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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LITTLE HORKESLEY, a small rural parish, lies on the south bank of the river Stour, c. 6 miles north-west of Colchester. The southern half of the irregularly shaped ancient parish (1,039 a. or 421 ha.) was intermixed with Great Horkesley. The two parishes presumably once formed a single unit and have been closely connected throughout their history.
The Stour originally formed the northern parish boundary, but before 1672 its main course had moved leaving part of Wissington (Suff.) bordering Little Horkesley on its south bank. The western and southern boundaries follow field boundaries against Wormingford and West Bergholt, and the north-eastern boundary against Great Horkesley follows the valley of a small tributary of the Stour. (fn. 1) Two detached portions of Little Horkesley (15 a. and 12 a.) were transferred to Great Horkesley in 1883, and in 1889 a detached portion of Wormingford (15 a.) was transfered to Little Horkesley. (fn. 2) In 1955 the boundaries between Little and Great Horkesley were simplified by the transfer of 260 a. to and 38 a. from Little Horkesley. The exchange of land, which transferred Hay and Westwood greens to Little Horkesley, created a compact, roughly rectangular, parish of 1,261 a. (510 ha.). (fn. 3)
The land rises from 10 m. in the valleys of the Stour and its tributary up to a ridge at 45-50 m. near the church and manor house. The remainder of the parish lies on a slightly undulating plateau between 45 and 55 m. high. Most of the land is boulder clay, but the Stour and its tributary have cut through the clay to expose sand, gravel, and London clay, and there is a band of alluvium along the river where there are sizeable meadows. (fn. 4)
No major roads run through Little Horkesley. From a crossroads near Little Horkesley Hall minor roads lead to Great Horkesley, Wormingford, West Bergholt, and towards Nayland (Suff.). Other roads and tracks link isolated hamlets and farms to the main roads. Two footbridges over the Stour connect Little Horkesley with Wissington; that to Wiston mill may be ancient. (fn. 5)
Only 10 free and unfree tenants were recorded in 1086 and only 78 people paid poll tax in 1377. (fn. 6) In the early 17th century burials and baptisms were balanced, but from 1625 to 1660 baptisms were about 40 per cent higher than burials, suggesting population growth. (fn. 7) The number of households, however, apparently fell from 28 in 1640 to 21 in 1662. In 1723 there were 26 families, and in 1778 c. 30 houses. (fn. 8) In 1801 there were 202 inhabitants and the population grew over the first half of the 19th century to a peak of 253 in 1861. Thereafter it declined, to 181 by 1901, probably as the result of agricultural depression. There were still only 198 inhabitants in 1991. (fn. 9)
Cropmarks near Holts Farm may reveal prehistoric settlement. Chance finds include a neolithic axe near School Road and some Roman blue glass from north-west of Little Horkesley Hall. (fn. 10) The most important and probably earliest settlement site in the parish is the roughly rectangular enclosure containing the medieval manor house, church, and priory. (fn. 12) The Cluniac priory in Little Horkesley church was founded c. 1127 by Robert of Horkesley, lord of Little Horkesley Hall, and Beatrice his wife. The monastic household consisted of a prior and 2-4 monks, and the priory was dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525. (fn. 13) The priory buildings lay to the north of the church and were perhaps entered through the doorways discovered c. 1878 in the north walls of the nave and chancel. The monastic chapel probably extended east from the chancel and had a complete cloister on its north side; (fn. 14) it was apparently demolished shortly after 1555. (fn. 15) The surviving house is a long timber framed range of the early 16th century, probably part of the priory rather than built after the Dissolution. The ground floor had a cloister or loggia along the south side and the west end was jettied. On the first floor there was a corridor along part of the north side and a crown post roof. There is a 17th-century north wing at the west end and a 20th-century extension at the east end. (fn. 16)
All the early houses in the parish are timber- framed. The dispersed settlement pattern along Nayland and Vinesse Roads probably reflects Anglo Saxon or medieval assarting. Lower Dairy Farm retains a formerly open hall with jettied cross wing at its south end, the projecting gable carved with foliage and conventional monsters with initials I.H.K. and date 1601. (fn. 17) At the centre of Old Joscelyns, formerly Josselyns but called Baileys in 1777, is a late medieval cross wing jettied to the north and probably related to a hall against its east side, although it is not clear whether the existing range there is medieval or a 17th-century replacement. Early in the 17th century a long range was built to the west of the cross wing. It has a jetty along the north side and a crown-post roof. Areas of stencil wall painting survive on the first floor. Later in the 17th century a short north wing was added to the east end of the house. There was extensive restoration in the earlier 20th century under the direction of A. Blomfield when large formal gardens were laid out. (fn. 18)
The south wing of King's farmhouse is of the 15th century or earlier. The remains of two doorways show the range to have been truncated to the west. (fn. 19) The site of Vinesse Farm, probably the tenancy called the Veney in 1451, was occupied by a small two-storeyed house, barn, and cottage in 1765. (fn. 20) Gladwins farmhouse, formerly Hammond's Farm, is an early 17th-century house. The site may be linked to John Hamond recorded in 1467, and it may mark the site of Gladmans green recorded in 1661. (fn. 22)
Another early settlement may have been near Little Horkesley priory's freehold known as Holts. On Holts Road stands Upper Dairy Farm, an early 17th-century house, while the nearby Maltings Farm on School Road is a 17th- century house with parallel painted brick range to the rear. (fn. 23) Housing developments in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries were mainly small cottages and council houses, such as those on Nayland Road, the 19th-century cottages on Holts Road, and the council houses of the 1950s on School Road. In the late 20th century a few larger houses have been built, including a large French style house on Nayland Road designed by Raymond Erith and built 1969-70. (fn. 24)
No alehouses were recorded before the 19th century. Little Horkesley Hall's cellars were reputedly used as a temporary beerhouse after the main building was demolished c. 1830. (fn. 25) The Walnut Tree, a 17th-century house on Nayland Road, was a beerhouse c. 1874-84. A public house called the Beehive, first recorded in 1859, stands at the junction of School Road with Nayland Road. It was badly damaged by the bomb that destroyed the church in 1940, but was later rebuilt. (fn. 26)
H. C. Chambers's omnibus service between Colchester and Bures St. Mary (Suff.) called at Little Horkesley from c. 1875 to c. 1916. W. Norfolk & Sons ran a bus service from Colchester to Nayland through Little Horkesley after the Second World War. The firm was bought by Hedingham Omnibuses Ltd. c. 1992, and in 1996 the service had been reduced to one bus to Colchester and back on Saturdays only. (fn. 27)