Great Horkesley: Economic history

Pages 226-229

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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The extent of Anglo-Saxon and medieval assarting is shown by many minor woodland place-names such as Thrift Farm, Woodlands, Westwood green, Breewood Hall, and Woodhouse. (fn. 1) The 18 villani of 1066 and 1086 were considerably outnumbered by bordarii, who increased from 33 to 42 between those dates; the change was perhaps attributable, as elsewhere, to woodland clearance. Although the tenants already held 10 ploughs by 1086, much woodland and waste probably remained in the south of the parish at that date. (fn. 2)

Little Horkesley priory had common pasture for pigs, sheep, goats, and other animals in Cestrewald c. 1130. (fn. 3) Although the wood of Cestrewald in Great Horkesley was recorded in 1262, much of it was apparently cleared during the 13th century. (fn. 4) Woodland for 600 swine in 1086 still produced 40s. rent to the lords of Nayland in 1181, presumably for pannage, but by 1279-80 it was worth only 2s. (fn. 5) In the period 1293-6 new increments of rent were provided by small encroachments at Pitchbury and Cestrewald, the last stages in the clearance that created the heathland landscape of later centuries; both the heath of Cestrewald and an increment of rent from a William of the Heath were recorded in 1293-4. (fn. 6) A little of the earlier wood remained until c. 1767 when 34 a. of pasture formerly part of Chesterwell wood was stubbed. (fn. 7) Ten years later there was only a small remnant at Pitchbury, which was a coppice wood in 1817. (fn. 8)

In 1086 the demesne farm on the Essex portion of Nayland manor had 2 ploughs and 7 servi, perhaps located in the north of the parish near the river Stour and Nayland's demesne park. Abutting the park were extensive meadows, comprising 24 a. in 1086. Wodefen, Brunefen, and the 'common fen' together produced hay worth 110s. 8d. in 1279-80, and in the following year 54 tenants mowed and 14 spread grass on the Essex meadows. The 'Common fen' was probably Tunman (later Churn) meadow, shared between Great and Little Horkesley. (fn. 9)

The park, the Frith, Pitchbury, and Cestrewald produced large revenues from pasture, pannage, timber, alders, and thorns: 100s. 8d. from herbage in 1275-6 and 40s. 2d. from thorns and alders in 1279-80. The park's old fencing was sold in 1279-80 and in the following year new hedges and ditches were constructed. In 1295-6 the park supplied pasture for 83 beasts, presumably cattle. (fn. 10) A custom known as 'Rodfall', possibly medieval in origin, whereby adjoining owners had the right to fell timber within a rod of the park boundary, apparently survived in 1949. (fn. 11)

In 1392-3 Great Horkesley's demesne farm probably comprised 110 a. of arable, 46 a. of meadow, 20 a. of pasture, and an alder wood. Its free tenants paid £13 4s. ½d. rent, and the manor also received other rents in kind, 108 summer and winter works valued at ½d. each, and leasehold rents worth 31s. 8d. (fn. 12) By 1509 the manor apparently comprised 200 a. of arable, 100 a. of pasture, 40 a. of meadow, 20 a. of heath, 10 a. of wood, 10 a. of moor, and 10 a. of marsh. (fn. 13) The Woodhouse estate in the south of the parish, which had probably comprised 20 a. of arable and 1½ a. of wood in 1361, had considerably expanded by 1580 when it comprised 60 a. of arable, 10 a. of meadow, 60 a. of pasture, 20 a. of wood, 200 a. of furze, and 10s. rent. (fn. 14) In 1621 its owner reserved rights to timber, birches, sallows, willows, and alders, and accused the tenant of damaging the barns and stable with his cattle and making a hogwash out of the brick dovehouse. (fn. 15)

