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Located along the ancient Roman Stane Street, in the heart of rural Essex, the picturesque, award winning village Coggeshall is a true treasure trove for all those who love chocolate box cottages, centuries-old listed buildings and a peaceful setting away from the hustle and buzz of the modern world.
If you travel to Coggeshall today you probably wouldn't guess that the little market town was once one of the most important industrial centres in this part of the East of England.
What started with just 12 monks, who came to Coggeshall to found a Savigniac abbey, soon developed into one of the most important towns affiliated with the wool and cloth trade, which became so established in this region and made it famous for its Coggeshall White Cloth. Almost 300 historic listed buildings stand testimony to its past and, together with its scenic location along the river Blackwater and surrounded by the rolling Essex countryside, it is very well worth a visit.
Coggeshall is located along Stane Street, the old Roman road that used to connect St Albans in Hertfordshire with Colchester (Camulodunum), which served as the first Roman capital of the occupied Britain. Many parts of this ancient Roman road have been incorporated into today's road system and the A120, on which Coggeshall is located, follows the original layout of Stane Street.
Although the town has first been mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) there is evidence that a much older, early-Saxon settlement has been located here before. The arrival of the Savigniac monks and the foundation of Coggeshall Abbey (which was later taken over by the Cistercians) in ca 1140, brought the skills the town needed to develop. The monks started to produce bricks, a building material that hadn't
been used since Roman times, and built a monastery. Here they started
to farm sheep and produce the cloth that would make Coggeshall famous.
In 1256 the town was granted the right to hold a market, which is still being held each Tuesday.
In the beginning of the 15th century the wealthy wool merchants decided to build a church for their town. St Peter ad Vincula stands on the site of an older Norman Church and was one of the competitors to become the cathedral of Essex, but the final decision fell on Chelmsford Cathedral.The 16th century saw the dissolution of the monasteries and the Coggeshall monastery was dissolved, its possessions and land seized by King Henry VIII.
The decline of the wool trade brought further change to the town. It now concentrated on the production of high quality silk and lace and, in the mid 19th century, was still one of the most industrialized towns in Essex. Later it became famous for its Tambour lace and the production of this kind of lace continued until after the Second World War.
Today Coggeshall is home to almost 5000 inhabitants and receives its income from small businesses, some light industry and the visitors that come to see its many attractions. For a while it became famous again, this time not for the production of textiles but for antiques trade. Nowadays there are only a few antiques shops left, but they are well worth a visit.
Coggeshall offers its visitors a selection of restaurants that cater for the various tastes, from traditionally English to Indian and award winning fine dining. For those who are looking for the right place to enjoy a break and a snack or small lunch, the Clockhouse Tea House and TJ's Corner Coffee House offers freshly made sandwiches, mouthwatering home-made cakes and daily changing lunchtime menus. There are various pubs in the town, many of them located in listed timber framed buildings, such as the Chapel Inn which has been a licensed pub since the 15th century. Lodging is available in Coggeshall's only hotel, the historic White Hart.
Coggeshall is a remarkably well preserved village and its attractions are based on its vibrant history. Coggeshall Abbey has suffered much after the monastery was dissolved and the only building that still stands intact today is its early 12th century gatehouse chapel St Nicholas. The chapel can be found along the Essex Way, but only seen from the inside via prior arrangement.
With Grange Barn,
Coggeshall is home to one of the oldest still existing timber barns in
Europe. Grange Barn was build during the 13th century and offers an
exhibition of farming objects and some children's activities.
The prosperity of the wool merchants can be observed in the magnificent Paycockes building. Once owned by the local Paycocke family, it features unusually intricate wood carvings and paneling. The exhibits on display
in the building relate to its former owner and you will be able to see some examples of the lace that has brought prosperity to its owner and the town.
Just outside of Coggeshall you can find the Marks Hall Gardens and Arboretum. Visitors of all ages will enjoy exploring the 5 individually themed landscaped gardens and the 3 woodland walks.
As Coggeshall is famous for all its listed buildings, it is recommended to have a walk through the town. The town offers a self-guided towns walk for this purpose. The information for this walking trip is available at the town hall and at many of the retailers in town. During your trip you will pass by all the attractions that are located in town and view many of its listed buildings. Of course you will also get to see the parish church St Peter ad Vincula which towers over the town, right above the quaint Woolpack Inn.
Nature lovers will also appreciate that Coggeshall is located right on the Essex Way, a 81 miles long country walk that stretches from Epping over Coggeshall and Colchester until it ends in Harwich. In Coggeshall you will follow the way along the scenic paths beside the River Blackwater. The Essex Clayway, another countryside walk, starts in Coggeshall and connects the Essex Way with St Peters Way in Mundon.
The town offers all the modern amenities you would expect and a bus service connects it with Braintree and Colchester, which both offer train connections. London-Stansted Airport is just 22 miles away. Free parking facilities can be found all around the town.
Although the town has expanded its boundaries in recent years, the new developments have been undertaken with great care not to disturb its rustic charm and modern houses blend well with century old architecture. This achievement has certainly helped Coggeshall to win titles such as "Essex Best Kept Village" (1998, 2001-2003) and the "Eastern England & Home Counties Village of the Year" award (2003).