A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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Navestock is about 3 miles south of Ongar and 4 miles north-east of Romford. (fn. 1) With an area of 4,518 acres it is one of the largest parishes in the hundred. The varied scenery includes a patch of ancient woodland, an open green, and an open heath. Though so close to Romford, Navestock is not traversed by main roads and remains completely rural. It was one of the few parishes in this area to retain a large uninclosed common until the 18th century, and where Roman Catholic worship (fn. 2) continued after the Reformation.
The relief of the parish consists principally of two spurs, the larger in the west including Navestock Heath, the smaller in the north-east with Beacon Hill as its highest point. (fn. 3) Both spurs rise to a height of over 300 ft. They descend quite steeply to the north-west where the winding River Roding forms the parish boundary. On the south and south-east the boundary is not allied to any marked physical feature and the land slopes gently away to Havering Plain and South Weald Common. Between the spurs is the valley of the Wetstaff Brook, formerly a tributary of the Roding, now dammed to form the Lady's Pond, a rush-grown lake in Navestock Park. This pond is the largest stretch of inclosed water in the parish but the poor drainage afforded by the stiff London Clay has encouraged the formation of many other smaller ponds in various parts of the parish. There are several areas of parkland and plantation, mainly at the lower altitudes. Of these the principal are at Navestock Park and in the upper part of the Wetstaff Valley near Bois Hall. Curtismill Green in the extreme west of the parish is the patch of open woodland, about 100 acres in extent, which was formerly part of the forest of Essex. Its northeastern and south-eastern corners are still marked by the old forest boundary stones, known respectively as Richard Stone and Navestock Stone. Navestock Common, the name of which survives in the south-west, was formerly much larger in extent, stretching across the south of the parish for most of its length and containing some 600 acres.
The main centre of population is Navestock Side in the extreme east of the parish, where the houses cluster round a green. There are also some houses around Navestock Heath which was formerly a more important hamlet than it is today. The former workhouse and the old almshouse, both now demolished, were at the south end. (fn. 4) The village school has been closed and the vicarage, which adjoins it, is unoccupied. The Heath, which is still used for grazing cattle, has a desolate appearance.
The parish church is a mile north of Navestock Heath, adjoining the old manor house of Navestock Hall. A little to the north of them, in Navestock Park, is the site of the former mansion of Navestock Hall, built in the 18th century by Lord Waldegrave but demolished about 100 years later. Other ancient manor houses were at Slades near Beacon Hill and Bois Hall ½ mile south on the same spur. (fn. 5) A homestead moat still survives at the former site of Slades and there are other moats at Dycotts in the southwest of the parish and at Yew Tree Farm to the north of Navestock Heath.
Fortification Wood, on the south side of the road about ½ mile west of Bois Hall, covers an entrenchment some 350 ft. long by 240 ft. wide. (fn. 6) It occupies a good defensive position and has been thought to be a fortification at some unknown date. It is probably identical with a wood called 'the defence' which existed in 1222. (fn. 7) Another ancient earthwork, of which hardly any traces remain, was situated on Navestock Common, by the road from Ditchleys (in South Weald) to Princesgate, near the parish and hundred boundary. It was visited on several occasions in the 18th century by William Stukeley (1687-1765) who described it as an 'alate temple'. (fn. 8)
Navestock probably means 'the stump on the headland', (fn. 9) a derivation which suits the topography and suggests early Saxon settlement on one of the spurs. Although some of the parish place names, including those of the manor houses, are medieval, (fn. 10) none of the present buildings, apart from the church, appear to be earlier than the 16th century. Navestock Hall (see Manors) is perhaps the most interesting of these. Like Stondon Hall in Stondon Massey it is an old manor house that has survived the grander house built in the 18th century to supersede it as the residence of the lord of the manor. Dabbs Farm, formerly Hole Farm, about ½ mile south-west of Shonks Mill Bridge, is probably on the site of a medieval house. It is now approached by a track past Howletts Hall Farm, the lane leading from the east being impassable. The house, which was probably built in the late 16th century, is timber-framed. It retains a chimney with six shafts set diagonally. Sabine Cottage, about ¼ mile east of Navestock Heath, facing the end of Tan House Lane, is a small timber-framed building of the 16th century or earlier. This house and the neighbouring Sabine's Green take their name from the family of a 13th century resident, William fitz Sabine. (fn. 11)
At Dycotts a medieval building undoubtedly occupied the moated site but the oldest building there now is part of an outbuilding which has 16th-century timbers. Wattons Green, which lies between Dycotts and the road, extends north-west as a narrow strip of common until it strikes the Navestock-Havering road south of Jenkins Farm. Its name is derived from the family of John de Walton (fl. 1319). (fn. 12)
By the 17th century the pattern of settlement in the parish was probably very much as it is today. Larger houses dating from that period are Bois Hall (see Manors), Beacon Hill Farm, in the north-east corner of the parish, and Yew Tree Farm. Beacon Hill Farm is a red-brick house probably built in the late 17th century. It was much altered in the 18th or earlier 19th century but retains some original woodwork inside. The cottage which adjoins the house on the north is probably of the same period with fewer alterations. Yew Tree Farm, probably built in the 17th century, has a cruciform chimney set diagonally on a square base. Two wings at the back and other features date from the 18th century. North of the house is part of a large rectangular moat. The surface of the ground inside it is uneven, suggesting the position of an earlier building. Several smaller buildings, all timber-framed, also date from the 17th century. Brook House, to the east of Curtismill Green, is a weather-boarded cottage probably built in the second half of that century. On the north side of the road almost opposite Bois Hall is a cottage of the 17th century or earlier with an original chimney. At Navestock Side and near it there are other cottages of about the same period. Houghtons, on the north side of the road at Horseman Side, may well be an ancient house altered in the 18th or early 19th century. It is a weather-boarded range of four cottages.
