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 West Bergholt (fn. 1) com- prises a rectangular area (2,296 a. or 929 ha.) immediately north-west of Colchester. Its boundary with Colchester Liberty was formed by the river Colne on the south and St. Botolph's brook on the south-east. The north-east boundary followed a tributary of St. Botolph's brook. The north, north-west, and west boundaries with Great Horkesley and Wormingford followed the Sudbury Road, and that with Ford- ham followed field boundaries. (fn. 2) Two detached parts, of 6 a. and 4 a., lay in Fordham. A third, of 7 a., in Lexden had originally been part of that parish. It had been granted in the 13th century to the abbot of Waltham who apparently held it of Bergholt Hall manor by 1509. All three detached parts were transferred to their surrounding parishes in 1883. (fn. 3) A small area was transferred from Fordham to West Bergholt in 1889, 5 a. east of St. Botolph's brook was transferred to Colchester in 1934, and 11 a. on the northern boundary was transferred to Little Horkesley in 1955. (fn. 4) In 1974 the boundary was extended south from Newbridge to incorporate a large tract of land previously in Lexden, between the Colne, St. Botolph's brook, and the railway line to London. (fn. 5)
The land rises gently from under 20 m. along the Colne and St. Botolph's brook to 50 m. on a broad plateau stretching northwards toward Great and Little Horkesley. On the west the land falls to under 20 m. in the valley of the Pulton or Polton brook, a tributary of the Colne. Along the river terraces in the south and east of the parish the subsoil is predominantly silty clay with overlying deposits of sand, gravel, and fertile loam. Further north there are stiffer and colder clays overlain by deposits of flint, chalk, sand, and occasionally loam. Brickearth is found in many places. (fn. 6)
In the early Middle Ages much of the parish was woodland and its name, meaning 'copse by a hill', may describe the woods of Bergholt Hall. (fn. 7) The whole of the eastern side of the parish, including West Bergholt heath, appar- ently formed part of Cestrewald, probably the wood belonging to the townsmen of Colchester. The neighbouring Kingswood still extended into West Bergholt in 1535. (fn. 8) The heath (267 a. in 1863) was a large area of rough ground, furze, and wood used as common grazing. Assarting on its edges, especially along the banks of the Colne and St. Botolph's brook, had already begun by the earlier 13th century, and the heath was later subject to increasing piecemeal inclosure. Many squatters built cottages on the south of the heath and the names Bard field, Barfold, or 'Barfel' used locally from the 16th to 19th centuries, may refer to that area. (fn. 9)
No major or turnpiked roads crossed the parish, although the Colchester-Sudbury road across the centre of the parish was known as the Coach road and was included in an abort- ive turnpike plan in 1765. (fn. 10) The Colchester- Nayland road crossed the parish along the western edge of the heath, its northern section being called Drake Street in 1414. Polton Lane mentioned in 1508 probably led to Fordham, and Crabbes Lane recorded in 1560 to Little Horkesley. (fn. 11) Many minor roads and tracks, such as Sprowle Street (1415) running from the Colchester-Sudbury road, connected dispersed farms to each other and to the main roads, particularly in the west and north of the parish. (fn. 12) In 1645 'market people' from West Bergholt and Fordham travelled on a footpath through Lexden to Colchester. (fn. 13) Many trackways on the heath were retained upon its inclosure in 1865, the most important becoming Chapel Road. (fn. 14)
The Colchester road crosses St. Botolph's brook at Botolph's bridge, a corruption of Godulf's bridge first recorded in the 13th century. (fn. 15) Newbridge, further west where Lexden Road crosses the Colne, was first recorded in 1200. (fn. 16) The lords of the manors of Bergholt Hall, Lexden, and Abbotts in Stanway were responsible for maintaining the bridge which was constructed in three sections to facilitate repairs. (fn. 17) In 1665-6 it was in poor repair and impassable. (fn. 18) In 1866 the bridge carried most traffic, the ford beside it often being impassable except by the largest carts and wagons. (fn. 19) It was replaced with an enlarged bridge in 1983. (fn. 20) Another bridge called Joyers bridge, also con- structed in three sections, crossed the Pulton brook on Kings Lane. Between 1490 and 1511 repairs were the responsibility of the lord of Cooks Hall, the rector, and the chaplain of the parish chantry. In 1601 the lord of Cooks Hall ordered two of his tenants and the rector to repair it. (fn. 21)
