Wormingford: Economic history

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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, 'Wormingford: Economic history', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, (London, 2001) pp. 301-303. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol10/pp301-303 [accessed 30 May 2024].

. "Wormingford: Economic history", in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, (London, 2001) 301-303. British History Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol10/pp301-303.

. "Wormingford: Economic history", A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, (London, 2001). 301-303. British History Online. Web. 30 May 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol10/pp301-303.


Wormingford is a parish of early woodland clearance, (fn. 1) and con- siderable arable farming was recorded from the Middle Ages. Between 1066 and 1086 the number of demesne ploughs increased from 3 to 4, and the men continued to hold 2 ploughs, suggesting a slight increase in the area under cultivation. The 19 sokemen had 2 ploughs. Total stock grew from 67 to 346, including an increase in sheep from 6 to 200, and goats from 15 to 47. In 1086 there were 7 beehives. (fn. 2)

In 1086 there was 20 a. of meadow. (fn. 3) Many holdings, recorded from the 13th century onwards, included strips in meadows alongside the river. Some were called 'half-year lands' in the 19th century, suggesting that the land was commonable after the hay had been cut. (fn. 4)

Gernons manor, in the north-east corner of the parish, apparently had the largest demesne, consisting in 1327 of 120 a. of arable, 8 a. of meadow, and 12 a. of pasture, but some of the land may have been in neighbouring parishes. (fn. 5) Wood Hall manor contained 90 a. of arable, 6 a. of pasture, and 1 a. of meadow in 1332, mainly south of the Bures road. (fn. 6) Wormingford Hall manor in Wormingford and Mount Bures in 1339 comprised 60 a. of arable worth 4d. an acre, another 30 a. worth 3d. an acre, 6 a. of meadow, and 20 a. of pasture. (fn. 7) In 1498 Cooks in the south-east quarter, described in 1652 as a free- hold of Little Horkesley manor, included 40 a. of arable, 40 a. of pasture, and 20 a. of meadow. (fn. 8) Mixed farming was carried on at Bowdens farm beside the Stour in the 16th century. (fn. 9)

Church Hall manor lay in the north of the parish, presumably including the 8 a. of land, partly bordering the river Stour, which Thomas le Harpur gave to the prioress and nuns of Wix priory c. 1240. (fn. 10) About 1400, when the demesne was leased to tenants, there was one plough, and wheat, rye, and oats were cultivated in two 26-a. fields: Blakemandown, first recorded in 1322, which survived in 1838 as two fields east of the vicarage house, and Standonfeld; in addition 4 a. of peas were grown in Cherchecroft. (fn. 11) Livestock included sheep, cows, and pigs. In 1403 the farm buildings were neglected. (fn. 12) The prioress and nuns still exacted carrying services on foot to and from Wormingford at their manor of Wix c. 1400. (fn. 13)

In 1086 there was woodland for 116 swine. (fn. 14) Alder groves near the river Stour were recorded in the early 13th century. (fn. 15) A piece of land called Luttesley in the 13th century, and Poleghelegh which bordered Robert of Horkesley's wood in 1290, were probably assarts near the Little Horkesley boundary. (fn. 16) A croft called Edelhey in 1234, probably Eadley and Road Eadley fields in 1838, may have been another assart in the south-west of the parish where those and other field names indicate earlier woodland. (fn. 17) Wood Hall manor included 24 a. of wood in 1324, and Cooks included 10 a. of wood in 1498. (fn. 18) Wormingford Hall manor included an inclosed alder grove in 1525. (fn. 19) Wormingford grove of c. 15 a., part of Church Hall manor, was a man- aged wood in the 16th century. (fn. 20) In 1838 only c. 25 a. of woodland remained: c. 7 a. in the south-west, c. 9 a. near Maidstones, and some small plantations near the church and vicarage. (fn. 21)

Between 1066 and 1086 the value of the main manor increased from £4 to £6, while the value of the sokemen's holdings remained 40s. (fn. 22) The parish was one of the poorer in Lexden hundred; in 1327 its assessment for subsidy was only 18th highest out of the 24 places, Margery Poynings at Wormingford Hall manor and Joan Gernon at Gernons being the highest assessed of the 15 taxpayers. (fn. 23) Wormingford occupied a similar position in 1524 when 30 people were assessed. (fn. 24)

