A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
NORTH WEALD BASSETT
North Weald Bassett lies in the extreme north-west corner of Ongar hundred, the parish being divided almost equally between this hundred and that of Harlow. (fn. 1) It is 3 miles north-east of Epping and 19 miles from London. The name Weald (forest land) is no longer appropriate, for very little woodland now survives, and much of the parish is open and bare. The main road from London to Newmarket and Norwich runs through the west and that from Epping to Chelmsford through the south of the parish. The Epping- Ongar railway runs through the southern tip of North Weald. A large R.A.F. station and wireless masts are prominent features of the landscape and there has recently been much domestic building. But some parts of North Weald are still rural. At Woodside in the south-west a leafy lane runs past Wintry Wood and in the north of the parish there is a view across to the woods of Harlow Park.
In 1873-4 the total area of the parish was 3,433 acres of which 1,739 acres were in Ongar hundred. The part in Harlow hundred was made up of the tithing of Thornwood in the west (901 acres) and that of Hastingwood in the north (793 acres). A detached portion of the parish consisting of 11 acres to the northeast of the main body and near Weald Lodge was situated locally in Magdalen Laver parish. (fn. 2) This was transferred to Magdalen Laver in 1883. (fn. 3) In 1946 the part of North Weald to the north of Weald Bridge, including Weald Bridge Farm, Weald Lodge, and Bowlers Green was also transferred to Magdalen Laver. (fn. 4) In 1949 the parish was considerably enlarged by the addition of parts of Netteswell and Latton parishes in the north-west, part of Harlow in the northeast, part of Theydon Garnon in the south, and part of Epping Upland (including Wintry Wood) in the south-west. (fn. 5) The present area of the civil parish is 4,032 acres. (fn. 6)
The highest parts of the parish are in the south and west, rising to 300 ft. and affording good views. From there the land slopes gently down to Cripsey Brook, which rises in the west, flows north-east through the centre of the parish, and forms part of the northeastern boundary. Shonks Brook, which joins Cripsey Brook, forms part of the northern boundary.
In 1086 North Weald was one of the most thickly wooded places in Essex. Peter de Valognes' manor was said to contain woodland sufficient for 1,500 swine, a figure larger in proportion to the parish area than those even for Waltham Holy Cross, Loughton, and the Theydons. (fn. 7) The 'wood of Henry of Essex' in North Weald was mentioned in 1248. (fn. 8) In 1260 Philip Basset, Henry's successor as lord of the manor, complained that many robberies were being done in this wood near the road between Ongar and Waltham, and he secured the king's permission to assart 6 acres of the wood. (fn. 9) Other assarts were taking place in the 13th century, particularly in connexion with some of the estates which later became manors. (fn. 10) The park belonging to the principal manor was still in existence in 1540. (fn. 11) It gave its name to Park Corner in the southwest of the parish. Late medieval conveyances do not mention any other large areas of woodland except in the Paris Hall area, where about 60 acres were reported as late as 1520. (fn. 12) Norden's Map of Essex, 1594, does not show North Weald as a densely wooded parish. In 1777 there was apparently no woodland there apart from Weald Hall Coppice. (fn. 13) This is specially interesting in view of the survival of large woods in neighbouring parishes. Weald Hall Coppice still (1954) survives, and there is also a small wood at Canes.
The ancient manor houses were Weald Hall, near the centre of the parish, Canes 1 mile farther north, Marshalls near Woodside, and Paris Hall at Hastingwood. All four were on moated sites and there were also moats at Newhouse Farm in Vicarage Lane and at Schoolgreen Farm. Paris Hall, on the original site, was rebuilt about 1600. Marshalls was rebuilt on a new site in the 17th century. Canes, Weald Hall, and New House were rebuilt in the 19th century. (fn. 14) In addition to the four manor houses there were probably substantial medieval dwellings at Tylers Green, Bowlers Green, Bridge Farm (near Weald Bridge), and possibly one or two other places. (fn. 15) The parish church, which dates from the 14th century, is ½ mile east of Weald Hall.