Tenant farmers in the 16th century grew wheat, rye, maslin, peas, and oats, and some had large sheep flocks and cattle herds. Richard Horsepit, who probably lived at Hospytts on Horkesley Causeway, bequeathed 80 sheep and 14 beasts, probably cattle, in 1562. (fn. 16) Tenant landholding was organized around 'reeveships', otherwise 'bailiffships', first recorded in 1516, which were apparently based on yardlands or half-yardlands of 24 a. (fn. 17) By 1607 their ownership had fragmented, but elements of their original organization had been retained, probably for administrative convenience. Twelve 'reeveships', each with the suffix 'Yard' as in Knights Yard and Churchland Yard, were then held by one or two tenants who collected rents, probably rents of assize, from 71 other tenants who each held between 1 and 14 small parcels of land. In addition, 14 'haywardships' were responsible for collecting other rents, perhaps commuted service obligations, from 26 tenants each holding between 1 and 5 named tenements. Those were mostly sub-divisions of 24 a., described either as 'servage' (typically 24 a. or 12 a.), 'customary' (9 a., 6 a., or 3 a.), or 'warelands' (apparently freeholds, 3 a.). (fn. 18) The terminology survived as late as 1704, and some ancient yardlands may have been preserved in the layouts of the many small compact farms that still survived in 1840. (fn. 19)

In the later 13th century the manor's tenants paid a customary forest due called 'Woderyt', perhaps sharing a common origin with a similar payment owed from Kingsgwood heath in Mile End. (fn. 20) In 1671 tenants were allowed to take two loads of brushwood for 'fireboote' from Castleland, either the area around Pitchbury or land belonging to Colchester castle near Kingswood in Mile End. (fn. 21) A load of broom faggots crushed a man in 1578 when his cart overturned, and two tenants cut furze illegally in 1667. (fn. 22) Cottagers inclosed waste illegally in 1630, 1641, 1651, and 1667. (fn. 23)

About 1813 it was believed that inclosure of Great Horkesley heath would improve its value from 4s. 6d. to 14s. an acre. (fn. 24) The lord of the manor applied in 1812 to inclose Horkesley and Boxted heaths and despite the opposition of Colchester corporation, who claimed that the heathland was part of Kingswood and thus belonged to the borough, common rights were extinguished in 1814 and the heath inclosed by Act of Parliament in 1815. (fn. 25) The 82 claims for compensation reveal that the heath had provided furze, gravel, turf, clay, and fuel, as well as grazing for horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, and asses. Stints varied from the single cow belonging to the Rose and Crown inn to cattle and great numbers of sheep belonging to Breewood Hall. (fn. 26) In 1817 the newly inclosed lands were 'wet and springy hills' and 'vales of gravelly clay', unproductive before improvement. (fn. 27)

The combination of pastoral resources, location on a major route from East Anglia into Essex, and proximity to Colchester favoured cattle farming. Meadow and pasture were sold for winter grazing of eight bullocks c. 1294. (fn. 28) In 1345 a Great Horkesley man was a pledge in a plea of debt between two Colchester tanners. (fn. 29) The family of a Great Horkesley tanner Henry Creak (d. 1562) apparently gave their name to Creak's grove in Little Horkesley. (fn. 30) Other tanners were recorded in 1574-5 and 1652, and a glover in 1596. (fn. 31) In 1592 two men were accused of stealing four heifers, presumably on their way to Colchester market, from a Norfolk yeoman at Horkesley. (fn. 32) In 1660 a tenant in Great Horkesley and on Cooks Hall manor, West Bergholt, worked as a butcher, and other butchers were recorded in Great Horkesley in 1665, 1704, and 1780. (fn. 33) In 1859 and 1874 four farmers were also cattle-dealers. (fn. 34)

In the 18th century there was a 9-a. market garden with 400 fruit trees which supplied Colchester. (fn. 35) In 1801 just over one third of the parish was arable, the chief crops being wheat, barley, oats, and peas, with small quantities of beans, rye, and potatoes. Yields of wheat and barley in the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries were below average. Underdraining could produce abundant crops in favourable seasons, but otherwise productivity was reduced by lodging, blight, and mildew; on the poorer soils, as at Woodhouse, yields were scanty and uncertain. (fn. 36) In 1815 the Norfolk four-course rotation was used on land at Spratts Marsh, and in 1817 peas, beans, or tares were substituted for clover where it was apt to fail. On the most productive lands a fifth course of oats was sometimes employed. Sheep were fed on turnips in winter; the few cows were kept mainly for domestic dairying. (fn. 37) In the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries, the Woodhouse estate was let on leases for 12 or 21 years, the tenants prohibited from taking more than two corn crops successively, excluding peas, turnips, and coleseed if hoed properly. (fn. 38)

