Colne Engaine: Economic history

Pages 110-113

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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Like its neighbouring parishes, Colne Engaine was presumably heavily wooded in the early Middle Ages. No villani were recorded in 1066 or 1086, but in that period the number of bordarii rose from 21 to 32. Such a high number of bordarii, as else where, probably reflects woodland clearance, although there was still land for 170 swine in 1086. Much of the parish was arable, cultivated by 5 or more ploughs in 1066, 2 each on the demesnes of Alvric's and Lewin's manors and 1 on the land of Lewin's tenants. By 1086 the tenants on Eustace of Boulogne's, formerly Alvric's, manor also had a plough. There is no evidence for the cultivation of the third, later Colne Engaine, manor. There was a total of 37 a. of meadow in the parish. (fn. 1)

In the 13th century the tenants' arable was held in blocks ranging from c. 1 a. to c. 7 a. scattered in different fields and often apparently uninclosed. Inclosed crofts or parcels of land were specifically described in 1292 and 1300. (fn. 2) As late as c. 1380 most tenants of Colne priory, whose Earls Colne manor extended into the south-east corner of the parish, held land in scattered parcels, presumably inclosed, of 5 a. or less. (fn. 3) Some of the priory's arable was poor, worth only 3d. an acre in 1353. (fn. 4)

In 1248 and 1323 the Colne Engaine manorial demesne comprised 240 a. of arable worth 4d. an acre, probably divided, as it was in 1295, between winter-and spring-sown crops. In 1323 four tenants owed 40 works a year. Small amounts of meadow (6 a.) and pasture (5 a.) and two alder carrs were recorded in 1323. (fn. 5) In 1421 the 200 a. of arable was worth £4, just over 4d. an acre, a year; the 10 a. of meadow was worth 20s., and the 6 a. of pasture 6s. (fn. 6) Part of the demesne was being leased by 1429. (fn. 7) In 1464 the 200 a. of demesne arable was stony land worth only 2d. an acre and the 30 a. of pasture was worth only 3d. an acre. Six acres of meadow was worthless because it lay every other year in the common field, and the remaining 6 a. was worth only 16d. an acre. (fn. 8)

Livestock were recorded on only one manor in 1086, Lewin's, later Walter the deacon's; the sheep increased from 12 to 24 between 1066 and 1086 and 13 goats and 3 hives of bees were introduced, but the cattle declined from 6 to 2 and the swine from 16 to 14. (fn. 9) In 1295 there were oxen, cows, and a bull on the Colne Engaine demesne, (fn. 11) and tenants' cows, calves, bullocks, and pigs trespassed in woods in 1403, 1429, and 1461. (fn. 12) The only recorded sheep were the 8 lambing ewes stolen from the rector in 1349, (fn. 13) and in 1341 the parish successfully claimed that the ninth of sheep and lambs was worth only half the tithe of corn assessed in 1291. (fn. 14)

The largest area of woodland in the Middle Ages was probably Westhey wood or Westwood (82 a. in 1380) in the south-west corner of the parish. The demesne wood of Wakes Colne manor, it was stocked with pheasants and partridge in 1401. (fn. 15) In 1511 the bailiff wanted to convert it to pasture or arable, and by 1512 he had felled timber and underwood on the c. 50 a. which he held. (fn. 16) In 1580 the wood covered only 40 a., and by 1584 at least part of that was pasture. (fn. 17) By 1633 there was a house on the estate, probably the timber framed house of which one bay and the stack survived, incorporated into a 19th-century house, in 1998. The whole estate was under cultivation in 1767. (fn. 18) Oxney or Oxley wood, the demesne wood of Colne Engaine manor, in the north-west corner of the parish, comprised c. 30 a. in 1323, and was variously estimated at between c. 20 a. and 32 a. in the period c. 1500-1873, although its size does not appear to have altered. (fn. 19) In the mid 16th century the coppiced wood contained oak, ash, 'sale', and birch. Tenants of the manor had pasture for their cattle there. (fn. 20) It survived in 1997. Between Westhey and Oxley woods lay Abbots Shrub wood (6-11 a.), first recorded in 1759. (fn. 20) It was cleared between 1828 and 1850. (fn. 21)

The medieval woods of Sherives (16-20 a.), Over Hall (c. 40 a.), and Bromptons (c. 20-30 a.) manors lay along the eastern parish boundary. (fn. 22) Shrives wood comprised 14 a. in 1819 and 10 a. in 1840 when the Colne Park estate also contained Wheatley, Croft, Hawes, and West woods, totalling 55 a. (fn. 23) All five woods survived in 1997.

