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Brightlingsea Harbour.jpg
Grid reference: TM087168
Location: 51°48’36"N, 1°1’48"E
Population: 8,500  (est.)
Post town: Colchester
Postcode: CO7
Dialling code: 01206
Local Government
Council: Tendring
North Essex

Brightlingsea is a coastal town in Essex, found off the main routes but otherwise between Colchester and Clacton-on-Sea. Brightlingsea is a port and stands at the mouth of the River Colne, on Brightlingsea Creek. It has an estimated population of 8500.

Its traditional industries included fishery (with a renowned oyster fishery) and shipbuilding. With the decline of these industries, the town is largely a dormitory town for Colchester.

Brightlingsea is a limb of Sandwich in Kent, one of the Cinque Ports. The town retains an active ceremonial connection with the Cinque Ports, electing a Deputy from a guild of Freemen.

In the centre of the town is Jacob's Hall, reputedly the oldest timber-framed building in Britain, built during the fourteenth century. Also in the town centre is Victoria Place, where many local businesses are based.

To the west, on the creek is Western Promenade. It has lines of beach huts, a skate park, swimming pool, boating lake, and paddling pool. It is a popular destination for tourists and Londoners. Bateman's Tower, a local landmark by the sea, has recently been renovated by the Colne Yacht Club with help from a Lottery Fund grant.

Being almost totally surrounded by the Colne Estuary, Brightlingsea Creek & salt marsh, Brightlingsea's road links are unusually limited for a town of its size, with only one road linking the town with the outside. During the North Sea Flood of 1953 Brightlingsea was cut off from the outside, though the town itself was not as severely affected as some neighbouring communities.


Earliest remains

Brightlingsea sits on a promontory surrounded by the River Colne and its associated marshes and creeks (it was an island until the 16th century), and was settled from an early date. In 1995, an Early Neolithic pot, dated 4,000 to 3,100 BC, was found in a D-shaped enclosure with a ditch on a farm near Brightlingsea.[1] Other early remains in the area date from the Bronze Age, Roman and Saxon periods.[2]

The Middle Ages

In the Domesday Book of 1087, the population of Brightlingsea (or Brictesceseia) was given as 24 villagers, 26 smallholders and 5 slaves. The lord of the manor had been Harold Godwinson, but the title had passed to the King.[3] The mediæval town grew up around two centres, firstly around the parish church (see All Saints' Church below) and secondly close to the shore where a port had developed. Trade was in oysters, fish, copperas (a locally found green pigment of iron(II) sulphate) and locally made bricks.[4]

The Cinque Port Liberty

In the Middle Ages, Brightlingsea became a Limb of the Head Port of Sandwich, one of the Cinque Ports, privileged in trade in return from providing defence. While the importance of the Cinque Ports has faded, Brighlingsea remains a limb of Dover and it is the only is the only community outside Kent and Sussex which has any connection with the Confederation of the Cinque Ports.[5] Although these days it is a purely ceremonial affair, every year at the parish church, on the first Monday after Saint Andrew's Day (the first in December), known as "Choosing Day", the Freemen of Brightlingsea gather to elect the "Deputy of Brightlingsea" who is the representative of the Mayor of Sandwich in the Liberty.[6]

The Mignonette

In 1867 the yacht Mignonette was built by Aldhous Successors in Brightlingsea.[7] The Mignonette foundered on its way to Australia in 1884, leaving four sailors adrift in a lifeboat. In desperation, three of the four killed and ate the sickest member. The subsequent trial, R. v. Dudley and Stephens, established the common law principle that necessity is not a valid defence against a charge of murder.


At the start of Second World War, the Royal Navy established a base in the harbour called HMS Nemo which operated small auxiliary patrol vessels and air sea rescue boats.[8]

1984 Miners' Strike

The port came to prominence in the 1984-85 Miners' Strike, where attempts were made to import coal through the Port (as with the small port at Wivenhoe further up the river Colne). However the efforts of picketing miners prevented coal imports through Brightlingsea. The construction of the Gunfleet Sands Offshore Wind Farm operates from the port.

'The Battle of Brightlingsea'

Brightlingsea port came to national prominence again in the 1990s with an attempt to use the port again for a controversial cargo. Dubbed the "Battle of Brightlingsea" it comprised a series of protests against the live export of animals from the town for slaughter in Europe. The protest began on 16 January 1995 and ended on 25 October 1995. During this nine-month period, over 150 convoys passed through the town and 250,000 animals were exported; of these, 24 died, 28 were destroyed by the MAFF, and 38 could not be exported. 598 people were arrested by the police, of whom 421 were local residents. The campaign here ended when the exports ceased. Over 1,000 complaints were made against the police and the estimated cost of policing the protest was over £4,000,000.

All Saints' Church

All Saints Church

The ancient parish church of Brightlingsea stands on a hill at the northern edge of the town. The earliest surviving parts of the building, the chancel, the north and south chapels, and the eastern end of the nave and aisles, date from the 13th century. Further additions were made in the 15th century including the four storey tower, which was completed around 1490. The church contains a number of monuments dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Most notable is a band of 211 square memorial tiles dating from 1872 to 1973; each tile records a Brightlingsea person who has died at sea.

