April 28th, 2009

Wivenhoe – a delightful secret

Wivenhoe is a town in north eastern Essex, England, approximately 3 miles south east of Colchester. Historically Wivenhoe village, on the banks of the River Colne, and Wivenhoe Cross, on the higher ground to the north, were two separate settlements but with considerable development in the 19th century the two have merged.

In 2008, the town had a population of over 10,000. The town’s history centres around fishing, ship building, and smuggling. The town is considered to have a bohemian quality, remaining popular with local artists and writers.

Much of lower Wivenhoe is also a designated conservation area, with many streets being of particular architectural interest.

Wivenhoe, which is thought to mean Wifa’s Ridge, is of Saxon origin. It is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Wiivnhou when it formed part of the land of Robert Gernon, where there was a mill, 12 acres of meadow and pasture for 60 sheep. Wivenhoe developed as a port and until the late 19th century was effectively a port for Colchester as large ships were unable to navigate any further up the River Colne, and had two prosperous shipyards. It became an important port for trade for Colchester and developed shipbuilding, commerce and fishing industries. The period of greatest prosperity for the town came with the arrival of the railway in 1863.

In 1884 the town suffered significant damage when it lay close to the epicentre of one of the most destructive UK earthquakes of all time; the incident is known as the 1884 Wivenhoe earthquake. In 1890, there was a population of about 2,000 most engaged in fishing for oysters and sprats and in ship and yacht building. A dry dock was built in 1889 and extended in 1904, making it one of the largest on the East Coast; it was demolished in the mid-1960s. In the 1960s, Wivenhoe Park was chosen as the location for the University of Essex.

During the UK miners’ strike (1984-1985), the now defunct Wivenhoe Port imported coal and became subject to picketing by miners (many from Yorkshire – 200+ miles away), which led to a very substantial police presence, some of them drafted in from other counties, and violent skirmishes as striking miners tried illegally to prevent vehicles entering and leaving the port.

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