A History of the County of Essex: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1983.
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Little Parndon, which was rural until the 1950s, is now part of Harlow town. The modern urban development of the area is dealt with above. The ancient parish comprised 522 a. (211 ha.) in two separate parts: the larger part of 379 a., including the old Parndon Hall and the church, extended south from the northern stream of the river Stort, which divided it from Eastwick (Herts.), and the smaller part of 143 a. lay 1 km. to the south, including Little Parndon and Rye Hill commons and Fosters and Dorringtons farms. The two parts were separated by land of Great Parndon parish, with which Little Parndon formed a regular and coherent block of territory. (fn. 1) A detached part of Great Parndon parish, 1½ a. comprising the avenue running south from Parndon Hall Farm, was added to Little Parndon parish in 1883. (fn. 2) Much of the long eastern boundary with Netteswell, including the whole of that of the southern part, was marked by lanes and paths. The whole of Little Parndon parish was transferred in 1946 to Netteswell, (fn. 3) which in 1955 became part of Harlow urban district, but in 1949 the southern extremity of what had been Little Parndon was transferred to North Weald Bassett. (fn. 4)
The southern end of the parish, at Rye Hill, is over 100 m. above sea level. The terrain slopes northwards to 40 m. in the Stort valley. The wide southern channel of the Stort, on which Parndon mill lies, was canalized in the later 18th century. (fn. 5)
In 1086 Little Parndon had a recorded population of 8. (fn. 6) It had acquired its distinctive prefix by the early 13th century. (fn. 7) Later assessments, up to the 17th century, usually treated Little Parndon jointly with Great Parndon. (fn. 8) In 1428 Little Parndon was said to have fewer than 10 householders (inhabitantes et domicilia tenentes). (fn. 9) There were 74 residents in 1695. Fourteen households were assessed to the poor rate in 1696 and 1731. (fn. 10) The population was only 62 in 1801. During the following century it was usually under 100, and as late as 1931 it was only 128. (fn. 11)
Some earthworks of unknown origin survived in the 1960s in Parndon park, near the Princess Alexandra hospital. (fn. 12) Medieval settlement was mainly in the northern section of the parish. The old Parndon Hall, of which only the moat survives, and the church and mill, both rebuilt in the 19th century, lay close together beside the Stort. In the 17th century Upper House, later Parndon House, was built c. 1 km. south of the church, and was enclosed in a large park. Parndon House was demolished c. 1830, and c. 1868 a new Parndon Hall was built in the park. (fn. 13) In the southern, detached part of the parish Fosters Farm, at Rye Hill, occupied a moated site extending into Epping parish. It was probably named from the family of William Forster (fl. 1466). The house, also called Barrows in the 19th century, had disappeared by 1921. (fn. 14)
Little Parndon's ancient road system was closely linked with that of Great Parndon. (fn. 15) The Roydon-Harlow road crossed the northern end of the parish from west to east. It now survives only as a cycle track south of Princess Alexandra hospital. The southern, detached part of the parish was traversed by the east-west road along the commons, now represented by Commonside Road. The road from Linford End to Hare Street, in Great Parndon, once continued northwards across the Roydon-Harlow road, on the line of the detached part of Great Parndon, towards Parndon Hall, the church, and the mill. That road was closed by Arthur Turnor in 1646, possibly during work on Upper House or its park. In exchange he made a new road parallel to the old one, but some 130 m. farther east, with a branch running east to Netteswell. Between 1792 and 1794 William Smith of Upper House diverted the southern end of the road to the mill to the east, probably to enlarge his park. (fn. 16) Parndon Mill Lane and the cycle track west of Hester House, the former rectory, are all that survive of Arthur Turnor's road.