Shonks Mill was probably rebuilt in the 17th century. It took its name from a medieval family, but this may have come indirectly from some other topographical feature in the area. A map of 1835, based upon one of 1785, shows the old course of the Roding 'before Shonks Mill was erected'. (fn. 13) This suggests that the existing mill had been built not very long before 1785, and the humped brick bridge that still survives on the site and has a small arch for the mill race is probably of the 17th century. The parapets have been rebuilt. The mill itself was still standing in the present century but does not appear to have been used after about 1860, and it has since been demolished. (fn. 14)
Great changes took place in Navestock in the 18th century. Early in the century the new mansion of Navestock Hall was built and a large park constructed around it. (fn. 15) Later came the inclosure of Navestock Common. These changes, while they altered the landscape of the parish, did not, however, alter the main pattern of settlement. (fn. 16) Before the inclosure there were several houses along the north edge of the common, mostly at Horseman Side. Their occupants had no doubt found the situation convenient for the exercise of common rights. Inclosure of the common evidently led to the building of one new farm, Princesgate Farm, which existed by 1840, (fn. 17) and a few of the houses to the south of the road between Navestock Side and Horseman Side are of late 18th- or 19th-century date. The extinguishment of the rights of common in this part of the parish may have led to the building of cottages around the edges of the wood at Curtismill Green, which was not affected by the inclosure. This was not, however, the first development round Curtismill Green. (fn. 18)
Chapman and André's Map of Essex, 1777 shows houses along most of the western edge of Navestock Side but none on the eastern edge. The 'Green Man', which may have existed long before, was probably rebuilt in the 18th century when Navestock Side became a cricket centre. It is a tall rectangular building, recently modernized. During the late 18th century Navestock Park was embellished by the construction of the Lady's Pond and at about the same time there were alterations to Bois Hall. Abbotswick, at Navestock Side, is a small country house standing in a welltimbered garden with a small lake. It seems to date from about 1800 and has since been rebuilt probably early in the present century. In 1817 it was described as the seat of Adam Chadwick. (fn. 19) The 1777 map shows a small piece of common at Slades, but this had been inclosed by 1840. (fn. 20)
In 1801 the population of Navestock was 623, and by 1821 it had risen to 840. (fn. 21) It continued to rise until 1851 when a peak of 982 was reached. The number of inhabited houses in the parish increased from 131 in 1801 to 188 in 1851. (fn. 22) After 1851 there was a gradual decline in population which became most rapid between 1871 and 1881, the period of agricultural depression. By 1901 there were only 692 inhabitants.
The most remarkable event in the life of the parish in the 19th century was the demolition (1811) of Navestock Hall. During the course of the century some of the other larger houses in the parish were extended or improved and continued to offer opportunities of employment for the cottagers, but the disappearance of the great house of Navestock, at a time when the population was increasing rapidly, may have been partly responsible for the ultimate decrease. Even if it had no other effect the demolition increased the isolation of the parish church and must have reinforced the existing tendency for the population to concentrate in the east and south of the parish. This tendency may have been partly counteracted by the rebuilding of the vicarage at Navestock Heath and the erection beside it of a village school. On the other hand again there was the closure of Shonks Mill, which probably failed in competition with the new steam mill at Princesgate. The new mill was built adjoining Princesgate Farm. It is an impressive structure of black weather-boarding, with a tall chimney (see plate facing p. 156). It is no longer used as a mill.
