The Manor of Henham (a survey of 1530 AD)

A talk given to the Henham Conservation Society on January 26th 1970 by Joyce M. Winmill


There is a town adjoining to the said maner where be many fair houses well buylded and inhabited with honest persons which standith a myell from the said maner.

The park called Henham Park is well enclosed with pale conteguyance about which is a high and dry champion ground and competently wooded very comodyous and parken where in be Redd dear”

The survey then goes on to describe the Manor House, built ‘in the middest of the said park’ round a square court, and entered by a brick and turretted three- storied gatehouse, facing south. On either side of the gatehouse were galleries, with oriel windows and chimneys. At the end of the western gallery was a ‘fair chapel’ with a quire, 50 feet long, and 20 feet wide. At the north end of the courtyard a great flight of wooden stairs led up to a large room ‘the Chamber of Presence 60 feet long, and 18 feet wide, with adjoining rooms looking into the garden, ‘very commodious for flavours of the herbs and view into the same’. From two little rooms near the Presence Chamber were windows opening into the Chapel. ‘˜to hear and see devyne servyce’. The kitchens were to the east; a kitchen with two ranges, a wet larder, a dry larder, the pastry, the cellar and the Ewerye; the division of the kitchens is interesting, one for roasting, one for boiling, and the pastrey kitchen for baking. This survey follows the almost universal plan of a rich man’s house just before the Reformation, with wings of building enclosing a courtyard. As in the case of Henham, opposite the great Hall was always the gatehouse; on one side was the chapel, and completing the quadrangle were lodgings for guests and retainers of the household. From accounts kept by the Prior of Dunmow, also in the Public Records Office, he spent several Christmasses at Henham, and there are entries such as ‘˜rewards in my Lord of Sussex’s house 2/8′, ‘˜reward to my Lord of Sussex’s cook 8d’ and the last Christmas,1535, ‘˜to my Lord of Sussex’s players 3 / 4. The next year the Priory was suppressed, and the Prior had gone, pensioned off at £ 20 a year.

And the great house has gone too; the only later, and brief references to the Tudor house and park that I have found, come in the Quarter Sessions Rolls in October and December 1597, when local men broke ‘˜ into the park of Robert, Earl of Sussex, called Henham Park, hunting with greyhounds, and killing deer’ and a reference to the park in a deed of 1753.

Less famous members of the family continued as Lords of the Manor. The way in which the manor was passed down is very contradictory; it appears to have descended in a complicated way through widows and daughters to Sir Alexander Ratcliffe, who sold it to Laurence Wright, and with relief we get to eventually a name we know, Lady Anne Wright. She inherited it in the reign of Charles 11, as a rich heiress and a widow. She lived at Hornchurch, and leased the Manor House with 28 fields and pastures, named with the same names they bear today Great Hall Field, Gravell Shott, Sheepcote Lane, and others, to Mr. John Gyvor, yeoman, for £ 143 a year. There was a Hop Field, sometimes called the Ozier Ground, shown in the Enclosure Map for 1850, almost opposite Pledgedon Hall: in the Quarter Sessions Rolls for 1658 there is an entry that ‘˜hop poles’ and ‘hop bynds’ were stolen. There was a saffron field of 8acres, but we do not know where that was, which is not surprising, for by 1730 it was a crop which had almost disappeared round here. Lady Anne left a farm at Little Henham of about £ 40 a year for the augmentation of the living, and her portrait, to be hung in the Vicarage. It is reputed to be a Lely: he died in 1680; Lady Anne in 1708; the portrait is of a woman of about 40, so the dates fit in.

The manor eventually passed to the Feake family. An interesting memorial in our chancel, carved with an East Indiaman in full sail, gives a good deal of family history

Samuel Feake was Governor of Fort Bengal, and Chairman of the East India Company. Of his family, his wife died at sea on her way home, and three children died in India: another son died at a later age in India, which took a great toll of their family. Samuel Feake, two sons, and the last of the family, Mary, are buried in the family vault here. Their hatchments, showing the arms of Feake, Hampton, and Cruse, are in the church: a hatchment, or funeral escutcheon contained the coat of arms of the dead person within a black lozenge-shaped frame, and hung over the principal entrance to the house for about a year after death, when it was often placed in the parish church. The ground of the hatchment is black round the arms of the deceased, and white round the survivor. The frame was sometimes ornamented with skull and cross-bones, and powdered with tears. We have none of those, but one has a skull with cherub’s wings sprouting out on either side, illustrating the fleeting days of life on earth. For a long time the hatchments were mouldering in the belfry, but were saved by the persistence of Miss Pimblett, aided by the generosity of a chance passer-by, who, fortunately for us, was interested in heraldry.

We can get a little idea of the size of the houses in Henham in Charles 11’s reign from the Hearth Tax Returns, which in 1662 compelled every householder to pay 2/- for each fire hearth. There were 144 hearths listed in Henham in1662, among 49 names. John Cornell had 8 hearths; one man 7 hearths; another 6. Samuel Eley, the vicar had 5. John Gyvor, who we know leased the Manor House, had 5, and then diminishing numbers to 3 and 2. John Cornell obviously lived at an important house. There are mentions in old manorial deeds of the Little House at Henham, so perhaps it was there. Some of the poorer houses may have been exempted, though that was not supposed to happen till 1688.