Little Parndon was relatively isolated until the 20th century, and depended for services and transport on neighbouring places. The Northern and Eastern railway from London, extended to Bishop's Stortford in 1842, passed through the northern tip of the parish, with a station at Burnt Mill, Netteswell. (fn. 17) A terrace of cottages was built between the railway and the church in the mid 19th century. (fn. 18)
Francis K. Amherst, Roman Catholic bishop of Northampton (1819–83), lived at Parndon House as a child. (fn. 19) Charles Radclyffe, executed in 1746 as a Jacobite, may also have lived there, and was certainly born at Little Parndon. With his elder brother James, earl of Derwentwater, he joined the rising of 1715. After James's execution Charles escaped to France, but he was recaptured on his way to Scotland in 1746 and was executed. (fn. 20) Other distinguished residents connected with the manor are treated below.
An estate of 3 hides, held in 1066 by a free man, and in 1086 by Roger as tenant of Peter de Valognes, became the manor of LITTLE PARNDON, (fn. 21) comprising the whole parish. The tenancy in chief descended with the honor of Bennington or Valognes, being apportioned after 1235 to Lora de Balliol. (fn. 22)
The tenancy in demesne was held in the early 13th century by Ambrose of Little Parndon, who was succeeded by his son Robert of Parndon, also called Robert de la Mare. (fn. 23) John de la Mare in 1236 held 11/8 knight's fee in Parndon, Loughton, and Welwyn (Herts.). (fn. 24) In 1252 he settled the reversion of 2 carucates of land in Parndon on John de la Mare his son. (fn. 25) Another John de la Mare held 1 knight's fee in Little Parndon in 1303. (fn. 26) In 1304 he granted the manor for life to Humphrey de Walden, and in 1317 he granted the reversion after Humphrey's death to John and Parnel de Benstede. (fn. 27) Humphrey (d. 1331) was succeeded by Parnel, who had outlived her husband. She died in 1342 leaving the manor to her grandson John de Benstede. (fn. 28) John de Benstede (d. 1358) was succeeded by his infant son John (d 1359), whose heir was his brother (Sir) Edward de Benstede. (fn. 29) Sir Edward died in 1432, holding Little Parndon manor, then comprising 511 a. (fn. 30) The manor passed to his widow Joan (d. 1448), whose heir was her great-grandson (Sir) John de Benstede. (fn. 31)
Sir John de Benstede conveyed the manor in 1466 to trustees. (fn. 32) It was later acquired by the Colte family of Roydon. Joan, widow of Sir William Parre, and formerly wife of Thomas Colte, died in 1475 leaving Little Parndon to her son John Colte (d. 1521). (fn. 33) The manor descended with Nether Hall, Roydon, and Sewalds, Harlow, until 1630, when Sir Henry Colte sold it to John, Robert, and Edward Hellam. (fn. 34) They sold it in 1633 to Sir Humphrey Forster, Bt., from whom it was purchased in 1638 by Matthew Gilly. (fn. 35) Gilly sold the manor in 1651 to (Sir) Edward Turnor, later Speaker of the House of Commons. (fn. 36) Arthur Turnor, (d. 1651), Sir Edward's father, was occupying the manor, perhaps as lessee, as early as 1646. (fn. 37) Sir Edward (d. 1676), was succeeded by his son Sir Edward (d. 1721), who in his lifetime settled Little Parndon on his son Charles (d. 1726). (fn. 38)
Charles Turnor's heirs were his daughters Dorothea (d. c. 1730) and Isabella, who married George Ward and later Peter de Groot. The estate was heavily encumbered, and after Isabella de Groot's death in 1735 it was disputed between her heirs and creditors. In 1742 it was sold by court order to Edward Parson, a West India merchant. The estate then comprised 540 a. (fn. 39) Parson died in 1780, and the manor was sold by his widow and children in 1785 to William Smith, M.P. (d. 1835), abolitionist and friend of Wilberforce. (fn. 40) Smith sold it c. 1822 to William K. Amherst. (fn. 41) The estate, which in 1843 comprised 314 a., was sold by the Amherst trustees c. 1860 to the Revd. Joseph Arkwright of Mark Hall, Latton. (fn. 42) Little Parndon passed with Mark Hall until 1953, when it was sold to Harlow development corporation. (fn. 43)
Parndon Hall, the medieval manor house, stood within a moat, part of which survives, north-east of the church. (fn. 44) It was replaced before 1688 by a new house west of the old site. (fn. 45) By the 18th century Upper House (see below) had become the principal manor house. Parndon Hall was demolished c. 1840 to make way for the railway, and its name was transferred to a farmhouse south of the church. (fn. 46) About 1868 Loftus W. Arkwright built another Parndon Hall in the grounds of Upper House, and chose to live there, rather than at Mark Hall. (fn. 47) Parndon Hall is a small, red brick mansion in a heavy Italianate style, with rich interior decorations. (fn. 48) In 1979 it was used as offices by Quantic Advertising.
