East Donyland: Economic history

Pages 191-194

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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East Donyland was heavily wooded in the Middle Ages. There was wood for 100 swine in 1086, and in the late 14th century St. John's abbey, Colchester, had woods at Middlewick, extending from within the boundaries of Colchester across Birch brook and as far south as Donyland heath, at Rougho wood south of the heath, and at Donyland wood in the south-west quarter of the parish. (fn. 1) Birgho or Bircho wood, granted to St. John's in the late 12th century and inclosed by the abbey c. 1260, may also have been in East Donyland. (fn. 2) The marshes along the Colne and Roman rivers and the small heath in the centre of the parish provided grazing. In 1086 there was pasture for 100 sheep, and there were 80 sheep on the demesne. Tenants' flocks in the late 14th century seem to have been small, the largest number trespassing on the demesne arable being 40, but herds of 20-24 cows were grazed illegally in the abbot's woods. Pigs were also kept, and tenants had rights of pannage, sometimes exceeded by two or three pigs a tenant. (fn. 3) Early 16th-century wills make frequent bequests of cattle. (fn. 4) In 1522 the dairy of the manor apparently comprised the whole manor except for the woods and perquisites of court. (fn. 5)

The arable was presumably concentrated in the eastern half of the parish. Its area may have been reduced between 1066, when there were 2 ploughs in demesne operated by 4 servi and 2 ploughs on the land occupied by 10 bordarii, and 1086 when there was only 1 plough and 1 servus in demesne, and the 10 bordarii also had only 1 plough. Nevertheless the value of the manor had risen from £2 to £3. (fn. 6) An estate in Donyland, probably East Donyland, in 1248 comprised 85 a. of arable, 7 a. of wood, and 2½ a. of meadow, and one given to St. John's abbey in 1301-2 comprised 30 a. of arable and 5 a. of wood. (fn. 7) Oats and rye were recorded on the demesne in the late 14th century. (fn. 8) As late as 1523 three tenants apparently owned harvest works. (fn. 9) Wood was stolen from a demesne grove to inclose land, perhaps an assart, in 1485. Other land on the edge of Middlewick wood in the north-west quarter of the parish was held as a croft in 1487. (fn. 10) In 1538 there were 25 customary holdings held by 21 tenants whose land was described in acres, presumably of arable, or crofts, often said to be pasture; measured holdings ranged from 20 a. to 1 a. In addition, Sir Thomas Audley and Arthur Clark held freeholds of 19 a. and c. 64 a. respectively, and 7 tenants at will had holdings ranging in size from a cottage and garden to 2 tenements. Audley also held a wood and 2 groves. (fn. 11)

In the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries fishermen and others forestalled the Colchester market by selling their wares at Rowhedge, although in the late 15th century the borough collected tolls there. (fn. 12) Butchers sold meat in the parish in 1493. Between 1490 and 1497 a whit-tawer worked there, and in 1491 a dyer took hares in the warren. The 10 furred cloaks and 6 ells of white and blue woollen cloth stolen in 1478 may have belonged to a clothworker. (fn. 13) In 1319 only 11 men were assessed for subsidy at a total of 16s. 3d., and in 1327 only 6 men at 11s. 2¾d.; both assessments were the lowest in the hundred. (fn. 14) In 1524 and 1525 only 32 and 34 people were assessed, a third of them on wages, at totals of £1 17s. 10d. and £2 5s. The highest assessments, on £10 worth of goods, were those of two customary tenants. (fn. 15)