In 1840 arable cultivation dominated agriculture with 2,592 a. under the plough, and only 258 a. of meadow and 135 a. of woodland. There were 23 farms of 50 a. or over, and many more smallholders and cottagers. Two of the largest farms, Breewood Hall (288 a.) and Woodhouse (184 a.), were tenanted. The Breewood Hall estate kept another 77 a. in hand, including a new plantation east of Spratt's Marsh. George Sadler and William Sadler Stebbing were owner-occupiers of estates of over 200 a., while J. Stannard at Mount Hall was an important tenant farmer. (fn. 39)

In 1860 William Sadler Stebbing at Old House grew wheat, barley, and peas, with grass and clover for feed. His stock included 7 dairy cows, 3 calves, a shorthorn bull, pigs, and c. 100 sheep. His New Barn farm was run on a different scheme, with two sows and piglets and fattening cattle for which he grew oats and mangelwurzel. (fn. 40) In the 1870s the chief crops were wheat, barley, oats, turnips, and mangelwurzel. (fn. 41) Some agricultural produce was probably exported along the Stour, perhaps by the four bargemen, sons of the Horkesley lockkeeper recorded in 1871. (fn. 42)

Leading landowners called a meeting to discuss agricultural distress in January 1815. (fn. 43) In the later 19th century distress caused by agricultural depression led to the foundation of branches of both the National Agricultural Labourers Union and the Eastern Counties Labour Federation. (fn. 44) Nevertheless, the overall decline in arable production was relatively slight, and c. 2,300 a. were still under the plough in 1905. The main crops were clover (543 a.), oats (529 a.), wheat (388 a.), barley (298 a.), turnips and Swedes (191 a.), and mangel-wurzel (146 a.), but small acreages of peas, beans, cabbages, kohl rabi, vetch or tares, lucerne, and sugar beet were also sown. At the same time there was over 400 a. of pasture and meadow, and 125 a. of coppice. Livestock included 182 cattle, 526 sheep, and 272 pigs. (fn. 45)

Agricultural depression may have encouraged the establishment of more diverse businesses in the later 19th century. The three poulterers in Brick Kiln Lane in 1871 probably supplied Colchester, as may have the sausage-skin manufacturer at Brick Kiln farm in 1894. (fn. 46) In 1937 there were six substantial farmers each with over 150 a. probably mainly arable, (fn. 47) but the Grove in 1899, Westwood farm in 1914, and Woodhouse farm in 1925 specialized in poultry, and the last two had herds of Jersey and Friesian cattle. (fn. 48) In 1949 Westwood Park farm, which also had a dairy, grew sugar beet under contract to the processing factory at Felsted. (fn. 49) P. G. Rix, the largest farmer in the parish in 1997, grew substantial amounts of onions. (fn. 50)

A rose-grower in 1917 had been joined by another and two nurserymen by 1937. Diapers Nurseries in Brick Kiln Lane grew flowers, watercress, and mustard c. 1930, and another watercress grower had beds opposite Blackbrook farm. Pattinson's Fruit Farms were established at Brick Kiln farm by the 1930s, with a large acreage of apples and blackcurrants. (fn. 51) In 1975 Pitchbury farm grew 8¾ a. of blackcurrants and 5¼ a. of apples and pears. (fn. 52) In the later 20th century European Community policies led to the grubbing up and conversion to arable of many orchards. In the early 1980s Buntings Nurseries on Tog Lane had 4½ a. of glasshouses producing tomatoes and 1 a. producing flowers; they later engaged in research into biological control of crop pests. In the early 1990s they purchased Westwood Park as a business and conference center. (fn. 53)

Manorial tenants probably owed suit of mill to Nayland's water mill, recorded in 1086 and in the later 13th century. (fn. 54) A windmill near the site of the 19th-century Mill House on Horkesley Causeway was probably erected between 1813 and 1821. In 1842 it had two pairs of stones. It worked until 1870. (fn. 55)

