Blackmore Area Local History

Writtle (Essex)
"Unknown origin"

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War Memorial: Highwood.  A simple wooden cross, recently renewed, at St Peter & St Paul Church, Highwood
Writtle in 1861
Writtle in 1887
For more information on Writtle, follow this link to the blackmorehistory.blogspot: Writtle
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Writtle in 1887

The following is taken from ‘Durrant’s Handbook For Essex’ written by Miller Christy (Durrant & Co., Chelmsford, 1887).  

Writ’tle.  A.. 8759; P. 2412; Vicarage, value 600; 2m. W. from

This, said to be the largest parish in
Essex, contains a considerable village, with many curious old houses, ranged round a large green.  It is supposed to be a very ancient place, and to have been of consequence when Chelmsford was obscure.  Before a bridge was built over the Chelmer at the latter place, in 1100, the high road came, it is said, round by Writtle.  If not the Roman Caesaromagus, it is near it, though Roman remains are not abundant.  Four miles N.E. from the church, among the woods, are the remains of a Hermitage, formerly called Bedeman’s-Berg, founded by Robert, a monk, in the reign of Stephen.  The small fragment which yet remains is now used for agricultural purposes. It was partly constructed of Roman tiles.  In 1211 it is said that King John built here a palace, of which the Moat, still perfect, and enclosing an acre of ground, still remains.  It lies beside the road from Oxney Green to Chelmsford, opposite the Lordship Farm.  Highwood (2m. S.W.) is a hamlet and a separate ecclesiastical district, formed in 1876 from the parish of Writtle.  Osterley, or Horsfrith Park, formerly extensive, has long been disparked, but Writtle Park, though diminished, still remains.  It has some large timber, and contains a fine old Elizabethan brick mansion.  Round the park are the extensive woods known as the High Woods.  The Church (All Saints) is large and in various architectural styles.  On April 4, 1802, the tower fell, giving rise to the doggerel: “Chelmsford Church and Writtle steeple, Both fell down, but killed no people.”  It was rebuilt in a very tasteless style.  On the S. side is a fragment of the original tower, probably Norman.  In the tower are some grotesque stone heads, perhaps of Norman age.  It contains 8 bells.  The nave and both aisles, each of five pointed arches, probably of the 13th cent., but with windows of the 16th; N. and S. porches; clerestory windows of late 16th cent. work, and two small oratories.  The roof is handsome, having stone angels as corbels and wooden bosses of Tudor work.  Some of the finials of the seats, too, are well carved, representing poppy-heads, hawks, &c.  The staircase up to the rood-loft still remains.  The font is of massive Norman or, as some think, Saxon work.  The chancel was restored in 1885, a new E. window and oak roof being added.  Preserved in the chancel is a very curious piscine, probably of Norman age, as it is rudely carved.  It consists of a shallow, bowl-like stoup, with a projecting tongue for letting into the wall.  The church, though large, ancient, and complex, is not of great antiquarian interest.  Traces of Norman and E. Eng. work are not scarce, but the whole is much restored.  The Register dates from 1634.  There are many brasses, chiefly military and of the 16th cent.  None are of striking interest.  Among many other fine monuments is one to Sir John Comyns (1740), Chief Baron of the Exchequer, who built Hylands, Widford.  Here, in 1593, was born Dr. John Bastwick.  He practised as a physician at Colchester but afterwards wrote criticisms in Latin on the abuses of the church, and thereby became much persecuted.  In his later years, however, reparation was made to him.

Photographs: Scenes around the green at Writtle and All Saints Church.