Pressing on from the 17th century, we have a picture of a village much less wealthy than in Tudor times. A very agricultural village, rather backward in taking to new methods. Four main inns, the Cock, the Crown, the Three Horseshoes, and the Sun, which became the Starr, and sometimes the Star and Garter.

Many ale-houses often in trouble for having no license or allowing disorderly behaviour. No one of much substance in the place. We have mention of weavers in the Sessions Rolls, but until 1792 there was no mention in the Registers of trades in the place, when we get several, but all the rest were farmers, labourers, and ‘paupers’, with only two ‘gents’. One trade appears in the Elizabethan Court Rolls Robert Wright, ‘fanne maker’ or the maker of a winnowing fan. It is an interesting example of how local names persist, for we still have Wrights in the village. Only one householder paid a tax, in 1796, for hair powder, so obviously the fashions were not much considered. I have a letter written about fifty years later from Pledgedon Hall, bewailing the fact that there was ‘little change in this quiet, dull, neighbourhood’.

I have called this talk ’The Land and Buildings of Henham’, but it is impossible to divorce those from the people who made the place, and who lived in our houses; as times grow nearer our own, more names, naturally, come in.

The Workhouse was at Henham House, substantiated by old knowledge and by numbers on the doors upstairs, and by the Workhouse well opposite. It was first mentioned in the Registers in 1800, but it may well have started earlier, as the Workhouse Act came in, in 1728. From information from Mr. A.F.J. Brown, who gave Henham such a wonderful set of Workers Educational Association lectures in 1969, there were 18 persons in the Workhouse in 1803, and between 1802 and 1803 £ 16 was earned there from spinning by the old ladies, to keep the Workhouse going, or for a pittance for themselves. There is no mention of the Workhouse after 1813, when it was probably given up. In 1813, out of a population of 600, 45 people were receiving assistance, costing the place £ 735. In this century, Henham House was Miss Gardiner’s shop, a grocer’s, butcher’s, bakery, and the P.O. the hub of the village

From the Census figures for 1851, also given me by Mr. Brown, we had nine farms, large and small. The Parsonage: Lodge Farm: Little Henham Lodge: Little Henham Hall: Old Mead: the Broom: Pledgedon Hall: and Sandpits House. At Pledgedon Green there were two smaller farms, George Orger’s with 88 acres, and Joseph Haughton with 60. Henham Lodge was far the largest with 466 acres, employing 24 men and 15 boys; Old Mead came second with 396 acres and 22 men, which shows us the difference in work on the land before mechanization.

As Mr Brown told us, we kept our artisans very late, and he painted for us a picture of the sounds and companionship of Henham as one went along the main streets, listening to the sounds of the four blacksmiths at work, the seven carpenters, the saddlers, and the twelve shoe-makers in six workshops a basket-maker, a tailor, dressmakers, and a wheelwright, and four thatchers, all living in Henham and all plying their trade, and there was, too, the passing of the time of day between people who did not vanish out of the village in cars. The number of shoe-makers was probably accounted for as there were two or more butchers, and a slaughter house. There was a Boarding School for Young Ladies kept by Elizabeth Warner; at the Vicarage there was a footman, a cook, a housemaid, a groom and an agricultural labourer living in; there were three grocers, two butchers, and a drapers. Later there was a Dame School at Apple Tree Cottage. All that seems to indicate a Henham fairly buzzing with noise and activity, but truly it is very slightly, as I knew it in 1930, when there was always cheerful noise and companionship at the Blacksmith’s forge, and a great deal of talking and interest in the five shops. Horses were still being used on the land. There were chickens and geese being reared on the Greens, and lots of people willing to help in their neighbours houses or gardens.

Sometime ago I was sent a very interesting account of Henham in 1895, written by someone who lived at what was then the end of the village the last cottage on the right hand side of Mill Road, going towards Elsenham. He retained his love for Henham all his life. His home had two rooms up and two rooms down opposite was a cottage lived in by the shepherd, in which extra sleeping space had been contrived by a recess about three feet deep in the wall, which made a snug and draught-proof bedroom for two children. Next door lived the bootmaker who once a week would harness his trap and set off delivering and collecting work from the outlying cottages and hamlets. He remembered the old postman, Postman Smith, who lived at the White Cottage: when he killed a pig, he used to make the lard in his front garden a fascinating process for a boy to watch ! And I can remember Postman Smith going off with his little black pig-killing bag. For water supply, the village relied on rainwater for washing, and for drinking water, from pumps: those who had not their own pumps used the public pump near the school, which was unlocked for an hour once a day. For those who could not carry their own pails, the pump keeper, would, for a penny, bring along a couple, slung from a yoke across her shoulders. As late as the early nineteen thirties, I remember our own drinking water, carried up our garden path on a yoke, by Postman Smith. Old Postman Smith, who was postman here for 36 years, used to lodge overnight at Stansted for 1/ - a week, and then walk to Henham and do all the rounds on foot to Chickney Spring, and out to Amberden Hall. A bell used to be rung at the corners of footpaths up to houses and then people rushed out with their letters. He would also take in bottles for medicine to the Doctor’s surgery, wait while they were made up, and bring them back at 1d. a time. At Christmas he was allowed a horse and cart; the horse lived in a stable next to the Venture. Postman Smith and his son George, who still lives in Church Street, used to set off about 5 o’clock, to be at Stansted at 6 George driving the horse, and old Postman, wrapped up in his coat, asleep in the bottom of the cart.

On the tombstone in the Churchyard to him and his wife Celia, he is still named as Postman Smith.