A Horkesley clothmaker was recorded in 1460. (fn. 56) Another Horkesley man was fined in 1561-2 by the City of London's cloth market for a defective red cloth. In 1571 a Colchester clothier sold Chamberlains in Great Horkesley, and a weaver was recorded in 1577. (fn. 57) There was another weaver in 1648 and sayweavers in 1652 and 1669, and a Colchester baymaker held land in the parish in 1689. Another sayweaver, related to sayweavers in West Bergholt and Halstead, was accused of sheep-rustling in 1664-5. (fn. 58) A wool-comber was recorded in 1668, and another man described as a weaver in 1691 and 1693 was a wool-comber when he died in 1713. Other weavers were recorded in 1694 and 1697. (fn. 59) The occupier of Whitehouse farm had a tainter-yard c. 1700. (fn. 60) A lace-weaver was recorded in 1617. (fn. 61) Some weavers were employed by local businesses, but others were probably outworkers for clothiers from Colchester, Nayland, and Boxted. The industry declined in the 18th century and had probably disappeared long before 1841. (fn. 62)

As in Mile End, clayland clearance encouraged the medieval pottery industry. (fn. 63) Ten geese worth 2s. 1d. were received from potters' rents in 1279-80, and in 1293-4 another 12d. rent was paid by 12 newly arrived potters in Cestrewald. They may have occupied the site of Rookery farm on Horkesley Causeway, where potteries operated in the late 13th or the early 14th century. (fn. 64) Pottery production continued into the 15th century, the duke of Norfolk buying 132 pots from Horkesley in 1466. (fn. 65) A potmaker was recorded in 1755, and a house on the Woodhouse estate called Potkiln in 1763 was probably a site of coarse earthenware manufacture. (fn. 66)

In 1482 the duke of Norfolk bought 2,000 tiles from Richard Park of Horkesley, possibly for the house that became the Red Lion inn in Colchester. (fn. 67) By 1596 the brick and tile industry on the claylands of the heath was important enough to be inspected by searchers of tiles appointed by the Quarter Sessions who found three defective kilns. One of the kilns may have been at Kiln House at the western end of Brick Kiln Lane where 16th-century kiln debris has been found. (fn. 68) John Smith, who operated a kiln in 1596, was perhaps an ancestor of the brickmaker Peter Smith who dug up the highway on the heath in 1656-7. (fn. 69) In 1658 two other men dug similar pits. (fn. 70) Kiln waste of c. 1700, found north of Ivy Lodge Road, may be associated with the tilemaker recorded in 1687 or the brickmaker in 1708. (fn. 71) Tilehouse Farm is recorded from 1696. (fn. 72) Manufacture probably continued through the 18th century, and before 1813 Great Horkesley brickmakers supplied bricks for the walls around Rivers Hall, Boxted. There was a kiln on the site of Kiln House in 1817 which was operated by members of the Alston family into the later 19th century, and there were brick kilns and sheds on Great Horkesley manor in 1836. (fn. 73)

The largest occupational group in the parish in the 19th century were agricultural labourers, who accounted for over 20 per cent of the working population in 1851 and 1861. In 1851 fourteen farmers employed 98 of the 161 labourers so there was either a shortage of work or Horkesley men were frequently employed elsewhere. (fn. 74) Women were increasingly hired as out- workers for the Colchester textile industry. Three dressmakers and a silk-thrower were recorded in 1841, and two milliners, six dressmakers, six tailoresses, and two needlewomen and seamstresses in 1851. By 1871 there were 20 tailoresses and six dressmakers, (fn. 75) mainly the wives and daughters of agricultural labourers. In 1861 three out of the four such women living in Barrack Yard on Horkesley Causeway were tailoresses. (fn. 76)

Although settlement slowly shifted towards Colchester, Great Horkesley remained a separate village in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries. Relatively few middle-class people lived there, although the large population on the Causeway attracted some small tradesmen by 1845, including a baker and two grocers. By 1871 there were three grocers near the Yew Tree inn. (fn. 77) In 1930 local businesses included a baker, a butcher, several building contractors, a garage, and a coal and coke merchant. (fn. 78) The presence of the Riverside Tea and Refreshment Rooms, providing accomodation in 1937, may reflect growing tourist interest in Dedham Vale and the Stour valley. (fn. 79)