Much of the woodland was cleared in the 17th century and the early 18th. In 1638 there were still c. 278 a. on the demesne, including Donyland wood (120 a.) and Middlewick wood (109 a.). In 1733 there were only 164 a. in the parish; Donyland wood was unchanged, but only c. 27 a. remained of Middlewick wood. There were c. 98 a. of marsh and meadow on the demesne in 1638, and at least 85 a. in the parish in 1733, as well as pasture on the heath (c. 32 a.) and other waste. (fn. 16) Mixed farming continued in the 16th century: oats and rye, swine, cows, and sheep were bequeathed in 1558; oats were recorded again in 1587, and rye in 1592. (fn. 17) Hops were grown in 1620, and the rector had a hop ground in 1686. (fn. 18) In the 18th century arable farming became increasingly important. A farmer who died in 1760 left 2 horses, 2 ploughs, 2 pairs of harrows, and 2 tumbrels as well as 2 cows. (fn. 19) In the mid 1790s wheat, barley, oats, and peas were grown, but their yields were all below average for Essex farms. (fn. 20) In 1833, however, East Donyland was said to be in a fine barley district. (fn. 21) A small farm near the heath, sold in 1837, was entirely arable, and one at Roman Hill in 1880 had only 7 a. of pasture to 59 a. of arable. (fn. 22) In 1840 the parish contained c. 730 a. of arable, c. 161 a. of meadow or pasture, only 111 a. of wood, and 31 a. of heath. (fn. 23) In 1870 the chief crops were wheat, barley, and turnips. (fn. 24)

The heath and other wastes were commonable to tenants of the manor. In 1536 a freehold of 40 a. of arable, 12 a. of pasture, and 6 a. of wood had common of pasture for 100 sheep. (fn. 25) Men were admitted to common of pasture for 4 head of cattle on the waste in 1723, and to common of pasture in a chaseway from Roman Hill to Donyland wood in 1725. Overseers of the commons were appointed by the 1630s. (fn. 26) In 1738 the manor court provided for the appointment of a hayward or common driver, and forbade commoning before 1 March. Twenty-eight tenants then had rights of common for a total of 106 sheep, but only 3 of them had rights for 1 or 2 horses and 8 for a cow, one horse common being worth 2 cow or 20 sheep commons. (fn. 27)

In 1664 John Tunstall alienated 166 a. of demesne woodland, including Donyland wood (140 a.), and 3 houses with 90 a. of land. (fn. 28) In 1733 the demesne comprised c. 281 a., and freeholders and copyholders held Donyland wood (120 a.), and 24 farms ranging in size from 107 a. to 4 a. Most of the freehold land was in the northern third of the parish and presumably originated as assart land. (fn. 29) By 1840 part of the demesne west of the Fingringhoe road had been alienated to form Donyland Place farm. (fn. 30)

In the later 19th century there were two principal farms in the parish, at Donyland Hall and Donyland Place. (fn. 31) In 1851 the Hall farm comprised 221 a., Donyland Place 160 a.; by 1861 the Hall had grown to 540 a. The occupier of Donyland Place farmed 470 a. in 1871 and 500 a. in 1881, whereas the Hall farm had fallen to 270 a. by 1881. Cabbage Hall farm in the north-western quarter of the parish was farmed with land in Colchester in 1848, (fn. 32) and was the centre of a small farm of c. 130 a. in 1871 and 1881. By the late 20th century most of the eastern quarter of the parish had been taken up by building, gravel extraction, and other industry. Apart from the heath and Donyland wood, the rest of the parish remained arable, much of it within the army firing range.

A miller lived on the manor in 1396. Another trespassed there in 1481, but his mill at Romy hill may have been Roman mill on Roman river, presumably near Romyn, later Manwood, bridge in Langenhoe, although in 1413 it was said to be in Colchester. (fn. 33) Fingringhoe mill, said in 1531 and 1862 to be in Fingringhoe and East Donyland, (fn. 34) may have served both parishes. The rector, Christopher Sill, had a mill on his freehold in East Donyland in 1686. (fn. 35) As most of the freehold was in the north of the parish, that mill may been the one on Birch brook recorded in 1733. In 1807 it was a fulling mill, but by 1837 it had become two cottages. (fn. 36)

