Mount Bures: Economic history

Pages 72-74

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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Between 1066 and 1086, although ploughs and stock decreased, the value of Mount Bures manor increased from £7 to £11. (fn. 1) The parish was one of the poorest in Lexden hundred; in 1327 its assessment for subsidy was only 21st out of the 24 places, Andrew Sackville and John Hide being the highest assessed out of the 13 taxpayers. (fn. 2) Mount Bures occupied a similar position in 1524. (fn. 3) Between 1381 and 1560 from 10 to 19 men from Mount Bures became Colchester burgesses. (fn. 4) In 1662 only two houses had more than three hearths: George Osborne at Nortons had four, and George Marsh, presumably the tenant farmer at The Hall, had five. (fn. 5) Most of the north and centre of the parish was part of the land of Mount Bures manor, part of the east belonged to Wormingford Hall manor, much of the south was part of Crepping Hall manor, and a small amount of land in the west belonged to Loveney Hall in Wakes Colne. (fn. 6)

In 1086 there was woodland for 330 swine, and field names in the south-east and north-west of the parish suggest areas of earlier woodland. (fn. 7) The cultivation of willows and alders was recorded in 1318, (fn. 8) and there were alder groves at Cowfen and Cobbesfen in 1504 and 1555 and at Loveney Hall Fen in 1636. (fn. 9) In 1765, on a farm which included 3 a. of woodland, trees were to be coppiced. (fn. 10)

Little evidence of medieval farming survives. Between 1066 and 1086 the total number of ploughs fell from 10 to 7½ and of animals from 150 to 67, namely, decreases in sheep from 80 to 54, swine from 28 to 6, cattle from 14 to 7, horses from 2 to none, and goats from 26 to none. There were 12 a. of meadow in 1086, (fn. 11) and strips in the common meadow beside the river Stour, mentioned in 1625, survived in 1838. A common field south-east of Josselyns survived as a field name in 1838. (fn. 12)

In the 16th century there were many small crofts with a house and a few acres, like Cross Croft with 3 a. in 1555, and only five farms of more than 30 a., Hammonds, Old Saunders, Old Peartree, Well House, and Nortons. (fn. 13) In 1557 Mount Bures manor contained 120 a. of arable and 30 a. of pasture in Mount Bures, Fordham, and Wormingford. (fn. 14) Fruit trees were cultivated in 1617. (fn. 15)

From 1691 the Kingsbury family of Wormingford built up an estate, partly in Mount Bures. (fn. 16) About 1790 Abraham Newman bought 12 copy- and freeholds, straightened the field boundaries, enlarged Elms, Withers, and Nortons farms, and leased them with a few smaller holdings like Josselyns. (fn. 17) In the 18th century, besides the absentee lords of the manor, some small farms also had absentee owners, like members of the Lorkin family, described as gentlemen and merchants of Lavenham (Suff.), London, and Ipswich. In 1765 the tenant of one farm of 24 a. of arable and 3 a. of woodland had to manure the soil and practise a crop rotation, not taking more than two grain crops successively without a summer of fallow or a crop of peas or beans. The arable probably increased. About 1786 two closes of pasture called the Upper Grounds, in Mount Bures and Worming ford, were combined and converted to arable. (fn. 18)

In 1813 parish yields of wheat and barley were average for Essex. (fn. 19) In 1838, when 84 per cent of the parish (1,197 a.) was arable, the largest landowner was James Bourchier of Mount Bures manor who owned about a third of the parish. Other larger owners were members of the Josselyn and Brett families, John Rolt, and Green Wilkinson. (fn. 20) In 1867 Little Jennyes farm of 59 a. in Mount Bures and Bures Hamlet was a well maintained arable farm. (fn. 21) Mount Bures manor farm consisted of 256 a. in 1864, mostly arable with a little meadow and pasture. (fn. 22) The chief crops in 1870 were wheat, oats, and barley, and between 1878 and 1937 were wheat, beans, and barley. (fn. 23) In 1874 Mount Bures was described as a first class agricultural neighbourhood, and in 1885 Janks Barn and Janks Green farms were sold as good arable land. (fn. 24)

