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There is some evidence for  Bronze Age settlement within the urban area.  However, the earliest urban settlement dates to the Roman period.  A Roman small town developed on the junction between Stane Street and the Roman roads which ran north-east to south-west from Sudbury to London and north-west to south-east from Cambridge to Chelmsford.  The main settlement area spread westwards from the road junction along a spur between the Chelmer and a tributary stream.   There was a second Roman settlement at Church End immediately to the north of present day Great Dunmow.

Both Roman settlements were reoccupied during the Saxon period, at Great Dunmow in the seventh century and at Church End in the later Saxon period.

The earliest medieval settlement appears to have been a continuation of the late Saxon settlement at Church End, where the parish church is located.  The granting of a market charter in 1227 may mark the time of the movement of the main focus of settlement from Church End to the High Street and market-place.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a time of growth with the establishment of cloth and tanning industries.  By contrast the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were times of economic decline.  Dunmow is now a small market town and a commuter town.