Copford: Economic history

Pages 146-148

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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Copford Hall manor occupied a large part of the centre of the parish. There were several smaller estates, many of them extending into other parishes, like Bottingham Hall, partly in Birch, and Mascotts and Fullers, partly in Aldham and Marks Tey. (fn. 1) Similarly small parts of manors in neighbouring parishes extended into Copford: Bulbanks was part of Little Fordham manor in Aldham, and land in the south belonged to Old and Little Holt manors in Birch. (fn. 2) The complex pattern may result from assarting.

The value of Copford manor remained £8 between 1066 and 1086. The nine plough teams recorded in 1066 suggest that the manor was considerably larger than its assessment of 1½ hides and 18 a. might imply. (fn. 3) Copford occupied a medium position in Lexden hundred in 1327 when Henry Bulbek and William Gernon were the highest assessed of the 25 taxpayers, and also in 1524 when 30 people were assessed. (fn. 4) Between 1381 and 1560 from 10 to 19 men from Copford became Colchester burgesses. (fn. 5) In 1662 six houses had more than four hearths. (fn. 6)

Between 1066 and 1086 the number of demesne ploughs remained 2, but the men's ploughs decreased from 7 to 5, perhaps indicating a slight decrease in arable cultivation; the number of sokemen's ploughteams decreased from 2 to 1½, although Roger, who had a 25-a. holding, had another ½ team. (fn. 7) In 1303 wheat (97 a.), oats, and maslin were the main crops on Copford Hall manor and small quantities of rye, barley, and peas were also grown. (fn. 8) Tenants in the 14th and 15th centuries usually held a house or cottage with from 2 a. to 20 a., and occasionally as much as 40 a., of land, which sometimes included small meadows. (fn. 9) There was 16 a. of meadow on Copford Hall manor in 1086. (fn. 10)

In 1086 there were 6 cattle (animalia), 12 swine, and 37 sheep on Copford manor, and pigs, sheep, and cattle were recorded on the Copford part of Aldham Hall manor in the 14th century. (fn. 11) In the 1380s on Copford Hall manor aversage was charged on between 51 and 70 pigs, from 1 to 4 belonging to each person liable; in 1406 it was charged on 36 pigs. (fn. 12)

Copford's situation, on the London road and close to Colchester, was convenient for land holders with interests elsewhere, like the bishops of London in the Middle Ages. Colchester gentlemen and merchants sometimes invested in land and houses in Copford, for example, Simon son of Marcian c. 1200, Thomas Christmas (d. 1520), George Sayer (d. 1577), and Robert Smith a baymaker (d. c. 1652). (fn. 13) A London gentleman, William Mountjoy (d. 1585), built up an estate on Copford Hall manor from 1542 when he took a lease from bishop Bonner from whom he already held episcopal land else where. (fn. 14) From the 17th century the Haynes, later Harrison family extended its Copford Hall estate. (fn. 15)

Larger owners usually leased their farms to tenant farmers. (fn. 16) In the 16th century and the 17th the farming was mixed, with grain crops, and livestock including sheep, cattle, pigs, and poultry. In 1606 there were 12 free and c. 50 customary tenants on Copford Hall manor, and there was c. 1¼ times as much arable as pasture where the land use can be identified, and c. 60 a. of meadow. (fn. 17) In the early and mid 18th century farms were of many different sizes, for example: Copford Hall farm of 202 a. and Wigley farm of 44 a. formed part of the Copford Hall estate of 521 a.; Bottingham Hall contained 223 a., and Fullers and Mascotts 156 a. (fn. 18) Between 1761 and 1780 copyholds ranged from 20 r. to 40 a.; one of the larger ones was Chippetts farm with 34 a. (fn. 19) Orchards were frequently recorded as part of holdings. (fn. 20) A wide range of fruit was grown at Copford Hall in 1731. (fn. 21) There was a small hopground in 1610 close to the rectory house; another near Copford Hall was no longer used for hops by c. 1725; the field name Hop Bottoms survived in 1839 on the Fordham border. (fn. 22)

