Excellent Essex

Visiting what little is left of Georgian Colchester encouraged me to read Gillian Darley’s book Excellent Essex, which is an attempt to describe the character of the county in all its unexpected diversity, from Epping Forest to Jaywick Sands, through wide-ranging and well-informed thematic chapters, beginning, as it happens, in Roman Colchester and including information about the race of the stage coaches between London and Colchester and its annual oyster feasts. How much of its character is due to its geography – flat marshland, north of the Thames with many small inlets and islands and 350 miles, apparently, of coastline ? And how much to its history – Roman, yeoman, settled after the war by old east enders, always belligerently independent minded, and, latterly, both libertarian and Thatcherite ? Darley, writing with a view across the fields at Ongar, is a deeply knowledgeable guide.

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