Harwich, pronounced 'Harich' or 'Harridge', is a port town in Essex, East Anglia.
Harwich lies at the junction of two estuaries and the area forms one of the UK's major harbors (although most freight shipping actually operates from Felixstowe, a short distance over the water, rather than from Harwich itself). Ferries to northern Europe operate from adjacent Parkeston, while there are fast rail and road links to London.
The town's name means "military settlement," from Old English here-wic.
The town received its charter in 1238, although there is evidence of earlier settlement – for example, a record of a chapel in 1177, and some indications of a possible Roman presence.
Because of its strategic position, Harwich was the target for the invasion of Britain by William of Orange on 11 November 1688. However, unfavorable winds forced his fleet to sail into the English Channel instead and eventually land at Torbay. Due to the involvement of the Schomberg family in the invasion, Charles Louis Schomberg was made Marquess of Harwich.
Writer Daniel Defoe devotes a few pages to the town in A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain. Visiting in 1722, he noted its formidable fort and harbor "of a vast extent." The town, he recounts, was also known for an unusual chalybeate spring rising on Beacon Hill (a promontory to the north-east of the town), which "petrified" clay, allowing it to be used to pave Harwich's streets and build its walls. The locals also claimed that "the same spring is said to turn wood into iron," but Defoe put this down to the presence of "copperas" in the water. Regarding the atmosphere of the town, he states: "Harwich is a town of hurry and business, not much of gaiety and pleasure; yet the inhabitants seem warm in their nests and some of them are very wealthy."
Harwich played an important part in the Napoleonic and more especially the two world wars. Of particular note:
1793-1815 - Post Office Station for communication with Europe, one of embarkation and evacuation bases for expeditions to Holland in 1799, 1809 and 1813/14; base for capturing enemy privateers. The dockyard built many ships for the Navy, including HMS Conqueror which captured the French Admiral Villeneuve at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Redoubt and the now-demolished Ordnance Building date from that era.
1914-18 - base for the Royal Navy's Harwich Force light cruisers and destroyers under Commodore Tyrwhitt, and for British submarines. In November 1918 the German U-Boat fleet surrendered to the Royal Navy in the harbor.
1939-1945 - one of main East Coast minesweeping and destroyer bases, at one period base for British and French submarines; assembled fleets for Dutch and Dunkirk evacuations and follow-up to D-Day; unusually a target in 1940 for Italian bombers.
Royal Naval Dockyard
Harwich Dockyard was established as a Royal Navy Dockyard in 1652. It ceased to operate as a Royal Dockyard in 1713 (though a Royal Navy presence was maintained until 1829). During the various wars with France and Holland, through to 1815, the dockyard was responsible for both building and repairing numerous warships. HMS Conqueror, a 74-gun ship completed in 1801, captured the French admiral Villeneuve at Trafalgar. The yard was then a semi-private concern, with the actual shipbuilding contracted to Joseph Graham, who was sometimes mayor of the town. During World War II parts of Harwich were again requisitioned for naval use and ships were based at HMS Badger; Badger was decommissioned in 1946, but the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service maintained a headquarters on the site until 1992.