There was woodland for 100 swine in 1086. (fn. 23) Holdings sometimes included groves, like Culpaksgrove and Baudesgrove, recorded in 1394, and Rookhales grove in 1464. (fn. 24) Copford wood contained old oaks and firewood in 1465. (fn. 25) Field names in 1839 indicate that there had been considerably more woodland in earlier periods in the north of the parish, near the western and southern irregular boundaries, and northwest of Copford Hall. (fn. 26)

Some of the woodland was managed, like that in Copford Hall wood in the 1570s. (fn. 27) In 1608 there were more than 2,387 trees on Copford manor, including c. 35 oaks, and also some alder fields; Copford Hall wood of 7 a. was coppiced with 6 years' growth. (fn. 28) Other woodland recorded in the 17th century included Forrestlands near Copford Hall and Blind Bulbecks. (fn. 29) In 1725 Copford Hall manor still contained three woods called the Plains, Potash wood, and Churchfield wood. (fn. 30) In 1727 at Bockingham Hall 321 trees were growing for timber, and in 1735 on a 52 at Copford Green there were 350 trees. Some woodland remained southwest of the Brick and Tile inn in 1774. (fn. 31)

Agricultural occupations predominated, and there were the usual village craftsmen and traders. There was a shoemaker in 1600, another in 1779, and a grocer in 1754. (fn. 32) One tailor was recorded in 1574, one in 1598, and another in 1624. Evidence of the cloth industry is limited: there were two weavers in 1606 and another in 1616; (fn. 33) spinning was carried on in the workhouse between 1762 and 1812. (fn. 34) Potash was made at Bottingham Hall farm, and occurs in field names west of Copford Hall in 1766, southwest of the Brick and Tile in 1774, and north of Roundbush farm in 1804. (fn. 35) Former gravel pits were suggested by field names surviving in 1839 northwest of Copford Hall, southwest of Bottingham Hall, and along the Maldon road. (fn. 36)

In the late 18th century and the early 19th local landowners increasingly encouraged their tenants to adopt new farming techniques. Drill sowing was introduced in the 1790s. (fn. 37) In 1794 J. H. Harrison stipulated a 4-course crop rotation at a farm near Seven Stars Green, namely, 1) wheat or winter corn, 2) peas, beans, oats, and barley or other spring corn, 3) clover or other grass, 4) summer fallowed and tilled; the tenant was not to take more than two crops of corn or grain without one summer fallow unless turnips, clover, peas, or beans were grown. (fn. 38) Subsequent leases of that and other farms contained more detailed conditions about crops, tillage, and maintenance. (fn. 39)

In the 19th century the Harrison and Round families were the larger landowners and there were several smaller owners. (fn. 40) In 1801 about half the acreage was devoted to arable farming, the main crops being wheat (483 a.), barley (261 a.), and oats (235 a.); peas, beans, turnips or rape, potatoes, and rye were also grown. (fn. 41) Yields were about average for Essex in 1813. (fn. 42) Arable increased to 2,100 a. by 1838, equivalent to more than nine tenths of titheable land, with only 140 a. of pasture and 60 a. of woodland, (fn. 43) and in the mid 19th century many farms were entirely or almost completely arable. (fn. 44) In 1870 the chief crops were wheat, barley, and beans. (fn. 45)

Unemployment was particularly high between 1815 and 1823 following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. (fn. 46) Most work was agricultural, but over the 19th century the number employed on the land gradually decreased. In 1834 there were 145 agricultural labourers earning c. 10s. a week and beer. Women and children could earn 3s. a week at harvest time, mainly gleaning. (fn. 47)

Clay or brickearth had been quarried successively in previously wooded areas, and the name Brick field was recorded north of Copford Hall in 1766. (fn. 48) John Ambrose established Copford Brick Works between London Road and the railway line by 1838, and by 1876 it had expanded to two brickfields and five clay mills. (fn. 49) The brickworks had apparently closed by 1919 when the Ambrose estate was broken up. (fn. 50)