In the 1830s there was much poverty among labouring families. (fn. 25) In the mid 19th century there were the usual village wheelwrights and blacksmiths, and also in 1857, near the railway crossing, a beer shop and general store. (fn. 26) Between 1851 and 1881 there were c. 60 agricultural labourers in the parish, but agricultural depression reduced the number to 50 by 1891; (fn. 27) the Mount Bures branch of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union met at the Thatchers Arms. (fn. 28) A few women were employed in domestic service, and there were one or two tailoresses or dressmakers. (fn. 29) In 1897 Mount Bures was described as a very poor agricultural parish with no gentry. (fn. 30)

In 1905 one farm was of more than 300 a., six were between 50 and 300 a., and five were less than 50 a. About a third of the land was owner occupied and two thirds rented. The main crops were wheat (260 a.), barley (172 a.), turnips and swedes (87 a.), and oats (72 a.); small quantities of rye, vegetables, mangold, and vetch or tare were also grown. About a quarter of the parish was grass or clover, and there were 508 sheep, 200 pigs, 130 cows, and 60 horses. (fn. 31) In 1920 there were 5 farms of between 50 a. and 100 a., and 15 quite small holdings; 8 farms had recently changed owners, and 9 had absentee owners. (fn. 32) Mixed farming predominated. In 1929 one farmer had more than 150 a., and by 1937 there were two. (fn. 33) In 1937 Hammonds farm, alias Heathhouse, had 37 cows, 96 sheep, and 45 chickens; in the 1940s it was a model pig farm. (fn. 34)

W. McMaster from Scotland bought the Hall farm in 1930 and reared cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens, and grew wheat, oats, barley, rye, peas, beans, turnips, and cabbages. (fn. 35) By 1954, when the dairy herd was sold, there were 100 cows and 10,000 poultry and 124 a. arable and 100 a. of pasture. In 1953 most of the 75 a. of Rowneys in Mount Bures was arable with good crops of cereals, sugar beet, fodder beet, potatoes, and cabbages; pigs and battery hens were reared. (fn. 36) At Brook House farm, in a former part of Bures Hamlet in the north-east part of Mount Bures, cereals and other crops were grown, and cattle, pigs, and poultry kept in the 1950s. (fn. 37) Agricultural labourers were increasingly replaced by farm machinery. Before the Second World War some people moved away in search of employment and others took a succession of low paid jobs locally. Some young women still went into domestic service in the area and as far away as London. (fn. 38)

There is little evidence of industry. A fuller was murdered by a Fleming in 1393. (fn. 39) Teyn- torfeld, recorded in 1507, at Staunch farm near the Stour, was presumably a tenterfield connected with the cloth industry. Six fullers were recorded in 1522 in Mount Bures, Bures Hamlet, and Bures St. Mary. (fn. 40) One tailor was mentioned in 1589, one in 1602, and one in 1613. One weaver was recorded in 1623 and another in 1624. (fn. 41) David McMaster employed c. 100 people at The Hall manufacturing pig and poultry build- ings before the business closed c. 1962.

There was a mill in 1066, probably just north- west of the church at Cambridge brook where there are remains of a possible Anglo-Saxon watermill dam. (fn. 42) That mill was probably the one from which St. John's abbey, Colchester, received 13s. 4d. a year by gift of Jordan de Sackville (d. 1275). (fn. 43) Curdmill, a watermill near Staunch farm, existed before 1200. Millfield, included with Akermans lands, later Takeleys, may have been the site of a small fulling mill. (fn. 44) Doe's mill, just north of Wellhouse farm at Piotts green, was a postmill recorded from 1811 which survived until 1953; (fn. 45) it was using steam in 1886, and oil by 1914. (fn. 46) Newman's mill near Abrams farm was built c. 1819 and demolished in 1917. (fn. 47)