By 1574 a wharf had been built at Rowhedge, and it may have been expanded c. 1586. (fn. 37) In 1630 there were two or three wharves, and seagoing ships unable to reach Colchester Hythe unloaded there. (fn. 38) In 1572 there were four small trading vessels at Rowhedge, and one boat, the William, was ready to go to the North Sea. (fn. 39) Another Rowhedge ketch was in the North Sea in 1583. (fn. 40) In 1642 East Donyland was inhabited mainly by poor seafarers. (fn. 41)

A tenant of the manor had unlicensed oyster pits in the marsh and illegal kiddles in Roman river in 1506, (fn. 42) and East Donyland was among the parishes which claimed fishing rights in the River Colne in the 1560s. (fn. 43) Houses in the parish had oyster pits or layings in 1687, 1705, 1712, and 1784. (fn. 44) An oyster dredger was recorded in 1721; other dredgers in 1738 and 1798 owned smacks or shares in them. (fn. 45) In 1841 there were 71 dredgermen and 39 fishermen in East Donyland out of a working population of 202. Their numbers appear to have declined rapidly in the later 19th century, from 114 in 1851 to 98 in 1871 and 8 in 1891, but many of the 25 master mariners and 146 mariners recorded in 1891 were probably part-time fishermen. (fn. 46) Some also engaged in salvage work, and Rowhedge ships were at the wreck of the Deutschland in 1875. (fn. 47) There were still c. 45 fishing smacks at Rowhedge c. 1900, but the industry, and other seafaring trades, had died out in the parish by 1948. (fn. 48)

From c. 1870 until 1939 Rowhedge was a yachting centre, 33 yacht captains alone being recorded in 1898. Among them in 1902 was John Carter, captain of Edward VII's yacht Britannia until his death in 1910. (fn. 49)

Ships were being built in East Donyland by 1766, and wealthy Rowhedge shipwrights, one of whom had connexions with Harwich, died in 1770 and 1773. As many as five ships a year were built in the later 1780s and 1790s, most of them by Joseph Cole of Wivenhoe. Philip Sainty, another Wivenhoe shipwright, built at least one boat in East Donyland in 1795. (fn. 50) In 1787 a 350-ton ship for the East India trade and a 140-ton sloop for the coal trade were built. (fn. 51) Samuel Spunner built ships at Rowhedge between 1803 and 1806. (fn. 52) The oyster merchant and Wivenhoe shipwright Samuel Cook (d. 1804) owned a shipyard and quay in Rowhedge which seems to have passed to his nephew Daniel Cole (fl. 1836). (fn. 53)

Mr. Harris who occupied a boat builder's workshop and wharf in 1808 was presumably Samuel Harris who built boats in East Donyland from 1812. (fn. 54) James Harris, boatbuilder, was working in Rowhedge in 1841, and in 1851 he employed two men. (fn. 55) In 1878 Peter Harris was a yacht- and boatbuilder, and the business was continued by his sons until it was taken over by Rowhedge Ironworks in 1916. (fn. 56) P. M. Sainty, perhaps a descendant of Philip, worked at Bonacord Shipyard in Rowhedge in 1863 and 1866; he may have been followed by William Busby who occupied a boatyard in High Street in 1871. That or another yard was owned or managed by members of the Puxley family from 1878 and of the Houston family by 1894. It employed 60-70 men in 1898, when it burnt down, and had become Donyland Shipyards by 1902. (fn. 57) In 1904 its site was acquired by three men from Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson Ltd. on the Tyne who founded Rowhedge Ironworks Ltd. Between 1904 and its closure in 1964 the company built over 900 ships, including small tankers, dredgers, and yachts. Among the more unusual were a sternwheeler paddle steamer built in 1929 for the upper Nile, and a steel passenger launch built in 1912 for Lake Titicaca, Peru. Steam pinnaces, motor boats, cutters, and two torpedo recovery vessels were built for the navy during the two world wars. (fn. 58) The part of the yard formerly Harris's was owned by Ian Brown Ltd. in 1977, (fn. 59) but had closed by 1994. The other part became a boat-breaking and general scrap yard. It was sold in 1973. (fn. 60) Although part of the riverside was developed as wharves, much of the site of both yards remained derelict in 1994.