In 1851 there were 130 labourers, mostly agricultural, on 15 farms: John Ambrose employed 65 at his 480-a. farm and brickworks; 14 were employed on 248 a. at Brake farm, 12 on 207 a. at Beckingham Hall, 9 on 190 a. at Bottingham Hall Farm, 11 at John Ely's farm of 180 a. and mill, 5 on 118 a. at Roundbush farm, and fewer on the smaller farms. In 1871 a total of 101 men and boys was employed on 15 farms ranging from 19 a. to 300 a. (fn. 51)

The range of nonagricultural occupations in 1851 was wider than in many villages, with some people travelling to work in Colchester. Besides the men employed at the brickworks and c. 48 men and women in domestic service and gardening, there were 13 carpenters, 8 bricklayers (labourers), 9 people in tailoring and related work, 4 laundresses, 9 working on the railways or other transport, 3 schoolteachers, 2 surgeons, 2 clerks, a printer's apprentice, 2 employed at a silk factory, and 18 in other trades and crafts including 4 bakers and 3 shoemakers. By 1871 the number employed in dressmaking and tailoring had increased to 20, probably doing outwork for Colchester clothing firms, shoemakers to 6, bakers to 5, laundresses to 12, and there were 4 schoolmistresses, 3 nurses, 3 cooks, 3 victuallers, 2 shopkeepers, 2 engine drivers, a plate layer, a plumber, and a painter and glazier. In 1891 there were 8 railway workers and 11 brickmakers but only 15 servants and 2 laundresses. (fn. 52)

By the late 19th century agricultural depression was evident. Labourers' wages fell by 3s. a week between 1874 and 1879, and their housing conditions were poor. The National Agricultural Labourers' Union recruited members in the 1870s, well supported by nonconformists, and eventually by the rector too. (fn. 53) Some farmland bordering roads was sold for building development. For example, 84 a. along the Halstead road, part of Brick Stables farm, was sold in 1876. (fn. 54) In 1885 there were financial difficulties on the Copford Hall estate. (fn. 55) Nevertheless in 1891 sixteen farmers and 110 agricultural labourers remained in Copford. (fn. 56)

The trend was to mixed farming, and the amount of arable decreased to about a third of the land under cultivation by 1905. There were 9 farms of 50-300 a., 16 of 5-50 a., and 3 of 1-5 a. The main grain crops were wheat (199 a.), oats (135 a.), and barley (84 a.), but small quantities of vegetables and fodder were also produced, besides 87 a. of unspecified crops and 17 a. of bare fallow. There were 311 a. of grass, 114 a. of clover, and 139 sheep, 55 horses, 35 cows, and 15 pigs. Sixty acres was owner occupied and 1,084 a. rented. (fn. 57)

After the First World War further small amounts of farmland were sold for building development. (fn. 58) In 1926 only six farmers remained, including one poultry farmer, and a farm bailiff; only one farm was over 150 a. Agricultural diversification included seedgrowing, including traditional coriandergrowing by the Folkard family, the cultivation of sugar beet, fruit, and cricket bat willow trees, and beekeeping. (fn. 59)

In 1979 the Abbotstone Agricultural Property Unit Trust bought as an investment 772 a. of the 844-a. Copford Hall estate, consisting of three tenant farms, 75 a. of woods and large gravel deposits. (fn. 60) In 1998 soft fruits were grown at Mascotts and Bulbanks.

There had been 60 a. of titheable woodland in 1838, and in 1905 there were 74 a. of woods and plantations. (fn. 61) By 1976 the woodland on Copford Hall estate had increased to 84 a., including poplars recently planted for ply and matchwood and willows for cricket bats. (fn. 62) In 1983 the parish council bought Pits Wood of c. 10 a., northeast of Copford Green, and local volunteers undertook conservation work. (fn. 63)