Upper House, later Parndon House, had been built by 1646. (fn. 49) In 1687 it lay in a park of 105 a. That was partly ploughed between 1688 and 1690. (fn. 50) From 1693 to 1697 the house appears to have been occupied by Edward, Lord Radclyffe, later earl of Derwentwater (d. 1705). (fn. 51) Charles Turnor lived there from c. 1697 to 1726. (fn. 52) In 1720 the house had about seven rooms on each floor, with large outhouses, orchards, and a dovehouse. (fn. 53) Edward Parson lived there and brought several of his West Indian Negro servants to Little Parndon. (fn. 54) He apparently altered and enlarged the house, (fn. 55) which in 1771 was 'a neat and elegant modern building', with a mid 18thcentury front of three storeys with full height bays at each end and a roof pediment. (fn. 56) Parson also landscaped the park, adding lakes, a temple, and probably the 'ruins' which survived in the early 19th century. (fn. 57) William Smith, owner of Little Parndon from 1785 to c. 1822, made Parndon House his country home. (fn. 58) In 1794 he enlarged the park to the east of the house. (fn. 59) The Amhersts lived at Parndon House from 1822 until c. 1830, when it was demolished. (fn. 60)
In 1086 Little Parndon was a small but growing manor. There were 45 a. of meadow and marsh, woodland pasture for 100 swine, and a mill. The recorded population comprised 5 bordars, 4 of whom had come since 1066, and 3 serfs. There were 2 ploughteams, including ½ team transferred since 1066 to the tenants. Livestock had considerably increased, from 8 beasts and 41 sheep in 1066 to 14 beasts, 76 sheep, 26 swine, a rouncey, and 3 hives of bees in 1086. (fn. 61)
The Domesday woodland probably lay in the southern, detached part of the parish, forming part of a belt running through from Harlow to Great Parndon. At Little Parndon, as at Netteswell, it was cleared at an early date. In the mid 13th century John de la Mare was assarting his demesne woods. (fn. 62) In 1342 the manor contained 8 a. of 'great woods'. (fn. 63) Two areas of common waste, probably survivals from the ancient woodland, remained open until the 20th century. They were Little Parndon and Rye Hill commons, lying respectively north and south of Dorringtons farm. The woods at Little Parndon common were worth £15 in 1680, and c. 1720 the 'lops and tops' of the many trees on Rye Hill common fetched £792. (fn. 64) By 1777, however, there was no timber on either common, and the only woodland remaining in the parish were some small areas in and near Parndon park. (fn. 65) In 1843 the commons comprised a total of 62 a. (fn. 66) Early in the 20th century the lord of the manor inclosed 30 a. of Rye Hill common as pasture for Dorringtons farm. It seems likely that Little Parndon common was inclosed about the same time. The remainder of Rye Hill common was ploughed during the Second World War and was later inclosed. (fn. 67)