An armourer was recorded in the parish in 1298, and the surname Woolman in 1351. The gold and silver worth £20 stolen from another man in 1349 may have come from trade. (fn. 24) One man owed money to a London skinner in 1402, and another to a London citizen in 1430. (fn. 25) A tinker or worsted weaver was recorded in 1475. (fn. 26) In 1327 twenty one people were assessed for subsidy at sums ranging from 9s. ½d. to 7d.; the total assessment of 37s. was slightly below average for the hundred. (fn. 27) Twenty nine people were assessed in 1524 and 30 in 1525, all but 2 of them on goods; 28 people were assessed in both years. The highest assessment was on goods worth c. £13, and the total assessment, 37s. 8d. in 1525, was the second lowest in the hundred. (fn. 28)

Both cattle and sheep were frequently bequeathed in the early 16th century, (fn. 29) and in 1526 tenants of Little Colne manor commoned on the roads and greens in accordance with an unrecorded stint. (fn. 30) Most of the meadow lay along the Colne. The common meadow near the Overshot millstream was still divided among four estates in 1840; in 1614 an adjoining meadow seems to have been common after the first mowth. (fn. 31) Wheat, rye, barley, and peas were grown in the mid 16th century. (fn. 32) There was a hopyard by 1615, and Christ's Hospital's tenants grews hopes in 1655 (fn. 33) pro- duced wheat, maslin, white oats, barley, and mixed grains or bullimong, and kept cattle and sheep. (fn. 34) To improve their cultivation, many larger fields were divided: Perryfield (24 a.) had become several closes by c. 1502, Longlands (18 a.) two or three parcels by c. 1530, and Topland (11 a.) two closes by 1610. (fn. 35)

From 1530 or earlier the Colne Engaine man- orial demesne was leased in two farms, Gaines Hall (70 a.) and Leggs (64 a.). In 1675 the tenant of Leggs was required to plant 10 oaks and 10 elms a year, to compost, muck, and dung the land every year, and to pay extra rent for any meadows or greens ploughed up. (fn. 36) By 1698 both farms were uneconomically small, and they were united c. 1708. (fn. 37)

A tenter croft was recorded in 1555, (fn. 38) and Colne Engaine was among the parishes which c. 1580 supported Halstead's request that c. 20 Dutch baymakers and their families should be ordered to return from Colchester. (fn. 39) Weavers were recorded in Colne Engaine in 1584, 1615, and 1624, and a comber in 1604. (fn. 40) Workhouse inmates were employed in spinning in the periods 1755-60 and 1777-88. (fn. 41) Tailors were recorded in 1615 and 1688 and a cordwainer in 1606, and in 1695 a farmer traded illicitly as a grocer. (fn. 42) From 1690 until 1757 or later, Totteridges on Colne Engaine green was occupied by blacksmiths. (fn. 43) The clay illegally dug in 1555, 1586, 1624, and 1625 was presumbly used for bricks or other building materials. (fn. 44)

In 1767, as much as 1,441 a. of the 1,855 a. of titheable land was arable compared to 373 a. of pasture, 34 a. of wood (excluding Oxley wood), and 7 a. of hops. The largest single landholder was Christ's Hospital's tenant at Brook farm, Mr. Bernard, who held two other farms making a total of 215 a.; five other men held over 100 a. each, nine between 50 a. and 99 a. One estate comprised 52 a. of pasture to 47 a. of arable; the Christ's Hospital estate 59 a. of pasture to 69½ a. of arable; all the others were predominantly arable, and seven small farms had no pasture at all. Several farmers kept cattle, a few sheep. (fn. 45) As late as 1790 the usual rotation was two crops and a fallow, although clover or beans might be grown on the fallow. (fn. 46) By 1794 the land had been improved by hollow draining and almost the whole of the parish was under cultivation. Yields of wheat were about average for the district; of barley slightly below average. The lighter soils produced excellent turnips. (fn. 47) In 1801 the chief crops were wheat (sown on 422 a.), barley (245 a.), oats (153 a.), beans (65 a.), turnips or rape (61 a.), peas (54 a.), and potatoes (9 a.). In 1829 there was 23 a. of hop ground and 5 a. of orchards in the parish. (fn. 48)

