Fordham: Economic history

Pages 211-214

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.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



Fordham Hall manor occupied considerable land through the centre of the parish, Great Fordham manor was concentrated in the east and south-east, Archentines manor was in the north-west but included a meadow beside Fiddlers wood in Aldham, (fn. 1) and the Frith was in the north-east. Parts of other manors, such as Gernons from Wormingford, and Mount Bures manor, extended into Fordham from neighbouring par- ishes. (fn. 2) Houds farm belonged to Little Fordham manor, Aldham. Some land was held by religious houses in the Middle Ages. (fn. 3)

The value of Fordham manor remained £7 between 1066 and 1086, and a small freehold estate showed a slight decline from 10s. to 6s. 8d. (fn. 4) Fordham's total tax was near the median for vills in Lexden hundred in 1327 when Mary of St. Paul, the lady of the manor, was the high- est assessed of the 20 taxpayers (fn. 5) and also in 1524 when 37 people were assessed. (fn. 6) Between 1381 and 1560 from 10 to 19 Fordham men became Colchester burgesses. (fn. 7) In 1662 eleven houses had more than four hearths. (fn. 8)

The parish was once covered by much wood- land and heath which was gradually cleared for cultivation. In 1086 there was woodland for 100 swine. (fn. 9) Fordham heath was mentioned in 1388, and Heath field, south of Hemps Green, was probably once heathland following woodland clearance. (fn. 10) Alder groves were recorded from the 13th century; one held by St. John's abbey was in or near land at Perifeld, perhaps the later Perry field which extended into West Bergholt. (fn. 11) Medieval field names included Netherwode- feld and Hunerewod. (fn. 12) In 1395 the valuable woodland on Fordham manor included 121 a. in the Frith, and a total of 32 a. in four small woods. (fn. 13)

In 1569 much woodland remained in the Fordham Heath area, and in 1720 at least 31 a. survived in Frith wood in the north. (fn. 14) The unidentified Shaws wood on Great Fordham manor was still providing common pasture and feeding in 1772. (fn. 15) Ash was grown for timber in 1780 near Archendines farmhouse. (fn. 16) In 1837 there was only c. 60 a. of woodland, most of it in the south-east of the parish and some just north-east of Archendines. (fn. 17) By 1905 just 44 a. of woodland remained. (fn. 18)

In 1086 there was a total of 13½ a. of meadow. (fn. 19) From the Middle Ages until the beginning of the 20th century strips of meadow were held in King's, Woolpit, and Haysell meadows beside the Colne. (fn. 20)

Only limited evidence survives of agriculture before the late 18th century. Between 1066 and 1086 the number of ploughs on the demesne remained 3, but those belonging to the men fell from 5 to 3, perhaps indicating a slight decrease in arable farming; the 3 free men held 13 a. and had half a ploughteam, and there was another half team on the 25-a. freehold. The number of animals increased from 85 to 125, including an increase in sheep from 60 to 80. The number of hives fell from 10 to 6. (fn. 21)

Arable farming probably increased as wood- land was cleared. In 1319 Archentines manor was predominantly arable, with 120 a. of arable worth 3d. an acre, 3 a. of meadow worth 2s. an acre, and 5 a. of pasture worth 4d. an acre. (fn. 22) In 1395, half a century after the Black Death, Fordham manor was also mainly arable, 332 a. of it worth as much as 10d. an acre, but another 35½ a. was abandoned arable land turned to pas- ture (including 34 a. in Wolfledefeld in heath- land) worth 4d. an acre; there was also 19½ a. of mowing meadow worth 3s. 4d. an acre. The buildings included 3 barns, a granary, a sheep- house, and two separate dairies, possibly indi- cating cheesemaking from both cows' and ewes' milk. (fn. 23)

There is little evidence of early industry. A weaver was recorded in the early 13th century, one in 1575, and another in 1616, and a fuller in 1582. (fn. 24) Other recorded occupations included bricklayers in 1575 and 1654, a tiler in 1533, (fn. 25) and at least two in 1595, tailors in 1582, 1589, 1611, 1621, (fn. 26) and 1671, a charcoal burner in 1669, a 'broomeman' in 1704, a chairmaker in 1708, and a glover in 1722. (fn. 27) There was a grocer in 1754. (fn. 28) There was a malthouse and kilnhouse at Plummers in 1748, and a malting at Barnards farm in 1796, but the maltings were probably for domestic use. (fn. 29)

