Aldham: Introduction

Pages 9-13

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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ALDHAM lies on the south bank of the river Colne, c. 5 miles north-west of Colchester. (fn. 1) The ancient parish (1,847 a.) was bounded by the Colne on almost all the north, by the road from Marks Tey on a small part of the south-west, and by field boundaries on most of the remain- ing sides; in the north-west, south-west, and south-east, however, the parish boundary ran across 17th-century and later fields. The north- western boundary passed through a cottage known as the Wick or Jeffrymans, demolished before 1876. (fn. 2) There were two detached areas, 14 a. in Marks Tey, on the north side of the London road, and 21 a. in Great Tey. In 1889 the 21 a. was transferred to Great Tey, but Kembrooke mead on the Roman river was trans- ferred from Little Tey to Aldham, and 27 a. on the north side of London Road was transferred from Marks Tey to Aldham, enlarging the parish to 1,864 a. In 1948 and 1949 a total of c. 90 a. was transferred to Marks Tey, and 4 a. to the new Eight Ash Green parish, reducing Aldham to 717 ha. (1,770 a.). (fn. 3)

Most of Aldham lies on boulder clay, but the underlying London clay is exposed between the Colne and Old Bourchiers Hall, to the north of Aldham Hall, and to the west of Church House farm. Outcrops of glacial and other gravels occur mainly in the southern half of the parish and at Gallows green. There are narrow bands of alluv- ium along the Colne and along the Roman river, which runs through the southern tip of the parish. The land slopes from high points of 55 m. south of Hoe wood in the north-west and 45 m. east of Gallows green in the north-east down to 17 m. at the Colne at Fordstreet, where the land is subject to flooding, and to c. 30 m. at the Roman river. (fn. 4)

Iron-Age finds have been made near Ford- street and east of Hoe wood, and pottery scatters may indicate Roman villas there and near the medieval church. (fn. 5) The earliest medieval settle- ment, Ealda's or the old 'ham' or homestead, from which the parish takes its name, was prob- ably at or near the later Aldham Hall, since the more northerly Bourchiers Hall manor was called Little Fordham in the Middle Ages. (fn. 6) Parts of two homestead moats, perhaps relics of medi- eval woodland clearance, survive as dry ditches at Hoe Farm and Checkleys Farm. (fn. 7) There were houses near the medieval church, in the south- west quarter of the parish, in the 14th century or earlier; several remained in 1639, but only Church House Farm survived into the 20th century. (fn. 8) A settlement by the river crossing at Fordstreet, Fordhamsford in 1327, (fn. 9) developed into a small village with shops on both sides of the Colchester-Halstead road. In the 17th cent- ury it contrasted with the scattered settlement over much of the parish, and with the sparse green-edge settlement at Gallows green. (fn. 10) That green, where the boundaries of Aldham Hall and Bourchiers Hall manors appear to have met, was Gallow tye in 1584 and Godson's green tye in 1725. There were three houses on its edges by 1675, and the green was being encroached on by 1839. (fn. 11) The remaining 3 a. was registered as a green in the 1960s, and in 1998 was a County Wildlife Site. (fn. 12) Several smaller, roadside, greens survived in attenuated from in 1998. Aldham Hall green was recorded in 1498, Fordstreet green near the foot of Fordstreet hill in 1686 and 1708, and South green in Green Lane in 1810. (fn. 13) Wesedene's tye, recorded in 1491, may have been the later South green. (fn. 14)

The Colchester-Halstead road runs through the north-east quarter of the parish, crossing the Colne at Fordstreet. The road was turnpiked in 1765, and a tollhouse survives at the north-west corner of Gallows green; by c. 1801 the gate had been moved to the foot of Fordstreet hill. (fn. 15) In the 17th century, lanes led from Fordstreet and Gallows green to outlying farms and to the med- ieval church. Others led to Great Tey and, along the later Brook Road and North Lane, to Marks Tey. (fn. 16) In 1857 New Road was built from the junction of the Marks and Great Tey roads northwards into a lane to Fordstreet, providing direct access to the new church. (fn. 17) Existing foot- paths in the parish were linked in 1982 to form part of the Essex Way path.