Copford windmill, on the north side of London Road, existed by 1724. In 1800 it was a flour and malt mill with a large granary over it. For most of the 19th century it was held by the Ely family. It closed c. 1890 and was demolished c. 1900. (fn. 64) The surviving Old Mill House, which served as the rectory house between 1926 and 1970, (fn. 65) is of the early 18th century, of three bays and singlepile. It has two storeys with a basement and attic with dormers and a facade in red brick with whitebrick end pilasters. Additions include a 19th-century east bay extended north in the 20th century, and at the back a brick chimneystack inscribed 'T Ely Grt Tey 1806' and an early 19th-century timberframed wing. Mill Ground field and meadow, on the west bank of Roman river north of Copford Hall, was probably the site of a water mill. (fn. 66)

In the 20th century several small manufacturing and service businesses were established, mostly along London Road. They included a cycle dealer from 1910, the Allwork Engineering Co. dealing in agricultural machinery, and by 1922 a motor engineer. The Alliance Foundry Co., brass founders, operated from 1922 until 1968. (fn. 67) The 10 bedroomed Windmill guest house, cafe and restaurant, and an adjacent petrol filling station, occupied the former Copford Lodge; it was converted to a nightclub by 1970. (fn. 68) Businesses after the Second World War included the Associated Wafer Paper Co. Ltd., Foundry Lane, making rice paper, and crosses for hot cross buns, (fn. 69) H. Renzland & Co., ornamental ironworkers, (fn. 70) Windmill Mini Coaches, the Windmill Caravan Centre, a branch of the South East Growers' Services, AC Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, (fn. 71) and from 1948 until 1956 Berry's structural engineering works. (fn. 72) From 1988 Linden Lady in Birch Road produced handmade chocolates. (fn. 73) In 1998 businesses along the London Road included decorating, soft furnishing, furniture, cleaning, and carpentry firms in a very small industrial area, a new golfing supplies store, and a garage. Many people travelled to employment in Colchester, and commuting to other places and London increased greatly after the Second World War. (fn. 74)


