History of Southminster and the Dengie Hundred

Due to the large number of family history enquiries arriving at this web site and our sister sites www.burnham.org.uk and  www.dengie.org.uk the history, Genealogy and old photograph content has been moved from this site to   www.essex-family-history.co.uk 

Essex Family History contains extensive pages on the history of Southminster and the adjoining Dengie 100 area plus many online records of interest to a genealogist or person tracing their family history.

The pages contain the details of several famous residents of Southminster, old pictures and some notable incidents that took place

Potted History of Southminster & the villages of the Dengie Hundred

Southminster lies in the centre of the Dengie Hundred peninsula which was an area of marsh and rich farmland and until the comparatively recent growth of Burnham on Crouch was the most important settlement.

There is evidence of considerable prehistoric activity with Neolithic remains and bronze age burial sites found in the area. The Creeksea Cliffs area and the Mayland foreshore is especially rich in prehistoric history. With the coming of the Iron Age the 'hill fort' at Asheldham was established the remains of which can be seen today.

The Romans defeated the Trinovantes tribe who resided in the Dengie 100 and established their capital at nearby Colchester .Romans then colonised the area with the fort at Bradwell-on-Sea and enclosures within Burnham itself.


The Romans were followed by the Saxons who farmed the land and built a wooden fish trap in the estuary at Bradwell which amazingly is still visible at low tides today.

St Cedd, an Irish Missionary, landed at Bradwell in AD 654 and established the Church of St Peters on the inner wall of the roman fortress. St Peters Chapel is still standing although only the earthworks of the roman fort remain.


On 11 August 991 AD  a Danish fleet landed at Northey Island to begin the famous battle at Northey Island (to the north of Dengie) Brithnoth who was Earl of East Anglia raised an army which was defeated by the Danish invaders . Brithnoth was killed in the battle and laid to rest in Latchingdon Church

In 1016 battle again threatened Burnham with Edmund Ironside's army fighting with  the Danish leader Canute at the battle of Ashingdon on the opposite bank of the Crouch. Once again the Danes were victorious pursuing the vanquished King Edmund across the Crouch until he escaped but to no avail as Canute was crowned King of England.

Following these battles the Daenningaes tribe occupied the area.


 In 1086 the Domesday Book listed Asheldham, Burnham, Bradwell Quay, Cold Norton, Creeksea, Dengie, Hazeleigh, Latchingdon, North Fambridge, Mundon, Purleigh St Lawrence, Southminster, Stansgate, Steeple, Stow Maries, Tillingham , Woodham Mortimer and Woodham Walter.


In the 1500's the Harris Family were the dominant forces with Edward Harris building Creeksea Place which remained in the family until the 19th century. This historic building is now the centrepiece to a Caravan Park. The sword of Sir William Harris is still to be seen displayed in the Church of Creeksea.


 In 1650 John Washington, son of the Vicar of Purleigh, was one of the first Englishmen to emigrate to America . His Great Grandson was George Washington the first President of USA.


The Civil war saw the area supporting the Parliamentarians and in 1665 the Great Plague caused many villages to be abandoned. Sailors from Burnham and Bradwell were the only boats who still carried grain to London during the plague. For their courage they were honoured and allowed to land grain in London without duty for ever.


The Rivers continued to dominate the area and fishing became a major force with the Mildmay family being granted the exclusive rights to the River Crouch by Charles 1 . In 1661 the rights to oyster beds in the River were leased to local companies and over the years Crouch Oysters came to national fame. By the late 1700's the Oyster beds were commanding large rents and employed many men some to cultivate and some to protect the oysters from thieves. The Oyster beds continued in production until comparatively recent time when pollution reduced the oysters to unprofitable levels.


The Industrial revolution saw reclamation of the marshes and much of the marsh was reclaimed for farming rather than summer grazing of sheep. Southminster became the dominant market in the area drawing people from as far afield as Rochford.


Smuggling continued to be a major cottage industry with battles between smugglers and coast guards a regular feature. The hulk of a boat called Kangaroo was moored on the site of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club to house the families of local Coast guards and on the opposite bank of the river Darwin's 'Beagle' served a similar purpose. While on the Blackwater a hulk was moored at Stansgate and Coastguard Stations existed at Tillingham and Bradwell.

During the Napoleonic wars Burnham built sea defences with a battery of 24 pounder guns manned by the Sea Fencibles and both the Rivers Blackwater and Crouch had permanent patrol boats.


Contact with the outside world improved in 1800 when a coach route from Burnham to Southminster and Maldon was established which by 1848 had been expanded to Chelmsford. The next major change was the coming of the railway in 1889 with a branch line from Wickford to Southminster passing through Burnham. Materials for the new railway were brought in on the River on Thames barges ironically utilising waterpower for the new railroad.


With a rise in national prosperity Yachting began to be fashionable in the late 1800's and the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club and London Sailing Clubs opened in 1892. These clubs led to the development of boat building, sail makers and other allied industries which were to dominate the River front and with the commencement of 'Burnham Week' brought Burnham to national importance as a yachting centre.