Writtle in 1861

The following is taken from ‘The People’s History of Essex’ written by D. W. Coller (Meggy & Chalk, Chelmsford, 1861)    

WRITTLE – There is a part of the [Chelmsford] hundred yet unexplored – the district lying to the north-west of Chelmsford.  Striking into it from the New London Road, the parish of Writtle is seem lying calm and quiet in the valley below, with its clustering houses, and its church tower in its midst.  Passing the farm of Mr. Robert Baker on the right, and crossing the Wid, we find the village green and the ware-pond, surrounded with neat dwelling houses and cottages; and with the more distant scenery, including tracts of hundreds of acres of woodland, it is a pleasant and picturesque spot.  The parish is the largest in the county, including four hamlets, Oxney Green, Edney Common, Highwood and Cook’s Mill Green; it is divided into four quarters – Town Quarter, Roman’s Fee, Highwood and Bedell’s End – and it is 52 miles in circumference.  It has been said that its size is its only present distinction; but its church alone will rescue it from reproach, and the parish itself is rich, if not in relics, at least in olden recollections.  It appears to have been a place of some importance from the earliest period of our history; and probably it was a considerable town at the time when
Chelmsford was an obscure village.  The Roman is reputed to have fixed a station upon the fair spot.  It has a strong claim – in our opinion the strongest – to be regarded as the Ceasaromagus of that people.  It is true the proofs have been demanded in the shape of relics, and they have not been forthcoming.  Strong evidence may, however, be found in the ruins of an old hermitage, which lie at the northern extremity of the parish, almost surrounded by woodlands, in the picturesque quarter of the Highwoods.  The hermitage was founded, after the manner of the solitary religious recluses, by Robert, a monk, in the reign of King Stephen, and he appears to have been a man of some repute and sanctity, as he received royal assistance in the shape of a grant of the ground, wood for the building, and pasture for the cattle.  From his grounds and his herds he was thus able to furnish a goodly table in his retirement – for the belief that these hermits were vegetarians and teetotallers is a popular and poetical fiction; they acted as pioneers of agriculture, and lived as became good farmers of that day.  The cell, which was called Beadman’s Berg – “the prayer-man on the hill” – was enriched with further benefactions, and afterwards came into the possession of the Abbot of St John’s at Colchester; but after the dissolution the building fell into decay.  The ruins of it which remain furnish the evidence to which we refer, as it will be found on examination that they are composed of red Roman tiles or bricks, - thus clearly showing that the materials were obtained from some erection of the imperial rulers in the neighbourhood.  In later times too, as already shown, royalty fixed its residence here.  The site of the palace of King John is believed to be the spot opposite the Lordship farm, within the boundaries described by the moat; and indeed part of the foundations were excavated in the course of the last [18th] century.  “The disappearance of all these vestiges of ancient importance,” says Suckling, “shows in a very striking light the instability of human grandeur, where neither the stupendous labours of Roman ambition, nor the luxuries of royalty, have left a wreck behind.”  At the early periods we have referred to most of the lands around were forest.  There was a bailiff to the forests of Writtle and half hundred of Chelmsford, who resided in the parish, and held a house and 180 acres of arable, pasture, and woodland, with 17s. rent, on condition that he watched over these open woodlands, and duly protected the king’s rights.

The principal stream of traffic in this part of the county once flowed through Writtle.  We find it recorded that

“Before a bridge was built over the river at Chelmsford, the public road to Braintree and several places in the north and north-east parte of the county to London led through Writtle, turning the corner where is at present the sign of the Red Cow, going on to Bayford Tye, and so quite over to Margretting. (By a custom called ‘luppe and lusse’, every person passing over the Green at certain periods of the year was obliged to pay a penny.)  A large and much frequented
Inn, called the Swan, formerly stood near the road at Shakestones.  Generally, for the greater part of the winter, all carriages, and even horsemen, travelling to Ipswich or Harwich, were obliged to go that way, the ford at Chelmsford not being at those times passable without great danger.  In the vicinity of this spot several ancient coins have occasionally been found.” 