A marine chart dated 1590 gives Brightlingsea Church as a navigation mark; Canon Arthur Pertwee, who was the vicar from 1872 to 1917, even in his old age climbed the tower to give a guiding light to the fishing fleet entering the harbour. The church is used as a meeting place to elect the Deputy of Brightlingsea, the officer responsible to the Mayor of the Cinque Port of Sandwich. All Saints is a Grade I listed building.[9]

Sights about the town

Bateman's Tower

Bateman's Tower

Bateman's tower was built in 1883 by John Bateman which he used as a folly for his daughter to recuperate from consumption; however it may have been intended as a lighthouse as part of a failed plan to expand the port.[10]

The tower is sited on Westmarsh point at the entrance to Brightlingsea Creek on the River Colne, and is often mistaken for a Martello Tower. During the Second World War the original roof of the folly was removed so that the tower could be used as an observation post by the Royal Observer Corps. In 2005, a restoration project funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund took place to restore the tower to its original condition, including the fitting of a replica of the original roof, refurbishing the interior of the tower and also painting the outside.

The tower is now used by the Colne Yacht Club to administer races. During race days, the public can visit the tower, whose new roof makes it a popular gallery from which to watch races.[11] Bateman's Tower is leaning slightly; it is said that its foundations were laid on bundles of faggots.[12] It is a Grade II listed building.

Brightlingsea Open Air Swimming Pool

Brightlingsea open air swimming pool was built in 1933 and is one of the few remaining lidos (open air swimming pools built mainly in the art-deco period) still in use in Britain. Brightlingsea Lido was originally a salt water pool, but is now a two-level, non-heated freshwater facility. The pool had recently been threatened with closure, but local opposition and the pools status as listed lido helped save it. The pool comprises a 15m children's pool and a 50m main swimming pool, with a 2.0m diving pit located in the deep end. The facility is always popular and regularly used by residents and visitors to the town.


The town has an active recreational boating scene. Brightlingsea Sailing Club runs an active competitive sailing programme, and has produced many champions at international and Olympic level. The club is one of the oldest, largest dinghy and certainly friendliest sailing clubs in the eastern counties. The Club is situated on the north east coast of Essex where the Colne Estuary meets the North Sea and offers sailing in sheltered waters at all times of the tide for, dinghies, catamarans, and windsurfers and caters for novices to national champions. An active Sailing School provides training.

Brightlingsea Waterside Yacht Club is a co-operative venture between the University of Essex, its sports centre and Brightlingsea sailors. The Colne Yacht Club caters mainly to cruising members. It has an active cruiser racing fleet. There is also a waterski and wakeboard club that operates on Brightlingsea creek.

  • Football: Brightlingsea Regent
  • Cricket: Brightlingsea Cricket Club
  • Rugby: Brightlingsea Rugby Club

Brightlingsea One Design

The Brightlingsea One Design is a class of wooden dinghy designed in 1927 by Robbie Stone of Stone's shipyard (now the waterside marina).

The boats are of clinker construction, originally planked in elm and later boats in mahogany. The boats numbered 5x boats are constructed in GRP.

Boats 1 - 14 were built before the war. The use of the symbol 'C' on the sail has never been fully explained, although it is thought to stand for the river Colne.

The last wooden boat built, C32 'Avocet', was built in 1989 by Malcolm Goodwin.

The numbers do not run in sequence. The Stone built boats are 1 - 30 (27, 29 & 30 by T. C. White). 31 was built by John Mullins and 32 by Malcolm Goodwin. Another series starting at 40 was built in West Mersea. The new GRP boats built by John Mullins are 5x and 75 was the only boat built by the Aldous yard.

In 1951 a new rig was designed for the boat, and caused a split between the advocates of the new rig and the supporters of the old. The class raced as two different fleets until the end of the 1950s, when most of the boats racing converted to the new rig.

The new rig has no bowsprit, a shorter boom and a taller mast. This rig is to be seen on most of the boats sailing today, although C28 has an original rig. Two other boats are expected to fit the original rig after restoration.

In 2004 C1 'Jean' was relaunched 77 years after being built as the BOD prototype, after a ten-year restoration by Malcolm Goodwin.

In 2007 the first GRP BOD C51 'Greta' built by John Mullins was launched.

In 1986 the BOD became a film star appearing in 'The Ted Kennedy Jr. Story', Billed as a profile in courage, the film examines the trauma and effort that Senator Edward Kennedy's (Craig T. Nelson) son (Kimber Shoop) went through after losing his leg to a rare form of cancer and with the rehabilitation that was required.[13] Apparently the BODs are the nearest to those used by the Kennedy family at Cape Cod.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Brightlingsea)


  • Brightlingsea One Design
The Cinque Ports
Cinque Ports Antient Towns Limbs

Hastings  • New Romney  • Hythe  • Dover  • Sandwich

Rye  • Winchelsea

Lydd  • Folkestone  • Faversham  • Margate  • Deal  • Ramsgate  • Brightlingsea  • Tenterden