From the 16th century to the 18th the pattern of landholding was of many small copyholders, (fn. 30) owning small numbers of cows and sheep and other animals, and growing small quantities of wheat and other grains. (fn. 31) The absentee lords of the manors let the demesne farms to tenants. (fn. 32) Merchants of London or from the surrounding area held, but did not necessarily occupy, land in the parish, for example, in 1606 a clothier of East Bergholt (Suff.), in 1688 a baymaker of Colchester, and in 1710 a London mercer. (fn. 33) In 1584 the growing of peas was recorded. (fn. 34)

There is evidence of hopgrowing: in 1569 west of Hammonds mill, in 1599, in 1643, on 1½ a. called the Little Hole in 1765, and of a hopkiln in 1862, probably on or near Hops Ground field in the north-east corner of the parish. (fn. 35) Orchards were frequently recorded: in 1569 at least 15 holdings on Great Fordham manor included orchards, and in the late 18th century apples were grown at Gislinghams near Fidlers Wood. (fn. 36) In 1837 six field names referred to apples, pears, or plums, and there was an apple orchard at Wash farm. (fn. 37) In 1905 there was 13 a. of orchard. (fn. 38) There was an orchard in 1935 where Herrings Way was later built. (fn. 39) The name Saffron field, recorded in 1689, survived in 1837 in the south-east corner of the parish. (fn. 40)

Charles Onley, non-resident rector 1763- 1804 and one of the founders of the Essex Agricultural Society, encouraged technical pro- gress and the enlargement of farms. (fn. 41) In 1797 Fordham Hall farm was 311 a. (fn. 42) The combined farms of Sutton's, Kettle's, Brown's, and Young's (the latter two probably the Brownes and Yokes recorded in 1614 in the Fordham part of Mount Bures manor) consisted in 1797 of an estate of c. 216 a. in 'high cultivation'; (fn. 43) after belonging to the Caswells of Mount Bures, it came to the Green Wilkinson family by marriage in the early 19th century. (fn. 44) In 1834 Fletchers and Brickle House amounted together to 156 a. of 'productive' arable, meadow, and pasture land. (fn. 45) The Porter family built up an estate in the 19th century, which included the 90 a. of Bernards, or Barnards, farm bought in 1806 (probably the Bernardslond recorded in 1499 in the Fordham part of Mount Bures manor) and Cherry Ground or Wash farm in 1854 in the south of Fordham. (fn. 46)

By 1837 ninety per cent of the parish was arable. (fn. 47) Houds farm in the 1830s was 71 a. of heavy soil, mainly arable. (fn. 48) In 1836 the Wash or Cherry Ground farm was 43 a. of 'corn and turnip land' and 3 a. of meadow, with some cows and pigs; the 37 a. of Overway or Fryers farm was 'productive corn land'. Great Porters farm in 1848 was 125 a. of arable and meadow. (fn. 49) Nevertheless some grazing rights remained; the tenant of Burnt House farm, a copyhold of Great Fordham manor, still had right of common on Fordham Heath in 1843. (fn. 50)

In 1870 the chief crops were wheat, oats, barley, and turnips, managed on the four-course system, and in 1878 wheat, oats, barley, and beans. (fn. 51) At Brook farm in 1870 in the south- west of the parish the 4-course rotation included each year a quarter wheat, a quarter barley or other spring corn, an eighth peas, beans, or tares, an eighth clover or trefoil, and a quarter clean fallow. (fn. 52)

Most occupations were agricultural. In 1851, when the total population was 740, ten farmers employed 124 men as agricultural labourers, 12 on the largest farm of 258 a. There were three other farms of more than 100 a., but most hold- ings were from 30 to 50 a. (fn. 53) By 1871, when the population peaked at 802, the number of agricul- tural labourers had increased to 136; the number of farmers employing them was still 10, but the 2 largest farms were Fletcher's of 700 a. where 36 men and boys worked, and Fordham Hall of 600 a. with 38 men and boys; there were 5 other farms of more than 100 a. (fn. 54)

In the 1870s the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, well supported by noncon- formists, maintained two branches in Fordham: one in the village and one at Fordham Heath. The union apparently foundered but was re-established in 1885, and in 1892 secured better harvest terms in Fordham. (fn. 55) Agricultural depression in the late 19th century and early 20th reduced the number of agricultural labour- ers to 111 by 1891 and farmers to 6, although farm bailiffs increased from 1 to 6. Other work- ers associated with agriculture included the 4 hay and straw binders, 3 stockmen, a cattle dealer, and a corn merchant and insurance agent, and the 6 people employed in milling. (fn. 56) Between 1899 and 1903 technical instruction classes were held to help farm labourers to find alternative employment. (fn. 57)