The ford over the Colne in Fordstreet, recorded in 1235 and c. 1350, was bridged before 1485. (fn. 18) In 1580 bridge repairs were the joint responsibility of the lords of Bourchiers Hall in Aldham and of Fordham Hall in Fordham. (fn. 19) The bridge was rebuilt, on a slightly different site, c. 1828 by the Essex Turnpike Trust, using composition money paid by the lord of Bourchiers Hall. It became a county bridge in 1871, and was widened in 1963. (fn. 20) The lord of Aldham Hall manor repaired North Lane bridge, probably a footbridge over the Roman river, c. 1670. (fn. 21)

Figure 3:

Aldham c. 1840

In 1066 the two manors had a recorded popu- lation of 12. (fn. 22) The 6 or more tenants of Aldham Hall who apparently died shortly before 1350 may have been victims of the Black Death. (fn. 23) The population rose in the late 16th century and the 17th, baptisms usually exceed- ing burials except in the famine years 1598, 1599, and 1601, and in 1666, when at least 10 people died of plague. A house on the site of Rye House in the north of the parish appears to have been used as a pest house, and plague victims were buried near Gallows green. (fn. 24) In 1671 fifty-five households were assessed for hearth tax, 33 of them exempt through poverty; two houses were newly-built. (fn. 25) Between 1704 and 1751 burials usually exceeded baptisms, but the trend was reversed in the later 18th century. Rectors reported 60 families in 1723, 46 houses (21 of them in Fordstreet) in 1766, and c. 60 houses in 1790. (fn. 26) The population in 1801 was 370; it declined to 345 in 1811, and fluctuated for the remainder of the 19th century, reaching a peak of 433 in 1881. The transfer of 12 houses and 54 people from Marks Tey in 1889 raised Aldham's population to 449 in 1891, but the loss of areas along London Road and North Lane in 1949 reduced it to 394 in 1951. New housing increased the population to 561 in 1971, but it had dropped to 539 by 1991. (fn. 27)

Fordstreet was presumably served by carriers using the Colchester-Halstead road; one from Fordham to Colchester stopped there in 1894. (fn. 28) In 1914 the Colchester-Earls Colne bus service ran through Fordstreet, and from the 1920s there was a daily service to Halstead. (fn. 29) The Great Eastern railway line from London to Colchester was built through the southern tip of the parish in 1843, with a station at Marks Tey near the end of North Lane. The Colne Valley, Sudbury, and Halstead railway line was built from Marks Tey through the south-west corner of Aldham in 1849. (fn. 30)

Wells provided water until mains water was brought to most of Aldham between 1936 and 1939. (fn. 31) A borehole and pumping station built in Fordstreet c. 1938 supplied Colchester. (fn. 32) Electricity was supplied by Colchester borough from c. 1930. Main sewerage was constructed between 1963 and 1965. (fn. 33) A fire engine was kept at Bourchiers Hall c. 1920. (fn. 34)

In 1593 there were three inns in the parish, all presumably in Fordstreet. One was probably the Bull, later the Maltings, which may have been one of two alehouses recorded in 1611. (fn. 35) In 1620 the King's Head was licensed, and in 1622 the same licensee leased the George, prob- ably the modern Old House, which was called the Old George or the Old White Hart in the later 18th century. (fn. 36) There may have been only one inn c. 1640 when 14 shopkeepers in Clare (Suff.), Stoke by Nayland (Suff.), and nearby villages petitioned the Essex Quarter Sessions to license an inn in Fordstreet, the most convenient stopping place on their journeys to Colchester. (fn. 37) The King's Head was the Queen's Head by 1726, and the Old Queen's Head in 1998. The King's Arms, recorded in 1671, was the Queen's Arms in 1725 and the Cooper's Arms, its sign in 1998, by 1845. (fn. 38)