Some copyholds were enfranchised in the 16th century. Church Hall manor c. 1528 had 18 copyholds, each of less than 5 a., amounting to 30 a., considerably less than the 127 a. of demesne land; there were no freeholds. (fn. 25) By 1599 there were 9 demesne rents, 3 of them paid on copyholds the lord had bought, 7 free, and 6 copyhold rents. (fn. 26) On Wormingford Hall manor between 1525 and 1577 the number of copy-holders fell from 22 to 19; freeholders, 8 of whom were also copyholders, increased from 28 to 30. (fn. 27) By 1599 the lord had made small additions to his demesne lands and had sold several copyholds as freeholds, including several to William Lynne who was building up his family estate. (fn. 28)

From the late 14th century until the beginning of the 18th the Waldegrave family of Small- bridge (Suff.) and their relatives owned much of the parish, and some of them lived at Worm- ingford Hall. Estates were being acquired by wealthy men of London like the Mannocks, the Denhams, and the Grimstons, (fn. 29) and of Col- chester, like Robert Flisp (fl. 1405), (fn. 30) Richard Thurston (d. 1581), and William Browne (d. 1573) and his son Robert (d. 1595). (fn. 31) In the 17th and 18th centuries Cooks and the Hull were held by the Lynne family of Little Horkesley, (fn. 32) and Bowdens by the Scarlett family of Colchester. (fn. 33) About 1700 Christopher Whichcote, a London merchant, sold land in Wormingford. (fn. 34)

In 1778 there were nine or ten substantial farmers and most of the rest of the population were cottagers and labourers. (fn. 35) In 1839 the largest landowner was J. J. Tufnell of Great Waltham, lord of Wormingford Hall and Church Hall manors. Other large holdings were the Garnons estate, the Wood Hall estate, Longs and The Grove, Maidstones, and Harveys, most of whose owners were not resident. (fn. 36) Many farms crossed parish boundaries, for example, The Grove partly in West Bergholt and Rochfords partly in Fordham. (fn. 37) Bergholt Hall farm in West Bergholt and Vinesse farm in Little Horkesley extended into Wormingford. (fn. 38)

Arable farming increased. By 1775 the 193 a. of the Wood Hall estate were mainly arable. (fn. 39) In 1813 the parish yields of wheat, barley, and peas were about average for Essex. (fn. 40) In 1835 on Harvey's farm a 4-course rotation was practised of (1) wheat, barley, or oats, (2) clover or trefoil, (3) wheat, and (4) fallow with or without turnips. (fn. 41) By 1838 a total of 1,934 a., equivalent to 88.5 per cent of titheable acreage, was arable, and there were 241 a. of meadow. (fn. 42) In 1870 the chief crops were wheat, barley, and oats. (fn. 43)

In 1843 there were 11 farmers, (fn. 44) and 15 in 1848. (fn. 45) In 1851 the five largest farms ranged from 121 a. to 425 a. and employed from 10 to 19 labourers. Between 1851 and 1891 the size of farms increased whilst the number of farmers fell from 13 to 5 and of agricultural labourers from 113 to 104. (fn. 46) A threshing machine toured the farms. Because of the seasonal and limited nature of arable farming, young men walked to Mersea for work at haymaking time. (fn. 47)

Low wages, especially at times of high food prices, (fn. 48) as well as the lack of one dominant land- owner, and the high proportion of farm labourers in a period of increasing mechanisation, contributed to discontent in Wormingford in the 19th century. In 1823 farm workers threatened to burn their employers' farms if their wages were not increased, but the ringleaders were prosecuted. (fn. 49) The farmers firmly opposed the vicar's idea to set up a school c. 1825, consider- ing it 'inexpedient to overeducate the poor'. (fn. 50) Farm labourers joined the Tendring hundred trade union c. 1836, (fn. 51) and in 1850 men working at Long Acres farm struck successfully for an increase in wages from 9d. to 10d. a day, but in 1851 two of their leaders were deported to Botany Bay for sheepstealing. (fn. 52) Thirteen incen- diary attacks were recorded in the parish in the 19th century. (fn. 53) Membership of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union was strong from 1874 until 1889 when the Wormingford branch closed. Members often encouraged union activity in neighbouring parishes. Labourers were in a relatively strong position because emi- gration reduced the labour supply by 22 per cent, while employment on Wormingford farms decreased by only 17 per cent. The branch was restarted in 1892, when there was also a small branch of the Eastern Counties Labour Fed- eration, but from 1894 union activity declined. (fn. 54) The reduction of agricultural wages in 1919 led to protests, but the farmers' opposition limited union revival. (fn. 55)

