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 the late 11th century cultivation was probably concentrated in the north-west and north-east of the parish where the Boxted Hall and Rivers Hall demesnes later lay. (fn. 1) Boxted Hall's woodland for 300 swine in 1086 was probably further south next to Cestrewald. Boxted's large and increasing number of bordarii, as well as its 38 goats, may suggest that woodland clearance was in progress by 1086. (fn. 2) Hugh of Boxted gave Wix priory 6 a. of assarted land and 1 a. of meadow near Cestrewald c. 1210-20, and in 1234 Rivers Hall manor had woodland beside Kingswood. (fn. 3) In 1235 Boxted Hall had foresters in charge of its woods, and before 1258 the crown had rights to the oaks there. (fn. 4) The woodland had apparently been converted to heath by the removal of timber by 1325. (fn. 5)
The Boxted Hall demesne had 2 ploughs, 8 a. of meadow, 13 beasts, 35 swine, 140 sheep, and 25 goats in 1086; the 5 villani and 18 bordarii shared 6 ploughs. (fn. 6) In 1265 the demesne comprised 120 a. of arable, 20 a. of pasture, 7 a. of meadow, and 5 a. of woodland; rents of assize were worth 6 marks and tenants owed 204 customary works. (fn. 7) Between 1303 and 1325 the arable had increased to 250½ a., although flooding restricted sowing to 192 a. and ruined the 7 a. of meadow. There was also 60¼ a. of pasture including waste, 51 a. of woodland, and heathland. The customary tenants owed 10 marks in assized rents, as well as 34 chickens, 17 geese, 20 customary weeding works, and 122 autumn works. (fn. 8) By 1430 the demesne farm comprised 360 a. of arable, 44 a. of pasture, 24 a. of meadow, and 80 a. of wood. (fn. 9) In 1661 it grew rye and wheat, and livestock included 2 bulls, 11 dairy cows, 58 fattening cattle, and over 100 sheep. (fn. 10)
A one-hide estate had a plough, 4 cattle, 64 sheep, 13 swine, 13 goats, and a hive of bees in 1086. One villanus and 9 bordarii had a single plough. (fn. 11) If that estate can be identified with the part of Rivers Hall later held from Roger Tany, it had expanded little by 1311 when it comprised 49 a. of arable, 10 a. of wood, 30s. 2d. rents of assize, and customary works. The second and main part of the Rivers Hall demesne in 1311, held from William Horkesley, consisted of 80 a. of arable, 42 a. of meadow, 2 a. of pasture, 13 a. of wood, 16½ a. of alder-wood, with 52s. ¼d. rents of assize, and customary works. The two estates were perhaps merged by 1347 when the Rivers Hall demesne had 160 a. of arable, partly sown with oats and rye, 40 a. of meadow, 30 a. of pasture, and 40 a. of wood, as well as £4 of rents, and labour services and customary dues worth £1. (fn. 12) By 1503 the proportion of meadow and other pastoral resources had expanded further, the combined demesnes forming an estate with 200 a. of arable, 140 a. of meadow, 100 a. of pasture, 100 a. of wood, and 300 a. of heath. (fn. 13) In 1586 the demesne had c. 363 a. of arable and pasture, c. 103 a. of meadow, and c. 55 a. of woodland; there was also a warren of c. 10 a. (fn. 14)
In 1523-4 John Maidstone was the second highest taxpayer in the parish with assessed goods worth £13 6s. 8d., (fn. 15) his descendant Robert Maidstone leasing Boxted Hall demesne in 1593. (fn. 16) In 1598 John Maidstone held Pondhouse with 41 a. 3r. of customary land, (fn. 17) and in 1615 Robert Maidstone bred rabbits there. (fn. 18) Pondhouse was amalgamated with the demesne by 1722. (fn. 19)
In 1586 the c. 470 a. of land on Rivers Hall manor was divided between 55 holdings held by 36 freehold and customary tenants. Sir Thomas Lucas's freehold estate, of Packwoods, High Fen and Messings, comprised c. 96 a. (fn. 20) On Boxted Hall manor in 1598 about 35 freehold and cus- tomary tenants held c. 564 a. of land, much of it undertenanted. (fn. 21) The inheritance custom of Borough English recorded from the mid 18th century until 1907 was probably of earlier origin. There was no widow's free bench. (fn. 22)
Sixteenth-century tenants grew rye and some oats. (fn. 23) Cattle dairying or grazing is suggested by the theft of 22 heifers in 1592. (fn. 24) Tenants' farms typically had more pasture than arable. (fn. 25) There was 14 a. of land in 'Shepcotefeld' in the earlier 16th century, and some of the sheep recorded in the 16th and 17th centuries were grazed on the heath. (fn. 26) In 1593 and 1598 a tenants' meadow on Boxted Hall manor was divided into doles of ½ a. or 1 a. (fn. 27) Six doles survived in 1838, the vicar holding an adjacent strip called Tithe Acre. Another Tithe Acre within Rivers Hall meadow may record the site of a second common meadow that had earlier been consolidated. (fn. 28)
