Mention Tiptree anywhere in the British Isles and the chances are, if an association comes to mind, it will be with Wilkin and jam. There is of course more to Tiptree's story but the present town undoubtedly developed as a result of industry and employment brought to the area by Arthur Wilkin and other contemporaries. The current town does not have the form of an older settlement; there is no recognisable traditional town centre or medieval church as found in so many settlements in East Anglia but there is a busy and extensive town. However, digging a little deeper does reveal a history back to earlier times before the rapid growth of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Legend associates the attack by Boudica and the Iceni on Colchester with fighting in the area but there is no evidence to support this. It is however not unreasonable to suggest that the Anglo-Saxons, as they arrived by sea and ventured up the estuaries of today's Essex, fought and settled in the area. By the time of the Domesday Book, 1086, we can confirm that Great Braxted, including rights over Tiptreeheethe (Tiptree Heath), were taken over by Eudo Dapifer and tenanted by Richard de Sackville. The name Tiptree also features in the records of Tiptree Priory, which stood just within the parish of Great Braxted, on the edge of Tiptree Heath. The priory was founded by the Tregoz family at some point prior to 1218, but we can't be any clearer on the precise date of foundation.
The area simply remained part of the Great Forest of Essex, there being no parish of Tiptree, but gradually individuals claimed sections of land and built cottages. We can identify the opneing of a pub called the High Flyer in 1771, when the area was used for training soldiers prior to service in the American War of Independence. The development of arable land during the Napoleonic wars led to a local enclosure act and land began to be brought into cultivation. There was a fair in July of each year and by 1759 horse racing had become a prominent part of the event. An advert from the Chelmsford Chronicle of 1787 records, "Notice is hereby given that the Bettting Day of the Fair will be Wednesday, the 11th July, the booths etc. to be paid for when hired." It also announces the playing of cricket.
Apart from the fair, Tiptree Heath had a relatively unsavoury reputation. To the hovels though were added a chapel and a forge. In 1841, John Mechi, who had started as a clerk in London and then developed a successful business as a cutler, bought land and a farmhouse which he developed as Tiptree Hall. He saw potential in the relatively marshy land, invested in the use of manure, drainage and steam engines and led the improvement of the local roads. He is believed to be one of the leaders of the movement to set up the ecclesiastical parish of Tiptree. He was Sheriff of London in 1856 and published on the subject of farming; finally the parish church of St Luke's was built in 1856.
Overlapping with Mechi, Tiptree's other great entrepreneur Arthur Wilkin, had taken every opportunity to educate himself and had begun farming at Park Farm, Tollshunt Knights and then at Trewlands when he inherited it in 1864. Being a committed non-conformist, he had some quibbles with St Luke's and supported the building of the chapel at Tiptree. His son William is credited with the planting of the first two acres of strawberries at the farm as his father experimented with soft fruits for the London market. The moment of inspiration when he saw jam made from his fruits and the decision that he could make the jams himself led to the foundation of the Britannia Fruit Preserving Company based at the Tiptree jam factory; a visit to the tearooms and museum at the factory today will tell the full story and the name Wilkin continues to lead the company. It was renamed Wilkin and Sons Ltd in 1905.
The other significant development in terms of local employment came about when William Wilson opened a small printing firm in 1900. He was already a successful printer in London but his local manger set about developing the Tiptree business. With a substantial part of the business being the production of nautical books, it was renamed the Anchor Press. By 1930 it had become the other principal employer in the village. The developing population led to the requirement for other services to be provided in the area and finally the establishment of the civil parish.
The roads which form the cross-roads in the centre of the town are thought to follow the lines of green lanes that in medieval times ran across the Tiptree Heath. The railway that once served Tiptree was one of the last to be built in the great era of railway building and then one of the first to begin to close. A.C.Wilkin was once again prominent amongst those who fought for a rail link from Kelvedon to the coast, both to take the product of the farms to London with greater efficiency and hopefully to foster new developments beside the Blackwater estuary. Opting for a light railway standard made it financially possible and finally the line ran for a few years from Tollesbury Pier station; the line became known as the 'Crab and Winkle Line'. The developments by the Blackwater never happened, the sidings at the Wilkin factory closed as the motor lorry took n the business and Tiptree station, opened in 1904, closed to passengers in 1951 and to freight in 1962. A peep over the wooden fence beside the BT depot in Station Road will reveal where the wooden station once stood.
Today's population is given as 7,516 (2001 census). With Tiptree technically still being a village, it can claim to be the 'biggest village in Essex'. It is certainly a substantial step on from the figure of about a thousand in 1900, which itself was a move on from the few hundred that lived in Tiptree earlied in the 19th century.
The relatively late growth of Tiptree as a village leave it with rather bland central roads, including now the inevitable supermarket
St Luke's church is an early Victorian building; together with the school and community facilities, they now form a conveninent central cluster
The mill at Tiptree retains most of its features, apart from the sails
The company Wilkin and Son Ltd is synonymous with Tiptree itself and is a primary reason for the town being as it is today. Drive down from the main factory for this entrance to the tea room and museum
As well as a well structured museum with many artifacts from inside the factory, there are external displays of farming machinery at the Wilkin and Sons museum