In the later 20th century Great Horkesley became a dormitory settlement for Colchester and beyond, the proximity of the LondonColchester trunk road and Colchester North station providing easy commuting links between London, Chelmsford, and Colchester. Great Horkesley retained its village store in 1997, and there was a variety of small businesses along the route of the Colchester to Nayland road, including a wine shop, a garage, an agricultural implement exporter, and a roadwork contractor. Van Cols, a school photographer occupying the old school building on School Lane, was one of the largest local employers in 1997. (fn. 80)


  • 1. O.S. Map 1/25,000, TL 93 SE. (1973 edn.).
  • 2. V.C.H. Essex, i. 489-90.
  • 3. Bodl. MS. Rolls Essex 17.
  • 4. P.R.O., JUST 1/263B, rot. 10d.; H. M. Colvin, Building Accounts of Hen. III, 20; V.C.H. Essex, ii. 617; ix. 396, 404-5.
  • 5. V.C.H. Essex, i. 489-90; E.A.T. n.s. xix. 170; P.R.O., SC 6/1089/17.
  • 6. P.R.O., SC 6/1003/2.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/DJ 20/17.
  • 8. Essex Map (1777); E.R.O., Q/RDc 11B; ibid. D/P 205/3/1, f. 56.
  • 9. P.R.O., SC 6/1003/1-2; SC 6/1089/7, 16-17; E.R.O., D/DU 537/5.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/CT 184; P.R.O., SC 6/1003/1-2; SC 6/1089/7, 16-17.
  • 11. E.R. lviii. 215-16.
  • 12. P.R.O., C 136/78, no. 1.
  • 13. E.R.O., D/DU 23/48.
  • 14. Feet of F. Essex, iii. 131; v. 238.
  • 15. P.R.O., C 3/301/14.
  • 16. E.R.O., D/ACR 1, ff. 102, 168; ibid. D/ABW 28/22.
  • 17. Ibid. D/ACR 2, f. 47; cf. Essex Wills, ii. 138.
  • 18. E.R.O., D/DGw M39.
  • 19. Ibid. D/DGw M33, rott. 7d., 14, 23, 33; D/DGw M34, rott. 17, 26; D/DGw M35, rot. 7d.; ibid. D/CT 184.
  • 20. P.R.O., SC 6/1003/2; SC 6/1089/7.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/DGw M24, rot. 2; V.C.H. Essex, ix. 243, 247.
  • 22. E.R.O., T/A 428/1, p. 73; ibid. D/DGw M33, rott. 17d., 47.
  • 23. Ibid. Q/SR 270/34; ibid. D/DGw M33, rott. 1, 15d.; D/DU 1157.
  • 24. A. Young, General View of Agric. of Essex, ii. 154.
  • 25. E.R.O., D/DEl O7/1, O7/9; Chelm. Chron. 9 Sept. 1814.
  • 26. E.R.O., D/DEl O7/2, pp. 29, 30, 32, 36, 39.
  • 27. Ibid. D/P 205/3/1.
  • 28. P.R.O., SC 6/1003/2.
  • 29. E.R.O., D/B 5 Cr7, rot. 1.
  • 30. Essex Wills, i. 231-2.
  • 31. E.R.O., Q/SR 53/51, 136/56; ibid. D/DGw M33, rot. 19.
  • 32. Cal. Assize Rec. Essex, Eliz. I, p. 395.
  • 33. E.R.O., Q/SR 383/25; ibid. D/DEl T353; D/DLl M9/3, M10; ibid. D/ACW 17/50; D/ACR 12, f. 21.
  • 34. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1859, 1874).
  • 35. A. F. J. Brown, Essex at Work, 1700-1815, 38.
  • 36. E.A.T. 3rd ser. v. 196; Young, General View of Agric. of Essex, i. 237; E.R.O., D/P 205/3/1, ff. 2, 4, 57.
  • 37. E.R.O., D/P 178/3/4; D/P 205/3/1, f. 4.
  • 38. Ibid. D/DB T1046.
  • 39. Ibid. D/CT 184.
  • 40. Ibid. D/DEl T217.
  • 41. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870, 1874).
