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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In 1066 the larger part of the later Aldham manor, in the southern half of the parish, was assessed at 1 hide less 5 a.; the only tenant then, 1 villanus, was not recorded in 1086. The demesne was cultivated by 4 servi with 2 ploughs in both 1066 and 1086, and the only recorded livestock in 1086 were 6 cattle and 1 horse; there was wood for 12 swine, and 3 a. of meadow. Despite little change in its resources, the manor doubled in value from 30s. to 60s. between 1066 and 1086. On the 40 a. which became part of Little Fordham manor the 3 bordarii in 1066 and 6 in 1086 had only ½ plough. The wood was enough for 10 swine, and there were 3 a. of meadow. The berewick of Great Tey which may have become part of Little Fordham was cultivated by 1 bordarius and 2 servi with 2 ploughs in 1066 and 1 plough in 1086; there was wood for 24 swine. (fn. 1)
Although comparatively little woodland was recorded on the Aldham manors in 1086, part of the Great Tey manor wood (fn. 2) was in Aldham. Field names suggest that the modern Hoe, earlier Bad, wood is the surviving part of wood- land which once covered much of the northern quarter of the parish. Part of the wood was prob- ably cleared by 1284, and more of it by 1370. (fn. 3) The croft at the east end of Gallows green called Reddings in 1392, and another near Stock field on the north-west parish boundary called Reedings in 1475, had probably been cleared from woodland, as had the Breach, near Aldham Hall c. 1675. (fn. 4) The names of Brockleys (1334) and Checkleys (1625) farms in the west of the parish, with the 17th-century fieldnames in 'ley' further east, may also denote former woodland. (fn. 5) Common meadows were grouped along the Colne and the Roman river, intermixed with the demesne meadows of Great Tey manor, while other meadows lay along tributary streams. By 1392 Aldham Hall's demesne meadow was also on the Colne, detached from the main part of the manor; by 1485 part of it was inclosed. (fn. 6)
By the 15th century most holdings apparently lay in crofts or fields which were divided among several tenants, like the 4 a. in a field near Hoe wood in 1409, or Colne priory's parcel in Walcroft c. 1410. (fn. 7) In 1582 and 1595 plots of 5 a. and 2 a. lay in larger fields. (fn. 8) By 1625 a great field in the south-western quarter of the parish had been divided into smaller closes. The Changes, near Hoe Farm, had been divided into 7 closes by 1641 when 28 a. there was leased to a tenant who was forbidden to plough any greens or doles. (fn. 9) In 1656 a ½-a. plot and a 3½-a. croft were both part of Lay fields, an area of over 12 a. in the northern half of the parish, and by 1658 a 1½-a. plot in the nearby Yield field had been divided from the remainder of the field. (fn. 10)
A 40-year lease granted c. 1259 provided for the land to be marled at the end of the term. (fn. 11) In 1286 the 260 a. of arable in Aldham manor was worth as much as 6d. an acre, the 7 a. of pasture 1s. an acre, and the 7 a. of meadow 2s. an acre. On Bourchiers Hall or Little Fordham manor, which lay partly on the London clay, in 1329 the 180 a. of arable was worth only 3d. an acre, the 8 a. of pasture 6d. an acre, and the 7 a. of meadow 2s. an acre. (fn. 12) Wheat, oats, and rye were grown on the Aldham Hall demesne in 1329 and 1350, with barley in 1350, and as many as 80 sheep were impounded on the manor in 1431. The demesne of Aldham Hall manor was farmed for the absentee lords by bailiffs in the earlier 15th century, but was being leased by 1443. (fn. 13) In 1414 Little Fordham demesne, stocked with cattle worth £8 14s., and with wheat, oats, and peas, presumably for seed, was leased for £20 a year. (fn. 14) In 1325 a villein tenant of Aldham Hall manor owed two works each week. By c. 1350 works were apparently being commuted, half a day's mowing being assessed at 1½d., although only two tenants appear to have owed works. Rents in kind then included hens, a knife worth 2d., and ½ lb. of wax. (fn. 15) In 1579 a meadow on Little Fordham manor still paid a rent of a fork and a hen, but by 1730 it paid 1s. 4d. (fn. 16)
Fifteen people were assessed for the eight- eenth in 1319 at a total of 61s. 3¼d., and the same number at 33s. 2¾d. for the twentieth in 1327. The total payments were about average for the hundred, although the numbers assessed were among the lowest. In both years the highest assessment, 18s. 3½d. and 6s., was on Robert Poer, undertenant of Little Fordham (Bour- chiers Hall). (fn. 17) Poer was apparently succeeded by James at Lee, who held other lands in Aldham Hall and Great Tey manors. (fn. 18)
In 1523 as many as 35 people were assessed for subsidy, 11 on land, 18 on goods, and only 6 on wages. Roger Draper, who held Hoe Farm with c. 80 a. and probably also another small freehold centred on Rye House, was assessed on land worth £26 13s. 4d.; Robert Newton, assessed on goods worth £40, had farmed Aldham Hall manor in 1496 and held land in Chappel. Robert George, assessed on £25-worth of goods, was presumably the wealthy husband- man who held land in Fordham and Little Horkesley as well as a house and land in Ford- street, probably the modern Old House. Thirty- six people, 27 of whom had been assessed in 1523, were assessed in 1524; the highest assess- ments were on the same men as in 1523. (fn. 19)
