- This article refers to the town in Essex, England. For the village in Somerset, England see Witham Friary. For the river in Lincolnshire, see River Witham
) is a town
in the county
, in the south east of England
. The population (2001 census
) is 22,500. It is part of the District of Braintree
. Witham is twinned with the town of Waldbröl
. Witham stands between the larger towns of Chelmsford
(7 miles to the south-west) and Colchester
(15 miles to the north-east). The River Brain
runs through the town and joins the River Blackwater
shortly outside it.
Excavations of the Witham Lodge area of the town unveiled remains of a Roman temple as well as of a pottery kiln. This would have been alongside the main Roman road from London
. These were found during the Maltings Lane develepment.
The parish of Witham appears in the Domesday Book of 1086. The manor of Witham was given to the Knights Templar in 1148. To the north of the current town is Cressing Temple which was the earliest foundation of Templar lands in Britain, built over 700 years ago.
The town started life on 'Chipping Hill', where the old forge and the church still exists to this day. As the years went by, the hamlet grew to become 'Witham' and St Nicolas Church of England Church (a unique spelling) serves a congregation of around 150 people each Sunday.
Witham briefly enjoyed a period as an affluent spa town after the discovery of a mineral-bearing spa in the town by Dr Taverner in the 18th century. Witham was also a centre of the wool trade until the decline of the industry in the late 17th century.
1st September 1905
Witham railway station
was the scene of a serious accident on Saturday 1st September 1905. The 09:27 London Liverpool Street
14 carriage express derailed whilst travelling at speed through the station. 10 passengers and a Luggage Porter were killed when several of the carriages somersaulted onto the platforms causing considerable damage to the rolling stock and the station. More than 50 passengers where seriously injured. This remains to this day the worst single loss of life in a railway accident in Essex. A recent opportunity to commemorate the centenary was missed and the incident is now largely forgotten. Ben Sainty, a signalman, who averted the next train hitting the wreckage has a road named after him in the town, Ben Sainty Court.
The town expanded greatly in the late 1960s and 1970s when the Greater London Council
built 3 large council estates on the west and north sides of the town and a smaller one to the South for families from London to move to as part of the 'New Town' and 'Expanded Town' overspill policy of that time.
Starting in the 1980s but accelerating in the 1990s and 2000s a large number of houses were built in several estates to the south and southwest of the town infilling the farmland that used to exist between the town and the A12 bypass. The most recent of which is the Malting's lane development, which when completed will exceed 1200 homes, a school, business park and community shopping area.
A one time famous resident of the town is the author Dorothy L. Sayers whose statue stands opposite the town's library. The library stands on the site of the old Whitehall cinema, which closed in the late 1970s.
The town is served by Witham railway station
, situated on the London Liverpool Street to Ipswich main line
. Trains take approx 40mins to reach Liverpool Street. The station is also the junction with the Braintree branch line
and Braintree Freeport
. Another branch line, now dismantled, went from Witham to Maldon
Witham is situated on the A12 trunk road between Chelmsford and Colchester. Originally the A12 ran in a straight line through the middle of the town; however for some decades there has been a by-pass completely avoiding the town.
Because of these excellent transport links, the town has a large number of residents who commute to work in London. This is evidenced by Witham railway station's appearance within the 150 busiest railway stations in Great Britain, which would not be expected based on the town's population alone.
Economy and facilities
Witham has a mainly linear town centre, concentrated on the high street and its two modest shopping precincts form a cross, bisecting the High Street, the Newland Shopping Centre of 70's design to the North and the Grove Centre an 80's brick design to the South. There is a reasonable range of small shops and a full range of major high-street banks, national chains include Burtons, Dorothy Perkins, Thorntons, Boots, Woolworths, Clinton Cards and Superdrug. The town has four supermarkets - Tesco
in the Grove Centre, Iceland
in the Newlands Precinct and Morrisons
both a little way away from the town centre.
Leisure facilities include a bowling alley, Benton Hall Golf and leisure centre, a pool club and a library which occupies the building of the town's long-closed cinema, the Whitehall. A 'River Walk' runs for three and a half miles through the town and is home to a range of wildlife. Bramston Sports Centre is also located in Witham. The sports center contains three swimming pools: a teaching pool, a diving pool (referred to as the Merlin pool) and the main pool which is 25 metres long (half the standard Olympic and competitive pool length). The Centre also includes four squash courts and a "Kinetika" gym.
The Morrisons supermarket site was previously the factory site of Crittall Windows, until 1994 when the factory was closed and moved to Braintree.
A significant industrial presence remains in the town, mainly concentrated on three industrial estates on the eastern side of the town close to the junction with the A12. There is also significant office accommodation in the town centre area.
In March 2007 Crittall closed its Braintree factory and returned to Witham to occupy a new factory on the Freebournes Industrial Estate. The factory Crittall have moved into was built for J.L. French in 2001, but never used for production. The new Crittall factory is visible on the right hand side of the road exiting Witham towards Colchester via the A12.
There are two secondary schools in Witham, The John Bramston school
, and The Rickstones school
, both achieving a slightly below average 5 A*-C GCSE
rating, averaging around the 40% mark. The town's primary schools are Templars, Holy Family, Howbridge, Powers Hall, Chipping Hill Infants School (although this school will be expanding to a 210 place primary school and moving to a new site in the Maltings Lane development in September 2010), Rivenhall CoE, Elm Hall Primary, Southview and Silver End Primary.
Witham is part of the Braintree
constituency of the House of Commons
. The local Member of Parliament
(MP) is the Conservative Brooks Newmark
, who was elected to replace the former Labour Party
MP Alan Hurst
on at the 2005 general election
on 5 May 2005
However at the next general election Witham will become a new constituency in its own right. The constituency will include Hatfield Peverel, Wickham Bishops, Marks Tey, Kelvedon, and Coggeshall. It is regarded as a safe seat for the Conservative Party, based on the majority that it is estimated would have been achieved at the last general election.
Witham is under the jurisdiction of Witham Town Council (its parish council), Braintree District Council and Essex County Council.
Witham, and parts of the Braintree district, hold one of the best recycling schemes in the UK, with compulsory recycling, reaching over 50% recycling.
John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh
, the physicist who won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of argon
, died in 1919 at Terling Place, Witham.
Dorothy L. Sayers, translator of Dante's Divina Commedia, and famous as writer of detective fiction for her creation of aristocratic detective hero, Lord Peter Wimsey, died in Witham in 1957.
James Gibson, the 2003 World Breaststroke 50m (Long-course) Champion, was born in Chelmsford and raised in Witham. Graham Hedman, 2006 European Champion, 4x400 men's relay, was born in Witham.
Witham is the home town of two racing drivers. James Winslow, the 2004 ARP British Formula 3 champion, 2006 Asian Formula 3 champion and 2007 Asian V6 Champion and Eddie Hall, 2005 UK karting champion and twice European title winner.
Twin Town Waldbröl
, North Rhine-Westphalia