A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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Abbess Roding and Beauchamp Roding (q.v.) form the south-west part of the area known before the Norman Conquest as Roding or Rodings. After the Conquest this area was divided into eight parishes, each retaining the word Roding as part of its name. Of these parishes only Abbess and Beauchamp Roding became part of Ongar hundred, the others being in that of Dunmow. There was also the hamlet of Morrell Roding, which although it was in White Roding parish was held to belong to Ongar hundred. The tithing of Berwick Berners in Abbess Roding seems to have been attached for some purposes to the hundred of Dunmow, but the connexion is less clear in this case. (fn. 1)
Geographically Abbess and Beauchamp Roding have much more in common with the other Roding parishes than they have with most of those in Ongar hundred. All the Rodings are situated on Boulder Clay in the valley of the River Roding, which takes its name from them. There are few trees or hedges in the area, which makes the landscape seem rather bleak. The soil, however, is exceptionally fertile, and is in fact reckoned among the best in Essex. Agriculture is mainly arable, the most important crops being wheat, barley, beet, and potatoes. Sheep are comparatively rare but pigs and beef cattle do well and provide dung for the cornland. (fn. 2) Although only 30 miles from London the Rodings are entirely rural and very isolated; they have no railway, only infrequent bus services, and some houses in the area are still without main services of any kind. The population has been gradually declining over the past century. Abbess Roding had 205 inhabitants in 1801, 254 in 1841, but only 169 in 1931. (fn. 3) This decline is reflected in the amalgamation of the parish with others for both civil and ecclesiastical purposes. For ecclesiastical purposes Abbess Roding is united with Beauchamp Roding. (fn. 4) For civil purposes it has since 1946 been united with Beauchamp Roding and Berners Roding. (fn. 5) The ancient parish of Abbess Roding contained 1,619 acres including a detached portion of 41 acres. (fn. 6) It was bounded on the north by White Roding, on the west by Matching and Little Laver, and on the east by the River Roding and the parish of Margaret Roding. Its former boundary with Beauchamp Roding to the south ran from the river near Pig's Bridge west and south-west to the Little Laver boundary north of Envilles. The detached portion was situated locally in Beauchamp Roding and consisted of a narrow strip extending from Longbarns to the Roding.
The height of the land in Abbess Roding is about 225 ft. above sea-level in the east and about 280 ft. in the west. A number of small streams flow east into the Roding. Brick Kiln Wood and Rookwood Hall Wood are in the west. Abbess Roding village, in the centre of the ancient parish, is 6 miles north of Chipping Ongar. It is a nucleated village, containing the ancient church and manor house, the village hall, the former parish school, and a number of other buildings. (fn. 7) From the village roads run north to Berwick Berners Hall, (fn. 8) White Roding, and Dunmow, south-west to Little Laver, and east to Beauchamp Roding and the Ongar road. (fn. 9)
There are a number of 16th-and 17th-century buildings in the parish. Most of them lie to the west of the Little Laver road, and in spite of their survival it is this part of Abbess Roding that has changed most. Until the end of the 17th century this area was dominated by the mansion of Rookwood Hall, ¾ mile south-west of the village, the home for over 100 years of the Capel family. (fn. 10) With their departure about 1700 Rookwood ceased to be a gentleman's residence and it gradually deteriorated until today it is almost a ruin. In 1696 it stood in a wooded park, but this had disappeared by 1777. (fn. 11) The transformation of the area was completed between 1939 and 1945 when much of it was taken into Matching Airfield. Old roads were diverted and new concrete roads made, one of which crosses the subsidiary moated enclosure south of old Rookwood Hall. Some huts and other service buildings remain, some used as stores. Fairlands (formerly Cockerells) is on an ancient moated site ½ mile north-west of Rookwood Hall. The house is timber-framed and probably dates from the 16th century. It is L-shaped in plan with later additions in the angle of the wings. In the middle of the 19th century the south front was faced with brick. Inside there is an original fireplace. In the room above there is said to be painted decoration, probably of the 17th century, on the plaster panels between the exposed studs. North of the house a fragment of the moat remains. A quarter of a mile east of Fairlands is the site of the former Congregational church of Abbess Roding, which was built (1729) on land given by the then owner of Cockerells. (fn. 12) Nothing remains of the church but on the east of its site is Anchor House, originally given to the church by the owner of Cockerells and later converted into a public house for the refreshment of the congregation. (fn. 13) The road which runs north from Anchor House to join the White Roding-Matching Green road is modern. (fn. 14) Falkiners, at one time called Offins, is ¼ mile south-east of old Rookwood Hall. It is a two-story cottage row standing at right angles to the road and containing two dwellings. It is partly weather-boarded and partly plastered and has a tiled roof. The main timber-framed structure is of the 17th century. Over a fireplace in one of the houses is a carved door-head brought here from old Rookwood Hall. These houses are charged with an ancient rent for the benefit of the parish clerk. (fn. 15) Near Falkiners to the east is Sparrows, a timber-framed house with a thatched roof, recently modernized. It probably dates from the 17th century. Leader's Farm (formerly Gilberts) (fn. 16) is ¾ mile south of Rookwood Hall. It probably dates from the late 17th century and has a central chimney with attached pilasters.
