On 26th November 1703, Britain was hit by weather that brought one of the worst storms in its history. It is this storm that is said to have inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. During the storm a large fleet of warships, under the command of Admiral Shovell, were anchored at Harwich following a long campaign in the Mediterranean. The fleet was forced to raise anchor and ride out the storm, letting it blow them where it would. Many of the ships were blown as far as Holland and Sweden and the death toll in Britain, following one of the worst weather events on record, was estimated at 8000 on land and sea. Following the 1953 tidal surge, another terrible weather event, rowing boat were the only way to navigate the High Street in Harwich.
The history and significance of Harwich is hinted at in its name which means 'military settlement'. Although there are hints that there might have been a Roman presence in the area, it is after the town was granted its charter in 1238 that its history becomes more evident through its inevitable links with the sea. In 1620 it was a ship of Harwich, the Mayflower, that transported the 102 Pilgrim Fathers to the New World of the Americas. The town became a Royal Naval port in 1657 and it was heavily fortified as a result, with additions such as Harwich Redoubt, Beacon Hill Battery and Bathside Battery. Harwich was known to be the only safe anchorage between the Thames and the Humber and was strategically of great significance in the defense of Britain. Whilst the town is no longer a Naval town, it has one of the largest container ports in Europe and offers ferry services to and from Holland. Harwich also has one of the oldest surviving, purpose built cinemas in Britain. The Electric Palace Cinema was built in 1911 and still keeps its original frontage and projection room in working order. There are a selection of museums and displays illustrating Harwich’s past in the town, including a Lifeboat Museum and a Maritime Museum.
The long maritime tradition of Harwich means that its notable people have an inevitable link to the sea. Harwich was the home of Christopher Jones, the Master of the Mayflower, who sailed in 1620 to the New World as one of the Pilgrims. It was also the hometown of Christopher Newport who captained the expedition that founded Jamestown in America in 1607. Perhaps the most famous name in Harwich’s history, however, is the famous diarist Samuel Pepys who was the town’s member of parliament.