In 1507 Rivers Hall manor had 120 a. of woodland. (fn. 29) In 1585 Edward Waldegrave sold 112 a. of wood and 3 a. of alder, (fn. 30) and coppice timber was being grown on Boxted Hall heath. (fn. 31) That year copyholders of Rivers Hall lost an action in Chancery against their lord over rights to take wood for fuel and other purposes. (fn. 32) Timber was sold on Boxted farms in 1785 and 1787; in the latter year a carpenter and a cooper or timber merchant bought 16 a. of woodland at Hartshorn grove. By 1820 that land had been cleared. (fn. 33)
About 1740 wheat or meal, barley, oats, and malt or bran were apparently carried along the Stour Navigation from Boxted to Manning- tree. (fn. 34) A four course rotation was recorded in 1767, and turnips and clover in 1790. (fn. 35) Yields of wheat and barley in the later 18th century, when the Norfolk turnip husbandry was generally used, were relatively low compared with neighbouring parishes. (fn. 36)
Despite illegal encroachments, such as the cottage and cowhouse to be removed in 1642, Boxted heath still occupied much of the south of the parish in 1777. (fn. 37) In the early 19th century it provided over 30 farms with sheep and cattle pasture, furze and turf, and clay to repair cottages. (fn. 38) About 1813 it was estimated that inclosure and improvement would treble the value of the 360 a. of heath. It was inclosed in 1815 and was in a high state of cultivation by 1848. (fn. 39)
The two manorial estates remained the largest throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Boxted Hall comprising c. 608 a. and Rivers Hall c. 545 a. in 1838. (fn. 40) In that year Priory farm on Boxted heath and William Fisher's combined Boxted Lodge and Enfield's farms also com- prised over 200 a. Of the 2,982 a. of titheable land, 2,335 a. were arable, 573 a. meadow, and only 74 a. woodland. (fn. 41) Wheat, peas, beans, and clover seed were being carried from Boxted to Mistley along the Stour Navigation by 1842, and coal from Mistley back to Boxted. (fn. 42) Small farms in the mid 19th century cultivated wheat, barley, rye, clover, and trefoil, and grew turnips on the fallow. (fn. 43) One farm in 1860 used a four course rotation of (1) wheat (2) fallow with turnips or mangold-wurzel (3) barley, oats, new clover or trefoil (4) clover. (fn. 44)
In 1848 R. B. Cant, the Colchester nurseryman and seedsman, held land in the parish. (fn. 45) W. F. Hobbs (d. 1866) of Boxted Lodge was the first man in Essex to breed Suffolk Punch horses; he also kept Leicester sheep, Hereford cattle, prize winning 'improved Essex' pigs, and hosted Royal Agricultural Society trials of reaping machines and steam cultivators in 1856. (fn. 46) Most late 19th-century farms, including Plumb's (24 a.), Songers (20 a.), and Kersey's (26 a.) remained small; like Brook farm (42 a.) they were probably dairy and cattle farms. (fn. 47) Responses to agricultural depression may have included greater emphasis on livestock; Hill House farm, a c. 83-a. mainly arable farm in 1877, was a 60-a. dairy and cattle farm by 1908. (fn. 48) There was also increased diversification; a 28-a. fruit farm near Runkins corner existed by 1894, (fn. 49) and H. & E. Edwards were market gardeners between 1902 and 1910. (fn. 50)
In 1905 there were 50 farmers, 36 of them holding under 50 a. of land. The c. 2,500 a. of arable was sown with clover (789 a.), wheat (376 a.), oats (322 a.), barley (280 a.), turnips and swedes (185 a.), and mangold-wurzel (110 a.). There were also 65 a. of peas, 61 a. of potatoes, 51 a. of beans, and lesser areas of rye, cabbages, kohl rabi, vetches or tares, and lucerne, some of them perhaps grown for the Colchester or London markets. The large acreage of clover, together with over 400 a. of grassland and meadow, supported 373 cattle (including 151 cows), 810 sheep, and 287 pigs. There were also 79 a. of coppice and 14 a. of orchard. (fn. 51)
In 1906 the Salvation Army bought Priory farm and 400 a. of land, much of it former heath- land, for a land settlement or colony. By 1910 about 30 of the 67 smallholdings of 4½-7 a. were occupied, many leased by tenants from the East End of London. Each was provided with a new cottage and outbuildings, seed, manure, and fruit trees and bushes. Produce was marketed through the Boxted Smallholding Co-operative Society. By 1911 the settlement was in difficulty and 20 out of 38 houses were unoccupied in 1912. Essex County Council, who bought the estate in 1916, had by 1922 settled ex-servicemen on the holdings, but they also found it difficult to make a living. Later the small holdings were leased to farmworkers and in the 1950s many were sold to sitting tenants. (fn. 52)