There are three old houses in the north-east of the parish, Berwick Berners Hall and Hales and Nether Farms. Hales Farm, near the parish boundary on the Ongar-Dunmow road, is a timber-framed building probably dating from the late 17th century. Nether Farm (formerly Nether Street), on the same road ¼ mile south of Hales, was probably built about 1700. It is timber-framed and roughcast and has a hipped tile roof. Parts of a moat remain. Two 17th-century cottages on the east side of the road south of Nether Farm, which were recorded in 1914, have now disappeared. (fn. 17)
Among the modern buildings of the parish are two pairs of council houses on the road between the village and Longbarns and seven pairs of 'Airey' type houses on the south-east side of the Little Laver road.
Communications have never been good in the Rodings. Defoe, visiting the area in 1724, described it as 'famous for good land, good malt and dirty roads; the latter indeed in the winter are scarce passable for horse or man'. (fn. 18) There is earlier evidence of this, in relation to Abbess Roding. In 1583 the road between Longbarns and Nether Street was said to be in ruins and the inhabitants of Abbess and Beauchamp Roding were ordered to repair it. (fn. 19) In 1620 the same road was again in decay 'being very deep and unfit for carts'. (fn. 20) In 1652 the inhabitants of Abbess Roding were presented at Quarter Sessions for not repairing the way from Leaden Roding parsonage to Beauchamp Roding. (fn. 21) This was the same road, with an additional portion to the north. Recent alterations to the roads have already been mentioned.
During the first half of the 19th century, and probably for much of the 18th, Abbess Roding was on the coach route from Dunmow to Ongar and London, (fn. 22) but in the 1850's this route was abandoned in favour of a link with the railway at Bishop's Stortford, and ten years later the railway was brought to Dunmow itself and also to Ongar. (fn. 23) In 1863, however, a coach ran from Fyfield, 3 miles from Abbess Roding, daily to London. (fn. 24) Now (1954) Abbess Roding is on a bus route between Dunmow and Brentwood, with two services a day in each direction and three on Saturday.
A walking postman operated between Ongar and Margaret Roding (about 8 miles) in 1844, but in that year it was stated that this was too far for any man to travel every day and it was decided to terminate the post at Abbess Roding and to transfer the receiving house there from Margaret Roding. (fn. 25) A sub-postoffice was maintained until 1914 but had been discontinued by 1922. (fn. 26)
Piped water was supplied by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks in 1951. (fn. 27) The new 'Airey' houses have main drainage, connected to a sewage works which is situated near the Longbarns road and was installed by the Air Ministry during the Second World War. (fn. 28) Electricity is now (1955) supplied to the village. (fn. 29) A village hall for Abbess and Beauchamp Roding is situated in the grounds of The Manor. It is a converted cow-shed and has been in use for the past 20 years. (fn. 30) A branch of the county library was opened in 1931. (fn. 31)
Throughout the history of the parish agriculture has been almost the only occupation of the inhabitants. From about 1500 to about 1700 there was a resident landowner living at Rookwood Hall. Apart from that period it is doubtful whether the owners of any of the principal estates lived at Abbess Roding. In 1842 it was estimated that the parish contained 1,257 acres of arable, 243 acres of meadow and pasture, and 75 acres of woodland. There were then six farms over 50 acres of which the largest was 382 acres. None of these farms was occupied by the owner. (fn. 32) An inventory of the goods and chattels of Richard Hills of Abbess Roding, made after his death in 1614, sheds some light on the life of a small farmer of the parish at that time. (fn. 33)
There is very little evidence of occupations other than agriculture. The name Brick Kiln Wood, how- ever, suggests that brickmaking was once carried on in that part of the parish, as it was in many places in Ongar hundred, and Defoe's reference to malt recalls another ancient industry of this locality.
The absence of resident landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries left local affairs in the hands of the tenant farmers, and these were sometimes indifferent to the needs of the community. (fn. 34) The existence of many nonconformists may also have hampered united action in parish government and education. The provision of the village school and the restoration of the parish church in the middle of the 19th century were both carried out largely at the expense of Capel Cure, the patron of the rectory, who was not a landowner in Abbess Roding and had many responsibilities elsewhere.
Two notabilities were the sons of local people and probably lived at Abbess Roding in childhood. Sir Anthony Browne (1510 ?-67), Chief Justice of Common Pleas, was the son of Sir Wistan Browne of Rookwood. John Thurloe (1616-68), Secretary of State under Cromwell, was the son of Thomas Thurloe, Rector of Abbess Roding 1612-33. (fn. 35)