Rowhedge Sand and Ballast Co. Ltd., founded in 1932, was taken over in 1946 by F. A. Hunnable and Sons of Braintree who reduced production of ballast but increased the output of concrete blocks. (fn. 61) A quay 100 m. long was built c. 1960. (fn. 62) The firm was taken over by Consolidated Goldfields in 1968 and run by the Rowhedge Wharfland Warehouse Co. which developed a 92-a. site on the river south of Rowhedge village. (fn. 63) The quay was extended to 150 m. c. 1970, and the warehouse business expanded after the takeover of Rowhedge Wharf by Newgrain and the Colchester Dock Transit Co. in 1972. (fn. 64) By 1973-4 as much as 15.4 per cent of the trade of Colchester port went through Rowhedge, which could handle larger ships than the Hythe. In 1986 Rowhedge could take ships with a draught of up to 4.3 m. at spring tides and up to 3.4 m. at neap tides; the turning space at Roman River accommodated ships up to 76 m. long. (fn. 65) The port was bought in 1988 by Associated British Ports Holdings plc, and despite local opposition the length of the quays and area of the warehouses were further increased. (fn. 66)

A large malting house, able to make 200 qr. of malt a week, was established on the waterfront with its own wharf and dock by 1808. It or another malting there was sold in 1833, and presumably employed the seven maltsters in the parish in 1851. (fn. 67) The brewery was acquired c. 1854 by S. T. Daniell, and the business was carried on by his family firm, based in West Bergholt, from 1877 until it closed between 1903 and 1907. (fn. 68) In 1871 it employed 12 men, and in 1891 at least 13, including a storeman, a stoker, a bottler, a cashier, and 2 draymen. (fn. 69) The building was demolished in 1937. (fn. 70)

There was a brickmaker in the parish in 1841, but none was recorded again until 1871 when there was a brickfield south-east of Donyland Hall. It was presumably the brick, tile, pot, and pipe works run by A. S. Went from c. 1876 to c. 1886. (fn. 71)

In 1871 a total of 101 and in 1891 c. 133 women worked as tailoresses, presumably as outworkers for Colchester factories. (fn. 72) About 60 women were still so employed in the 1920s. (fn. 73) The Colchester Manufacturing Co., a clothing firm, operated in four cottages in Darkhouse Lane behind High Street from c. 1910. A small factory was built there c. 1912 and made officers' uniforms during the First World War. The company bought the site in 1926, but sold it in 1931 to J. Harvey Ltd. Between 1923 and 1936 the factory, called the Chester Works from c. 1936, nearly doubled in size. It closed in 1977. (fn. 74) A second firm, Royal Oak Clothing Works, recorded from 1917, occupied the former Royal Oak pub in Rectory Road and part of the former brewery on the waterfront. In the 1920s c. 20 women and girls were employed there. It became the Donyland Tropical Clothing Co. in 1926 and had closed by 1933. (fn. 75)