There were some non-agricultural occu- pations. A potash maker and soap boiler lived near Suttons until c. 1830, probably in the potash office recorded in 1797. (fn. 58) In 1848 there were 3 grocers, 2 bricklayers, 2 beer house pro- prietors, and a cattle dealer. (fn. 59) In 1851 occu- pations included a few gardeners, carpenters, bricklayers, brickmakers, shoemakers, and a turner, a sawyer, a weaver, a marine store dealer, a vermin destroyer, and a sack manufacturer at Firmins factory near Wash corner. In 1871 non- agricultural occupations included 6 sackmakers, a mat maker, a market gardener, and a coach painter, and there was a vermin destroyer and a mole killer. By 1891 five men were railway labourers. The few women in paid work in 1851 were mostly servants, but there were also a few housekeepers, dressmakers, laundresses, a tail- oress, and a schoolmistress. By 1891 twenty- three women worked as tailoresses, presumably for Colchester clothing firms, and 8 as laun- dresses. (fn. 60)

Agricultural depression resulted in the div- ision of some estates, the sale of some farmland for building, and a trend towards mixed farm- ing. By 1891 Houd's farm was unlet, unculti- vated and needed repairs. (fn. 61) In 1901 Ram's of over 50 a. was sold, together with four accom- modation enclosures of arable and meadow con- taining c. 10 a. (fn. 62) After Joseph Green died in 1903 the 840-a. estate in Fordham and neighbouring parishes which had been built up by the Green family, tenants at Fordham Hall from before 1808 (not related to the Green Wilkinsons), was broken up. It included Suttons and Lower Moat or Moss farm of 194 a. of mixed pasture and arable, with pigs; Archendines and Kettles farms of 197 a., still mainly arable, with cattle and chickens; and Fossetts of 68 a., mostly arable but with some pasture and pigs and chickens. (fn. 63)

By 1905 the chief crops were wheat, oats, barley, beans, peas, potatoes, turnips, swedes, and mangolds, but half of the parish was mown or grazed grass and clover and there were 105 horses, 163 cows, 305 sheep, and 438 pigs. (fn. 64) In 1913 Wash farm of 80 a. of arable and 23 a. of pasture, with standings for 12 cows, which was part of an estate of 812 a. being broken up, was said to be 'well adapted for a dairy farm'. (fn. 65) Parts of the 85-a. Little Porters, mostly arable, were bought separately in 1914. (fn. 66)

Mixed farming continued in the mid 20th century, and there was some market gardening. Between the World Wars wheat and sugar beet were grown at Fordham Hall and cows, sheep, pigs, and poultry reared; casual workers were employed for pea-picking, and market garden produce was taken to Covent Garden market (Lond.). (fn. 67) At Sutton's crops rotated between 1929 and 1932 included wheat, beans, peas, barley, mangolds, straw crop, clover, sainfoin, cabbages, oats, sugar beet, and various root crops, but by 1935 the farm was seriously neg- lected and there were insufficent labourers; (fn. 68) the farm had a dairy herd of 16. (fn. 69) In 1946 Fordham Place, a dairy farm, included 66 a. of arable and pasture in Fordham, and the timber included more than 20 of the cricket bat willows for which Fordham had become renowned. In 1978 there were small willow plantations approaching maturity on Fordham Hall farm. (fn. 70)

By 1976 at Fletchers, Fordham Hall, and Rams wheat, barley, and beans were grown, together with a small amount of maize for silage. Oil seed rape had replaced potatoes as a break crop. Market garden crops were cultivated mainly on south-facing slopes and under glass. Apples, pears, and soft fruits occupied 75 a. at Kenmore fruit farm. At Fletchers livestock included 70 dairy cows, 160 sheep for fat lamb production, 550 pigs for pork, and 20 hens. (fn. 71)

From the mid 1970s farming practice was modified in line with the European Common Agricultural Policy. By 1978 Fordham Hall was 'a highly productive arable farm' of 562 a. in a compact, well drained block; wheat, barley, potatoes, peas, and beans were produced and the potato quota was 62 a. (fn. 72) In 1981 Fiddlers farm had 20 a. of arable land together with pigs and battery hens; from 1996 part of it was occupied by a car repairs business. (fn. 73) By 1993 an invest- ment group owned Fordham Hall farm of 1,600 a., and employed a farm manager, an expert in European law and bureaucracy, who also man- aged an adjoining 450 a. of land belonging to three local farmers. The income from the farms was based on cereal production and 'set-aside' money. (fn. 74) In 1994 the Hall farm produced sugar beet, potatoes, peas, barley, wheat, rape, and lin- seed. (fn. 75) In 1997 Watercress Hall, east of the church, was a small poultry farm.