Prehistoric, Iron-Age, and Roman material from West Bergholt Hall, St. Mary's church, and nearby sites suggest that the area may have been continuously settled. (fn. 22) Prehistoric flints, a middle Bronze-Age cemetery, and Iron-Age pottery from Chitts Hill, south of the Colne, also imply early settlement in that area. (fn. 23) Scattered finds in the parish include several Palaeolithic axes from the heath, Iron-Age and Roman pottery and coins. (fn. 24) There are large areas of undated cropmarks to the south of Hill House farm, west of Armoury farm, and east of Bourne Road. (fn. 25)
West Bergholt was one of the least populous parishes in Lexden Hundred in the Middle Ages. The combined total of free tenants, unfree tenants, and slaves was 27 in 1066 and probably 32 in 1086. (fn. 26) In 1377 only 105 inhabitants paid the poll tax. (fn. 27) The population may have grown rapidly between 1559 and 1601 when baptisms were nearly double the burials, although many people probably migrated to Colchester. (fn. 28) There were 73 houses in 1671, including 38 exempt from hearth tax. (fn. 29) Growth may have slackened in the 18th century as there was only a small surplus of baptisms over burials from 1734 to 1771. There were 60-70 families in the parish in 1723 and 50 houses in 1766. (fn. 30) The rate of increase was faster than that of neighbouring parishes in the 19th century; the near doubling of the population from 552 in 1801 to its peak of 1,067 in 1881 was partly a reflection of employment opportunities at Daniell's brewery on Colchester Road. Thereafter growth faltered but the parish had the seventh highest popu- lation in the hundred by 1901. (fn. 31) Population increased only gradually in the earlier 20th century, but it nearly tripled, from 1,272 to 3,027, between 1951 and 1991. (fn. 32)
The ancient settlement pattern was a combination of dispersed farms, including the manorial centres of Bergholt Hall and Cooks Hall, and linear settlement along the main roads. On the clayland north and north-west of Bergholt Hall and the heath, a number of 17th-century or earlier houses occupy sites of copyholds or freeholds of Bergholt Hall manor. (fn. 33) Little Priors, a 17th-century timber-framed and jettied house, occupies the site of the house for an estate granted by Ralph of Bergholt to Little Leighs priory in 1248. (fn. 34) Pond Farm, a 17th-century timber-framed house, stands on a possibly moated site perhaps associated with Henry atte Ponde (1341). (fn. 35) Scarletts probably occupies the site of Thomas Scarlett's seven- or eight-hearth house recorded in 1662 and 1671. The 17th- century house was timber-framed and in three structural parts: a three-roomed south range which may have been the earlier, a square north block containing one principal room on each floor, and a small stair turret in the angle between them on the east side. In the mid 18th century the west front and the south end were encased in brick, and in the 19th century the casing was extended to the north end and a dairy and a lean-to were added to the east of the south range. (fn. 36) King's Farm has a hall and cross- wing plan and is probably of 16th-century origin. The upper floors in both parts appear to be insertions but all the roofs have been renewed. Highfields Farm is a 17th-century timber-framed house with mansard roof, and Rookery Farm a 17th-century timber-framed house with a brick wing. (fn. 37)
More early houses survive on the sites of cus- tomary and freehold tenancies of Bergholt Hall and Cooks Hall manors around the edges of the heath. (fn. 38) High Trees Farm is a substantial early 15th-century house of hall and cross-wing plan which retains many original features including crown-post roofs, four-centred headed door- ways in the screens passage, and jettied ends to the cross wings. Early in the 17th century a stack and upper floor were put into the hall range and a stack was added or rebuilt at the south, parlour end. There is a timber-framed kitchen wing, perhaps of the 17th century, behind the service end. (fn. 39) Nos. 10 and 12 Lexden Road, formerly a single house, and No. 20, Bures House, are both 17th-century timber-framed houses. Additions at 20 Lexden Road include a late 18th-century dentilled cornice. The small 18th-century brick house which survives at the north-east corner of Firmins has an older, timber-framed kitchen wing, and was enlarged in the 19th century and the earlier 20th.
