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Harwich England.jpg
Grid reference: TM243313
Location: 51°56’40"N, 1°17’23"E
Population: 15,500
Post town: Harwich
Postcode: CO12
Dialling code: 01255
Local Government
Council: Tendring
Harwich and North Essex

Harwich is a major port town in Essex, one of the Haven ports on the broad estuary of the River Stour, which divides Essex to the south from Suffolk to the north, it opens on to the North Sea.

Nearby ports include Felixstowe to the northeast, Ipswich to the northwest. Colchester is to the southwest and Clacton-on-Sea to the south. Harwich is considered the northernmost coastal town within Essex.

Its position on the estuaries of the Stour and Orwell rivers and its usefulness to mariners as the only safe anchorage between the Thames and Humber led to a long period of maritime significance, both civil and military. The town became a naval base in 1657 and was heavily fortified,[1] with Harwich Redoubt, Beacon Hill Battery, and Bath Side Battery.

Harwich today is contiguous with Dovercourt and the two, along with Parkeston, are often referred to collectively as Harwich.

The town's name means "military settlement," from Old English here wic.


Harwich received its charter in 1238, although there is evidence of earlier settlement - for example, a record of a chapel in 1177, and some indications of a possible Roman presence.

An 1804 chart of Harwich from a survey by Graeme Spence

Because of its strategic position, Harwich was the target for the landing in Britain by William of Orange in November 1688, but unfavourable winds forced his fleet to sail instead into the English Channel and eventually land at Brixham in Devon. Due to the involvement of the Schomberg family in the invasion, Charles Louis Schomberg was made Marquess of Harwich.[2]

Daniel Defoe devotes a few pages to the town in A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain. Visiting in 1722, he noted its formidable fort and harbour "of a vast extent".[3] The town, he recounts, was also known for an unusual spring rising on Beacon Hill (a promontory to the north-east of the town), which "petrified" clay, allowing it to be used to pave Harwich's streets and build its walls. The locals also claimed that "the same spring is said to turn wood into iron", but Defoe put this down to the presence of "copperas" in the water. Regarding the atmosphere of the town, he states: "Harwich is a town of hurry and business, not much of gaiety and pleasure; yet the inhabitants seem warm in their nests and some of them are very wealthy".[3]


The Harwich Quay

The Royal Navy is no longer present in Harwich but Harwich International Port at nearby Parkeston continues to offer regular ferry services to the Hook of Holland (Hoek van Holland) in the Netherlands and Esbjerg in Denmark. Many operations of the large container port at Felixstowe and of Trinity House, the lighthouse authority, are managed from Harwich, and plans for the development of a new container port in Bathside Bay were approved by the government in December 2005.

Pier Hotel

The port is famous for the phrase "Harwich for the Continent" seen on road signs and in London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) advertisements.[4][5]


King's Head Street

Despite, or perhaps because of, its small size Harwich is highly regarded in terms of architectural heritage, and the whole of the older part of the town, excluding Navyard Wharf, is a conservation area.[6]

The regular street plan, with principal thoroughfares connected by numerous small alleys, betrays the town’s mediæval origins although many buildings of this period are hidden behind 18th century facades.

The extant mediæval structures are largely private homes. The house featured in the image of Kings Head St to the left, is unique in the town and is an example of a sailmaker's house, thought to have been built circa 1600. Notable public buildings, all later, include the parish church of St. Nicholas (1821)[7] in a restrained Gothic style, with many original furnishings including a (somewhat altered) organ of the same date in the west end gallery, and the Guildhall of 1769, the only Grade I listed building in Harwich.[8]

On the quayside may be seen the Pier Hotel of 1860 and Great Eastern Hotel of 1864, both reflecting the town's new importance to travellers following the arrival of the railway line from Colchester in 1854. The Great Eastern Hotel was closed in 1923[9] by the newly formed LNER, the hotel having suffered a decline resulting from the opening of the new passenger port up-river at Parkeston Quay where a new hotel with the same name had been opened by the Great Eastern Railway.

The hotel became the Harwich Town Hall, which included the Magistrates Court, and following changes in local government was sold and divided into apartments.

Also of interest are the High Lighthouse (1818); the unusual Treadwheel Crane (late 17th century); the Electric Palace Cinema (1911), one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas to survive complete with its original projection room and ornamental frontage still intact and operational; the Old Custom Houses on West Street; and a number of Victorian shopfronts.

The Trinity House offices

There is little notable building from the later parts of the 20th century, but major recent additions include the lifeboat station and two new structures for Trinity House; that organisation's office building, next door to the Old Custom Houses, was completed in 2005. All three additions are influenced by the high-tech style.


  • Cricket: Harwich & Dovercourt Cricket Club
  • Football: Harwich & Parkeston FC
  • Rugby:
    • Harwich and Dovercourt RFC
    • Harwich & Dovercourt Rugby Union Football Club;
  • Running: Harwich Runners
  • Sailing: Harwich & Dovercourt Sailing Club
  • Swimming: Harwich, Dovercourt & Parkeston Swimming Club

Harwich Runners and Harwich Swimming Club together organise the annual Harwich Triathlons.


Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Harwich)


  1. Trollope, C., "The Defences of Harwich", Fort (Fortress Study Group), 1982, (10), pp5-31
  2. "The Peerage". ThePeerage.com. http://thepeerage.com/p1375.htm. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Daniel Defoe's Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1726: Defoe on "Vision of Britain"
  4. 'Harwich for the Continent', LNER poster
  5. 'Harwich for the Continent ', LNER poster, 1934
  6. Harwich Society, 2008.
  7. UK Attraction: St. Nicholas Church.
  8. Harwich Society, 2008.
  9. Hughes, Geoffrey (1986). LNER. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. p. 157. ISBN 0-7110-1428-0. 
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus and Radcliffe, Enid (2002). The Buildings of England: Essex. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09601-1.