  • 1. e.g., E.R.O., D/DEt P4; D/DZl 23.
  • 2. Above, this par., Intro.; Guildhall MS. 9628, box 3.
  • 3. V.C.H. Essex, i. 439.
  • 4. Med. Essex Community, 24; E.R.O., T/A 427/1/7, transcripts of P.R.O., E 179/108/154, ff. 34-5.
  • 5. J. A. Galloway, 'Colch. and its Region, 1310-1560' (Edinburgh Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1985), map 10.
  • 6. E.R.O., Q/RTh 1, f. 21.
  • 7. V.C.H. Essex, i. 439.
  • 8. Acct. of executors of Bishop of Lond. 1303 (Camd. 2nd ser. x), 86.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/DHt M21, M184.
  • 10. V.C.H. Essex, i. 439.
  • 11. Ibid. 439; E.R.O., D/DWe M1.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/DHt M21, M184.
  • 13. E.A.T. n.s. vii. 128-9; Ancient Sepulchral Monuments of Essex, 366; V.C.H. Essex, ix. 76-8, 99.
  • 14. E.A.T. n.s. xxiv. 56-8.
  • 15. E.R.O., D/DU 161, 124-5, and passim.
  • 16. e.g. ibid. D/DRb T22; ibid. Acc. C291 (uncat.), box 1.
  • 17. Ibid. Q/SR 7/26, 27; ibid. Acc. C891 (uncat.), box 2, Copford Hall manor, 1606 survey; Essex Wills, x, pp. 87, 131.
  • 18. E.R.O., D/DEl P9; D/DEt P4; D/DR P4.
  • 19. Ibid. D/DEl M92.
  • 20. e.g. ibid. Acc. C891 (uncat.), box 2, Copford Hall manor, 1606 survey; ibid. D/DEl M92; ibid. D/DOp B10/4.
  • 21. Ibid. D/DU 588/1; D/DU 588/2/1-16.
  • 22. Guildhall MS. 9628, box 3; E.R.O., Acc. C891 (uncat.), box 1; ibid. D/CT 105.
  • 23. V.C.H. Essex, i. 439.
  • 24. E.R.O., D/DHt M184, M22.
  • 25. E.A.T. n.s. xxii. 355-7.
  • 26. E.R.O., D/CT 105.
  • 27. P.R.O., E 310/13/41, f. 12; ibid. E 134/25&26 Eliz/ Mich32.
  • 28. B.L. Add. MS. 16273, ff. 18-19.
  • 29. E.R.O., Acc. C891 (uncat.); ibid. box 2, Copford Hall manor, 1606 survey.
  • 30. Ibid. Acc. C891 (uncat.), box 1.
  • 31. Ibid. D/DRb F9; D/DEl M92; D/DEl P5, P12.
  • 32. Ibid. D/DEl M92; ibid. Q/SBb 198/17; ibid. Q/SR 153/63, 234/168.
  • 33. Ibid. Q/SR 51/90, 140/83, 178/26-7, 213/82, 244/18.
  • 34. Ibid. D/P 186/12/2-4.
  • 35. Ibid. D/DEl P9, P12; D/DR P15; D/DRb T21.
  • 36. Ibid. D/CT 105.
  • 37. A. F. J. Brown, Essex at Work 1700-1815, 31, 41.
  • 38. E.R.O., D/DU 161/209.
  • 39. Ibid. D/DOp B10/4; ibid. Acc. C291 (uncat.), box 1, leases of Green farm.
  • 40. Ibid. D/CT 105.
  • 41. E.A.T. 3rd ser. v. 196.
  • 42. A. Young, Essex Agric. i. 322, 325, 343, 345, 352, 362, 367.
  • 43. E.R.O., D/CT 105.
  • 44. e.g. ibid. D/DEl M110; D/DEl T298.
  • 45. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870).
  • 46. E.R.O., D/P 186/12/4-5.
  • 47. Rep. Com. Poor Laws, H.C. 44, p. 173 (1834), xxx.
  • 48. E.R.O., D/CT 105; ibid. D/DEl P9.
  • 49. Ibid. D/CT 105; White's Dir. Essex (1848), 147; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Essex XXVII.9 (1876 edn.).
  • 50. E.R.O., Sale cat. B777E.
  • 51. P.R.O., HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 10/1691.
  • 52. Ibid. HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 10/1691, RG 12/1415; V.C.H. Essex, ix. 190.
  • 53. A. F. J. Brown, Meagre Harvest, 45, 61-2, 93, 194; E.R.O., D/E 3.
  • 54. E.R.O., D/DEl M110.
  • 55. Ibid. Acc. C891 (uncat.), box 2, Estate agent's rep. on Copford Hall estate; ibid. D/DEl T267.
  • 56. P.R.O., RG 12/1415.
  • 57. Ibid. MAF 68/2121.
  • 58. Above, this par., Intro.
  • 59. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1926, 1929); E.C.S. 19 May 1944; E.R.O., Sale cat. C855; ibid. D/F 129/4/52-3; ibid. T/Z 29/15; inf. from Mr. A. B. C. Harrison.
  • 60. E.C.S. 28 Sept. 1979.
  • 61. E.R.O., D/CT 105; P.R.O., MAF 68/2121.
  • 62. E.R.O., Sale cat. C290; inf. from Mr. A. B. C. Harrison.
  • 63. E.C.S. 9 May 1986.
  • 64. K. G. Farries, Essex Windmills, iii. 103-4; E.R.O., Sale cat. B4816.
  • 65. Below, this par., Church.
  • 66. E.R.O., D/CT 105.
  • 67. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1910, 1922); E.C.S. 7 Nov. 1980.
  • 68. E.R.O., D/F 33/22/14; Eve. Gaz. 16 May 1974, 11 Dec. 1992; E.C.S. 30 Jan. 1998; above, this par., Intro.
  • 69. E.C.S. 9 Mar. 1973.
  • 70. Ibid. 5 July 1968; Colch. Expr. 18 July 1974; Eve. Gaz. 17 Nov. 1987; 29 May 1990.
  • 71. Eve. Gaz. 23 Aug. 1974; Colch. Expr. 29 Aug. 1974; E.C.S. 17 May 1974; 20 Mar. 1992.
  • 72. Inf. from Mr. F. Berry; above, Aldham, Econ.
  • 73. Eve. Gaz. 12 Oct. 1988.
  • 74. E.R.O., T/Z 29/15.