DOES nothing of importance ever happen in Essex? Actually, er, yes it does.

History buff Ken Shaw shares what he believes are some of our county’s finer historical episodes.

Ken, who was born and raised on a council estate in Colchester, retired from a career in electrical engineering in 2004. He then studied law as a mature student and achieved both an honours degree and a masters degree in law at Queen Mary University, London.

Now living in Chelmsford with his wife Ivy, Ken has also published several academic articles on legal issues and has a particular interest in researching miscarriages of justice.

Ken, who considers his ultimate hero to be diplomat, poet and wit Geoffrey Chaucer, has travelled widely, but always returns to his native Essex, which he loves for its countryside walks, architecture, and rich history.

Here he shares some of our county’s most scintillating historical snippets..

From its source amongst the sleepy hills of Gloucestershire, the Thames meanders peacefully through many picturesque towns and villages on its way to the sea. Such world-renowned sites as Oxford University, Windsor Palace, and the Palace of Westminster nestle along its banks.

Before reaching the sea, the Thames passes Essex, to which its northern bank forms a natural southern boundary.

Here the Thames becomes wide, tidal, wind-blown, and no longer conducive to such gentle pursuits as the Henley-on-Thames regatta, or the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, enjoyed in its calm upper reaches. Indeed, one such genteel upriver pursuit in 1717 saw fifty musicians perform Handel’s Water Music before King George I as he drifted magnificently along the river in the royal barge. Nothing quite so serene has been written into the history of the Thames estuary in Essex.

There is however, a foggy scene in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, where escaped convict Magwitch, running desperately for his life, flounders breathlessly in his prison chains as he struggles against cloying, cold grey mud alongside the estuary. Any literature lover could therefore be forgiven for thinking of Essex as a featureless inhospitable place where nothing of importance ever happens. But they would be wrong.

Handel’s Water Music, if composed today, would probably not make the Hit Parade. But history is a living, breathing entity, and today’s pop stars are making history just as Handel once did. Canadian pop star Justin Bieber recently made history in Essex when he took a break from his world tour to visit a pub in Epping Forest, for dinner.

As Justin took a stroll in the forest before dinner he may have been unaware that the forest hides dark criminal associations.

The highwayman Dick Turpin, once had a hideout there, and it is also notorious as a burial area for many of London’s murder victims. Word of Justin’s visit soon spread and star-struck fans crowded into the pub wanting his autograph. Unable to enjoy his salmon and mash dinner, washed down with milk, in peace, Justin departed, leaving his used milk glass on the table.

Perhaps if this had been Henley-on-Thames or Oxford that might have been the end of the matter, but this was Dick Turpin country.

Staff at the pub decided the glass might make a valuable souvenir, and two days later the unwashed milk glass showed up on eBay, where bids hit an historic £65,900.

Essex has also played a part in important historical events far removed from the shores of England. In 1598, Margaret Reade was born in the tiny hamlet of North Benfleet.

At some stage Margaret made the long and dangerous voyage to a new life in America, finally passing away in Massachusetts, at the grand old age of 74. Margaret’s grandson nine times removed, was inaugurated 329 years later as the 43rd president of the United States.

Her grandson became renowned for his noteworthy speeches, many of which have taken their place in history. Margaret’s famous grandson, a man unique among international statesmen, was George W Bush.

With 350 miles of coastline facing mainland Europe, and 35 small islands, Essex was a haven for smugglers long before Margaret’s time, and Paglesham, on the river Crouch, was the smuggling capital of the region.

William Dowsett and his brother John led one such infamous gang of Paglesham smugglers. With contraband tea, coffee and around 1600 gallons of illicit gin, rum and brandy on board, William was quietly rubbing his hands while sailing back from France to Essex in 1778, when a Revenue cutter, the Bee, spotted him.

Like the Bee, Dowsett’s 40-ton cutter, the Neptune, was armed with six-pounder cannon. Dowsett refused to yield to the demands of Captain Hart for the Neptune to hove-to and be boarded. In an exchange of cannon fire two of the smugglers were killed and three wounded. The surviving crewmembers were sentenced at Harwich, to impressment into the navy; Dowsett escaped to remain at large.

Less than three weeks after the aptly named Bee had swooped to sting him, Dowsett was back in business, this time in command of the cutter, Waggon. But once again, things failed to go to plan; a Revenue cutter spotted him and gave chase. Dowsett lost his ship but escaped again. Even off the Waggon, Dowsett was a hard man to keep down, and in 1783 he was at work again, this time with two cutters, the Hazard and the Lark. The Dowsett brothers were also sufficiently established to offer travellers stimulating voyages to France and back on smuggling runs.

There is a story that one voyager, an MP at dinner with the Dowsett gang, was invited to join a toast: “Damnation to all Revenue laws and officers!” The MP demurred; pointing out that the abolition of Revenue laws would inevitably mean the end of smuggling. The toast was promptly amended to: “Revenue laws and officers for ever!” Another indication perhaps, of the pragmatism of the Essex character.

But not all Essex smugglers were as irrepressible as Dowsett. In 1819 Customs officers were overworked and any smugglers suspecting Customs officers were about to pounce, would simply throw their contraband overboard into one of the many coastal creeks and inlets. Their cargo safely hidden, the smugglers would return to collect it later when the coast was clear.

Unquestionably, with its colourful history, much of importance has happened in Essex. And if there’s a castle to demolish, an unwashed milk glass to sell, or a hoard of Vikings to do a deal with, you could do worse than send for Essex man.