By 1838 the arable had increased to 1,896 a. and the woodland to 148 a., but there was only 297 a. of grass, and 15 a. of hop ground. The land was cultivated in c. 20 farms, some of which included land outside the parish. The largest were Over Hall (151 a.), Brook (150 a.), Knights and Bromptons (148 a. each), Elms Hall (125 a.), and Collins (later Green) and Parley Beam (122 a. each). J. J. Mayhew of Over Hall owned a total of c. 444 a., Robert Hills of Colne Park c. 360 a. (fn. 49) In 1852 the arable on Green farm was cultivated on a 4-course rotation of (1) turnips, carrots, cabbages, and mangold, (2) barley or oats, (3) clover or artificial grass, (4) wheat. (fn. 50)

In the later 19th century the 12-15 farms fluctuated in size as tenants changed. In 1851 the largest were Bromptons (400 a.) and Over Hall (310 a.); in 1861, Knights (321 a.) and Over Hall (275 a.). In 1871 Home farm and one other, probably Bromptons, each comprised 260 a., but in 1881 Peverells (500 a., probably incorporating Over Hall) was by far the largest farm in the parish. (fn. 51) Agricultural labourers outnumbered other working men, although their numbers fell from 124 in 1851 to 91 in 1891. Domestic service was the next largest employer, several households, notably Colne Park and the rectory house, employing large staffs. In 1891 as many as 12 people were retired or living on their own means, most of them in some comfort. Joshua Pudney, a carpenter, founded a building firm in 1837; his son Walter rented a brickyard on Knights farm, and employed 24 men and 6 boys in 1881; brickmaking continued until 1939, the builders' business until 1983. (fn. 52) A second build- ing firm, H. W. Bone and Co., has operated in Church Street since 1881. (fn. 53) Another small brick and tilekiln, recorded in 1861 and 1871, was in the farmyard at Westwood, although the nearest brickearth was at Abbots Shrubs, where a brickworks operated from the late 19th century until c. 1939. (fn. 54) In 1891 there were 5 ironworkers in the parish, presumably employed in the foundry in Earls Colne. More women than men worked outside the parish, in the silk mills at Earls Colne, Halstead, or Pebmarsh; there were 6 silk crêpe weavers in 1851, a total of 13 silk workers in 1871, and 15 in 1891. Strawplaiting was carried on by 53 women and straw bonnet-making by 2 in 1851, but only 20 strawplaiters were recorded in 1871. (fn. 55)

In 1905 the chief crops were wheat (308 ½ a.), oats (224 ½ a.), and barley (219 a.); beans, mangold, peas, and turnips or swedes were each grown on 69 a.-110 a., and there were small acreages of potatoes, cabbage, vetch, and lucerne. As much as 11 a. was under 'small fruit' and c. 20 a. under orchards. Compared to the other Colne parishes there were many livestock, 419 pigs, 240 sheep, 280 lambs, and 148 cattle on 522 a. of permanent grass. (fn. 56) Mixed farming continued in the 20th century: Brook farm in 1917 had a cowhouse for 7 cows, calf pens, piggeries, and 3 poultry houses. (fn. 57) Millbrooks farm in 1949 was one third pasture and two thirds arable, and Over Hall farm in 1959 had similar proportions of arable to grass. (fn. 58)

Between 1878 and 1895 George Courtauld bought Knights and eight other farms, totalling c. 800 a., for his daughter Miss K. M. Courtauld (d. 1935), who added to the estate, creating a very successful farm of c. 2,000 a. extending into Halstead and Pebmarsh. (fn. 59) During the 20th century other small farms were amalgamated, so that by the 1990s the parish contained c. 6 large farms suited to new agricultural methods. (fn. 60)

