Life in the Elizabethan Era


By this era most people had houses although there was a vast difference between rich and poor accommodation.

The most common house was a wooden frame with weatherboard

Rooms in each house were used for living and sleeping with separate buildings for animals.

Houses of rich people were usually built with stone or bricks.

Seating for people consisted of benches or stools.

Chairs and upholstery was the province of the wealthy

Tables were usually of trestle style with lengths of wooden planking on a frame.

Beds were often low wooden frames containing a mattress stuffed with straw, feathers or whatever soft material was available. The bed was covered by a blanket to keep the occupant warm.

Wealthier residents would have a higher bed with a better mattress and linen sheets and feather stuffed pillows.

Some beds had canopies to increase warmth and decrease light

Internal lighting was achieved by candles

Many windows had glass fitted although curtains did not come into use until later eras


The average adult life expectancy was much lower than nowadays.

Large families were the norm as it was accepted that many children would die when young.

Many children became Orphans whilst still young and were cared for by relatives or sometimes scavenged a living.

There were some charities to help the poor which relied on local bequests.

A local example is Ayletts Charity covering Tillingham and area.



Food was confined to that available in seasons with the exception of items that were pickled or salted.

Meat was normally roasted over an open fire or stewed in a pot over a wood fire.

Access to eels, fish, shellfish and rabbits provided poor people with access to some meat.

Porridge/ Gruel was another part of staple diet.

Dairy products were made on most farms and so were purchased locally.

Access to milk/ butter etc was an important part of family life to farm workers.

Beer was the main beverage drunk by all of the family as tea and coffee did not become available to normal people until the late 1700's

Wealthier residents would have large kitchens and produce varied dishes although they were still restricted to food in season.

Food was eaten with a knife or with fingers


The marshlands of Eastern Essex are the only areas in Essex recorded as producing cheese from sheep.

Although Essex Cheese was held in high renown the remainder of the cheese makers in the county made their cheese from cows milk

Sheep are the main livestock in the area Cheese and butter were made from Ewes milk in large huts known as wicks.

To this day many farms in the old marshland have the appendix wick in their name i.e. Middlewick, providing clues to their past.

Ewes cheese became popular as a winter food as the cheese was more moist than cows cheese and lasted longer through the winter.

The process of making cheese started with putting the milk into a wooden pail, then warming the milk and adding rennet to make the milk curdle.

After a while hard sediment would form on the bottom of the pail with a clear liquid on top.

The liquid was poured away and the sediment placed in a cloth bag which was put into a press where it was left for a few days to allow the cheese to solidify.

In cold times of the year the area of the press was often kept warm to help the cheese ripen.

Most sheep farmers would make their own cheese to farm a staple part of the farmers diet and to sell in the local markets. 


In medieval time Essex was largely forested in an area called the Kings Forest of Essex. There were large areas of heath land with bracken and heather as well as forest. Hunting was the perogative of the monarch which made taking deer an offence punished by death or disfigurement .This must have been a great temptation for the poor and hungry residents.

The forest was useful for providing firewood and for grazing for pigs and cattle.

Nowadays this is difficult to believe given the few trees in our area. The ancient bounds of the forest surveyed in 1291 included the entire Dengie Hundred including St Peters Chapel and Creeksea.

Even in later years the new parish church as St Lawrence was called St Lawrence Newland as it was new land cut from the forest.

The earth in this area was so fertile that over the years more and more forest was cut back for agriculture shrinking the forest into the existing Epping Forest.


During Elizabethan times sport was discouraged with archery being the only exception.

Every father had to give his sons and servants who were aged from 7 to 16 with a longbow and two arrows and every man aged 17 to 60 had to own a longbow and 4 arrows.

Each parish had to provide archery butts every Sunday to allow parishioners to practice their skills.

Failure to comply with this obligation in 1591 led to the residents of Purleigh being fined 12d each having not practiced for 10 months.

The main sport in the many alehouses was a game that we know as shove ha-penny which was played with groats (the small currency of the time).

Although the game was unlawful in many parts of the country it was still commonly played as the law was rarely enforced.


In 1565 a survey was made of merchant vessels that could be used to support the small navy.

At this time Bradwell was shown as having one coastal trader under 20 tons whilst Burnham was shown as having 21 vessels with 18 owners or masters and 17 fishermen.


Oysters have a special place in the history of the area with the Wallfleet Oysters cultivated in the Crouch and the Blackwater regarded as the best in the country although this claim was later overtaken by new oyster beds at Colchester.

Keddles were fish traps that were made from a series of stakes forced into the ground between high and low water marks in coastal estuaries with nets placed on the angles. As the tide ran out small flat fish were trapped in the nets and harvested at low tide. Keddles were normally used as additional income by wild fowlers who killed some of the large flocks of wildfowl found in the marshland.


Between the summer of 1588 and 1600 the area suffered a succession of storms of unprecedented violence which notably wrecked the Spanish Armada in 1588.

In 1590 a tempest damaged St Lawrence Parish Church so badly that it needed major repairs.

A similar fate was suffered in 1600 by Woodham Mortimer when tiles were stripped from the church roof.