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High st from church.jpg
Rayleigh High Street from the top of Holy Trinity Church
Grid reference: TQ805907
Location: 51°35’11"N, 0°36’18"E
Population: 30,196  (2001)
Post town: Rayleigh
Postcode: SS6
Dialling code: 01268
Local Government
Council: Rochford
Rayleigh and Wickford

Rayleigh is a market town in Essex, found between Chelmsford and Southend-on-Sea. It lies 32 miles to the east of central London. It has a population of 30,196 as of 2001, having expanded rapidly in the 1960s.


The name "Rayleigh" is Anglo-Saxon in origin and according to the English Place Names Society, "Rayleigh" derives from "ræge", and "leah", meaning "Roe-deer hind meadow" or "she-goat stream'".

In any case, the connection with deer continued through the centuries. Lands around Rayleigh were used as Royal hunting forests for many hundreds of years. A deer was included in the coat of arms of Rayleigh Urban District Council, and in the early 2000s, a new pub was named the "Roebuck".


Holy Trinity Church
Rayleigh Methodist Church

The parish church of the Holy Trinity is at the top of the High Street.[1] A church existed on the site in Saxon times and the present building has a Norman chancel. The bell tower was built in the 15th century and includes stone taken from the castle when that fell into disuse. The church has an impressive Tudor brick porch. The Gothic Revival architect Clapton Crabb Rolfe|C.C. Rolfe restored the chancel in 1873.[2]

The parish church of St Michael and All Angels is in Sir Walter Raleigh Drive near Sweyne School. It was built in the 1950s when Rayleigh expanded considerably. It has a multi-purpose building which is used by other local groups as well as the church.

Churches in the town include:

  • Church of England:
    • Holy Trinity
    • St Michael and All Angels
  • Baptist: Rayleigh Baptist Church, opened in 1799
  • Independent: Grange Free Church
  • Methodist: Rayleigh Methodist Church
  • Salvation Army
  • United Reformed Church
  • Roman Catholic: Our Lady of Ransom


Prehistoric and Roman times

There have been a scattering of stray finds around the town from Prehistoric and Roman times, including some Roman roof and hypocaust tiles found within the fabric of Rayleigh Church. This suggests there was a Roman habitation site within the area. However, there is little evidence of any density of population here during this period.[3]

Saxon Era

One significant archaeological find was in the early 2000s at the western edge of Rayleigh, at the site of the former Park School in Rawreth Lane. An early Saxon cemetery site was discovered here, with 144 cremation burials and evidence of just one high-status female inhumation burial.[4]

By the end of the Saxon period, there was certainly a village here, as it is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, when it was held by Swein of Essex, the son of Robert FitzWimarc.

Norman Period (1066–1154)

The Domesday Book lists Rayleigh as having a number of villagers and smallholders, plus two slaves. Pigs, cattle, horses and goats were kept here. In addition 6 arpent of vines were grown, producing 20 measures of wine.[5]

Between the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the compiling of the Domesday Book (20 years later), Rayleigh Castle was built, making it one of the few Norman castles mentioned in the book and therefore one of the earliest Norman castles in England. The castle was built by Swein (other spellings are Sweyn, Sweyne, Suen), son of Robert FitzWimarc. (These names are commemorated today in Rayleigh in the naming of the two secondary schools: Sweyne Park School and FitzWimarc School.)

Later Middle Ages (1154–1485)

A courthouse was erected in Rayleigh in 1338. This was apparently resented by the townspeople, who turned out in force to destroy it, with 20 ringleaders later arrested and tried.

The forests around Rayleigh were royal hunting grounds. It is recorded that King Henry III]] hunted here in 1222, and the three King Edwards also visited.

Rayleigh Castle gradually fell into disuse, and in 1394 King Richard II gave permission for the townspeople of Rayleigh to use the foundations as a source of stone. By this time, the site was in royal ownership and used for pasture:

know all men of special grace who have the will to repair certain Chapel in the said town and to build a new a certain belfry we have granted them the foundations and to take away and use any stones found theren".[6]

Following the granting of this permission, the Rayleigh parish church, Holy Trinity, was built in the Perpendicular Period style, during the 15th century.

Tudors and Stuarts

Records indicate that the Church was rich in plate, vestments and stained glass, but these were disposed of:

"No church within the hundred was more splendidly adorned; none were so richly furnished with plate, vestments and other accessories for the celebration of the divine service; none were so rich in painted glass; none have been more mercilessly despoiled"[7]

During Henry VIII reign deer were constantly taken from here to replenish the herds in Greenwich Park.[8]


Rayleigh Sign

Rayleigh used to have its own stadium, The Weir Stadium, where greyhound dog racing and speedway racing took place. The Rayleigh Rockets Speedway team competed against other clubs from around the country in the late forties, early 1950s,1960s and into the 70s. The stadium was situated adjacent to the Weir roundabout along the A127. Stock car and banger racing also took place there. The stadium was sold for redevelopment in the mid-1970s, and the site is now occupied by Sainsbury's and other retail stores. These stores are accessed via Stadium Way. Rayleigh also used to feature a cinema, the Regal, located close to Mill Hall; retirement accommodation (called Homeregal House in "memory" of the Regal) is now in its place.

