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Essex is not all footballers' wives and fake tans

By Essex Chronicle  |  Posted: January 31, 2013

By James Drummond james.drummond@essexchronicle.co.uk

  • essex girls: The stars of ITV2's The Only Way Is Essex

  • county spokesman: Jonathan Meades, whose latest TV essay took a fresh look at Essex, in Silver End

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NOWHERE in the country has suffered more from lazy stereotyping than Essex.

To the uninformed, the county is filled exclusively with footballers' wives, brain-dead reality TV stars and fake tans. A place where Simon Heffer's "young, industrious, mildly brutish and culturally barren" Essex Man stalks the non-descript streets.

But a new programme by the cult documentary maker Jonathan Meades attempts to show the true beauty and importance of a county he says "defies definition".

"In the recent past, nowhere in Britain has suffered these institutionalised lies, blood libels, tribal slanders – these expressions of 'place-ism' or racism – to the extent that Essex has," he says.

In fact, he argues, Essex has a rich social history and rich architectural heritage that goes-beyond the "East End gone a-rovin'" new towns of Basildon and Harlow.

Meades' programme shows us a place that is at once the home of picturesque villages, pre-war modernism, and nineteenth century social experiments.

From brewing magnate Frederick Charrington's Temperance Colony on Osea Island to a Tolstoy-inspired community at Purleigh, Essex was a place where Victorian do-gooders attempted to reform London's outcasts through a programme of fresh air.

Meades also discovers a land which abounds in all strains of modernist and progressive architecture.

From the modernist utopia created by paternalistic shoe giant Thomas Bata in East Tilbury to the "model village" of Silver End built by the Crittall family.

In Burnham-on-Crouch, he visits the 1931-built Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, which was designed to fit seamlessly in with the waterfront.

He also explores the unique architecture of Arthur Mackmurdo, whose work is dotted around Great Totham and Wickham Bishops, including Great Ruffins, a majestic country home.

So while Meades accepts that Essex is, in some ways, a "colony of London" – formed and developed by its proximity to some of the poorest parts of the capital – it offers so much more.

"There is a different Essex, an Essex on the sly – an under the radar Essex," Meades concludes.

Jonathan Meades: The Joy of Essex, aired on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC Four but is available to view on BBC iPlayer until next Tuesday.

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