Essex is a county in the East of England. The county town is Chelmsford, and the highest point of the county is Chrishall Common near the village of Langley, close to the Hertfordshire border, which reaches .
The area under the control of the county council, or shire county, is divided into a number of local government districts. They are Harlow, Epping Forest, Brentwood, Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Chelmsford, Uttlesford, Braintree, Colchester, and Tendring. Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea are unitary authorities which form part of the county for various functions such as Lord Lieutenant but do not come under county council control. Essex Police also covers the two unitary authorities.
The ceremonial county, the area including the unitary authorities, has boundaries to the east with the coastline of the North Sea; to the south with the northern bank, or estuary, of the River Thames and Kent; to the south west with Greater London; to the west with Hertfordshire across the River Lee and the Stort; to the north west with Cambridgeshire; and to the north with Suffolk, mostly marked by the River Stour.
The name Essex derives from the East Seaxe or East Saxons. The Kingdom of Essex was traditionally founded by Aescwine in 527 AD, occupying territory to the north of the River Thames, incorporating much of what would later become Middlesex and Hertfordshire, though its territory was later restricted to lands east of the River Lee. It is through this origin as one of the 'Saxon' kingdoms that Essex is specifically not part of the region known as East Anglia (the latter comprising Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire), settled by tribes calling themselves 'Anglian'. Colchester in the north east of the county is Britain's oldest recorded town, dating back to before the Roman conquest, when it was known as Camulodunon, and was sufficiently well-developed to have its own mint.
Essex County Council was formed in 1889. However, the County Borough of West Ham, and from 1915 the County Borough of East Ham, formed part of the county but were not under county council control. Southend-on-Sea also formed a county borough from 1914 to 1974. The boundary with Greater London was established in 1965 when the former area of the East Ham and West Ham county boroughs and of the Barking, Chingford, Dagenham, Hornchurch, Ilford, Leyton, Romford, Walthamstow and Wanstead and Woodford districts were transferred to form the London boroughs of Barking, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, and Waltham Forest; an area similar to that known as Metropolitan Essex.
Essex became part of the East of England Government Office Region in 1994 and was statistically counted as part of that region from 1999, having previously been part of the South East England region. In 1998 the districts of Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock separated from the shire county of Essex becoming unitary districts.
The pattern of settlement in the county is diverse. The London Green Belt has effectively prevented the further sprawl of London into the county, although it contains the new towns of Basildon and Harlow, originally developed to resettle Londoners following the destruction of London housing in World War II but since much expanded. Epping Forest also acts as a protected barrier to the further spread of London. Much of the Epping Forest district, consisting of the residential towns of Chigwell, Waltham Abbey, Loughton and Buckhurst Hill is more developed and being within the M25 motorway, as with Thurrock in the south of the county, has a closer proximity and perceived association with the Greater London Urban Area although still remain distinctly Essex.
Because of its proximity to London and the economic magnetism which that city exerts, many of Essex's settlements, particularly those on or within driving distance of railway stations, function as dormitory towns or villages where London workers raise their families. Essex is known for being the origin of the political term Essex man, and of the Essex girl joke.
Part of the south east of the county, already containing the major population centres of Southend and Thurrock, is within the Thames Gateway and designated for further development. To the north of the Green Belt, with the exception of major towns such as Colchester and Chelmsford, the county is rural, with many small towns, villages and hamlets largely built in the traditional materials of timber and brick, with clay tile or thatched roofs.
The main airport in Essex is London Stansted Airport, serving destinations in Europe and North America; Southend Airport, once one of Britain's busiest airports, is undergoing redevelopment, but still has limited passenger flights to destinations such as the Channel Islands. There are several smaller airfields, some of which owe their origins to air force bases built during World War I or World War II. These are popular for pleasure flights; examples include Clacton Airfield and Stapleford Aerodrome.
The Port of Tilbury is one of Britain's three major ports, while the port of Harwich links the county to the Hook of Holland and Esbjerg. A service to Cuxhaven closed in December 2005. Plans have been put forward to build the UK's largest container terminal at Shell Haven in Thurrock and although opposed by the local authority and environmental and wildlife organisations now seem increasingly likely to be developed.
Despite the road crossing to Dartford in Kent across the River Thames, a pedestrian ferry to Gravesend, Kent still operates from Tilbury during limited hours, and there are foot ferries operating across some of the county's rivers and estuaries during the summer months.
The main rail routes include two lines from the City of London to Southend-on-Sea, operated by c2c from Fenchurch Street (including a route via Tilbury) and National Express East Anglia from Liverpool Street, the Great Eastern Main Line from Liverpool Street connecting Harwich and onwards into Suffolk and Norfolk, and the West Anglia Main Line from Liverpool Street linking to Stansted and onwards into Cambridgeshire. The Epping Forest district is served by the London Underground Central Line. The routes operated by National Express East Anglia (formerly known as 'one') and c2c, are both owned by National Express.
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Industry is largely limited to the south of the county, with the majority of the land elsewhere being given over to agriculture. Harlow is a centre for electronics, science and pharmaceutical companies, while Chelmsford is the home of Marconi (now called telent plc and owned by Ericsson of Sweden since 2005), and Brentwood home to the Ford Motor Company's European HQ. Loughton is home to the production facility for British and foreign banknotes. Chelmsford has been an important location for electronics companies since the industry was born, and is also the location for a number of insurance and financial services organisations, and is the home of the soft drinks producer Britvic. Other businesses in the county are dominated by light engineering and the service sector. Colchester is a garrison town, and the local economy is helped by the army's personnel living there.
The political composition of the county council is as follows.
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The traditional county flower of Essex is the Cowslip, locally known as the paigle or peggle, and frequently mentioned in the writings of Essex bucolic authors such as Samuel Bensusan and C. H. Warren. As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose the Common Poppy as the county flower. .
Samuel Bensusan and others have suggested that if Essex had a county bird, it would be the Lapwing (known locally as the peewit) whose lonely cry characterises the Essex marshes known as saltings.
Most English counties have nicknames for people from that county, such as a Tyke from Yorkshire and a Yellowbelly from Lincolnshire; the traditional nickname for a person from Essex is an Essex Calf, so named because the county was famous for rearing beef cattle for sale in London meat markets; calves from the county were famed for their large size and known as 'Essex lions'