The History of Billericay

Do you want to know about Billericay's fascinating history,
I just know you will be surprised how rich the History of Billericay is.



The early years – before the Norman Conquest

Billericay is a town of historical interest. Burial mounds still exist in Norsey Woods evidencing its occupation in the Bronze and Iron Ages, with the town being born at the time of the Roman Invasion in 55 BC and 54 BC. Roman historians note that Essex was inhabited by a people known as the Trinovantes when the final wave of the Roman invasion took place in A.D.43. The Trinovantes joined with Queen Boudicca (Boadicea) in the revolt against Roman occupation and after the conquest a force of Caesar's Roman soldiers encamped on the high ground off Billericay High Street, with later fortified additions near Tye Common.

Several excavations in Billericay have revealed Roman remains. When ground was prepared for building between School Road and Billericay School Roman burials were unearthed and some of the finds have been displayed in Billericay School. The road that was built over this area was appropriately named Roman Way.

In an area known as Blunts Wall to the West of modern Billericay evidence of the Roman fortified post was discovered. Roman coins (A.D.69 to A.D.383), potters kilns, lamps, brooches and urns have also been found in the town. When the Romans were recalled to Rome in AD 410 the area was invaded by and came under Saxon rule.

The Saxons eventually settled, not in the area of Billericay High Street but two miles south at great Burstead, which in the late tenth century was known as 'Burgestede', a Saxon name signifying a fortified place. This was a fortified settlement with a market and its own civil administration and became one of the most important villages in the area.

Prior to the Norman conquest 'Burgestede' belonged to Ingvar and what we now know as Little Burstead was part of Earl Godwin's estates. He was the father of King Harold.

The importance of Great Burstead lasted until the 19th century when Billericay, which was originally in the parish of Great Burstead, grew and became the commercial centre. Between AD 527 and 839 there were twenty-one Kings of the East Saxons. King Sæberht ruled AD 604 to 616 and is rumoured to be buried in Great Burstead churchyard (among other places).


The later years – up to the 20th Century

During AD 920 the Shire was split into Hundreds (a hundred being an administrative division within the shire) and Billericay was in Barstable Hundred. At this time the parish church for Billericay was at Great Burstead. This church still survives today After the Norman Conquest in A.D1066 the Bursteads became part of the 46 estates held in Essex by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. (Billericay itself was not mentioned in the Domesday Book as it was incorporated into Great Burstead.) After Odo fell into disgrace his lands were given to the Cistercian Monks of Stratford Langthorne Abbey near Bow. .

In 1291 the name 'Byllyrica' is first recorded. As there were no rules of spelling then, various spellings between then and AD 1686 included; Billirica, Billerica, Billyrecha, Billerecay, Bilreaky and others.

It is known that in the 13th and 14th Centuries some of the Canterbury Pilgrims journeyed via Billericay. It is likely they spent the night in Billericay before crossing the Thames at Tilbury which is probably why there were so many Inns in the town.

In 1342 a Chantry Chapel was built in Billericay with lands sufficient to support a priest. The Chapel had become necessary as the Parish Church in Great Burstead, due to its distance from the town, had become almost inaccessible in bad weather to the people from Billericay. St. Mary Magdalen church in Billericay High Street still has quite a number of the original bricks in its tower.

Billericay men joined it's 'Peasants' Revolt' against taxation in 1381 the rebels were pursued by the King's armies. The peasants made a stand at Norsey Wood, having fortified it with earthworks they battled and were killed by the army. It is believed that some of these men are buried at Great Burstead.

Around this time Billericay fell under the influence of the Wycliffe preachers and the people became deeply entrenched in the new religion. In fact, four local people (Thomas Watts, Joan Hornes, Elizabeth Thackwell, and Margaret Ellis) were burnt at the stake; two others (Joan Potter and James Harris) were tortured for their faith during the reign of Queen Mary.

There were numerous inns in Billericay during the 13th and 14th centuries, including one called the Red Lion. Canterbury pilgrims would stay overnight in the town before journeying on to Tilbury where they would cross the Thames.

In the 14th Century Billericay grew in importance with a population of about 1200. Wool, hides and agriculture were prospering and the town boasted a tannery in the area now known as Tanfield Drive. This prosperity continued in the 15th Century with the addition of weaving.

Although Billericay was a flourishing commercial centre during the reign of Henry VIII, religious persecution led some inhabitants to embark on the famous Mayflower voyage of 1620. Five people from Billericay were on board.

The ship's governor Christopher Martin – a victualler of ships, who is believed to have lived in what is now known as the Old Chantry in Billericay High Street. Sadly, he perished along with his wife Marie, Solomon Prower, and John Langemore shortly after their arrival at Cape Cod, Massachusetts (a fifth unnamed person, believed to be Peter Browne, survived the rigours of that first winter).

But this did not deter other Billericay inhabitants from setting sail for the New World and the town of Billerica, Massachusetts, was established in 1655 to commemorate the origins of some of the first settlers. This began a relationship between the two towns which still exists today.

In the Georgian period many fine houses were built in Billericay. One of those remaining today is Burghsted Lodge in the High Street which houses the library. Additional industry had grown up such as the manufacture of bricks and tiles. The road from Billericay to Tilbury continued to be busy with mention of 'footpads' and 'highwaymen' operating along the road where it passed through open country.

The Union Workhouse was built in 1840 to house the destitute of the area in exchange for work. Parts of this building were incorporated into St. Andrews Hospital. Although the hospital has now been demolished to make way for housing some of the oldest buildings have been retained. The coming of the railway in 1889 placing Billericay on the line between London and Southend-on-Sea increased the town's importance.


Recent times – 20th Century to Today

In 1916 during the First World War the town enjoyed a moment of countrywide fame as one of the giant German Zeppelin airships (L32) was shot down during an aerial battle over Billericay. As it fell in flames it narrowly missed the High Street and crashed into a nearby field. During the Second World War in 1940 The Billericay Times reported that it had received a letter from two young lady residents from Billerica:

Acting as the depository for contributions made by the citizens of the Town of Billerica to the Billericay Spitfire Fund, we are pleased to enclose US$39, the amount received. This cheque, even though it is not large, conveys a boundless feeling of admiration for the splendid spirit, courage and effort being demonstrated daily by you and your countrymen in what, without question, is our cause, as it affects the true spirit of democracy.

With best wishes for success in the raising of your fund.

Billericay has continued to grow and develop with new housing and commercial properties being built. The railway is still of great importance with many people commuting to London each day to work. Billericay currently has a population of approximately 40,000 and is now a flourishing town with a wide variety of sports, leisure and cultural activities.

Further information on the history of Billericay may be obtained by writing to the Billericay Archaeological and Historical Society care of The Curator, The Cater Museum, 74 High Street, Billericay, Essex. CM12 9LL.

Credit goes to Billericay Town Council and Julian Whybra – Historian and Co-Director of Gift Ltd


Why not take a historic building walk on your computer, with a pictorial view
of these buildings guided by a street map of the High Street.

You can also look at our family attraction list informing you of the many
family attractions, current events and all types of recreation found in and around the Billericay area.

One of Billericay's best kept secrets is Norsey Wood it's a mixed coppice woodland
covering an area of 65ha (165 acres). It has a history that goes back some 4000 years
and this, together with the richness of its wildlife, makes this site unique.
The Wood has been designated a Local Nature Reserve,
a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

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