A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2001.
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THE ancient parish of White Colne (1,466 a. or 593 ha.), (fn. 1) which took its name from its Domesday tenant Miblanc, lies on the north bank of the river Colne c. 12 miles west of Colchester and c. 4 miles east of Halstead. (fn. 2) It was bounded on the south by the Colne, on the east by a small tributary sometimes called the Reading brook, on the north by the Cambridge brook, and on the west by field boundaries. Fields in the north- west corner of the parish, where in 1876 an area of White Colne was detached in Colne Engaine, were already in both parishes in the 17th century. (fn. 3) In 1676 the parish officers agreed with those of Earls Colne that the north-east side of the Colchester road on Colneford hill was in White Colne, and other minor adjustments to the western boundaries were made between 1744 and 1840, probably c. 1805. (fn. 4) In 1882 detached areas of 2 a. and 39 a. were transferred to Wakes Colne and Colne Engaine parishes respectively. Two detached areas of Colne Engaine parish, 21 a. and 67 a., were transferred to White Colne, increasing its area to 1,513 a. (612 ha.). In 1985 land at Colneford hill or White Colne green was transferred to White Colne from Earls Colne and Colne Engaine, and c. 2 ha. at Countess Cross and Colne Park to Colne Engaine from White Colne, reducing the parish to 609 ha. (fn. 5)
Much of White Colne lies on boulder clay, but the Colne and the Cambridge brook have cut through the clay to expose bands of London clay and Kesgrave sand and gravel; there are also bands of alluvium and river terrace gravel along the Colne, and an area of glacial sand and gravel extends northwards from the river almost as far as Colne Park and Insteps farm. (fn. 6) The land rises from 23 m. in the Colne valley to 68 m. in the centre of the parish at Berwick Hall and Little Catleys Farm, then falls to 42 m. in the valley of the Cambridge brook. (fn. 7)
One of the few upper palaeolithic implements known in Essex was found near Chalkney mill, on a site which also produced mesolithic flints and possible pit dwellings. There was a large bronze age cremation cemetery nearby. (fn. 8) Roman brick and tile, presumably from a nearby site, were re-used in the surviving, late 11th-century, church.
There were 7 recorded tenants in 1086. In 1377, when 38 people paid poll tax, White Colne was the smallest recorded vill in the hundred. (fn. 9) There was a 'great mortality' in 1638, but the building of cottages on the waste suggests a growing population in the mid 17th century; 20 households were assessed for hearth tax in 1671 and a further 27 were exempt. (fn. 10) Although the number of baptisms exceeded that of burials for most of the 18th century, the population seems to have fallen slightly, presumably as a result of emigration; there were reported to be only c. 40 houses in the parish in 1778 and 1790. (fn. 11) The population rose from 221 in 1801 to 459 in 1851, then fell to 312 in 1901; it rose again to 369 in 1951 but fell sharply to 272 in 1961, and was still only 273 in 1981. (fn. 12) In 1991, after boundary changes had increased the built-up area of the parish, the population was 445. (fn. 13)
The road from Cambridge through Halstead and Earls Colne to Colchester, turnpiked in 1765, (fn. 14) runs through the southern edge of the parish. The lane running north from the Col- chester road towards Bures (Suff.) seems to have been the most important of the lanes and foot- paths which connect the church and the scattered farms to each other. The existence of some of the footpaths was disputed in 1924. (fn. 15)
White Colne, unlike many neighbouring parishes, did not develop round a series of greens. There was only one green in the ancient parish, White Colne green at the north end of the Bures road. Colneford green, (fn. 16) called White Colne green by the early 20th century, lay mainly in Earls Colne and Colne Engaine until 1985. The Colchester road attracted early settle- ment. By 1724 seven cottages encroached on the south side of the roadway, (fn. 17) and two late 17th- century cottages and a late 16th-century house divided into three cottages survived there in 1997. On the north side of the road a larger 18th- century or earlier house survived at no. 25. (fn. 18) Land on the corner of the lane to Bures, sold in 1838 as 'a beautiful site for building purposes', had been developed by 1876. (fn. 19) Most 19th- century cottages, like those on the south side of Colchester Road, were small; in 1867 none had more than two bedrooms. (fn. 20) Council houses were built on the north side of the Colchester road in 1929 and c. 1950. (fn. 21) By the early 20th century infilling had created a village at the western end of that road and round the adjoining Colneford or White Colne green.