This extensive lordship belonged to Harold, whose brief reign followed that of Edward the Confessor.  After his death it fell to the Conqueror; and passing through the hands of various nobles – amongst others of the family of the celebrated Bruce, from which it was wrested when he assumed the sovereignty of Scotland – it fell to the crown by the attainder and execution of the Earl of Stafford, through the enmity of Cardinal Wolsey, in May, 1521.  Queen Mary granted it to Sir William Petre, and the head of that noble house sits in the House of Peers as Baron of Writtle.  Nine manors have at different periods been parcelled out of the lordship; and some of the old manor-houses which remain afford fine specimens of domestic architecture of other ages – Bedells Hall, near which formerly stood a cross, taking its names from the celebrated Bishop Bedell, who was born there; and the good farms of the parish are now owned by Lord Petre, A. Pryor, Esq., the Rev. C. G. G. Townsend, and Wadham and New Colleges, Oxford.  Much of the land, however, is freehold, and is possessed by J. A. Hardcastle, Esq., M. P., and various other smaller holders, the former of whom has a good house in the village.  Anciently there were two extensive parks in the parish.  Hoastly, or Osterly, or more anciently Horsfrith, lying beyond Cooksmill Green on the road to Ongar, was years ago broken up, its timber felled, and its land brought under the plough; but King’s or
Writtle Park still remains in a diminished shape, with its fine old Elizabethan mansion and pleasant gardens.  Writtle Lodge, or the Great Water House, which stood on the banks of the river at the extremity of the parish towards Chelmsford, was built by George Bramston, Esq., in 1712, and afterwards a seat of the Fortescue family; but it fell before the destroying spirit of Mr. Attwood, and its outward and inner parks, though still unenclosed, have been handed over to the husbandman.  Writtle was formerly a market town, the market-house standing on Little Green.  It has also a charter for a fair on Whitsun Monday and on the 10th of October; and it has been remarked as extraordinary that this advantage has not been embraced, as “no town in England could better accommodate cattle of every kind, there being so great a quantity of waste land belonging thereto.”  It forms, with Roxwell, a special jurisdiction or liberty, and has its own coroner; formerly it was subject to no visitation; and at one period the inhabitants refused to attend on county juries, but this being found to rest only on custom, the claim was set aside.

The church is, upon the whole, a fine and massive building; but the changes which it has undergone at different periods give it rather an incongruous character.  The principal part of it is in the early English style of the thirteenth century; but there is proof of a church here at a much earlier period. The shape of the old Norman font, carved in hard stone, bespeaks greater antiquity; and there was a grant of the church in 1143 made by King Stephen to the Priory of Bermondsey.  Subsequently it was granted by King John to the Hospital of the Holy Ghost, at Rome – in consequence the rectory, which is a manor of itself, is called Roman’s Fee; but being afterwards seized as the property of an alien institution, William of Wykeham secured it, and in 1399 conferred it upon New College, Oxford, with whom it still remains.  On the north end and south sides are two small transepts or chapels, belonging to two of the four chantries established here in Roman Catholic times, one being valued at 6. 2s. 4d., the second at 15. 10s. 6d., the third at 9. 12s. 6d.; and the fourth at 13. 5s. 3d.; besides which there were endowments for twelve obits and one lamp.  The ancient tower, with the bells, fell down on the night of
Friday, April 4, 1802, and being rebuilt in the following summer of red brick, has been pronounced by Suckling “tasteless and inelegant.”  The interior of the sacred edifice is rich in funeral monuments; though, as the empty matrices show, ignorance or avarice has robbed it of many fine brasses; some, however, remain near the chancel door, representing warriors and their wives, apparently of the period of Henry VII.   Amongst the monuments, the most curious – it has indeed been called fantastic – stands against the wall on the north side of the chancel.  It is sixteen feet high, and six broad, composed of various kinds of marble and alabaster; and the artist has drawn all his figures and illustrations from agriculture and its operations.  Between two pillars supporting the cornice is an angel with a sickle, upon a rock, bearing the inscription in Latin – “That rock was Christ,” placed on wheatsheaves, on the bands of which are the words – “If a corn of wheat fall not into the ground it cometh not up again;” and beneath, “He who has planted, nourished and expiated for us, will assemble and restore us.”  On the pillar on each side, above the representation of a fan used in dressing corn, is written – “The reapers will gather us.”  On each side of the pillars are angels weeping, dressed as servants of husbandry; and on a scroll within the fan is an inscription which tells us that “John Pinchon and Dorothy Weston, once was flesh, now one carcass, wait for, in this tomb, the coming of Christ.”  Near to this is a marble monument of the year 1515, with the figures of Edward Elliot, his wife, four sons and six daughters, in postures of devotion.  On the south of the chancel is the monument, fourteen feet high and seven wide, of Sir John Comyns, who built the mansion of Hylands.  Between two urns is the bust of the baron in his robes; and on the tablet of grey marble, bordered with porphyry, the following inscription:

“Near this place lies enterred the body of that great and good man, the Right Honourable Sir John Comyns, Knt., late Lord Chief Baron of His Majesty’s Court of Exchequer; universally one of the brightest ornaments of the bench, and the ablest lawyer of his time; who departed this life on the 13th day of November, 1740, aged 73.  That a character of so much piety, learning, and merit should not be buried in oblivion, but remain a shining example to others, this monument, out of duty and gratitude, was humbly erected to his memory, by his nephew and heir, John Comyns, of Hylands, Esq., 1759.”

Beneath is a quotation in Latin from Horace, of which the following is a translation –

“Oh when shall faith, of soul sincere,
Of justice pure the sister fair,
And modesty, unspotted maid,,
And truth, in artless guile arrayed, 
Among the race of human kind
A match to this Justinian find!” 

The family arms are engraved on a tablet in black marble, gilt, and encircled with a border of alabaster.  Amongst the other stones and inscriptions are several to members of the Petre and Bramston families; and at the east end of the north aisle is a brass of a man and woman kneeling, with a book open beneath them, above them a human skull, and beneath this inscription, the date being 1606:

“Neere to this resteth the body of Edwarde Hunt, late of Wryttle, gent. who lyvinge was much beloved; releeved the poor, and by his last wyll gave in perpetuytie two alms-houses in Church-lane, with an yerely allowance of twentye shyllyngs for their better maintenance.  And also hath willed for ever to the poor of this parish, to be yerely distributed on Good Fridays, x shillings, which sommes are lymmatted to be paid out of a parcel of land called Appesfield, in Chelmsforde parishe.  As by his sayde will at large appeareth.” 

The church and the poor of the parish are endowed with numerous charities.  To the church is assigned Bumpsteads, a farm of 29 acres; also a tenement called Parkers, now inhabited by poor families, rent free; a cottage on the site of which the boys’ national school has since been built; and a garden.  The master and mistress of the national schools receive 54. 13s. 4d., out of Blencowe’s charity, left by John Blencowe in 1777, for which they teach 33 boys and 22 girls free; the girls’ school and house were built by Mr. H. Lambirth in 1818, and given in exchange for East Hayes, a house which belonged to the church property.  Besides Hunt’s alms-houses, there are six others, founded by Thos. Hawkyns, in 1500, occupied by poor widows, each of whom has 3s. 6d. a week from the proceeds of Boards and
Jordans, exchanged for Hook’s farm in 1850.  Besides these, the poor have 5. 6s. 8d. out of houses in Bishopsgate-street, left by Wm. Horne in 1591, to be distributed 2s. weekly in bread; 2. 13s. 4d. for 12 penny loaves to be given to 12 impotent, blind, lame, or poor people, attending church every Sunday, out of Boggis farm, left by Dorothy Davis in 1634; the dividends of 121. 0s. 8d. Three per Cents. left by Lady Falkland in 1776; 20s. out of a house on the green, to be given in bread by the owner, left by Eleanor James in 1737; and 20s. out of Chalk-end farm, originally called for the Poor Monk’s Gift.  Seven acres of land were left, it is believed, by Baron Comyns, for the benefit of the governor of the workhouse, for reading prayers to the inmates.  These olden charities have received large additions of late years.  The late P. Labouchere, Esq., of Hylands, gave a piece of land on which a school has been erected, and 500 for the poor; the late Rev. Dr. Penrose, vicar, 500; and the sum of 1,000, given by Mr. Attwood for liberty to stop up certain roads, has been invested for the interest to be distributed in clothing, &c.

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War Memorial: Highwood
An alphabetical index of those who fell in the First World War who lived or were associated with Highwood, Essex.

H. Brunning  
Frederick Garnham  
John Marshall  
Albert Charles Ottley  
Charles Root  
Frederick Root  
Ernest Skingley    
Herbert Skingley    
W. S. Skingley  
Arthur Edward Whybird  
Henry W. Wood

For more information on this War Memorial follow this external link.

1914 - 1918
War Memorial: Writtle
future project

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Last updated: 19 July 2011