Why Essex is crap, or at least why everyone thinks it is

I lived in the county of Essex for two years as a teenager. It's unique in the English imagination, a place once rural but colonized by Londoners fleeing Germans during the war and Immigrants after it. A sprawling exurban development park, it's held to be trashy yet conservative, its villages surrounded by shabby modern projects and its market downs gutted by them, all inhabited by criminals, sluts and people so stupid their behavior dances on the margins of sanity. That's the nasty charicature, anyway, immortalized in the 1990s by the novelty song embedded above. Tim Burrows narrates the history behind this myth of Essex, "the crudest, stupidest symbol of Englishness."

…before Essex was a punchline, it was a dream. A place that offered hope to working-class Londoners in the form of "new towns" such as Basildon and Harlow, which were built by the state to meet dire housing, sanitation and civic needs after the second world war. As the century progressed, however, parts of Essex came to represent the dismantling of this dream, as Thatcherism, the UK arm of the global new right movement that believed in lower taxes and lower public spending alongside deregulation and privatisation, became indelibly linked to the county. In 1990, a new term, "Essex man", was coined by the Sunday Telegraph journalist Simon Heffer, to describe a new type of voter: a "young, industrious, mildly brutish and culturally barren" worker in London's financial centre, whose roots lay in east London, and whose political views were "breathtakingly rightwing".

Even in America, I've yet to get anything quite like the Essex experience of litter-strewn paths between suburban neighborhoods, the weird way you could transit from prosperity to appalling deprivation just by ducking through a tall hedge or sliver of old woodland dividing one from the other, chancing upon crap Narnia in deepest Chelmsford.