The very name Harwich is synonymous with ships. Harwich for the Continent now means large fast luxurious ferries, but Packet Boats have been sailing from Harwich to Holland since 1661. A year earlier in 1660 a shipyard was developed and many fine ships were built for the Navy. At this time virtually the whole British Navy could be accommodated in the large natural harbour formed by the confluence of the Rivers Stour and Orwell. And the English Fleet returning from the defeat of the Spanish Armada put into Harwich Harbour in 1588.
Harwich is known as one of the Haven Ports, that is a safe haven for ships at times of adverse winds. It is the only Haven Port between the Thames and the Humber, an important factor in the days of sailing ships.
Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist and Secretary for the Navy, was MP for Harwich in 1679-1685. In 1689, on the deposition of James II, the Dutch William and his wife Mary (daughter of James II) became joint rulers of Great Britain. King William was four times a royal passenger on the packet boats from Harwich to Holland.
Lord Nelson visited Harwich in his ship Medusa in 1801 to assist in the formation of Sea Fencibles, a naval local defence force. He was reputed to have stayed at the Three Cups.
Many of the houses in Harwich have cellars which were interconnecting and had the double purpose of facilitating smuggling and also escaping the press gangs. The town was always full of sailors, but particularly so in times of war, and this led to the large number of pubs. After the First World War, in 1919, the German fleet of U Boats surrendered at Harwich.
In 1924 Prince George (later Duke of Kent) came to open the Train Ferry Service. And in 1976 Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) came to open the new Pilotage Building. He returned in 2005 to open the new state of the art Trinity House building.
Harwich experienced a different kind of maritime experience in 1953 when the whole of the old town was inundated by flood water from the sea. Evidence of Harwich’s rich nautical heritage can be seen in many parts of the Old Town.