Hadleigh is a small town in south-east Essex, five miles west of Southend-on-Sea on the A13 main road. The name Hadleigh, is derived from a Saxon word meaning, “clearing in the heath”.
On the edge of the town, on top of a hill, are the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, giving views over the Essex Marshes and the Thames Estuary to Kent. On a clear day, the buildings of Canary Wharf, East London, can be seen. The castle was built in the 13th century by Hubert de Burgh, King John’s chief minister. However, it was built on unstable clay foundations. By 1274, it was already experiencing problems and was said to be ‘badly built and decayed’.
Edward III spent large sums of money refurbishing the castle, as he saw the strategic importance of the castle for defending the Thames Estuary against French raids during the Hundred Years War. In the 16th century, most of the facing stones were taken from the castle and used as building materials. In 1948, the then owners, the Salvation Army, gave the castle to the Ministry of Works. Today it is under the guardianship of English Heritage. In 1814, John Constable, the landscape painter, made a sketch of the ruins and used it to create his famous painting of the castle in 1829.
The Salvation Army owns Hadleigh Farm on the hillside overlooking the Thames Estuary. It is now a commercial farm of over 1,000 acres and was established by General William Booth in 1891. He purchased the land as part of his ‘In Darkest England’ scheme to help the poor in the cities of Britain. “Hadleigh Colony” was chosen as it is not far from London and at one time, barges came from the City to a jetty at the foot of the hill. To meet the needs of the many visitors, a tea room was provided, which closed when the First World War started. The current popular tea room opened in 2007, where customers are served by trainees from the Hadleigh Training Centre. This employment training centre helps clients gain the skills necessary to obtain employment in the horticulture, catering and carpentry industries, as well as learning general office skills. In 2012, Hadleigh Farm hosted the Olympic Mountain Bike Event.