In 1991 perhaps as few as 14 people still worked on the land; most employed people com- muted to nearby towns. (fn. 48) In 1996 Staunch and Wellhouse farms amounting to 180 a., mostly arable, comprised the largest holding. Valley Green farm of 164 a. was being converted from dairy to arable farming, Elms farm of 138 a. was mainly arable, Abrams farm, 36 a. of which was in Mount Bures, was meadow and arable, and Fen Barn farm (60 a.) was a deer farm established in 1986 on former Hall farm land. The 112 a. remaining at the Hall farm was arable except for 10 a. of meadow; there were three smallholdings each of less than 10 a. From 1989 at New Withers, a pig farm of 50 a., feed cake was manufactured from various kinds of offal. (fn. 49)


  • 1. V.C.H. Essex, i. 551.
  • 2. Med. Essex Community, 22.
  • 3. E.R.O., T/A 427/1/2, ff. 30-1; T/A 427/1/7, ff. 28-9, transcripts of P.R.O., E 179/108/176, E 179/108/154.
  • 4. J. A. Galloway, 'Colch. and its Region, 1310-1560' (Edinburgh Univ. Ph.D. 1985), map 10.
  • 5. E.R.O., Q/RTh 1, f. 19.
  • 6. Below, Wakes Colne, Manors; Wormingford, Manors.
  • 7. V.C.H. Essex, i. 551; E.R.O., D/CT 60.
  • 8. P.R.O., C 146/2197.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/DMa M29; D/DU 103/2.
  • 10. Ibid. Acc. C54 (uncat.), McMaster Colln.
  • 11. V.C.H. Essex, i. 551.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/DU 103/2; ibid. D/CT 60.
  • 13. Ibid. D/DMa M29; D/DU 103/1; McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 62.
  • 14. Morant, Essex, ii. 225.
  • 15. P.R.O., C 2/Jas 1/S27/49.
  • 16. E.R.O., Acc. C54 (uncat.), McMaster Colln.
  • 17. McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 62, 88.
  • 18. E.R.O., Acc. C54 (uncat.), McMaster Colln.
  • 19. A. Young, Essex Agric. 322, 325, 345.
  • 20. E.R.O., D/CT 60.
  • 21. Ibid. D/DU 559/27.
  • 22. Ibid. Acc. C514 (uncat.), Abstract of title, Mount Bures manor; ibid. Acc. C119 (uncat.), Sale Cat. 1863.
  • 23. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1870-1937).
  • 24. E.R.O., Sale Cats. B58, B631.
  • 25. Ibid. D/DOp B123.
  • 26. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 127; E.R.O., Sale Cat. B1540.
  • 27. P.R.O., HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 10/1692; RG 11/1799; RG 12/1416.
  • 28. A. F. J. Brown, Meagre Harvest, 169, 184.
  • 29. P.R.O., HO 107/1782; ibid. RG 10/1692; RG 11/1799; RG 12/1416.
  • 30. Nat. Soc. file.
  • 31. P.R.O., MAF 68/2121.
  • 32. Nat. Soc. file.
  • 33. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1929, 1937).
  • 34. E.R.O., Sale Cat. B3877; McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 113-14.
  • 35. E.R.O., Acc. C788, Mount Bures Hall Farm Acct. Bk. 1931-41.
  • 36. Ibid. Sale Cats. B7322, B6773.
  • 37. Ibid. Acc. C258 (uncat.), Brook House farm docs.
  • 38. E.R.O., SA 1616-18.
  • 39. P.R.O., C 258/31, no. 14.
  • 40. E.R.O., D/DMa M29; McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 81, 100.
  • 41. E.R.O., Q/SR 111/95, 160/96-7, 201/61-2, 239/43, 245/16.
  • 42. V.C.H. Essex, i. 551; McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 16-17.
  • 43. Colch. Cart. 129-30, 135.
  • 44. McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 17-20, 100, 116; P.R.O., C 146/2197.
  • 45. K. G. Farries, Essex Windmills, iii. 63-5; McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 94.
  • 46. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1886, 1914).
  • 47. E.R.O., SA 1618; McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 105-8.
  • 48. McMaster and Evans, Mount Bures, 121.
  • 49. Inf. from Mrs. I. McMaster.