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. 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 – c1750 to date, with an emphasis from the ‘Industrial Revolution’ to the onset of the First World War – while recognising that traditional industries have a far longer domestic and workshop based history and post-WWI industries are also now disappearing. 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.