A mill was recorded in 1066 and 1086, and a miller in the mid 13th century. (fn. 76) That mill was probably Hammonds watermill, on the Colne south of the church, recorded c. 1340, which in 1569 was a grist mill, (fn. 77) and in the 17th century had fulling stocks. In the 18th century it belonged to the miller at Ford Street mill in Aldham. It was described as a corn mill in 1777 and rebuilt c. 1780. (fn. 78) Of the mill demolished in 1903, only the house survives. One bay of the house originally interpenetrated the mill build- ing, and two trusses, one on each floor, of the mill survive at the south end of the house. Like the mill, the house is timber-framed but was probably created in the 19th century and given a slate roof, and stuccoed front with bay win- dows. There is a contemporary service wing to the north-east. A weatherboarded extension was built on the south side after the mill had been demolished and another on the south side of the wing in the 1960s. (fn. 79) About 1836 a post windmill was brought to a site south of Fordham Heath; it apparently ground corn until c. 1885. (fn. 80) Between 1863 and 1870 or longer the proprietor at the Three Horseshoes was also a miller. (fn. 81)

Field names in 1837 indicate there were once kilns on the south-east border and at Barnards farm in the south-west, and that gravel was extracted south of Idles, and sand south of Fletchers. (fn. 82) In 1870 there was a brick kiln and beerhouse at Brook farm; the brickworks had closed by 1920. (fn. 83)

