History of Harwich

view of street
Church Street, Harwich, c.1851.
Image from 'A Season at Harwich, with excursions by land and water' courtesy of the British Libary on Flickr NKCR

History of Harwich >> White's Directory 1848

White's Directory of Essex 1848 - part 1

Part 1. Part 2 >>.

Harwich is an ancient borough, market town, seaport and bathing-place, locally situated at the north east extremity of Tendring Hundred, on the narrowest point of land which juts into the ocean, on the south side of the confluence of the estuaries of the rivers Stour and Orwell, 19 miles East North East of Colchester, 11 miles East of Manningtree, 12 miles South East of Ipswich, and 72 miles North East by East from London.

It is in the two parishes of St. Nicholas and Dover Court; the former comprising the town, at the extremity of the point of land, and having 3,016 inhabitants, but only ninety acres of land; and the latter extending west and south along the south shore of the estuary of the Stour and the sea beach, and having 813 inhabitants, and 1,970 acres; making the total extent of the borough 2,060 acres, and its population 3,829 souls, in 1841.

Harwich is said to have risen into importance on the decay of a town named Orwell, which stood 5 miles east of the present shore, where there is now a shoal called West Rocks, on which ruins of buildings are still visible at low water.

The harbour is extensive, forming a bay on the south side of the Stour and the west side of the town; and it is now being deepened and improved with breakwaters etc., by Government, so as to render it a safe harbour of refuge, for vessels of the largest burthen, often driven here in stormy weather.

Many years ago, it is stated that about 100 sail of warships, and from 300 to 400 colliers, have been seen riding out a storm here in safety, at one time.

Landguard Fort, on the Suffolk side of the estuary of the two rivers, was erected in the reign of James I., and completely commands the entrance to the harbours of Harwich and Ipswich. This fort is a very strong fortification, on a small neck of land, so situated as to become an island at high water, nearly a mile from the shore. It was enlarged in the early part of the present century, and is supplied with fresh water brought from Walton, about three miles distant.

It is now mounted with ten 32 pounders, on revolving frames; and on the outworks are 20 guns of various calibres. The battery between the two towers has room for seven 24 pounders, and in the fort are two brass six-pounders and a large store of ammunition, and a garrison consisting of a captain, lieutenant, and 80 men of the royal artillery. Lieut-Col. C.A. West is lieutenant governor of this strong fort, and tradition says that the Stour anciently passed on the north,side of it, and discharged its waters into the sea, about Hollesley bay.

The remains of an old channel are still called fleets, and the ground which the fort stands upon juts out into the sea further south and east than the point on which Harwich stands, thus contracting the the entrance, but making the channel deep, and the harbour more secure in stormy weather.

Church Street, Harwich © Copyright Footstepsphotos 2006. http://www.footstepsphotos.co.uk/index.html
Church Street, Harwich
Low resolution copy courtesy of Footsteps' Shop on Ebay. Quality postcards of Essex.

In order to guard vessels from a sand-bank called the Andrews, which forms a bar across the entrance from the Fort into the rolling-ground, where there is a good anchorage, there were formerly a blazing fire of coals, and 6 candles, weighing 1lb. each, kept burning during the night, in a large room with a glazed front over the principle gate at the south end of the town.

In the time of Charles II., this purpose was more completely effected by two lighthouses, erected under letters patent, and furnished with lamps of a peculiar construction. One of them called the Low Light House, stands near the sea beach, and still retains its original form. It rises to a height of 45 feet, and has three patent lamps. The other, called the High Light House, stands at the south-west entrance to the town, and was rebuilt with grey brick, in 1818, but since then it has been much improved.

It forms a handsome octagonal tower, ninety-five feet in height, crowned by an elegant lantern, lighted by nine patent lamps with brilliantly polished reflectors. In the centre storey, an additional light, of one lamp, was fixed in 1848.