Bourne Farm, a 17th-century timber-framed house with a 16th-century barn, probably occupies the site of Maud atte Bourne's house in 1327. (fn. 40) Whitehouse Farm is a heavily restored, probably 17th-century, hall house with jetty and cross wing. Horsepits Farm, formerly Bulbeks, may mark the site of the house occupied by Thomas Bulbek in 1327. (fn. 41) The surviving high quality 16th-century or earlier timber-framed house with east and west cross wings, has a con- tinuous jetty and a first-floor hall. The house was built or remodelled by its 16th-century free- hold tenants, the clothiers Thomas (fl. 1542-60) and William Dibney (d. 1595). (fn. 42) The date Nov. 10 1628 and the initials D.T.S. discovered in the east gable in 1944 were probably for Thomas Dibney (fl. 1631) and his wife. (fn. 43)
The large nucleated village of West Bergholt developed between the 17th and 20th centuries on land formerly the heath. Some large agricul- tural inclosures were made along the Lexden road in the 17th century or earlier, including Ardens or Dairy Farm, later Donard Lodge, but most of the early intakes were concentrated south of Chapel Road. Mount Pleasant on Chapel Road and Spring Cottage on Spring Lane are typical houses for the smallholdings established by 1843, while Pippin Cottage on Chapel Lane is perhaps representative of the many cottages, mostly weatherboarded with 2-4 rooms. The number of small cottages in that area of the heath increased greatly in the period 1841-81 when population growth was rapid. Other, smaller, 19th-century settlements included a group of cottages on the south side of Colchester Road, and the semi-circular group of cottages, shops, and workshops called The Crescent near the White Hart which were occu- pied by labourers and craftsmen. (fn. 44)
Chapel Road, later the heart of the village, was not developed until the late 19th century, although Rocklands is of c. 1850. The late Vic- torian and Edwardian houses at its north end, including Ormonde House (1880), Ebenezer Villas (1884), Warwick Villas (1889), Ivanhoe, and Heathland (1908), and the detached houses of similar date on the south side of New Church Road, reflect an influx of professional people from Colchester into the parish. (fn. 45) Cottages were built on the Colchester road in the late 19th century for workers at Daniell's brewery and others were purchased; about 1900 the brewery had c. 50 houses in the village. (fn. 46)
Some dilapidated cottages were demolished in the 1950s and council housing built. The village remained essentially rural up to that time. The numerous infilling housing developments that followed in the period 1961-81 gave the village its present, predominantly suburban, appear- ance. Among the developments built by Lexden and Winstree Rural District Council were Bercolta flats in Mumford Road. Private hous- ing included Firmins Court and Sackville Way built in the mid 1970s and the executive-type housing in Garthwood Close built in the early 1990s. Daniell's brewery buildings and grounds were converted and redeveloped in 1989 as 200 houses, flats, and maisonettes. The pace of de- velopment slowed in the 1990s, although there was a recognized need for more low-cost housing in 1995. (fn. 47)
Frequent amercements for unlicensed brewing, breaking the assize of ale, and permitting the playing of illegal games such as tennis, suggest that several alehouses existed in the later 15th and earlier 16th centuries. (fn. 48) Alehouses were licensed in 1576, 1580, and 1608, although an unlicensed one owned by a collar-maker was suppressed in 1618. (fn. 49) There were three unlicensed alehouses or beerhouses in 1644. (fn. 50) The White Hart, so called from 1716, is an 18th-century timber-framed building which served as a coaching inn and droving station between Colchester and Sudbury. (fn. 51) In 1848 there were six beerhouses; in 1995 the Treble Tile and Queen's Head were the successors of two of them. (fn. 52)
