For long there had been an assumption that agricultural Essex had little to offer the industrial archaeologist, and hence, unlike most other Counties, Essex had never had a society focused primarily on industrial archaeology and heritage. The County Council, however, had done much to further the study of the County’s industrial past through the 1971 Industrial Survey by John Booker based at the Essex Record Office (ERO) (which is still used as a reference point for later research), followed by his book, Essex and the Industrial Revolution, published in 1974 and, since 1996, the Comparative Surveys of Modern / Industrial Sites and Monuments established by the Historic Environment Branch of the County Council. 1980 saw the publication of Alderton & Booker's 'Batsford Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of East Anglia' which included a section on Essex. The County Council was also a founding partner of the industrial heritage tourism organisation, the European Route of Industrial Heritage.
These initiatives all showed that the County had a wealth of traditional industry such as milling, malting, brewing, agricultural engineering, brick making etc., as well as more modern industries such as silk and artificial fibres, electrical engineering, radio communications, metal window manufacturing and shoe making; plus the transport infrastructure to support these industries.
Meeting at the Association for Industrial Archaeology Annual Conference held in Essex in 2012, a number of like-minded individuals discussed the possibility and potential of setting up an industrial archaeology society for Essex. Rather than create an entirely new organisation, the proposers of an Essex industrial archaeology society and Essex Society for Archaeology and History (ESAH) officers reached agreement on setting up such a group as a specialist sub-group within ESAH. Subsequently on 6th July 2013 at the ERO, Lord Petre, the Patron of ESAH, launched the new sub-group of the Society, the Essex Industrial Archaeology Group (EIAG).
The scope of the EIAG is based on that used by Historic England. While the Industrial Revolution period from c. 1750 provides the main source of interest, traditional industries have a far longer domestic and workshop-based history, and the remains of 20th-century industry are increasingly at risk and worthy of study and preservation.The Historic England scope includes the extractive industries, processing and manufacture, public utilities, and telecommunications, and all forms of transport. However EIAG has adopted a broader definition and so also includes workers’ housing and company villages for instance. A full list of the Group’s scope and aims can be found by referring to the Group’s Terms of Reference.
The Essex Mills Group was inaugurated in 1985 for mill enthusiasts to preserve wind, water, tide and steam mills in Essex and to defend their future. The group arranged visits to mills, collected historical and technical information, together with illustrations of mills, and published regular newsletters. The Mills Group was active for about thirty years during which time much valuable work was carried out. This included nearly 70 newsletters, containing significant information about the history of all types of mills in Essex. However, to ensure its continued work, in 2019 The Essex Mills Group was incorporated into The Essex Industrial Archaeology Group, which has similar aims and will, therefore, ensure the Mills Group's work will be continued, especially the promotion of Essex's mills for the public to enjoy and learn about.