  • 42. P.R.O., RG 10/1693.
  • 43. Colch. Gaz. 14 Jan. 1815.
  • 44. A. F. J. Brown, Meagre Harvest, 60, 62; 65, 71, 94, 96, 173, 185, 202-03.
  • 45. P.R.O., MAF 68/2121.
  • 46. Ibid. RG 10/1693; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1894).
  • 47. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1937).
  • 48. E.R.O., T/P 303/2; ibid. sale cat. GC 25; ibid. Acc. C32 (uncat.), no. 141.
  • 49. Ibid. sale cat. B910.
  • 50. E.M.C. Roper, Seedtime: Hist. Essex Seeds, 193; inf. from P. Hills.
  • 51. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1917, 1937); May, More of the Horkesleys, photos. 80-1, 100; B. Lawrence, Horkesley Remembered, ed. C. Beswick (priv. print. 1994): copy in E.C.L. Colch.; H. Gardner, Gt. Horkesley (priv. print. 1983), [3]: copy in E.C.L. Colch.; inf. from J. Appleby.
  • 52. E.R.O., sale cat. C252.
  • 53. Gardner, Gt. Horkesley, [3]; inf. from Buntings Nurseries.
  • 54. V.C.H. Essex, i. 490; P.R.O., SC 6/1003/1; SC 6/1089/7, 16-17.
  • 55. K. G. Farries, Essex Windmills, iv. 53.
  • 56. Cal. Pat. 1452-61, 618.
  • 57. E.H.R. lvii. 368; E.R.O., Q/SR 65/40; ibid. D/B 5 Cr135, rot. 6d.
  • 58. E.R.O., Q/SR 403/19, 403/72-3, 403/90-1, 416/96, 421/79; ibid. D/DGw M34, rot. 20; D. H. Allen, Essex Quarter Sessions Order Book, 3-4.
  • 59. E.R.O., D/DGw M34, rot. 29; D/DEl T216; ibid. Q/SR 335/60, 468/33, 480/30; ibid. D/ACR 12, f. 233.
  • 60. Ibid. D/DR M30 [undated].
  • 61. Ibid. D/ACW 8/12.
  • 62. Brown, Essex at Work, 1700-1815, 1-2; E.R.O., D/DGw M35, rott. 7, 10; D/DHt T138/9-10; cf. V.C.H. Essex, ix. 50, 135-7; P.R.O., HO 107/334/8.
  • 63. V.C.H. Essex, ix. 405.
  • 64. P.R.O., SC 6/1003/2; SC 6/1089/17; E.A.T. 3rd ser. vii. 33-60; J. P. Cotter, Colch. Arch. Rep. 7: Post-Roman pottery from excavations in Colchester, 1971-85, 109-10, 367.
  • 65. Cotter, Colch. Arch. Rep. 7, 367; E.R.O., D/B 5 Cr34, rot. 11d.
  • 66. E.R.O., D/DBt 1045; A. F. J. Brown, Prosperity and Poverty, 12; Cotter, Colch. Arch. Rep. 7, 367.
  • 67. V.C.H. Essex, ix. 44; J. Payne-Collier, Norfolk Household Accounts 1481-90 (Roxburghe Club, 1844), 30.
  • 68. E.R.O., Q/SR 137/73; May, Jockey Hill to the Stour, 'Road Names and their origins'.
  • 69. E.R.O., Q/SR 368/25, 371/57.
  • 70. Ibid. D/DGw M33, rot. 25.
  • 71. Ibid. D/DGw M34, rot. 17d.; ibid. D/ACR 12/145; E.C.C., SMR 11794.
  • 72. Essex Map (1777); E.R.O., D/DB T897.
  • 73. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1859); E.R.O., D/DHt T138/8; D/DEl O7/2B; ibid. D/CT 184; ibid. D/P 205/3/1, f. 66.; E.C.S. 15 Apr. 1836.
  • 74. P.R.O., HO 107/1782.
  • 75. Ibid. HO 107/334/8; HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 10/1693.
  • 76. Ibid. RG 9/1105.
  • 77. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1845); P.R.O., RG 10/1693.
  • 78. May, More of the Horkesleys, photo. 100.
  • 79. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1937).
  • 80. Inf. from P. Hills.