A public well at the top of Newbridge Hill was closed in 1896 because its water was unfit for drinking. In 1905 houses were chiefly supplied from shallow wells, although there were three springs which fed public ponds at the Queen's Head, on Lexden Road, and near the White Hart, and there was a deep well at the brewery. (fn. 53) Mains water was supplied from the 1930s, and a sewage and waste water disposal works was constructed in the period 1957-60, under a shared arrangement with the brewery. (fn. 54) Colchester Corporation supplied electricity from 1929-30, although some large houses already had private generators for lighting. (fn. 55) Gas may have been first supplied by the Colchester Gas, Light and Coke Co. after their expansion in 1916, but a full gas supply was not provided until the early 1980s. (fn. 56) Bus services were started from Firmins on the Lexden Road by J. Darvill in 1902. (fn. 57) By 1932 two regular bus services linked Colchester and West Bergholt, and by 1946 there were three services, one local and two through services. (fn. 58) In 1995 bus services connected the parish with Colchester seven days a week and with Sudbury six days a week. (fn. 59)
A friendly society met at the White Hart in 1838. (fn. 60) Epidemics of measles, diphtheria, and scarlet fever c. 1900 stimulated interest in medi- cal care, and the Horkesley and West Bergholt District Nurse Subscribers' Fund was estab- lished in 1907. (fn. 61) The West Bergholt branch of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, founded in 1874, survived until 1894. (fn. 62) The West Bergholt Conservative club was formed in 1886; J. H. Round, historian and lord of the manor, was chairman. (fn. 63) Annual ploughing matches were well-attended in the 1890s, and the West Bergholt Cottagers' committee (1898-1931) and the Allotment and Gardeners' association (1943 onwards) held annual shows. (fn. 64)
The former Primitive Methodist chapel (later the British school) was used as a village hall from 1902 to 1949. The Working Men's Social club erected in 1921 a clubhouse on Lexden Road which became the Scout hut in 1938. The Orpen Memorial Hall, built in 1938 in memory of O. G. Orpen (d. 1917), a director at Daniell's brewery, contains a hall, ancillary rooms, and a kitchen. It was requisitioned by the army in the Second World War, but since then has replaced both the village hall and the Working Men's clubhouse as a meeting place for the numerous village clubs and societies. T. D. Daniell presented the adjacent 4-a. sports field to the parish in 1939. (fn. 65) A tennis club met next to the Orpen Hall in the 1930s was restarted in 1945. (fn. 66) The parish cricket club was founded in the early 19th century; in 1843 the cricket field lay immediately west of Daniell's brewery. (fn. 67) Sports clubs in 1995 provided for football, cricket, indoor bowls, and darts. (fn. 68) A naturist club, the Spring Wood Sun club, established in the 1950s in woods near the Old Rectory had over 100 members by 1973. (fn. 69)
In 1914 troops from the Suffolk regiment were billeted in the village. (fn. 70) Hill House on Lexden Road and barns and outbuildings near Cooks Hall suffered bomb damage in the Second World War. (fn. 71) A pillbox survived near the river west of Newbridge in 1995.
In 1989 the Bergholt Hall estate had 62 a. of woodland stocked with wild pheasants, woodcock, and pigeons. (fn. 72) In 1993 its owner sold Hillhouse wood to the Woodland Trust as a nature reserve. (fn. 73) In 1995 the parish contained seven sites important for nature conservation and part of the Colne Valley Countryside Conservation area, and many of its trees were subject to preservation orders. (fn. 74)