Halstead derives its name from the Old English word 'heald' meaning a sloping hillside and 'stede' a place of shelter. Archaeological evidence indicates that Halstead has been occupied since the early Bronze Age. The sites of Iron Age and Roman settlements, including a villa, were discovered in the vicinity of Greenstead Hall, where Saxon pottery was also found.
The Domesday Book of 1086 records the landowners of Halstead and its three water mills along the River
Colne. There was evidence of a market in Halstead before 1251 when a Royal Charter was granted for a weekly market and an annual fair. Further grants were made in 1330 and 1467 for the market which was then held in Chipping Hill. St. Andrew's Church was in existence by 1276 and the town developed around the Church and nearby market.
In about 1413 Holy Trinity Chapel was erected near the junction of the present Chapel Hill with Trinity Street and Mount Hill. This chapel disappeared by the eighteenth century and during 1843 it was replaced by Holy Trinity Church, a Gothic Revival building. In addition Halstead had a number of non-conformist Chapels of which a few survive.
The town had two principal manors namely Abels and Bois Hall. The manor houses together with the Guildhall were all demolished during the twentieth century. The Old Grammar School in the High Street was founded in 1594 and closed in 1906. The Workhouse for Halstead Union was built in 1838 and demolished in 1922.
One of the main sources of employment in the town was weaving, initially of cloth and latterly silk and crepe. The Courtauld silk weaving mill was the major employer in the town until its closure in 1982. Other large employers included Charles Portway & Son Limited and The Tortoise Foundry Co. Limited, which made the well known tortoise stoves. There were two major breweries namely T. F. Adams & Sons and G. E. Cook & Sons. Henry Cocksedge & Son were timber merchants and wood turners who also operated steam saw mills. These and other industries used the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway which operated to Halstead from 1860 until 1965.
A number of fine buildings remain in the town such as the former Corn Exchange built 1864-65 now the Library, the Cottage Hospital opened 1884, the Townsford Mill and many old buildings which adorn the High Street. The industrial housing built by members of the Courtauld family during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is particularly attractive as are the public gardens opened in 1901.
This historic market town still continues to expand well beyond its original centre around the steep High Street between the River Colne and St. Andrew's Church.
A brief history of the Essex town of Halstead
by Adrian Corder-Birch F.Inst.L.Ex, M.I.C.M.