On the summit of the cliff, south of the town, is a Martello Tower, said to be the largest in England, and having walls eight feet thick, faced with granite, and bomb proof. It is of a circular form, and is mounted with ten 24 pounders, on a revolving frame, so as to be pointed in any direction, while the men who work them are preserved from danger by a high parapet. It is now garrisoned by a captain and 80 men of the line, and a sergeant and two men of the artillery.

Near the High Lighthouse is the Royal Ordnance Depot, where guns and ammunition are kept, for the towers and batteries on the coast, of which there are many between Harwich and the estuary of the Colne, and the Blackwater. Beacon Cliff which commands a view of the town, the harbour, and the ocean, had formerly a signal-house and a telegraph.

From it to the town is a pleasant walk, called the Esplanade, a broad causeway formed of cement, or artificial stone, manufactured from materials found in the cliffs, which rise in some places to fifty feet, and are constantly giving way to the inroads of the sea, like those at Walton-on-the-Naze.

The prosperity of Harwich has very much declined since the peace of 1815, but it has latterly begun to rise in importance, both as a port and a bathing-place, and will, in a few years, have a Railway, extending along the south side of the Stour to the Easter Union Line, at Manningtree, for which an act of parliament has been obtained.

Paddle Steamer, Harwich © Copyright Footstepsphotos 2006. http://www.footstepsphotos.co.uk/index.html
Paddle Steamer, Harwich
Low resolution copy courtesy of Footsteps' Shop on Ebay. Quality postcards of Essex.

During the war with France, it was in a very flourishing condition, owing to the influx of strangers who entered and quitted the kingdom at this place; to the convenience of its spacious harbour; to its large Government dockyard etc.; and to the extensive garrison kept up here, and at Landguard Fort. Some of these advantages remained whilst the Government packets to Holland, Germany, and Sweden were stationed here, but after their removal a great diminution of trade took place.

Some advantage is derived from the fact of its being the only harbour between Yarmouth roads and the mouth of the Thames, that is capable of affording refuge, in gales of wind from the eastward, to vessels navigating the eastern coast. As already noticed, Government are now greatly improving it as a harbour of refuge, and it has been proposed to extend and fortify the pier.

In 1833 the number of vessels belonging to port was 96, with a tonnage of 5,513 tons. The gross receipt of customs duty in 1838, was £1,575.18s.5d., and in 1839, £1,630.19s. A considerable amount of traffic is maintained by wherries, with Manningtree and Ipswich.

Shipbuilding and repairing is carried on by John Bagshaw, Esq,. M.P., who rents the Government dockyard, where a patent slip has been erected, and where many 74-gun ships, and smaller vessels, were built for the royal navy during the late war.

In 1778 there were 78 fishing vessels here, averaging 40 tons each, but in 1883 there were only ten. Fine oysters, lobsters, and other fish, are caught here; and sometimes as many as from 200 to 300 boats may been seen dredging for cement stones, in shoals of the ocean opposite the town. These stones sell at from 6s. to 8s. per ton, and great quantities are burnt, and manufactured here into Roman cement.

The market for flesh, fish, poultry, vegetables etc., is held every Tuesday and Friday, and fairs for toys, pedlery, and pleasure are held on May 1st. and Oct.18th.

The Ipswich and London steam packets call here; and the town is much frequented in summer as a bathing-place, and has excellent accommodation for visitors. There are three Bathing Machines on the beach, and a commodious suit of Baths, forming a neat cemented building, standing in a large reservoir of sea water, which is changed ever tide, and a supplied with fresh water every hour, by a contrivance on the principle of a natural syphon. These Baths belong to J. Bagshaw, Esq.; and near them is the Jetty, and rooms of the Royal Harwich Yacht Club, which holds an annual Regatta on the coast, and has for its commodore Sir C.H. Ibbotson.

Here are also News and Billiard Rooms, a Museum, Assembly Rooms, and other places of amusement and recreation.

Part 1. Part 2 >>.

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Harwich - Cary's New and Correct English Atlas, 1798

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Harwich - First Series Ordnance Survey Map 1805

This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth. Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-4.0

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