In 1359 the manorial demesne comprised 292 a. of arable, 27 a. of meadow, 35 a. of pasture, and 'an enclosed place to make a park' of 10 a. Two villein holdings had recently been added to the demesne in default of tenants, probably as a result of the Black Death. The arable was poor, stony land, worth only 2d. an acre. The meadows, worth 2s. an acre, were more valuable than the whole of the arable, and so was the pasture, at 1s. 6d. an acre. (fn. 68)
The proportion of arable was reduced in the mid 17th century by the making of Parndon park. (fn. 69) In 1841 the parish was estimated to contain 236 a. of arable, 193 a. of pasture, and 27 a. of woodland. (fn. 70) The proportion of arable does not appear to have changed much during the later 19th and the earlier 20th century. Returns for 1866 include 140 a. of cereals, and 75 a. of vegetables, compared with 205 a. of grass, including uncropped fallow. Those for 1906 list 134 a. of cereals, 47 a. of vegetables, and 203 a. of grass. By 1926 cereals had increased to 162 a., vegetables to 60 a., and grass to 275 a. In all three returns wheat was the main cereal, and beans were the largest vegetable crop. The 1866 returns show 367 sheep and only 8 cattle. Dairy farming and stock rearing later increased. In 1906 there were 10 milk cows and 77 other cattle, but only 2 sheep. In 1926 there were 34 milk cows, 44 other cattle, and 189 sheep. (fn. 71) The southern tip of the ancient parish, outside the new town, is still farmland.
The Domesday mill presumably lay on the Stort near old Parndon Hall. Early in the 13th century Robert of Parndon agreed with Waltham Abbey, owner of Netteswell manor and mill, to move his own mill 41 perches (206 m.) farther west, downstream. Their earlier agreement about the flow and level of water was cancelled. (fn. 72) The mill passed with Little Parndon manor until the 17th century or later. In 1342 it was in bad repair, and was worth only 10s.; in 1359, however, it was valued at 33s. 4d. (fn. 73) It was let in 1698 with 10 a. land. (fn. 74) It had been sold away from the manor by 1843, when the tenant was William Death, who also held Burnt Mill, Netteswell. (fn. 75) The mill continued to operate until the late 1950s. It was later bought by Harlow development corporation, which sold it in 1968, and in 1969 it was reopened as an arts and crafts centre. The building is a massive brick structure dated 1862. (fn. 76) The mill house appears to date from the 19th century, with older work at the back.
Court rolls, 1593– 1659, and a court book, 1809–92, survive for Little Parndon manor, recording only courts baron. (fn. 77) Parish records include overseers' accounts, 1759–1835, and rates, 1731, 1796, 1821, and church-wardens' accounts, 1757–1828. (fn. 78)
There seem to have been one churchwarden, one overseer, and one constable. The overseers, who included two women, usually served for two years or more, though not always consecutively. In the later 17th century the constable worked closely with the Great Parndon constable. (fn. 79) Throughout the period 1790 to 1825 Richard Benton was churchwarden or overseer or both. The overseer paid the bills of the other parish officers except in 1781, when the churchwarden levied a separate rate. There was a salaried church clerk from 1797.