Sixteenth-century wills, which frequently contain bequests of cows, imply mixed farming. In 1542 an Aldham man who also held land in Little Tey bequeathed 2 or more cows, 6 other cattle, and 6 seams of wheat. Another, who held land in Copford, Fordham, and Lexden, c. 1550 bequeathed 4 seams of barley and ½ seam of malt. A widow left 27 sheep and lambs and 11 cattle, in 1553. (fn. 20)
Hops were being grown before 1639, and a lease of 1611 protected orchards from grazing cattle. (fn. 21) Other 17th-century leases prescribed a rotation of 2 corn crops and a fallow, a practice which continued in the 18th century. (fn. 22) In 1708 a tenant farmer grew wheat, bullimong (a mix- ture of oats, peas, and vetches), barley, maslin, peas, and white oats, and kept 5 milk cows. (fn. 23) In 1675 there was an osier grove by the Colne. (fn. 24)
In the 17th century most of the parish was divided between the two manors, Aldham Hall in the south and Bourchiers Hall in the north, although land near the western boundary was in Great Tey manor. The Aldham Hall demesne included Church (later Church House) wood and arable land near the church. A croft (1 a.) next to Aldham Hall barnyard was in Bourchiers Hall manor in 1615, as was a small close near the rectory house. (fn. 25) Some 17th-century man- orial lords were resident, but the 18th-century lords lived in Suffolk. (fn. 26)
In 1763 the five principal farms, three of them containing over 250 a., were all leased from the owner of the manors. They contained a total of 1,021 a. of arable to 33 a. of pasture and 84 a. of meadow. Land on Aldham Hall and Church House farms in the southern half of the parish was still slightly more valuable than that on Bourchiers Hall and the two smaller farms to the north and west. (fn. 27) Potash was used on the light loam in the south of the parish in the 17th and 18th centuries, and marling was practised in the early 19th century. (fn. 28) Turnips, clover, and grasses were being grown by 1782. (fn. 29) In 1795 yields of wheat were average, those of barley, oats, and beans slightly below average for the district. (fn. 30)
Aldham Hall manor contained 40 a. of wood in 1595, probably Church and Hall woods. (fn. 31) Woodland at Ockford grove, west of Church House farm, was cleared before 1722. (fn. 32) Bagg, Badway, or Bad, later Hoe, wood (21 a.) in Great Tey manor was coppiced in the 17th and 18th centuries; a westward extension, East wood (7½ a.) was cleared c. 1771. (fn. 33) Great wood (31 a.), which almost surrounded Bourchiers Hall in 1675, was cleared between 1839 and 1857. (fn. 34) In 1839 there was 93 a. of woodland in the parish; in 1905 c. 64 a. (fn. 35) Aldham Hall wood, formerly Breach wood, was felled before 1958; the name has since been applied to the former Panfield grove. (fn. 36) Hoe wood, acquired by the Woodland Trust in 1990, and most of Church House wood survived in 1998.
By 1839 about 85 per cent of the parish (1,280 a.) was arable. The main crops were presumably those reported in 1801: wheat, then grown on 358 a., followed by barley (197 a.), oats (156 a.), and peas (66 a.), with smaller acreages of beans, turnips or rape, and potatoes. (fn. 37) In 1824 there were 15 farms or smallholdings, the largest being Church House (229 a.) and Aldham Hall (203 a.); several extended beyond the parish. (fn. 38) Most 19th-century leases required a rotation of (1) wheat, (2) barley or oats, (3) peas, beans, or clover, and (4) summer fallow, or turnips or colewort (cabbage or greens) eaten off by cattle. (fn. 39) In 1851 the eight farms ranged from 277 a. (at Church House) down to 22 a. By 1861 Bourchiers Hall farm had grown to 300 a., prob- ably extending into Chappel, and by 1871 Church House had grown to 530 a., probably extending into Great Tey. By 1881 five of the six farms contained 200-600 a. of land, some of it probably in neighbouring parishes. Much of the south-west corner of Aldham was farmed from Little Tey. (fn. 40)
In 1905 there were 10 farms in the parish, 2 of them over 300 a. The land was predominantly arable (1,078 a.), with only 222 a. of permanent grass and 178 a. of clover for grazing. The prin- cipal crops were wheat (274 a.), barley (210 a.), oats (153 a.), and rye (24 a.); clover, lucerne, and vetches were grown on 114 a. and root crops on 156 a. Livestock included 33 cows, 105 other cattle, 145 sheep; and 188 pigs. Orchards covered 3 a. (fn. 41) In 1918 Aldham Hall farm (222 a.), then owner-occupied, grew linseed, turnips, red clover, sainfoin, potatoes, and mangolds as well as wheat, oats, and barley; livestock included 20 store cattle, 237 sheep, 10 pigs, and poultry. (fn. 42) In 1942 the gravel outcrops were per- manent grass, supporting dairy herds at Hill, Aldham Hall, and Church House farms; the boulder clay was arable, producing wheat, barley, clover, oats, fruit, and vegetables. (fn. 43) Dairy farming had ceased at Hill Farm and Aldham Hall by 1955, but continued at Church House in 1998. In 1989 Aldham Hall farm grew oilseed rape and beans as well as wheat and barley. (fn. 44) Other crops grown in the parish in 1998 included potatoes, borage, and maize.
