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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White Colne, like Wakes Colne, lies on a damp clay which 18th century agriculturalists distinguished from the better soil of Earls Colne and Colne Engaine. (fn. 1) Woodland which had probably covered much of the parish in the Anglo-Saxon period was apparently being cleared in 1086 when the only recorded tenants were 7 bordarii. (fn. 2)
On Miblanc's 1-hide estate which became Berwick manor, there were two ploughs on the demesne and one on the tenants' land in 1086. (fn. 3) The demesne arable may have already lain in the centre of the later parish, extending from the Colchester road to the minor road running from Wakes Colne to Colne Engaine. (fn. 4) In 1252 the demesne of Inglesthorpes manor comprised a total of 240 a. of arable and 10 a. of meadow and pasture; tenants owed 432 works. (fn. 5) In 1643 Berwick manor, presumably the demesne, comprised 180 a. of arable, 3 a. of meadow, 150 a. of pasture, 14 a. of wood, and 20 a. of furze in White Colne and neighbouring parishes. (fn. 6)
The tenants' land of the main manors, with Barrington's fee and other freeholds, lay mainly in the northern third of the parish, and in the detached or almost detached area within Colne Engaine. Although tenants probably held some meadow along the Colne, the common meadow, called Longstroppes meadow in 1524 and 1559, (fn. 7) lay along a stream in the detached western area of the parish. A tenant of Inglesthorpes manor held as much as 7 a. of meadow and 3 a. of pasture to 20 a. of arable in 1353, but neighbouring estates had much smaller proportions of grass to arable. (fn. 8) Freeholds on Berwick manor in the 17th century ranged from 60 a. to 4 a.; measured copyholds in 1646 from 30 a. to 3 a. (fn. 9)
The highest of the 19 assessments for subsidy in 1319 was only 4s. 5½d., the lowest 8¾d. (fn. 10) Only 15 men were assessed in 1327, at sums ranging from a freeholder's 4s. ¼d. down to 6d. The total assessment, 24s. 7¼d., was one of the lowest in the hundred. (fn. 11) In 1341 White Colne pleaded that the tithe of sheep and lambs was worth less than half the tithe of sheaves assessed in 1291, 53s. 4d. instead of 118s. 8d. (fn. 12) In 1358 one man was wealthy enough to have gold and silver worth 60s. stolen from his house. (fn. 13) Twenty-one men were assessed for subsidy in 1524, only 16 in 1525. The highest assessment in both years was on goods worth £30. Of the 12 men assessed on wages or earnings in 1524 only 4 were assessed again in 1525, suggesting a relatively high turnover of labourers. (fn. 14)
Thirty sheep belonging to an Earls Colne man were stolen in the parish in 1349. (fn. 15) Several 16th century parishioners, most of whom also held land in adjoining parishes, bequeathed a few sheep or cattle, the largest bequests being of 10 sheep and 2 lambs, 1 cow, and 1 bullock in 1506, of 12 sheep and 4 cows in 1531, and of 20 lambs in 1570. (fn. 16) The rent for Berwick manor in 1571 included 12 fat lambs and 12 fat capons. (fn. 17) Field names of 1506 and 1732 record the cultivation of peas and rye. (fn. 18) Wheat was bequeathed in 1524, barley in 1530, and oats in 1614. (fn. 19) A farm had an oatmill in 1662. (fn. 20) A small hopground was recorded in 1671, and in 1724 there were four, totalling 9 a.; by 1743 one had been put to other uses. (fn. 21) In 1801 the main crops were wheat (223 a.), barley (152 a.), oats (91 a.), peas (45 a.), beans (36 a.), turnips or rape (24 a.), and potatoes (6 a.). (fn. 22)
A tenant in 1614 was allegedly increasing the area under the plough, possibly by substituting crops for a fallow. (fn. 23) A lease of c. 11 a. in 1707 stipulated a rotation of two crops and a fallow and forbade the ploughing of two closes of meadow. (fn. 24) By 1769 turnips and clover were being grown instead of a fallow. (fn. 25) Although in 1794 the clay soil was considered poor, hollow draining having been ineffectual, (fn. 26) Fox and Pheasant farm was in 1838 described as very productive with deep stapled arable and rich meadow. (fn. 27) The parish then was almost entirely arable, with only 127 a. of meadow or pasture and 48 a. of woodland to 1,244 a. of arable. (fn. 28) A government inspector in 1917 found some farming practices oldfashioned. (fn. 29)
The 40-50 a. of woodland on Inglesthorpes manor in 1592, not all of it necessarily in White Colne, had been reduced to 30 a. by 1603. (fn. 30) Kingsland wood (c. 18 a.), was recorded in 1688. (fn. 31) Hart wood (2 a.) was planted between 1624 and 1724, and a grove at Debbs Hill between 1629 and 1766. There was 80 a. of wood in the parish in 1724, all in the northern half, but only 48 a. remained in 1838, after the clearance of Great Bushey Leys (c. 28 a.) and other woods. (fn. 32) Weirstock wood (18 a.) in the north-east corner of the parish, was an oak wood in 1868 but, with the all the other remaining woods, had been cleared by 1876. (fn. 33)
