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I thought that Essex was completely flat and was surprised to learn that Hadleigh was the host borough for the Olympic Mountain Bike Event. Climbing the treacherous muddy path up to the keep of the castle I realised my assumptions were wrong. The views from the castle, which overlooks the Essex Marshes and the Thames, are heart-stirring. From this vantage point of you have 180 degree uninterrupted view and to the south you can see the North Downs.
The castle was built by Hubert de Burgh in 1215 and re-fortified by Edward III during the Hundred Years War. It is now in ruins. Maintained by English Heritage it is an open access site. Close to the castle is the Salvation Army’s Hadleigh Farm and Training Centre.
I had no idea that Essex had so many colonies and communes until I watched Jonathan Meades’ documentary The Joy of Essex. In 1890 William Booth published “In Darkest England and The Way Out” which set out his plans to help the poor and needy. It was in Hadleigh he set up a scheme to rescue people known as the “submerged tenth” or the 10% of people living in extreme poverty. They were provided work and shelter in the City Colony before being transferred to the Country Colony and then on to the Overseas Colony. About 7,000 people from London’s East End were transferred to the Hadleigh Country Colony before being sent to the colonies. Reading about the programme on the information boards left me feeling disturbed and wondering what had happened to all those young men. Did they really have a better life in Canada?
After the Second World War, and during the 1950s, the farm helped to train youth offenders. In 1990, the Hadleigh Training Centre was opened on the site of the farm. The centre works with local authorities to train people with special educational needs in subjects such as IT skills, carpentry, and life skills.
The proximity to London and the sea attracted many idealists to Essex wishing to make the world a better place by social engineering, philanthropy and experimental architecture. I’ve added some of these miniature empires on my list for other visits.