Crapes fruit farm, (fn. 45) established in 1922, con- tinued in 1998; another orchard was grubbed up in the early 1990s. A nursery grew carnations from the 1930s to the 1960s, and Mill Race nursery, started in 1973, continued in 1998. A garden centre operated 1975-95; in 1998 its site was occupied by Novartis BCM, supplier of natural insect predators for agriculture. A stud farm at Bourchiers Hall c. 1948 moved to New Road in the 1980s. Former meadows grew cricket bat willow in 1998.
Aldham men became Colchester burgesses from 1387, among them in 1402 a peltmonger. Another, James Strachan, admitted 1550-1, probably lived at Churchmans, later Church House Farm; in 1578 he bequeathed 3 pairs of shears and all his 'shop stuff', perhaps in Colchester. (fn. 46) In 1589 a yeoman, perhaps an immigrant from Warrington (Lancs.), owned a loom. (fn. 47) A tilemaker worked in Aldham in 1450. In 1646 there was a Tylekill house on the out- crop of London clay north-west of Old Bourchiers Hall, and Tilekiln road was repaired in 1808. (fn. 48)
The usual village craftsmen, including black- smiths and farriers in Fordstreet and Gallows green and wheelwrights in Fordstreet, were recorded in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. A bowmaker took an assistant in 1568; a glover was recorded in 1610 and a tailor in 1635. (fn. 49) A draper in Fordstreet in 1746 was described as a shopkeeper in 1767 when an innholder was also a baker. (fn. 50) A maltings in Fordstreet in 1730 con- tinued until 1871 or later. (fn. 51) Surgeons practised in Fordstreet from c. 1736 until 1843. (fn. 52)
In 1851 the 87 agricultural labourers were by far the largest group of workers in the parish; apart from the rector and the larger farmers, the only employers were the miller, a maltster, and a seed grower, each of whom employed 3 men, and a cordwainer who employed one. Among the small tradesmen were 4 carpenters, 3 black- smiths, and a tailor; shopkeepers included a fishmonger, a grocer, 2 bakers, and 2 butchers. Only 1 woman was recorded as a straw plaiter and 1 as a tambour lace-maker; 4 worked in the clothing trade, and 3 in a silk factory. (fn. 53)
In 1871 there were 79 agricultural labourers. The next largest category of employees were the 18 domestic servants. Three men worked at the mill, and 21 others, including 3 carpenters, 3 bootmakers, 1 harness maker, and 1 sack maker, worked in the usual rural trades. The 2 brickmakers probably worked at the Marks Tey brickworks. In 1881 there were only 70 agricultural labourers, the miller employed 6 men, as did a wheelwright and blacksmith, and there were 6 shopkeepers; 3 men worked on the railway, and there was a resident police constable. (fn. 54)
In 1956 Berry's structural engineering works moved from Copford into Aldham; its products included agricultural machinery as well as steel building components for Colchester barracks, Colchester zoo, and local schools. The business was sold in 1982 and closed in 1996; in 1998 the building was a furniture factory. (fn. 55) A blacksmith's and farrier's business near Fordstreet operated from c. 1980 until 1998. Fordstreet contained several shops in the later 20th century, including a bakery until the 1960s, antique shops in the 1970s, and a carpenter's shop which continued until 1985. The village shop there closed in 1988.
A windmill on Aldham Hall manor in 1286 (fn. 56) was not recorded again. A watermill in Ford- street, recorded from 1327, descended with Bourchiers Hall manor until it was sold to the miller in 1741. (fn. 57) In 1414 it contained a fulling mill and a corn mill. The mill was still a fulling mill in 1666, but was a corn mill only in 1777. (fn. 58) Later 19th-century millers added a steam turbine in a four-storeyed brick mill. The mill, which had already ceased working, was demolished c. 1917. (fn. 59)
Toy fairs were held at Fordstreet, possibly on the Fordham bank of the river, on Easter Tuesday and 1 November in 1767. The November fair ceased before 1859, but the Easter Tuesday one may have continued until the 1880s. (fn. 60)