  • 1. V.C.H. Essex, i. 466; E.R.O., D/DHt M145; D/DU 315.
  • 2. Colch. Cart. i. 221; ii. 541.
  • 3. V.C.H. Essex, i. 466; E.R.O., D/DHt M145.
  • 4. e.g. E.R.O., D/ACR 1, ff. 68v., 158, 220, 223v.; D/ABW 12/2.
  • 5. P.R.O., E 303/2/42; cf. ibid. SC 6/Hen. VIII/976, m. 4.
  • 6. V.C.H. Essex, i. 466.
  • 7. Feet of F. Essex, i. 161; Colch. Cart. ii. 496.
  • 8. E.R.O., D/DHt M145.
  • 9. Ibid. T/B 142/2.
  • 10. Ibid. D/DHt M147.
  • 11. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/976, mm. 3-4; Feet of F. Essex, iv. 206.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/B 5 Cr7, rot. 9d.; D/B 5 Cr17, rot. 15d.; D/B 5 Cr75, rot. 2; D/B 5 R2, f. 40; D/B 5 R5, f. 66v.
  • 13. Ibid. D/DEl M143; D/DHt M146-7.
  • 14. P.R.O., E 179/107/10, rot. 8; Med. Essex Community, 19.
  • 15. P.R.O., E 179/108/154, 174; cf. ibid. SC 6/Hen. VIII/976, mm. 3-4; E.R.O., D/ABW 3/36.
  • 16. E.R.O., D/DHf T31; D/DU 315.
  • 17. Ibid. D/ABW 38/179; Essex Wills, v, p. 306; vi, p. 141.
  • 18. E.R.O., D/ACW 8/261; D/ACR 10, f. 210.
  • 19. Ibid. D/ACR 17, f. 81v.
  • 20. A. Young, General View of Agric. of Essex, i. 323, 343, 352, 367.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/DB E12.
  • 22. Ibid. D/DEl T77; ibid. sale cat. B151.
  • 23. Ibid. D/CT 116A.
  • 24. P.O. Dir. Essex (1870).
  • 25. Feet of F. Essex, iv. 206.
  • 26. E.R.O., D/DEl M150-1.
  • 27. Ibid. D/DEl M152.
  • 28. Ibid. D/DSb T7.
  • 29. Ibid. D/DU 315.
  • 30. Ibid. sale cat. B1289.
  • 31. Paragraph based on P.R.O., HO 107/334/5; HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 9/1102; RG 10/1690; RG 11/1795; RG 12/1414.
  • 32. P.R.O., HO 107/334/5; White's Dir. Essex (1848), 122.
  • 33. E.R.O., D/DHt M145-6; ibid. D/B 5 Cr39, rot. 5d.; P.N. Essex, 316.
  • 34. L. & P. Hen. VIII, v, p. 77; E.R.O., D/DU 559/94.
  • 35. E.R.O., D/ACR 10, f. 210 and v.
  • 36. Ibid. D/DU 315; D/DEl T77.
  • 37. Ibid. D/B 5 Sb2/2, f. 651v.; D/B 5 Sb2/4, f. 67v.
  • 38. P.R.O., E 134/5&Chas1/Hil. 2; E 134/6Chas1/Mic. 17.
  • 39. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 276; P.R.O., PROB 11/54, f. 191v.
  • 40. Essex Wills, iv, p. 175.
  • 41. E.R.O. Q/SBa 2/45.
  • 42. Ibid. D/DHt M148.
  • 43. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 431.
  • 44. E.R.O., D/DEl M146-7; D/DHt T88/4.
  • 45. Ibid. D/ACR 15, f. 147v.; D/ACR 16, f. 147; D/ACR 19, f. 272v.
  • 46. P.R.O., HO 107/334/5; HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 10/1690; RG 12/1414; Leather, Saltwater Village, 18, 69-70.
  • 47. Leather, Saltwater Village, 18; H. Benham, Last Stronghold of Sail, 66-7.
  • 48. Benham, Last Stronghold, 66-7.
  • 49. P.R.O., RG 10/1690; RG 12/1414; Leather, Saltwater Village, 49, 54-5, 62-9; J. Leather, Smacks and Bawleys, 79-80; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890 and later edns.); E.R.O., Acc. C599 (uncat.), ii, p. 6; iii, pp. 21, 102, 122.