Between 1901 and 1931 the population of Navestock fluctuated at around 700. (fn. 23) In 1953 it was estimated at 680, which is the lowest figure since 1801. (fn. 24) Among the houses built during the past fifty years are five pairs of council houses at the north end of Navestock Heath and twelve pairs near Navestock Side on the road to Bentley church. Three of the last twelve have been erected since 1945, two of them being of Swedish timber. The Navestock Club, built at Navestock Side in 1920, increased the amenities in that part of the parish. Some provision for communal activities at Horseman Side had been made by the building there of the Navestock Mission Room in 1897. This was originally a nonconformist chapel but is now used for services in connexion with the parish church. During the Second World War Slades Farm was totally demolished by enemy action and the parish church damaged.
The Brentwood-Ongar road touches Navestock's easternmost edge, forming the boundary with South Weald for a short distance. Its principal connecting link runs south-west through Navestock Side and Horseman Side to Havering and Romford, and another road goes west and south-west past Bois Hall, Navestock Hall, and Navestock Heath to Havering and Romford. Linking these two principal roads are several by-roads aligned from north-west to south-east. The most important of these follows the Wetstaff valley for most of its course and passes out of the parish by Shonks Mill Bridge over the Roding to join the Ongar-Abridge road.
Most of the parish roads are probably earlier in origin than the 18th century. They may always have been poor in the west of Navestock, where the wood of Curtismill Green formed a barrier, but there was evidently a thoroughfare of some sort in that area as early as the 16th century. In 1583 it was reported at Quarter Sessions that the road from Brentwood through Navestock to Epping was blocked by a gate called 'Curtinsmill' Gate which was 'the only defence for the cattle commoning on that part of the forest there'. (fn. 25) There are detailed reports from the surveyors of the highways on their statute labour for 1607-9, 1618, and 1645. (fn. 26)
The inclosure award of 1770 contained the usual provisions concerning the construction of roads to serve the inclosed area. (fn. 27) Ten new roads were specified but many of these were very short lengths and it is clear from the inclosure map that some of them already existed in whole or in part. The most important changes that resulted from the award were the continuation of the road from Horseman Side to Navestock Side and roads running south and south-east from that road. Not all the provisions of the award were actually carried out. This may have resulted from disputes concerning responsibility for the new roads. At a parish vestry meeting in 1844 it was resolved that the roads set out by the inclosure commissioners should not be repaired by the parish. (fn. 28) This decision was repeated at vestry meetings later in the same year and in 1845, when the parish surveyor was ordered to request the inhabitants whose lands abutted on Goats Wood Lane to repair it. (fn. 29)
Much of the parish on the north-west is bounded by the Roding and there are many references to bridges in records relating to Navestock. The most important was Shonks Mill Bridge between Navestock and Stanford Rivers. In 1566 this lay between the land of Robert Shanke and William Melbourne: its timbers were then badly decayed. (fn. 30) A little later there was some doubt whether it should be repaired by Navestock or by Stanford Rivers. In 1617, when it had been damaged by floods, Navestock was ordered by Quarter Sessions to repair it, (fn. 31) but in 1618 both parishes were presented as responsible for the bridge, then 'very much in decay'. (fn. 32) Both parishes were held responsible in 1641. (fn. 33) By about 1800 the bridge had become a charge on the county and it appears in the later lists of county bridges. (fn. 34) In 1857 it was described in detail by the county surveyor. (fn. 35) It was damaged by floods in 1943. One abutment was rebuilt in concrete and the decking was replaced with a temporary structure. (fn. 36)
A foot-bridge called Hawkes or Hackes Bridge was in need of repair in 1579 and 1580 and John Greene of Navestock Hall was said to be responsible. (fn. 37) In 1586 floods destroyed this bridge (then said to be in Broad Mead) and the same John Greene and the parishioners of Stanford Rivers were ordered to repair it. (fn. 38) In the same year Bartholomew Partrych of Navestock was ordered to replace a foot-bridge. (fn. 39)
For its communications with the outside world Navestock has depended on Ongar, Brentwood, and Romford. Even today, no bus route passes through the parish, and this has the effect of making the centre of the parish, especially Navestock Heath, seem isolated and rural. This is the more remarkable as there is suburban development reaching out in this direction from both Romford and Brentwood, and the great new housing estate of Harold Hill is only 3 miles from Navestock Heath.