In 1906 Frank and Bill Martin started a seed business at Lodge farm, Mill Lane, which continued until 1955. (fn. 61) Countess Cross nurseries were established in the 1960s or 1970s. (fn. 62) A transport business, N. C. Cammack and Son, was established in 1919 on Colne Engaine green and moved to White Colne in 1985. (fn. 63) In the late 20th century the small business in the parish included two vehicle workshops, a miniskip business, a commercial pottery, and a photographer, but most people commuted to work else where. (fn. 64)

The mill on Robert Malet's manor in 1086, later called Gaines mill, descended with the manor until 1917. (fn. 65) The corn mill was rebuilt regularly in the 18th century; one rebuilding, between 1705 and 1707, took so long that custom was lost to other mills. (fn. 66) In 1812 it had two pairs of stones, but by 1873 the water power was so low that only one pair could be worked at a time. (fn. 67) The machinery of the mill, called Ford mill by 1876, was dismantled in 1917. (fn. 68)

The mill on Lewin's manor in 1066 and on Walter the deacon's in 1086 was held by Richard of Brompton in 1301. (fn. 69) It was not certainly recorded again, but probably stood on the Peb brook on or near the site of the later Overshot mill, where land was called Millbrook in 1602. (fn. 70) There was no mill there in 1612, but an overshot fulling mill had been built by 1657. (fn. 71) It was still a fulling mill in 1772, but was rebuilt as a corn mill c. 1800. (fn. 72) In 1879 the mill had two pairs of stones and could grind 10 loads of flour a week. (fn. 73) In the 1930s and 1940s it produced special meal to prevent rickets, and was also used to generate electricity. (fn. 74) It was converted into a house in the 1960s. (fn. 75)