During the 1990s many new housing estates appeared on formerly greenfield areas of the town, which has caused some controversy locally.[9]

Sports and recreation

Rayleigh has a King George's Field in memorial to King George V.

It has a leisure centre, built on part of the site of the old Park School, with a bowling green, four badminton courts, squash courts, dance room, gymnasium, tennis courts, football pitches and a fully licensed bar. Rayleigh Bowls Club play at St Georges Playing Fields.

Rayleigh has two skate parks, Rawreth Skate Park near ASDA, and King George's Skate Park, both of which were being refurbished as of May 2011.

There is a small swimming pool at Lubards Farm.

The Warehouse Centre opened in 1994. The Warehouse Centre, includes Rayleigh MegaZone and Megaplay, nearby is an indoor Karting Stadium situated on the Brook Road Industrial Estate.

Rayleigh has a golf club on the outskirts of the town; Lords Golf & Country Club is situated on the Hullbridge Road to the north of the town.

  • Cricket:
    • Rayleigh Fairview Cricket Club who play at Rayleigh Town Sports and Social Club
    • Rayleigh Cricket Club, who were formed in 1902 as the Rayleigh and District Cricket Club. In 2004, their new pavilion situated in Rawreth Lane was completed, and league cricket is now played on the ground.
  • Youth Football: Rayleigh Boys

Parks/playing fields

Rayleigh has a number of parks and playing fields.

King George's Field is close to the town centre and has several entrances. There is a skateboard and children's play areas, accessed from Bull Lane.

Sweyne Park is controlled by the local council. It has a bridleway running round its perimeter of about 1.2 miles. The majority of the park is grassland which is cut for hay to control it and encourage wild flowers.

Kingley Wood stands on a steep hill slope beside the A127 and is visible as you approach Rayleigh from London. The small wood is the only surviving ancient wood in Rayleigh, but it has rich and varied wildlife and a well-documented history.[10][11] It can be approached by foot from Western Road, Hollytree Gardens or Weir Farm Road.

Wheatley Wood

Wheatley Wood is a 64-acre|ha|adj=on}} broadleaved wood established in the late 1990s. The wood was designed and planted by a partnership of Local people and the Woodland Trust.

There is a car park at the Grange Community Centre in Little Wheatley Chase, and access to the wood is across the playing fields.

About the town

Former Post Office
Rayleigh Windmill

The town has grown considerably in the last 25 years. A 49-room Premier Inn is situated on the southern boundary of the town, adjacent to the Weir roundabout and the A127. The town's amenities, which include several public houses, restaurants, shops, and an indoor market (Rayleigh Lanes).

There is a small outdoor market on Wednesdays. Until 2011 it was located next to Rayleigh Civic Suite and Information Centre, opposite Holy Trinity Church. In 2011 it moved to the taxi rank in the town’s High Street (outside Boots). The market dates back to before 1181 when it was inscribed in the Exchequer Records of Henry II.

The Dutch Cottage, the smallest and oldest council house in the United Kingdom, can be visited on Wednesdays by prior appointment.[12]

Rayleigh windmill has been renovated, including a structural renovation of the 19th century brick built building has now been completed.[13] The basic external brickwork has been repaired and the interior has been transformed to provide four storeys of modern display facilities which has turned the windmill into a major tourist and educational attraction in the county. The changes to the windmill allow the public to view the interior and to exploit this local historic amenity for cultural, educational and tourism use.

Rayleigh Mount, a National Trust property adjacent to Rayleigh Windmill, is the site of a Domesday castle erected by Sweyn of Essex with distinctive motte-and-bailey defences. From its summit it offers sweeping views across the Crouch Valley.[14]


Rayleigh Brass is a brass band. The band has been established in south Essex for almost a hundred years. They play a varied programme to a high standard and have a reputation for a progressive and changing repertoire of music.

Harmonie Concert Band is a symphonic wind band, based in Rayleigh (Warehouse Centre) and have been playing music for the local Essex and surrounding community since 1976.

Rayleigh Horticultural Society are one of the biggest societies in the area, with over 1000 household members, celebrating over 65 years. They have a Committee who work to provide activities of interest to all types of gardeners. For the showman, the allotment holder, the plant enthusiast and those who just like to potter around.

The Rotary Club of Rayleigh Mill organise events for Charity. It was founded 5 June 1995.

The Lions Club of Rayleigh was chartered in 1974 and serves the Rayleigh, Hockley, Hullbridge and Rochford areas. The club is a Voluntary Service Organisation and a registered charity.


Outside links