In 1777 there was a concentration of houses around four commons: at Weald Gullet, Tylers Green, Thornwood, and Hastingwood. There, as well as on the older sites, a number of houses survive from the 18th century and earlier. Apart from the church the oldest existing building in the parish is probably Tylers. This is a timber-framed and plastered house consisting of a central block with a gabled cross-wing at each end. It may date from the 16th century but there is some evidence that the central block was an earlier open hall with a screens passage at its south-west end. A large curved and chamfered brace, which appears to have been part of a main roof truss, was recently removed from the first floor of this block. Bluemans Farm, which formerly stood immediately north-east of Tylers, may have been a 16th-century building, but it has recently been demolished. It was timber-framed with oversailing gable-ends at the back and front. (fn. 16) From the 17th century several houses survive. Hastingwood Farm, known locally as Rainbow Farm, was demolished in 1954. It was a timberframed building of which parts dated from the 17th century or earlier. Two small crosswings projected on the south side and there was a central chimney with four diagonal shafts. Little Weald Hall, formerly New Hall, near the church, is a timber-framed building probably of the 17th century, also having a chimney with diagonal shafts. The 'King's Head' at Weald Gullet is a timber-framed building probably of the same period. It was restored about 1927. (fn. 17) Wheelers, on the north side of the Chelmsford road near the post-office, was mentioned as an estate by Morant. (fn. 18) The house is an irregular timber-framed structure dating from the 17th century or earlier. East of Wheelers is Brickwall House, formerly a farm. (fn. 19) It dates from the late 17th century and has a hipped, tiled roof and a central chimney with joined diagonal shafts. Of the smaller buildings the former school house by the church is probably the original 17th-century house, (fn. 20) and there is another 17th-century cottage to the east of the vicarage: this has external chimneys at the gable-ends. Two ancient timber-framed cottages which formerly stood on the north side of the main road near the end of Church Lane were destroyed in a German air raid in 1941. (fn. 21)
Schoolgreen Farm, at the north end of School Green Lane, is timber-framed and plastered and dates from the 17th or early 18th century. Opposite this, part of a homestead moat survives. Esgors, formerly Isgoe, (fn. 22) at Thornwood, is a square red-brick house dating from about 1750. It formerly had a frontage on the common but is now set back about 100 yards from the main road. Weald Place, at Duck Lane, is a good redbrick house of about the same period. A number of other buildings in Duck Lane and Woodside date from the 18th and early 19th centuries. It is probable that the development in this area resulted from the improvement in the main road north and south after the formation of the Epping Turnpike Trust in 1768.
In 1801 North Weald, with 620 inhabitants, was one of the more densely populated parishes of the hundred. (fn. 23) In the 19th century the population followed the trend normal in rural Essex until about 1861: there was an increase to 886 in 1831 and a subsequent slight decrease. But between 1861 and 1901, when the agricultural depression was depopulating most villages, the population of North Weald rose from 842 to 1,135. This was clearly due to the coming of the railway in 1865. Building development in the 19th century was also encouraged by the inclosure of the commons, which took place shortly before the opening of the railway, and it was at Thornwood and Hastingwood that most of the development took place in that period. Several of the larger houses in the parish, including Newhouse Farm, were rebuilt in the 19th century. Hastingwood House, which was built about 1840, was a completely new residence. It is a large gault brick house standing in extensive grounds. New places of worship in the 19th century were the Congregational chapel in Weald Bridge Road, built about 1830 but closed about 1874, the chapel of ease at Hastingwood (1864), the iron mission church at Thornwood (1888), and the Wesleyan churches at Thornwood (1883) and Weald Gullet (1888). (fn. 24) The original school was relinquished in favour of a larger building and the new school was extended in about 1842 and again in 1871. (fn. 25)
The population rose very little during the first 20 years of the present century, and was only 1,239 in 1921. (fn. 26) There was an increase to 1,642 in 1931 and then a burst of building lasting until the Second World War. Between the World Wars development was greatest along the Chelmsford road. On the part of it to the west of Church Lane all the buildings are connected with the R.A.F. Station. Between here and Tylers Green building is almost continuous, much of it dating from the 1930's. A few council houses were built before 1939: 8 pairs in School Green, to the north of the Chelmsford road, 5 pairs opposite the post-office, and 9 pairs on the road to Epping Upland. The Post Office Radio Station (formerly owned by Cable and Wireless Ltd.) was established at Weald Gullet in 1921. (fn. 27) During the Second World War a few buildings were destroyed by German bombing. Two of these have been mentioned above; a third was the Woolpack Inn, which stood opposite them. (fn. 28)
Since 1945 three large housing estates have been built: at Queen's Road and Bluemans by the rural district council, and at School Green by the R.A.F. In 1953 the estimated population of North Weald was 3,200-an increase of almost 100 per cent. on 1931. (fn. 29) It should rise still further, on the completion of the School Green estate. The provision of public buildings has not kept pace with that of houses. The iron mission church at Thornwood was replaced in 1923 by a brick church and in 1931 the Wesleyan church at Weald Gullet was rebuilt. In 1939, however, the Wesleyan church at Thornwood was closed owing to lack of support. (fn. 30) A village hall was built in 1928, on the south side of the Chelmsford road near Church Lane. (fn. 31)
Until the 17th century the Epping-Chelmsford road was probably the most important in the parish. (fn. 32) In 1786 a petition was presented to the Epping Highway Trust by the people of North Weald asking that the road should be taken over by the trust, in the first place as far as Ongar. (fn. 33) An Act of Parliament for this purpose was passed in the following year. (fn. 34) A toll-gate was erected at the junction of the main road and Woodside. The gate-keeper lived at first in a rented cottage but a toll-house was built about 1818. (fn. 35) This still survives: a single-story building of brick, now plastered, with a tiled roof.
