable grey fort, located at the northernmost tip of the headland, was built to protected the harbour during the Napoleonic period (circa 1808). It once formed part of a Martello Tower chain of defences, extending from Aldeburgh to Seaford. The large, circular, squat defence was designed to house eleven 24-pounder naval guns, but fortunately, these massive cannon were never fired in anger. The site is now run by the Harwich Society and open to the public.
Opening times: every
Sun from 10am to 4pm and daily during May to September
Location: Behind 29 Main Road, Harwich, Essex, CO12 3LT
Tel: 01255 502872
Once a popular departure point for paddle steamers (circa 1853). The pier, now considerably shorter that is original form, is a popular promenade for visitors. The Visitor Centre, run by the Harwich Society, contains an exhibition on local history.
Location: The Quay, Harwich, Essex,
Tel: 01255 502872
Various exhibits cover the history of the lifeboat service in this area. On display is one of the last historic off-shore Oakley class lifeboats.
Opening times: May
to August: Wed to Sun: 11am to 3pm
- Small Admission
Location: Angelgate, Harwich CO12 3EJ
The old whitewashed lighthouse contains various specialist displays, relating to the naval history of the port, commercial shipping and other nautical memorabilia .
Also on the Green is a fascinating wooden treadwheel crane (circa 1667). It once once stood in the naval shipyards and was in operation up until 1920. It is the only remaining example of its kind left in Britain. It was operated by men walking inside the two 16ft diameter treadwheels.
Opening times: weekend
afternoons during the summer
Location: Harbour Crescent, Harwich CO12 3NL
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