According to A Dictionary of British Place Names, Thaxted derives from the Old Englishthoec with stede, being a "place where thatching materials are got". Thaxted was a development of a Saxon settlement on a Roman road. Archeological research of the area by Oxford Archaeology in 2007 produced finds showing Bronze Age, late Iron Age, Roman, late medieval and post-medieval occupation, including flint fragments, floor and roof tiles, pottery sherds, ditch enclosures, graves, and skeletal remains. A further archeological excavation in the centre of the town by the Colchester Archeological Trust in 2015 found a large medieval ditch which may have been a part of the town's defences, 15th- to 16th-century artifacts, and fragments of animal bone waste, mainly from cattle. The town is listed in the 1086 Domesday Book by Norman scribes with no real sense of any orthodox orthography as 'Tachesteda'. The settlement of 108 households was in the Hundred of Dunmow, with a population that included 54 villagers, 34 smallholders, 16 slaves, and 4 freemen. The land supported 28.5 plough teams—being 7 lord's teams and 21.5 men's teams—and contained two mills, meadow of, and woodland with 850 pigs. In 1066 there were four cobs, 36 cattle, an additional 128 pigs, 200 sheep, and 10 beehives. The sheep had increased to 320, and the beehives to 16, by 1086. In 1066 the lord was WihtGar, son of Aelfric, who was lord or overlord of 27 other manors, chiefly in west Essex. After 1086 the lordship of Thaxted was given in part to Warner, and to Richard fitz Gilbert—son to Gilbert, Count of Brionne—who was also Tenant-in-chief to the king.
In 1829, there were 2,293 people living in Thaxted; in 1848 there were 2,527. At the time of the 1881 census, that figure had fallen to 1,914, and it fell further by 1921 to 1,596. In 2001, the population was 2,526. Thaxted had a total population of 2,845, according to the 2011 census.
Culture and community
Between 2007 and 2009, a village design statement was produced for Thaxted to describe the character of the town and parish and to inform any future development. It was drawn up after consultation with local residents and under the auspices of Thaxted Parish Council and the Thaxted Society, and was published after further consultation with the rural community council and Uttlesford District Council. The Thaxted Society is a conservation charity founded to safeguard and promote Thaxted's legacy. It was fifty years old in 2013 and published the 100th issue of the Thaxted Bulletin in winter 2017. The society's remit is to scrutinise and respond to local planning and Government planning regulation and policy. The annual Thaxted Festival takes place over four weekends in June and July every year, presenting a programme of musical concerts. Thaxted Cricket Club represents the town and parish. The club's teams play in the Herts and Essex League, play Sunday Friendlies, and in under-12 and under-15 competitions. Thaxted football club, the Thaxted Rangers, has a senior team and youth teams. Thaxted Morris Men is a morris side which was founded in 1911, under the instigation of Conrad Noel, Vicar of Thaxted, as a response to a renewed interest in morris dancing. The side performed locally as part of coronation celebrations for George V.
From 1913 to 1952, a short railway branch line from Elsenham ran to a terminus station located about one mile south of the town. The line was closed to passenger traffic on 15 September 1952.