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 high proportion of bordarii to villani (8:2) on Little Horkesley Hall manor in 1086 probably indicates that the parish was once well wooded. Clearance was well advanced by 1086 when both the demesne farm and the tenants had 2 ploughs. In 1266 the demesne comprised 222 a. of arable, 10 a. of meadow, 17 a. of pasture, and 20 a. of common wood. Tenants paid rents of assize worth 49s. 5d., 12 lb. of pepper, 12 chickens and 100 eggs, and performed labour services worth 40s. (fn. 1) By 1295 the demesne arable had expanded to 293 a., and the meadow to 13 a., while woodland, underwood, and pasture had fallen to 30 a. Rents of assize had decreased to 36s. 9½d., suggesting that arable expansion may have been at the expense of tenant holdings. The value of the labour services had risen over the same period to 55s. 9½d. (fn. 2)
In 1451 the manor was leased for £21 3s. 6d., and the meadow land separately for £4 10s. Sales of wood brought in £9 15s. 10d. and labour services only 11s. 6d. The prior of Horkesley rented Perryfield for 26s. 8d. and the dairy there for 8s. Another important tenancy was Vinesse farm, leased for 40s. (fn. 3) The number of tenancies had hardly changed by 1553 when there were 9 free holds and c. 20 customary holdings, 7 of which were held by one man. (fn. 4) One small farm in 1556 comprised 6 a. of arable, 2 a. of meadow, 4 a. of pasture, 1 a. of wood, and 3 a. of alder. (fn. 5)
In the earlier 14th century the priory's demesne farm produced 16 qr. of wheat, 2 qr. of rye, ½ qr. of barley, 1 qr. of beans, 2 qr. of rye and peas, and 4 qr. of oats. Livestock included 4 horses, 1 cow, 2 calves, 8 lambs, 8 geese, and 13 pigs. (fn. 6) About 1525 most of the priory's small demesne farm, comprising c. 60 a. of arable or pasture and 6 a. of meadow, lay north east of the priory. The priory's copyholders then held c. 80 a. of arable with 3½ r. of meadow in Tunman meadow.
The prior's leasehold of Holts comprised c. III a. plus 4 a. in Tunman meadow. By 1565 it had increased to 100 a. of arable, 15 a. of meadow, 60 a. of pasture, 6 a. of wood, and 12 a. of alder in Little Horkesley and Wormingford. In 1845 it comprised 164 a., mainly on the boundary with Wormingford. (fn. 7)
Fields in the parish were farmed in severalty, although the larger ones such as Broadfield and Perryfield may have been divided among several owners in the 13th and 14th centuries. (fn. 8) About 1525 all lands on the priory estate were described as closes or pightles. (fn. 9)
Both its name ('the meadow of the men of the vill'), and its division between Great and Little Horkesley, suggest the antiquity of Tunman (later Churn) meadow. In 1387-8 tenants holding strips there included men from Westwood green. (fn. 10) In 1755 a total of 18 people paid £1 12s. 6d. an acre for grass from c. 27 a. of meadow, probably the common meadow in the north west corner of the parish. In 1762 the first crop of hay on meadows belonging to Lower Dairy farm was shared by the landowner (9 a.) and three tenants (2½ a.). (fn. 11) In 1845 c. 60 a. of meadow, about half held communally and divided into doles, abutted the Stour. (fn. 12)
In 1651 Little Horkesley Hall demesne c. 462 a.) occupied about 60 per cent of the parish and was divided into three leasehold farms. The Hall farm had 106 a. of arable, 35 a. of meadow, and 51 a. of wood, with 3 a. of wood recently converted to arable. Another leasehold farm, possibly Upper Dairy farm, had 113 a. of arable, 8½ a. of pasture, but no meadow or wood. The third farm, probably Lower Dairy farm, had 135 a., about equally divided between arable and pasture, the forecrop of 4 a. of meadow, but no wood. Its field names of Nether, Middle, and Upper Stubbs indicate woodland clearance, perhaps in the earlier 17th century. (fn. 13) Between 1631 and c. 1670 there were 8 free and 18 customary tenancies, a few of which lay either partially or wholly outside the parish in Wormingford, Fordham, and Great Horkesley. (fn. 14) Two Wormingford men poached the manorial fishery in the common meadow in 1685. (fn. 15) The Little Horkesley Hall farm was usually leased in the later 17th and the earlier 18th century. (fn. 16)
Peas were being grown in 1659. (fn. 17) About 1685, six farmers, including the owner of Holts farm, cultivated about 60 per cent of their land as arable with wheat, oats, barley, and peas; one of them grew rye. They also kept cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry. All grew apples, sometimes in considerable quantity, and some of them cherries. (fn. 18) In the earlier 19th century the gardens of Little Horkesley Hall produced fruit for the Colchester market. (fn. 19) Some farms grew hops in the 18th century or before: Hop Ground field lay beside Vinesse Farm in 1765 and Hop Yard next to Upper Dairy Farm in 1790. (fn. 20)
In 1801 about 40 per cent of the land in the parish was arable, with 158 a. of wheat, 86 a. of barley, 83 a. of oats, 15½ a. of peas, 3 a. of potatoes, 6½ a. of beans, and 52½ a. of turnips or rape. Wheat and barley had produced above average yields in the later 18th century and all crops were described as abundant in 1801. (fn. 21)
The arable had considerably expanded by 1845 when it comprised 856 a. compared to 130 a. of pasture and meadow. The largest estate was Little Horkesley Hall, with a home farm of 283 a. and three tenanted farms of 100 a., 126 a., and 72 a. respectively. The only other estates over 50 a. were Holts (163 a.), and the Priory (68 a.). (fn. 22) Holts farm and Little Horkesley Hall were targets for incendiarists in 1842 and 1843 respectively. (fn. 23) In 1848 one farmer was also a maltster, and presumably occupied Maltings farm. (fn. 24) The chief crops in 1874 were wheat, barley, beans, and turnips. (fn. 25)
Most 19th century inhabitants were engaged in agriculture either as farmers or farm labourers, or in typical rural trades or by employments. (fn. 26) A declining population in the later 19th century may indicate a drift away from the land during agricultural depression. Certainly, arable cultivation had contracted by 1905 when wheat, barley, oats, turnips, swedes, mangle wurzel, and clover were the main crops on c 510 a. of arable. There was also 92 a. of permanent grass, but livestock numbers were low compared to neighbouring parishes. (fn. 27) Holts farm grew oats, wheat, barley, roots, and clover c. 1910, and was an important corngrowing farm of 186 a. in 1922. (fn. 28) In the 1920s and 1930s nurseryman and fruit grower L. Pettitt ran Little Horkesley Nurseries and there was a poulterer at the Priory. (fn. 29) One small tenant farmer who gave up dairying in 1937 only had 5 cows of different breeds and 30 hens, but another farmer had a Jersey cattle heard producing high milk yields from 80 a. of pasture c. 1938-54. (fn. 30) The main farming interest in 1997 was an insurance company, Sentry Farming. (fn. 31)
Evidence for a cloth industry is slight compared to that for neighbouring parishes, although Thomas le Dyer held land in the 13th century. (fn. 32) A saymaker was recorded in 1634. (fn. 33) In 1641 John Sadler, cardboardmaker, had an apprentice 'larthriver', who possibly split laths. (fn. 34) In 1623 a Little Horkesley man was pardoned for coining. (fn. 35) In 1846 J. C. Blair Warren and Frederick Ransome, an engineer from Suffolk, took out a patent for improvements in the manufacture of bricks, tiles, and pipes, but there is no evidence that they began production locally. (fn. 36)