The church and the three manor houses lie in the centre of the parish; in the northern half are scattered farmhouses, the older ones timberframed and plastered. Baggaretts, the house of a large freehold, and Whites apparently take their names from late 14th-century tenants, and Catleys and Reedings were recorded as field names at the same date; Morelands, formerly Moleland, was recorded in 1550 and Pannells in 1646, but except for Whites, which incorporates one or two bays of an apparently 16th-century hipped roofed house, the houses are 18th- century or later. (fn. 22) Brambles Farm, recorded from 1627, is a 17th-century house of two bays with an original internal stack against the rear wall and an original full-length outshut to the rear. At the core of Forge Farm, Bures Road, is a mid 17th-century, lobby-entrance, house bearing the date 1661 in plasterwork above its door- way. (fn. 23) Lawshalls, transferred to Colne Engaine in 1882, was built as an in-line hall house, probably shortly after 1559. (fn. 24) In the later 16th cent- ury it was extended westwards by one, probably originally single-storeyed, bay. In the early 19th century a second storey was added to the western bay, and the south front was plastered and remodelled with sashes and stacks. The gabled, brick, north wing was added in the mid 19th century, and the house was further enlarged and remodelled in the 1970s or 1980s. Countess Cross, transferred to Colne Engaine in 1985, was treated as a hamlet in the 19th century when a few cottages were built there; it presumably takes its name, recorded in 1555, from a countess of Oxford. The surviving Countess Cross House was probably built in the 1830s by J. J. Mayhew of Over Hall, Colne Engaine, whose son occupied it in 1863. (fn. 25)
Fox and Pheasant Farm, on the north side of the Colchester road near the Wakes Colne boundary, is predominantly a mid 16th-century two-storeyed long-jettied house of three long and one short bays. It replaced an earlier hall house of which one bay survives at the east end, its roof having axially-braced crown posts. To the east of that bay is a narrow, unheated, bay, added in the 16th century. The 16th-century house may have been the one called Mustarders occupied by the prosperous John Burton (d. 1530). (fn. 26) It was modernised in the early 19th century, the work including the creation of the stair compartment north of the chimney stack, and perhaps the addition of the north service wing. (fn. 27) Nos. 2-4 Colne Park Road incorporates a 15th-century open hall, into which a floor was inserted in the 16th century. (fn. 28)
From 1848 or earlier carriers and a horse- drawn omnibus ran from Earls Colne to Colchester, presumably stopping at White Colne. Since c. 1915 the parish has been served by buses on the same route; by 1930 there was an hourly service. (fn. 29) The Colne Valley and Halstead Railway Company built its line through the parish in 1858. (fn. 30) Colne station in the Bures road near its junction with the Colchester road closed in 1889 but reopened as White Colne station in 1908 after protests from Earls and White Colne. (fn. 31) The line closed to passenger traffic in 1961 and to goods traffic in 1965. (fn. 32)
In 1867 the water supply, presumably from wells, was considered generally good, but by 1897 and 1898 it was inadequate. Mains from the Earls Colne waterworks were extended into the Colneford Hill area of the parish in 1921. There was still a water shortage in the parish in 1949. (fn. 33) Gas was supplied to the south-west corner of the parish by the Earls Colne Gas Works from 1863. The East Anglian Electric Supply Co. provided the first mains electricity in 1931. (fn. 34) The south-west corner of the parish was connected to the Earls Colne sewers c. 1928. (fn. 35)
In 1630 there was an inn at Debbs Hill, on the western edge of the parish. (fn. 36) In 1754 there were two inns, the Red Lion and the George. (fn. 37) From 1841 there has been only one, the King's Head on the Colchester road. (fn. 38) A benefit club was founded there in 1841, and continued in 1855. (fn. 40) The Aldham and United Parishes Insurance Society recruited members in White Colne from 1827 until the earlier 20th century. (fn. 41) The church ran a clothing club from c. 1840 or earlier until 1894. (fn. 42)