Braintree is a town in Essex, England. It is the principal settlement of Braintree District (formed in 1974) and it is located northeast of Chelmsford and west of Colchester. According to the 2011 Census, the town had a population of 41,634, while the urban area, which includes Great Notley, Rayne and High Garrett as well as Bocking, had a population of 53,477.
Braintree has grown contiguous with several surrounding settlements. Braintree proper lies on the River Brain and to the south of Stane Street, the Roman road from Braughing to Colchester, while Bocking lies on the River Blackwater and to the north of the road. The two together, Braintree and Bocking, made an urban district between 1934 and 1974. Between 1894 and 1934 Braintree had been an urban district independent of Bocking.
Braintree gave its name to the town of Braintree, Massachusetts, in the United States.
Braintree dates back over 4,000 years when it was just a small village. When the Romans invaded, they built two roads; a settlement developed at the junction of these two roads but was later abandoned when the Romans left Britain. The town was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1085 when it was called Branchetreu and consisted of in the possession of Richard, son of Count Gilbert. Pilgrims used the town as a stop-over, the size of the town increased and the Bishop of London obtained a market charter for the town in 1190. The town prospered from the 17th century when Flemish immigrants made the town famous for its wool cloth trade. In 1665, the Great Plague killed 865 of the population of just 2,300 people.
The wool trade died out in the early 19th century and Braintree became a centre for silk manufacturing when George Courtauld opened a silk mill in the town. Others followed, including Warner & Sons. By the late 19th century, Braintree was a thriving agricultural and textile town, and benefited from a railway connection to London. The wealthy Courtauld family had a strong influence on the town, supporting plans for many of the town's public buildings such as the town hall and public gardens established in 1888. The town's influence on the textile weaving industry is remembered today in the Warner Textile Archive and at Braintree Museum.