In 1905 arable still predominated but the trend was to mixed farming. There were two farms of more than 300 a., nine of 50-300 a., and four of less than 50 a. The main crops were wheat (410 a.), oats (330 a.), and barley (302 a.), with turnips (213 a.) and small quantities of veg- etables. There were also 514 a. of clover, 339 a. of grass, and 653 sheep, 191 pigs, 84 cows, and 63 horses. (fn. 56) The Grove farm of c. 170 a., for example, contained mostly arable with a little pasture in 1906. After the First World War arable farming became even less profitable: in 1912 Harvey's farm was mainly arable, but by 1937 it comprised 35 a. of pasture and only 23 a. of arable. (fn. 57)

There was a fishery in 1086, (fn. 58) and fishing in the Stour by boat was recorded c. 1240. (fn. 59) Worm- ingford Hall manor had a separate fishery in 1435, perhaps the fishery in the Mere mentioned in 1742. (fn. 60)

There was a mill in 1086. (fn. 61) A watermill recorded at Gernons manor in 1240, (fn. 62) or a sub- sequent one, was sold in 1769. (fn. 63) Wood Hall manor probably once had a windmill in Wind- mill field south of the manor house. (fn. 64) Church Hall manor had a mill, recorded in the mid 15th century, and Wormingford Hall manor had grain and fulling mills in 1480. (fn. 65) The watermill recorded in 1743 was probably that on the Stour north of the church, the only one surviving in 1838. (fn. 66) R. J. and W. Stannard had a corn milling business in 1848. (fn. 67) C. Hitchcock bought the mill in 1879. It was burnt down in 1929 and left derelict. In 1985 the original sluice gates were restored. (fn. 68)

A glover and a tailor were recorded in 1582, and a weaver and a shoemaker in 1617. (fn. 69) The medieval fulling mill and references to domestic spinning in the workhouse indicate that Worm- ingford was involved in the north Essex cloth industry. (fn. 70) Brickmaking was recorded south of the Mere in the 16th century. (fn. 71) Gravel and sand were extracted south-west of the Mere for repairing roads in the late 18th century and early 19th. (fn. 72) There was a blacksmith's shop in Church House from 1680 or earlier. (fn. 73) There were also blacksmiths at Gernons, the Crown, and the Queen's Head. (fn. 74) In 1769 there was a malting at Gernons. (fn. 75) A rat catcher was recorded in 1863 and 1881. (fn. 76)

Women's work included osier peeling at Bottengoms for basket makers. The number of domestic servants declined from 25 in 1851 to 14 in 1891, but by 1891 as many as 23 women were employed in tailoring outwork. Repre- sentatives of Lever's and Hollington's clothing firms in Colchester came once a week until c. 1918 to issue and collect work, but thereafter sent out bundles by carrier. (fn. 77)

As numbers employed in arable farming declined further in the 20th century people either migrated or found alternative employment, increasingly outside the parish. Worming- ford failed to derive the economic benefit that a railway in the parish would have brought. By 1929 there were two poultry farms, and in 1937 there was a dog-breeding business. (fn. 78) By 1984 most people worked outside the parish, some on a small industrial estate at Fordham. (fn. 79) In 1995 a factory on the airfield site employed 60 people producing halal chickens for the Moslem com- munity, mostly in east London. (fn. 80)


