Harwich Town

Harwich is not just any port


Not only is it the UK’s second busiest passenger ferry port, but its harbour – which is the largest between the Humber and the Thames – was created by a storm surge in the 1100s, a quirk of fate that gave rise to the area’s fascinating seafaring history.

Harwich is best known for its role in the story of America, as the port from which the Mayflower captain departed on the voyage across the Atlantic to the New World in 1620. The original ship was likely dismantled in 1624 after captain Christopher Jones died, but fast-forward to the present day, and the Harwich Mayflower Heritage Trust is set to construct a replica of the famous ship to commemorate the journey’s 400th anniversary. You can check the progress of the build and learn more at the visitor centre (tbc).

The attractive old town was built on a grid pattern, in the 13th century, by the Earl of Norfolk, to exploit its strategic position at the mouth of the Stour/Orwell estuary. The famous seafarers Hawkins, Drake and Frobisher all sailed from Harwich during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I on various expeditions.

An enjoyable way to discover the historic town is to follow its Maritime Heritage Trail. From Ha’Penny Pier Visitor Centre on the Quay there are guided walking tours throughout the summer.  Start your walk at the Low Lighthouse Maritime Museum built in 1818 and Lifeboat Museum, where you can get aboard a lifeboat and end at the Barge Murals which overlook the site where Thames Sailing Barges were built up to 1930.

A special gem is the Treadwheel Crane, built in 1667, a kind of colossal hamster-wheel based on a Roman design. The crane was worked by men walking in the interior of two large wheels to raise and lower goods and materials. As far as is known Harwich has the only British example.

On route down the quaint streets there is the chance to take in gems such as the Electric Palace Cinema, built in 1911 and now the oldest unaltered purpose-built cinema in Britain.

St. Nicholas Church which was rebuilt 1821 and The Redoubt Fort which was built in 1808 as a large circular fort to protect the harbour from a Napoleonic invasion.

These are just a few of the outstanding treasures the trail has to offer. Also visit the old Radar Tower, at Beacon Hill Fort, which was the first radar installation of the second world war, and can be opened on request to the Harwich Visitor Centre.

View the timeline

History in Pictures

Discover Harwich

Harwich

Dovercourt Bay

Ha'penny Pier