The other main road became important early in the 17th century as part of the new route to Newmarket. (fn. 36) This was one of the roads taken over by the Epping Highway Trust at its formation in 1768. (fn. 37) There was a toll-gate at Thornwood Common. (fn. 38) Since the coming of motor traffic this road has become one of the busiest in Essex.
The minor roads of the parish probably changed little between the Middle Ages and the 19th century. The main change in recent times has been the closing of the eastern section of Weald Hall Lane owing to the building of the airfield. Another lane which has disappeared formerly ran south of the Chelmsford road from Weald Gullet to Skips Corner. This existed in 1777 and 1838 but had disappeared by 1873-4. (fn. 39) The parish boundary follows this line.
Weald Bridge has always been the most important in the parish. Between 1556 and 1652 it was frequently presented at Quarter Sessions as in need of repair, and responsibility for it was doubtful. (fn. 40) In 1615 and 1652 the parish was said to be responsible. (fn. 41) In 1653 the inhabitants protested that they had been wrongly indicted for not repairing the bridge: they had spent £4 15s. on it; but they asserted that it was a county charge and asked for the repayment of their expenses. (fn. 42) The justices thereupon ordered that several hundreds should be taxed for the repair of this and other bridges. (fn. 43) Weald Bridge appears in the lists of county bridges from about 1800. (fn. 44) In 1858 the county surveyor described it in detail. (fn. 45) It appears not to have been altered since that date. Cracks Bridge, at Weald Gullet, was taken over by the county in 1881, when the surveyor reported that it must be rebuilt. This was done within the next year. (fn. 46)
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries North Weald was fortunate in its communications with the outside world, since it possessed two turnpike roads, and was near to Epping. In 1865 coach travel in this area was superseded by the opening of the railway through Epping to Ongar, with a station at North Weald. This brought London within easy reach. This line was electrified as far as Epping in 1949. (fn. 47) Beyond Ongar public transport was poor until the introduction of motor buses. There are now (1954) frequent bus services to Epping, Ongar, Brentwood, and Chelmsford.
North Weald was late in getting its own post-office, probably because it was served directly from Epping. In 1883 a day mail was established at North Weald and a sorting-office sanctioned. (fn. 48) A telegraph office was set up in 1886. (fn. 49) The telephone service was introduced in 1920. (fn. 50)
Piped water was supplied to North Weald by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co. before 1886. (fn. 51) Main drainage was introduced at Thornwood and Weald Gullet in 1911-12. (fn. 52) Electricity was first supplied in 1931 and gas about 1932. (fn. 53) The village hall, opened in 1928, has already been mentioned. There are football clubs at Thornwood and North Weald. A branch of the county library was opened in 1932. (fn. 54) There has been a police station in the parish since about 1886. (fn. 55)
For much of their history the larger estates in North Weald have had absentee landlords. This applies specially to the two largest estates, Weald Hall and Canes (see below, Manors). In 1841 Weald Hall had an area of 800 acres and Canes of almost 300 acres. (fn. 56) Each was let to a single farmer. This is interesting in the case of Weald Hall for very few farms in the hundred were as large as 500 acres. There were then no other estates in North Weald of more than 200 acres, but even the small farms outside the main estates in the parish were mostly rented by tenant farmers. In all there were some 16 farms in the parish in 1841, of which about half were over 100 acres. Not more than four were owned by their occupiers. At that time there were approximately equal amounts of arable and pasture-about 1,340 acres in each case-and more than 300 acres of uninclosed common.
The inclosure of the commons at Hastingwood, Thornwood, Weald Gullet, and Tylers Green was carried out by Act of Parliament passed in 1857. (fn. 57) The inclosure award was made in 1861. The inclosed area amounted to 280 acres.
Until recent years North Weald has been mainly an agricultural parish. One old field name, Teazle Field, suggests a connexion with the cloth industry. (fn. 58) Commercial fruit-growing and market-gardening have been carried on since about 1900. (fn. 59) This was made possible by the railway, which brought the London markets within rapid reach. It now includes tomato growing in large greenhouses in the Vicarage Lane area.
A windmill belonging to the manor of North Weald was mentioned in 1281 (fn. 60) and there was a mill at Marshalls in 1359. (fn. 61) A fair called 'Gullet Fair' is said to have been held at one time on the former green at Weald Gullet. (fn. 62)
In 1888 an army post, later described as a fort with six guns, was in existence at Weald Gullet. (fn. 63) It was no doubt one of the establishments planned by the War Office for the defence of London (fn. 64) and it continued to exist until the First World War. (fn. 65)
The R.A.F. Station, first established in 1917 and reopened in 1928, (fn. 66) has become an important part of parish life. It occupies some 400 acres between Weald Hall Lane, Church Lane, and the Chelmsford road. During the Battle of Britain in 1940 it was one of the fighter bases engaged in the defence of London.
Richard Biscoe (d. 1748), a nonconformist minister who later conformed and became chaplain to George II and Boyle lecturer 1736-8, was Vicar of North Weald from 1738 to 1748. (fn. 67)