In the later 20th century light industry was carried on at Penlan Hall works and at a small industrial estate at Wormingford airfield. There was a kennels and cattery, and a riding stables on the Halstead road. (fn. 84) In 1935 there were two general stores, a building and undertaking busi- ness, and a baker's. (fn. 85) In 1997 one general store remained, incorporating a post office and news- agent's.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/CT 2.
  • 2. Ibid. D/DMa M29.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/DWe M36; above, this par., Manors.
  • 4. V.C.H. Essex, i. 476, 552; ibid. 481, 573 relate to Aldham.
  • 5. Med. Essex Community, 19.
  • 6. E.R.O., T/A 427/1/7.
  • 7. J. A. Galloway, 'Colch. and its Region, 1310-1560' (Edinburgh Univ. Ph.D. thesis 1985), map 10.
  • 8. E.R.O., Q/RTh 1, f. 20.
  • 9. V.C.H. Essex, i. 552.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/DHt M184, rot. 13; ibid. D/CT 142.
  • 11. B.L. Harl. Ch. 48.I.41; Colch. Cart. i. 266.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/DU 646/46, 50.
  • 13. P.R.O., DL 43/14/3.
  • 14. E.R.O., D/DLl M17; D/DPo T32.
  • 15. Ibid. D/DO M66.
  • 16. Ibid. D/DBm M322.
  • 17. Ibid. D/CT 142.
  • 18. P.R.O., MAF 68/2121, no. 20.
  • 19. V.C.H. Essex, i. 476, 552.
  • 20. e.g. Colch. Cart. i. 273-4; E.R.O., sale cat. B2221, B6842; ibid. D/DLl M17, rot. 7.
  • 21. V.C.H. Essex, i. 476, 552.
  • 22. P.R.O., C 134/62/8.
  • 23. Ibid. DL 43/14/3.
  • 24. E.R.O., T/A 8, f. 7; ibid. Q/SR 53/66, 80/69, 216/32.
  • 25. Ibid. Q/SR 53/66; ibid. D/DCm T22; ibid. D/ACR 2, f. 265.
  • 26. Ibid. Q/SR 80/69, 111/95, 137/73, 194/52, 234/130.
  • 27. Ibid. D/P 372/1/1.
  • 28. Ibid. Q/SBb 198/17.
  • 29. Ibid. T/B 474/5; D/DPo T36.
  • 30. Ibid. D/DLl M17; ibid. D/DBm M322.
  • 31. Essex Wills, iv. 136, 159; viii. 51, 66.
  • 32. e.g. E.R.O., D/DLl M17.
  • 33. P.R.O., C 2/Jas1/C18/38; E.R.O., D/DCm T1; D/DPo T31.
  • 34. E.R. xlv. 134.
  • 35. E.R.O., D/DLl M17, rot. 8; D/DO M65; D/DBm M322; ibid. D/CT 142; ibid. Q/SBa 2/48; F. G. Emmison, Elizabethan Life: Home, Work and Land, 40.
  • 36. E.R.O., D/DLl M17; D/DBm M322.
  • 37. Ibid. D/CT 142.
  • 38. P.R.O., MAF 68/2121.
  • 39. D. M. Kettle, 'Village of Fordham' (TS. in E.R.O.), p. 10.
  • 40. E.R.O., D/ABR 12, f. 286; ibid. D/CT 142; Essex 'full of profitable things', ed. K. Neale, 225-44.
  • 41. A. F. J. Brown, Prosperity and Poverty 1700-1815, 28; idem. Essex at Work, 33; below, this par., Church.
  • 42. E.R.O., T/M 235.
  • 43. Ibid. sale cat. B11; ibid. D/DU 103/7.
  • 44. Inf. from Mrs. I. McMaster; E.R.O., D/DOp B50.
  • 45. E.R.O., sale cat. B169.
  • 46. Ibid. D/DPo E9-10, E12; D/DPo T31-6; D/DMa M29, rot. 4d.; above, this par., Intro.
  • 47. E.R.O., D/CT 142.
  • 48. P. Lewis, This Barren Land, 51.
  • 49. E.R.O., D/DPo T33, T35; D/DSb T10.
  • 50. Ibid. sale cat. B804.
  • 51. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870, 1878).
  • 52. E.R.O., D/DU 559/95.
  • 53. P.R.O., HO 107/1782; V.C.H. Essex, ii. 349.
  • 54. P.R.O., RG 10/1692.
  • 55. A. F. J. Brown, Meagre Harvest, 62-3, 67, 70, 72, 158-9, 169, 172, 185.
  • 56. P.R.O., RG 12/1416.
  • 57. P. Lewis, 'A Big Round Hand' (2nd edn.), 10-11.
  • 58. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 458; Essex Naturalist, ix. 130; E.R.O., sale cat. B11.
  • 59. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 124.
  • 60. P.R.O., HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 10/1692, 12/1416; E.R.O., Acc. 764 (uncat.), Mrs. P. Lewis's papers.
  • 61. P. Lewis, This Barren Land, 51.
  • 62. E.R.O., T/P 181/5/19.
  • 63. Ibid. D/ABR 30, f. 266; ibid. sale cat. B4740; ibid. Temp. Acc. C254 (uncat.), papers of Mr. J. Warren.
  • 64. P.R.O., MAF 68/2121.
  • 65. E.R.O., sale cat. B1208, B2700.
  • 66. Ibid. D/DSb T10.
  • 67. Ibid. Temp. Acc. C 254 (uncat.), Papers of Mr. J. Warren; D. M. Kettle, 'Village of Fordham', p. 11.
  • 68. E.R.O., D/F 129/6/1.
  • 69. Ibid. sale cat. B3467.
  • 70. Ibid. sale cat. B5269, D862; E.C.S. 25 May 1979.
  • 71. D. M. Kettle, 'Village of Fordham', pp. 6-7; inf. from Mrs. D. M. Kettle.
  • 72. E.R.O., sale cat. D862.
  • 73. Ibid. sale cat. D1034; inf. from Miss A. Green.
  • 74. Eve. Gaz. 26 Apr. 1993; inf. from Mrs. J. Kay.
  • 75. Colch. Borough Council, Fordham Village Appraisal, 22.
  • 76. V.C.H. Essex, i. 552; E.R.O., D/DU 646/8.
  • 77. E.R.O., D/DWe M18; D/DLl M17, rot. 8.
  • 78. H. Benham, Some Essex Watermills, 83-4; E.R.O., D/ABR 21, f. 179; ibid. D/DC 23/8; Essex Map (1777).
  • 79. Inf. from owner.
  • 80. K. G. Farries, Essex Windmills, iv. 19-20.
  • 81. White's Dir. Essex (1863), 138; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870).
  • 82. E.R.O., D/CT 142.
  • 83. Ibid. D/DU 559/95; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870); O.S. Map 6", Essex XXVII. NW (1881 edn.); P. Ryan, Brick in Essex, the Clayworking Craftsmen and Gazetteer of Sites, 98-9.
  • 84. E.R.O., D/RLw M4/5, p. 713; ibid. D184, sale cat.; Colch. Borough Council, Fordham Village Appraisal, 27-8; inf. from Mrs. J. Kay.
  • 85. D. M. Kettle, 'Village of Fordham', p. 10.