  • 1. V.C.H. Essex, i. 466, 548, 550.
  • 2. Guildhall MS. 13544; E.R. vi. 213; Feet of F. Essex, i. 51, 206.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/DPr 5, ff. 29-33.
  • 4. P.R.O., C 143/311, no. 16.
  • 5. Ibid. C 132/9, no. 3; C 134/74, no. 19; Guildhall MS. 13544.
  • 6. P.R.O., C 138/56, no. 23.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/DC 9/7A.
  • 8. P.R.O., C 140/12, no. 9.
  • 9. V.C.H. Essex, i. 466, 548, 550.
  • 11. Guildhall MS. 13544.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/DGw M1, rot. 7; D/DGw M2, rot. 1; D/DC 9/7A.
  • 13. Essex Sessions of the Peace, ed. E. C. Furber, pp. 95-6.
  • 14. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 317.
  • 15. Cal. Inq. p.m. xv, p. 182; E.R.O., D/DGw M1, rott. 3, 7.
  • 16. E.R.O., D/DGw M3, rott. 5d., 7d., 11d.
  • 17. P.R.O., C 3/214, no. 5; E.R.O., D/DU 307/1; cf. P.R.O., C 142/362, no. 180.
  • 18. E.R.O., D/DH VI B 11; ibid. D/P 193/3/1.
  • 19. P.R.O., C 134/74, no. 19; C 142/34, no. 51; Guildhall MSS. 13573, 13545, 13568, 13775; ibid. map of 1690; E.R.O., D/CT 102.
  • 20. Guildhall MS. 13552; E.R.O., D/DC 9/7A.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/DC 9/9, pp. 97-8; ibid. D/P 193/3/1; ibid. D/CT 102; ibid. T/B 186/6; Guildhall MS. 13552.
  • 22. E.R.O., D/DC 9/9, pp. 349-50.
  • 23. Feet of F. Essex, ii. 90; iv. 49, 154; v. 175; vi. 27; P.R.O., REQ 2/4, no. 46.
  • 24. E.R.O., D/DB T716; ibid. D/CT 102.
  • 25. Guildhall MS. 13544; Essex Sessions of the Peace, pp. 95-6.
  • 26. Cal. Pat. 1401-5, 141; 1429-36, 22.
  • 27. E.R.O., D/DGw M2, rot. 15A.
  • 28. Med. Essex Community, 20-1; E.R.O., D/B5 Cr11, rot. 9.
  • 29. P.R.O., E 179/108/154, 174.
  • 30. E.R.O., D/ACR 1, ff. 16, 47.
  • 31. Ibid. D/DGw M3, rot. 19.
  • 32. Ibid. D/CT 102A; ibid. D/ACW 6/98.
  • 33. Ibid. D/DU 307/12, p. 11; ibid. D/ACR 4, f. 210 and v.; P.R.O., STAC 3/4/67.
  • 34. E.R.O., D/DU 307/2; Guildhall MS. 13546/1.
  • 35. Guildhall MS. 13775.
  • 36. E.R.O., D/DU 307/12, p. 3; Guildhall MSS. 9628, 13546/1, 13566-7.
  • 37. Guildhall MSS. 13545, 13546/1, 13566.
  • 38. Ibid. 13546/1, 13775.
  • 39. E.R.O., D/DC 9/7A.
  • 40. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1547-80, 697.
  • 41. E.R.O., Q/SR 88/89, 166/49, 210/98, 244/39.
  • 42. Ibid. D/P 193/8/2.
  • 43. Ibid. Q/SR 177/102, 210/98, 460/32, 483/41.
  • 44. Ibid. D/DGw M6-7, M14.
  • 45. Ibid. D/DC 9/7A; D/DU 307/1-2.
  • 46. Ibid. D/P 193/3/1.
  • 47. Ibid. D/DU 506/21.
  • 48. C. Vancouver, View of Essex Agric. 28, 36.
  • 49. E.A.T. 3rd ser. v. 196; E.R.O., D/P 193/3/2.
  • 50. E.R.O., D/CT 102A.
  • 51. Ibid. D/DPr 363.
  • 52. P.R.O., HO 107/1784; ibid. RG 9/1111; RG 10/1698; RG 11/1803.
  • 53. Courtauld deeds, bdle. 4; Colne Engaine: Story of an Essex Village, 48-9; P. Ryan, Brick in Essex: Craftsmen and Gazetteer, 86.
  • 54. Clarke, Colne Engaine, 6.
  • 55. Ryan, Brick in Essex: Craftsmen and Gazetteer, 87.
  • 56. P.R.O., HO 107/1784; ibid. RG 10/1698; RG 12/1419.
  • 57. Ibid. MAF 68/2121.
  • 58. Guildhall MS. 13549.
  • 59. E.R.O., sale cat. B2307, B5382.
  • 60. Ibid. T/P 181/3/15; Colne Engaine, Story of an Essex Village, 50-1.
  • 61. Colne Engaine, Story of an Essex Village, 41.
  • 62. J. Greatorex, Frank Martin & Sons Ltd., seedgrowers and merchants, Colne Engaine, Essex (priv. print. c. 1994).
  • 63. Colne Engaine, Story of an Essex Village, 41.
  • 64. Clarke, Colne Engaine, 6-7.
  • 65. Colne Engaine, Story of an Essex Village, 11, 41; Eve. Gaz. 13 Feb. 1986; Braintree District Council, 'Braintree Rural Areas Local Plan: Part 2, Colne Engaine'.
  • 66. V.C.H. Essex, i. 550; Guildhall MS. 13775; E.R.O., T/P 181/3/15.
  • 67. Guildhall MSS. 13546/2, 13560, 13562, 13775.
  • 68. Ibid. 13574, 13775.
  • 69. O.S. Map 6", Essex XVII. SW. (1881 edn.); Guildhall MS. 13549; Clarke, Colne Engaine, 18.
  • 70. V.C.H. Essex, i. 548; Feet of F. Essex, ii. 90.
  • 71. Guildhall MS. 13568.
  • 72. Ibid. map of 1612; J. Greatorex, Overshot Mill, Colne Engaine (priv. print. 1991), 5; cf. H. Benham, Some Essex Watermills, 779; Colne Engaine, Story of an Essex Village, 33.
  • 73. Essex Map (1777); Colne Engaine, Story of an Essex Village, 33.
  • 74. E.R.O., sale cat. B6537.
  • 75. Colne Engaine, Story of an Essex Village, 33-4.
  • 76. Greatorex, Overshot Mill, 31-3; below, plate 40.