An application in 1840 for a post-office in Navestock was refused. (fn. 40) A receiver was mentioned in 1855 and in 1856 Navestock had a post-office under Romford. (fn. 41) There were several changes in the later postal arrangements for the parish. In 1870 and up to 1884 the only post-office was at Shonks Mill, where letters were received via Stanford Rivers from Romford. (fn. 42) In 1884 a second post-office was opened at Navestock Side, and in the same year the telegraph was extended to both offices. (fn. 43) In about 1890 the main office was that at Navestock Side and the sub-postoffice at Shonks Mill had no telegraph. (fn. 44) Four years later the Shonks Mill office had been replaced by one in the centre of the parish at Sabine's Green. (fn. 45) During the past 60 years the Navestock Side office has continued to be the more important of the two. The Sabine's Green (or Navestock Heath) office has existed for most of this period but does not appear to have been operating immediately after the First World War. (fn. 46)
Piped water is supplied to the parish by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co. but there is no main drainage. (fn. 47) The Romford Gas Co. acquired powers to supply gas in Navestock in 1935 and this has been laid on for Navestock Side. (fn. 48) Electricity was supplied to Navestock Heath in 1931. (fn. 49) The Navestock Club established at Navestock Side in 1920 has as its meetingplace a single-story wooden building given by Mr. Walter Tyser, the lord of the manor. (fn. 50) A branch of the county library was opened in 1938. (fn. 51)
Cricket has been played at Navestock since 1784 and probably earlier. (fn. 52) In 1790 the 'Essex Cricket Club' was holding fortnightly matches at the 'Green Man', Navestock Side. The members of the club included Lord Petre and Lord Winchilsea. (fn. 53) A map of 1835, based on one of 1785, shows the cricket ground, (fn. 54) and for most of the 19th century this was the home ground of the West Essex Cricket Club, one of the best known in the county. (fn. 55)
The map of 1835 marks the fields immediately to the east of the cricket ground at Navestock Side as a 'horse-race ground'. (fn. 56) Occasional race meetings were being held at Navestock in the 1860's but had long been discontinued by 1906. (fn. 57)
During the Middle Ages the most important estate in the parish was that owned by the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral. Their property passed in the 16th century to the Waldegrave family. From the 16th century to the 19th the Waldegraves (later barons and eventually earls) increased their estate until by 1840 it comprised almost three-quarters of the total area of the parish. (fn. 58) From the early 18th until the early 19th century Navestock Hall was their main seat. Later in the 19th century, in spite of the demolition of the hall, Lady Waldegrave returned to the parish to live at Dudbrook. (fn. 59)
It was John, Earl Waldegrave who secured the inclosure of the common in 1770. (fn. 60) The total area inclosed was 502 acres exclusive of 90 acres set aside for roads and waste. The earl's allotment was about 350 acres.
In 1840 there were some 25 farms in the parish, of which about 12 were over 100 acres and 9 between 50 acres and 100 acres. The largest was Bois Hall with Slades, 480 acres. It was one of the largest in the whole of Ongar hundred at that time. (fn. 61) Two years earlier it had been estimated that some 2,150 acres of the parish were cultivated as arable and 1,850 acres as meadow or pasture. (fn. 62) These proportions of arable to pasture were typical of this area of mixed farming. As elsewhere in the hundred the arable open fields, if they ever existed, must have been inclosed at an early date. Open meadow lasted longer. The map of 1835 shows strip holdings (in private ownership) in 'Navestock Common Mead' adjoining the Roding south of Shonks Mill. (fn. 63) There is no suggestion that they were still farmed in common, but it is likely that they represented the areas of earlier strips in the open water meadow.
Navestock has always been an agricultural parish and there do not appear to have been any important occupations that were not connected with agriculture.
The fragment of the parish that was within the ancient forest of Essex escaped the destruction that overtook most of the neighbouring forest at Hainault. (fn. 64) Curtismill Green was disafforested in 1851 and in 1858 was allotted as common to the parish of Navestock. (fn. 65)
Apart from the Waldegraves, several of whom achieved distinction, (fn. 66) Navestock numbers among its worthies William Stubbs (1825-1901), the historian and Bishop successively of Chester (1884-8) and Oxford (1888-1901) who was Vicar of Navestock from 1850 to 1866. (fn. 67) Much of his early work for the Rolls Series was done in the parish. He married a local girl, Catherine Dellar, who had been mistress of the village school. His predecessor as vicar, James Ford (1779-1850, vicar from 1830 to his death), founded the Ford Lectureship at Oxford University. (fn. 68) He is said to have made manuscript notes towards a history of the hundred of Ongar and to have left them to Trinity College, Oxford. (fn. 69) He and Stubbs were not the only historians to be connected with Navestock, for Adam de Murimuth (1275 ?-1347), Canon of St. Paul's, to whom the manor was leased in 1335 by the Dean and Chapter, (fn. 70) was the author of the Continuatio Chronicorum, a chronicle which is a primary authority for the history of England in the first half of the 14th century. (fn. 71)