  • 1. cf. E.A.T. 3rd ser. xxvi. 133-44.
  • 2. V.C.H. Essex, i. 517.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. B.L. Harl Ch. 50. G. 27; E.R.O., D/DQu 129.
  • 5. Cal. Inq. p.m. vi, p. 479; Feet of F. Essex, iii. 26.
  • 6. Abbrev. Rot. Orig. (Rec. Com.), ii. 67; E.R.O., D/DEl T338.
  • 7. P.R.O., C 135/60, no. 6.
  • 8. Cal. Inq. p.m. Hen. VII, ii, p. 65; E.R.O., D/DZe 21.
  • 9. P.R.O., PROB 2/54.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/DTu 264; D/DU 40/51.
  • 11. P.R.O., E 40/13722, 14540; E.R.O., D/CT 412.
  • 12. P.R.O., SC 2/174/31.
  • 13. Ibid. SC 12/23/5.
  • 14. V.C.H. Essex, i. 517.
  • 15. B.L. Harl. Ch. 48.1.41; ibid. 50.G. 21.
  • 16. Ibid. 51. G. 22; ibid. 44.E. 17.
  • 17. P.R.O., E 40/14039; E.R.O., D/CT 412.
  • 18. Feet of F. Essex, ii. 213; Cal. Inq. p.m. Hen. VII, ii, p. 65.
  • 19. E.R.O., D/DGe M212.
  • 20. P.R.O., E 318/16/742; ibid. C 66/1154.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/CT 412.
  • 22. V.C.H. Essex, i. 517.
  • 23. Med. Essex Community, 24.
  • 24. E.R.O., T/A 427/1/7, transcript of P.R.O., E 179/ 108/154; the 1525 assessment does not survive.
  • 25. P.R.O., E 36/163.
  • 26. E.R.O., D/DGe M223.
  • 27. Ibid. D/DGe M212-13.
  • 28. Ibid. D/DGe M223.
  • 29. Above, this par., Manors; E.R. xxxviii. 179.
  • 30. V.C.H. Essex, ix. 59.
  • 31. Emmison, Elizabethan Life: Wills of Essex Gentry and Merchants, 169-70, 313.
  • 32. E.R.O., D/DU 555/25; ibid. D/CT 412.
  • 33. E.R. xlix. 120.
  • 34. Fragmenta Genealogica, iv. 13.
  • 35. Lamb. Pal. Libr., Lowth Papers 6.
  • 36. E.R.O., D/CT 412; Beaumont, Wormingford, a Short Hist. 9.
  • 37. E.R.O., Sale Cat. B4045, B215.
  • 38. Ibid. D/DU 467/4; above, Little Horkesley, Econ.
  • 39. Ibid. D/DH 1 A92.
  • 40. A. Young, Essex Agric. 322, 325, 342, 345, 367.
  • 41. E.R.O., D/DEl T 175.
  • 42. Ibid. D/CT 412.
  • 43. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870).
  • 44. P.O. Dir. Essex (1843).
  • 45. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 132.
  • 46. P.R.O., HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 11/1799, RG 12/1416.
  • 47. Beaumont and Taylor, Wormingford, an Eng. Village, 70-1.
  • 48. Land, Labour and Agric. 1700-1920, ed. B. A. Holder- ness and M. Turner, 69-90.
  • 49. E.R.O., Q/SBb 472/19, 65.
  • 50. Nat. Soc. file.
  • 51. A. F. J. Brown, Meagre Harvest, 141-2.
  • 52. Beaumont and Taylor, Wormingford, an Eng. Village, 72.
  • 53. S. Hussey and L. Swash, Horrid Lights (Essex Studies v), 13; e.g. E.C.S. 20 Jan. 1854.
  • 54. Brown, Meagre Harvest, 142-3.
  • 55. Beaumont and Taylor, Wormingford, an Eng. Village, 65.
  • 56. P.R.O., MAF 68/2121.
  • 57. E.R.O., Sale Cat. B4045, B215, B1149, B3850.
  • 58. V.C.H. Essex, i. 517.
  • 59. E.R.O., D/DU 40/51.
  • 60. P.R.O., C 139/69; E.R.O., D/DTu 271.
  • 61. V.C.H. Essex, i. 517.
  • 62. B.L. Harl. Ch. 50.G.26; 52.A.39.
  • 63. Ipswich Jnl. 3 June 1769.
  • 64. E.R.O., D/CT 412.
  • 65. P.R.O., SC 6/849/27; SC 6/1122/8.
  • 66. E.R.O., D/DTu 271; ibid. D/CT 412.
  • 67. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 132.
  • 68. Beaumont and Taylor, Wormingford, an Eng. Village, 53; Beaumont, Wormingford, a Short Hist. 26; Eve. Gaz. 12 Dec. 1985.
  • 69. E.R.O., Q/SR 80/69, 216/34.
  • 70. P.R.O., SC 6/1122/8; Brown, Meagre Harvest, 2; below, this par., Local Govt.
  • 71. E.C.C., SMR 9197.
  • 72. O.S. Map 1/1,250, Essex XVIII.5 (1887 edn.); E.R.O., D/P 185/21/1-2.
  • 73. E.R.O., D/DE1 T339.
  • 74. Beaumont, Wormingford, a Short Hist. 31.
  • 75. Ipswich Jnl. 3 June 1769.
  • 76. White's Dir. Essex (1863), 147; P.R.O., RG 11/1799.
  • 77. P.R.O., HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 12/1416; Beaumont and Taylor, Wormingford, an Eng. Village, 74-6.
  • 78. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1929, 1937).
  • 79. E.C.S. 16 Nov. 1984.
  • 80. Eve. Gaz. 7 Feb. 1995.