  • 50. E.R.O., Acc. 6323 (uncat.), vol. i; ibid. D/ACR 17, ff. 204, 224; ibid. D/DEl B30; Ipswich Jnl. 18 July 1772; 24 Apr., 29 May 1773.
  • 51. E.R.O., Acc. C210 (uncat.), J. B. Harvey Colln., vi, p. IB; E.C.L. Colch., MS. note in newspaper cutting colln.
  • 52. E.R.O., Acc. 6323 (uncat.), vol. ii; V.C.H. Essex, ii. 301; Ipswich Jnl. 7 Jan. 1809.
  • 53. E.R.O., D/ACR 19, f. 445; ibid. D/DHt T88/9, 11.
  • 54. Ibid. D/DB E12; ibid. Acc. 6323, vol. ii.
  • 55. P.R.O., HO 107/334/5; HO 107/1782.
  • 56. P.O. Dir. Essex (1878); Kelly's Dir. Essex (1882 and later edns.); V.C.H. Essex, ii. 490; Rowhedge Ironworks, The Launching Years (Golden Jubilee Publication), 5; Benham, Last Stronghold, 70-1.
  • 57. P.R.O., RG 10/1690; White's Dir. Essex (1863), 136; P.O. Dir. Essex (1866); Kelly's Dir. Essex (1878 and later edns.); E.R.O., T/P 181/4/13; ibid. Acc. C599 (uncat.), i, p. 24; ibid. notes on shipping registers.
  • 58. 'East Anglian History Workshop', ii. 13; Launching Years, passim; Guide to E.R.O. (1969 edn.), 186; E.C.S. 22 Feb. 1963.
  • 59. Leather, Saltwater Village, 20.
  • 60. E.C.C., Rowhedge, A Village Appraisal (1970); Eve. Gaz. 3 May 1973; E.C.S. 14 Oct. 1988.
  • 61. Colch. Gaz. 10 Mar. 1964.
  • 62. Colch. Boro. Council, Dept. of Engineering, Rec- reation, and Transport, 'Future Viablilty of Colch. Port: Draft Final Report' (1986), 10: copy in E.R.O.
  • 63. E.C.S. 19 July 1968.
  • 64. Colch. Boro. Council, 'Future Viability of Colch. Port', 10, 23; E.C.S. 17 Mar. 1972; 28 Feb., 9 Sept. 1977; 10 Aug. 1979; 7 June 1985; Eve. Gaz. 13 June 1978.
  • 65. Colch. Boro. Council, Review of Council Operations at Port of Colch. (Reproduced from TS., 1975): copy in E.C.L. Colch; idem. 'Future Viability of Colch. Port', 30.
  • 66. E.C.S. 15 Jan. 1988; 8, 17 Mar. 1991; Colch. Boro. Council, 'Draft Harbour Brief' (Feb. 1991), 24-7, 35: copy in E.C.L. Colch.
  • 67. E.R.O., D/Z 2/14/12; ibid. D/DB E12; P.R.O., HO 107/1782.
  • 68. E.R.O., D/Z 2/14/12; ibid. T/P 181/4/13; ibid. Acc. C599 (uncat.), vol. ii, p. 135; West Bergholt Local Hist. Group, Bergholt in Living Memory, 21-3: copy in E.C.L. Colch.; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1902, 1906).
  • 69. P.R.O., RG 10/1690; RG 12/1414.
  • 70. I. P. Peaty, Essex Brewers, 95-6.
  • 71. P.R.O., HO 107/334/5; ibid. RG 10/1690; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Essex XXXVII. 1 (1876 edn.); E.R.O., D/Z 2/14/12; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1882 edn.).
  • 72. P.R.O., RG 10/1690; RG 12/1414.
  • 73. Local inf. collected by Patrick Denny.
  • 74. Rowhedge Recollections [unpaginated]; E.R.O., Acc. 6072 (uncat.); ibid. D/Z 2/14/12; D/Z 2/14/35, 38-9; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Essex XXXVII. 12 (1923 and 1936 edns.); E.C.S. 14 Jan. 1977.
  • 75. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1917 and later edns.); local inf. collected by Patrick Denny.