Berwick Hall farm was the largest in the parish in the 18th and 19th centuries, growing from 385 a. in 1724 and c. 350 a. in 1838, to 476 a. in 1871. Bart Hall comprised 171 a. in 1831, 157 a. in 1861 and 1871; Insteps was 115 a.-120 a. between 1838 and 1871 but rose to 200 a. in 1881. Much of the land in the northern quarter of the parish was presumably farmed with land in neighbouring parishes, farms varying from 28 a., at Lawshells throughout the 19th century, to 165 a., at Baggaretts in 1881. (fn. 34) Lawshells' 'exceedingly productive land', was in 1865 cultivated as a garden, presumably a market garden. (fn. 35) New farm buildings at Berwick Hall in 1855 included two calf pens, three piggeries, a cow yard, a bullock yard, and a large sheep yard. (fn. 36) Its pig-breeder owner c. 1900 produced black and white Essex pigs. (fn. 37)
Of the 1,141 a. for which information was given in 1905, only 244 a. was permanent grass, 8½ a. orchard, and 5½ a. coppice. The chief crops were wheat (178 a.), barley (140 a.), oats (91 a.), peas (78 a.), mangold (72 a.), beans (55 a.), and turnips (42 a.); soft fruit was grown on 4 a. A total of 76 cattle and 140 sheep and lambs were kept. (fn. 38) In 1923 Little Catleys and Countess Cross farms were mainly arable, but Insteps was a mixed farm. (fn. 39) Fruit was grown at Fox and Pheasant farm in the 1920s and 1930s and at Whites in 1937; Fox and Pheasant also produced seeds commercially. (fn. 40) In 1965 the 120a. Berewyk (Berwick) Hall estate was used for pig, poultry, and arable farming. (fn. 41) In 1997 Brambles and Morlands farms were mixed farms, Mannings was arable, Whites a fruit farm, and Toad Hall a vineyard; other farms which extended into the parish concentrated on arable, livestock, and apple farming. (fn. 42)
In 1580 a weaver stole 38 lb. of wool in White Colne, (fn. 43) and a tenter croft was recorded between 1550 and 1686. There was a baymaker in the parish in 1617, and a Colchester saymaker held land there in 1687. (fn. 44) A fanwright was recorded in 1600 and 1619, and a tanner in 1612. (fn. 45) Chalkney mill, which straddled the Earls Colne boundary, (fn. 46) presumably served White Colne.
The proportion of the working population directly employed on the land fell during the 19th century from c. 75 per cent in 1841 to c. 70 per cent in 1851 and 1871, and to c. 53 per cent in 1891, but the decrease was due mainly to an increase in the number of women recorded as working. A shoemaker's business recorded in 1841 remained in the same family in 1881. The railway employed 3 men in 1871, up to 4 in 1891, and 2 men worked in a coalyard in 1871. The proximity of Earls Colne and its industries seems to have had little effect on the parish, although 3 men worked in an ironworks, presumably the Atlas Works in Earls Colne, in 1871. The 4 silk-winders in 1891 presumably worked in the silk factory there. The absence of any large houses in the parish reduced the opportunities for domestic service, and the highest recorded number of servants was 14 in 1891. In 1851 as many as 44 women worked as strawplaiters and 1 as a milliner or strawbonnetmaker; by 1871, although the industry was flourishing further west, the number of workers in White Colne had fallen to 13. In 1861 eleven women were 'tambour workers' or lace-makers, an industry centred on Coggeshall. Only one was reported in 1871, although in 1867 the women were said to be almost exclusively employed in strawplaiting and tambour work. (fn. 47) In 1891 nine women worked as tailoresses for clothing firms. (fn. 48)
Gravel pits, presumably small and probably in the south-west quarter of the parish, were recorded in 1687, 1744, and 1840. (fn. 50) Commercial pits operated on the north bank of the Colne near Chalkney mill from the mid 1920s to the mid 1930s, and at Fox and Pheasant farm from the 1930s to the 1950s. (fn. 51)
Kiln field, in the north-east corner of the parish in 1724, and Brick Field in the north-west corner in 1841 may have contained brick works. There was a brick kiln on Fox and Pheasant farm in 1838, and brickmakers there in 1841 and 1851. (fn. 52)
A poultry packing business was established on land east of Fox and Pheasant Farm in the mid 20th century. The site was later acquired by Findus Foods, and c. 1975 became a light industry and craft centre. (fn. 53) In 1997 businesses there included a pine furniture-maker. Cammack and Sons, haulage contractors, moved to an adjacent site, on the Wakes Colne boundary, in 1985. (fn. 54)
A fair said c. 1730 to be held by charter in White Colne on 28 October was presumably that granted to Hugh de Vere, earl of Oxford, in 1250 for Earls Colne. (fn. 55) It was not recorded again, although Fair field, opposite the church, survived in 1840. (fn. 56)