There appears to have been settlement in and around the Coggeshall area from the Mesolithic period onwards. In the Roman period Stane Street ran through Coggeshall to Colchester, and there may well have been a minor road on the southern side of the later town linking Stane Street to Kelvedon. Excavations on the eastern edge of the town have revealed part of a Roman farm or villa complex, containing at least one masonry structure and one timber structure set within a grid of paddocks, fields and a droveway. There is some evidence in the form of pottery sherds, for an Early Saxon settlement at Coggeshall opposite the church. An eighth-century finger-ring was also found in 1851. The Domesday Book records that at the end of the Saxon period there was a reasonably large, settled community with a church and one, possibly two, mills at Coggeshall
It is thought that the late Saxon and early medieval settlement was centred on the church, on the higher drier ground above the valley floor. In 1142 the abbey was founded, sited to the south of the river and town. Later in the medieval period the focus of settlement shifted downslope to the area around the market-place just to the north of Stane Street, a movement which may be associated with the granting of a market charter in 1256 to the abbey. In the late medieval period and early post-medieval period Coggeshall became an important centre of the cloth industry; in particular it was noted for a fine bay cloth known as Coggeshall White. The size and quality of the early fifteenth century parish church and the numbers and quality of the surviving fourteenth to seventeenth century buildings reflect the wealth available within the town. This trade declined by the end of the seventeenth century, and Coggeshall reverted to being an agricultural market-town until the establishment of the luxury cloth industries of tambour lace and silk in the mid-nineteenth century. By 1890 the silk industry had closed in Coggeshall and the town was again simply a market-town for the surrounding agricultural area. The other industries represented in the later post-medieval and modern period, that is the production of isinglass and gelatine, brewing and seed-growing, reflect this agricultural basis.