In 1759 there were two paupers on permanent relief. By 1815 there were 11, with 5 others receiving occasional relief. The parish had no poorhouse, and in 1734 Little Parndon paid Netteswell parish £1 for a year's rent of an almshouse. (fn. 80) From 1787 a part-time doctor was employed on a regular salary, with extra fees for inoculations. The overseers' expenditure rose from £34 in 1759 to £41 in 1769. During the three years 1783–5 it averaged £90, of which £79 was spent on the poor. (fn. 81) Poor relief alone averaged £86 between 1801 and 1810, and £109 between 1811 and 1820. (fn. 82) The increases during the late 18th and early 19th century were proportionately smaller than in the neighbouring parishes. (fn. 83)
A church had been founded by 1254. (fn. 84) The advowson of the rectory passed with the manor until 1953, when it was retained by the Arkwright family after they sold the Mark Hall estate. From 1921 to 1957 the rectory was held jointly with that of Netteswell. (fn. 85) In 1957 Little Parndon, altered and enlarged, became the town centre parish of Harlow. The old parish church became a chapel of ease in 1959, when the new church of St. Paul was opened. (fn. 86)
The rectory was valued at only £2 in 1254 and £5 17s. in 1535. (fn. 87) In 1650 the tithes were valued at £25, and the house and glebe at £12. (fn. 88) The rectors of Great and Little Parndon agreed in 1693 that from the tithe due from Parndon park, which included a small part of Great Parndon, the rector of Little Parndon was to pay 10s. to the rector of Great Parndon at a Christmas dinner given by the latter. (fn. 89) In the later 18th century the rectory was valued at £70. (fn. 90) The tithes were commuted in 1843 for £187. There were then 29 a. of glebe. (fn. 91)
The Rectory house, a timber-framed building 400 m. south of the church, was in 1840 given a casing of grey brick. (fn. 92) It was replaced in 1881 by a new, red brick house built on an adjoining site with the aid of funds left by the late rector, George Hemming. That ceased to be the Rectory in 1921, and was later sold. (fn. 93) It was bought in 1968 by Harlow U.D.C., and in 1967 was reopened as Hester House, providing sheltered housing for old people. (fn. 94) A new house in Upper Park, Harlow, became the Rectory in 1959. (fn. 95)
Rectors are recorded from 1334. (fn. 96) Before the 16th century incumbencies were usually short, probably owing to the poverty of the living, but there were only three rectors between 1578 and 1709. The last of them, Henry Wooton, 1660– 1709, conducted no fewer than 413 marriages, mainly of non-parishioners. In the 18th and the early 19th century some rectors were nonresident pluralists, employing curates. (fn. 97) James Parson, rector 1772–1805, was presented to the living by his father, Edward Parson. In 1796 he committed the cure to the vicar of Roydon and left for his family's estates in the West Indies, never to return. (fn. 98) George Hemming, rector 1830–80, had previously served as curate. He remodelled the Rectory and rebuilt the church.
The church of ST. MARY, which stands north of Elizabeth Way, near Parndon mill, was rebuilt in 1868. The previous church, on the same site, was a small building comprising nave and chancel in one, north vestry, south porch, and western bell turret. The east window probably dated from the 14th century. (fn. 99) A writer of c. 1830 described it as a 'miserable structure'. (fn. 100) In 1868 it was declared to be 'rude and dilapidated' and insufficient for the needs of the parish. (fn. 101) It was indeed very small: in 1851 there were only 80 seats. (fn. 102)
The new church, designed by Joseph Clarke, diocesan architect, in the Decorated style is slightly longer than the old one, on a similar plan, but with an apsidal chancel. (fn. 103) The cost was met mainly by the patron, L. W. Arkwright. The building is of flint rubble with stone dressings, with a brick and timber bell turret. Fittings preserved from the old church include a 14thcentury piscina, a bell of c. 1630, a silver paten of 1569 and a cup probably of the same date. (fn. 104) There are tablets to Sir Edward Turnor (d. 1676) and to the family of Edward Parson (d. 1780). The grave of Hester Woodley (d. 1767), the Parsons' Negro servant, is marked by a headstone outside the south door. (fn. 105)
The Amhersts, who lived at Upper House in the 1820s, had a small private chapel there, served at first by a visiting priest and later by a resident chaplain. (fn. 106)
There was no school in the ancient parish. (fn. 107) In the 19th century the children attended neighbouring schools, sometimes at the expense of local residents. (fn. 108) Little Parndon was one of three parishes entitled to fill spare places at William Martin's free school, built at Netteswell in 1777, but there were seldom vacancies. (fn. 109) From 1836 Fawbert and Barnard's free school, Harlow, was open to Little Parndon children. (fn. 110)