In 1926 Boxted Hall farm bred dairy shorthorn cattle, Suffolk sheep, Suffolk Punch horses, and large black pigs. At Barritts and Plains farms A. Sexton and Sons, market gardeners, supplied Stratford market from Colchester North railway station. Three market gardeners, a fruit grower, and two poultrymen were recorded in 1927; ten market gardeners or fruit growers, three poultrymen, and a rose grower in 1933. (fn. 53) In 1968 there were poultry houses at Noakes farm and an egg packing station at Priory farm, and there was a poultry business on Straight Road in 1998. (fn. 54) Hill House farm specialized in fruit in the 1920s and 1930s. Up to the 1970s there were extensive orchards scattered across the parish, but production then declined under the influence of the Common Agricultural Policy. (fn. 55) In 1998 several farms grew sugar beet in addition to grain crops, especially barley. One large Great Horkesley farming business leased Boxted land to grow vegetables for a major retailer. (fn. 56)
A tanner had groves of wood in Boxted in 1571, presumably for bark supplies. Other tanners were recorded in 1592, 1622, and 1634, an inspector and sealer of hides in 1641, and a tanhouse in 1665 and 1734. (fn. 57)
An Act of Parliament of 1585 allowed Boxted and Langham men to weave cloth if they had been trading, or apprenticed to the trade, for seven years, as they made good cloth and employed many poor people. (fn. 58) Thirteen weavers were recorded between 1551 and 1670, 13 clothiers between 1583 and 1686, broadclothweavers in 1688 and 1692, a sayworker in 1665, a shearman in 1573 and two in 1616, and a comber in 1650. (fn. 59) Overseers of cloth production were appointed in 1602; (fn. 60) in 1607 Anthony and Benjamin Clere, probably members of the family of Colchester clothiers, refused to let them view an illegally constructed tenter-frame and its azure broadcloth. (fn. 61) Another azure broad- cloth was stolen from a clothier in 1606. (fn. 62) More cloth was stolen c. 1727, (fn. 63) but the trade probably declined in line with that of Dedham and Colchester. (fn. 64)
The mill on Boxted Hall manor in 1066 was not recorded in 1086, (fn. 65) but in 1235 two mills, perhaps a double mill, were leased for 18s. a year. (fn. 66) A mill on Boxted Hall manor was leased for 6s. 8d. a year in 1303, but had no millstone in 1325 and was not recorded thereafter. (fn. 67) In 1261, 1311, 1334, and 1347 there was a mill on Rivers Hall manor, apparently on the site of Boxted mill. (fn. 68) In 1586 it comprised a corn mill and two fulling mills and was leased with the mill house and land for £45 a year. (fn. 69) In 1838 it was a corn mill; it apparently ceased working between 1898 and 1902 and was demolished. (fn. 70) The 19th-century gault brick mill house of two storeys with attics survives.
There may have been a medieval windmill near Boxted Cross, (fn. 71) and another at Great Windmill Hill was recorded in 1586. (fn. 72) A windmill had been built on Boxted heath by 1817, but its millers were bankrupted in 1845 and 1863 and milling had ceased by 1866. The mill was demolished in the later 19th century. (fn. 73)
Agricultural labourers and those working in associated trades formed the largest group of workers in 1841 and 1851. Local farms apparently employed less than half of the resident labourers in 1851; (fn. 74) some worked outside the parish like two Boxted men in a gang of labourers who destroyed a threshing machine at Mile End in 1830. Later economic and social protest is reflected by the brief existence of branches of the Labour League c. 1876 and the Eastern Counties Labour Federation in 1892. (fn. 75)
Five tailoresses and 4 dressmakers recorded in 1851 were probably outworkers for Colchester clothing firms. By 1861 the clothing industry employed 16 tailoresses, 4 dressmakers, and 3 needleworkers, and 20 years later up to 47 women worked in the trade and one man was a sewing machinist. (fn. 76)
There were 3 grocers' shops in 1754 and 1778, (fn. 77) and 2 butchers' shops in 1780. (fn. 78) Grocers, pork butchers, poulterers or poultry dealers, bakers, and other tradesmen operated from shops scattered around the parish by the later 19th century. (fn. 79) The parish remained purely agricultural for most of the 20th century, but since 1975 small business units at Hill farm have accommodated coldstores, workshops, and light industry. (fn. 80) Other small businesses open in 1998 included a saddlery, a fencing panel manufacturer, a paper shredding firm, nurseries, garden centres, and farm and 'pick your own' shops, many of them based on the land of former Salvation Army smallholdings.