In 1797 a friendly society met at the Queen's Head. (fn. 39) The Aldham and United Parishes Insurance Society was founded in 1826, with Nicholas Toke, curate of Aldham, as its first working chairman. The Society, which aimed to provide for its subscribers sickness benefit, pen- sions, and death payments, continued until 1953. It had 42 members in Aldham in 1848, 81 in 1870, and 3 in 1951. (fn. 40) The National Agri- cultural Labourers' Union and the Eastern Counties Labour Federation had branches in Aldham from c. 1876 to the early 1880s and in 1892. (fn. 41)

A tree was felled for a maypole in 1606. (fn. 42) In 1616 a playing place near the church was in pri- vate hands. (fn. 43) There was a bowling green behind the King's Arms in 1675. (fn. 44) A playing field south of South green, opened to mark George V's silver jubilee in 1935, was later replaced by a nearby field which was still in use in 1998. (fn. 45) A village hall was built in New Road in 1927, and in 1998 was used for about a dozen local clubs and activities. (fn. 46)

The assizes were presumably adjourned to 'Fordham' in 1327 for the convenience of the justice, John Bourchier, lord of Bourchiers Hall or Little Fordham manor, (fn. 47) rather than because of any disturbances there. In 1450 two Aldham men were involved in the aftermath of Cade's rebellion. (fn. 48) In 1598 an Aldham labourer was convicted of conjuring spirits at Bardfield and thus obtaining money by deception. (fn. 49) An Aldham man was wounded at the battle of Worcester in 1651. (fn. 50) During the Second World War the bridge at Fordstreet was defended by a road block at the foot of the hill, a pill box and tank trap at the bridge itself; (fn. 51) seven more pill boxes, overlooking the Colne, remained in 1998.

The Essex historian Philip Morant was rector of Aldham from 1745 to 1770. Although he lived on his other benefice, St. Mary's-at-the-Walls, Colchester, he visited Aldham regularly, and the parish records contain many of his notes. (fn. 52) The painter John Constable probably attended the boarding school at Gallows green in early childhood. (fn. 53)

DOMESTIC BUILDINGS. Almost all the houses in Aldham built before the 19th century are timber-framed; most are plastered, but a few have had brick fronts added. Several of those in Fordstreet were built in the late 15th century or the early 16th with halls parallel to the street, and were enlarged later in the 16th century when trade through the settlement was presumably increasing. Rose Cottage, now one of a range of three houses, incorporates part of a small 15th- century hall with massive down-bracing. The Old Carpentry and the Old Bakery, a single late 15th- or early 16th-century house with hall, north cross wing, and possibly south service end, may occupy the site of a medieval chapel and priest's house. (fn. 54) In the late 16th century a two-storeyed north-east wing was added, and in the 17th century the south end was partly re- built to create a lobby-entrance dwelling, later known as the Old Carpentry. In the 19th cent- ury a baker's shop, which occupied the ground floor of the northern house, was extended into part of the southern one; a bakery was built behind the north-east wing after 1876. (fn. 55) At the Old House, formerly Street Farm and earlier the Old George or Old White Hart, (fn. 56) the north cross wing is jettied over the contemporary late 15th-century hall; the south wing replaced the former service end in the mid 16th century, and slightly later, a two-storeyed north range, which has an upper room painted in grisaille, was added. The house, which had been divided into cottages, was restored before c. 1925; about then a medieval doorway, perhaps a former shop- front from elsewhere, was inserted as the main entrance. (fn. 57)

Bridge House, the former mill house, retains a single late 15th-century bay which was raised to two full storeys in the late 16th century, when a three-bay jettied range was added to form an L-plan. The house was much enlarged in 1839 and again c. 1847, (fn. 58) when a six-bay brick facade was applied to the east elevation. The Maltings, called Laverocks in 1579 and apparently the Bull inn c. 1600, is 16th-century or earlier; it was altered in the 18th century, probably c. 1706. (fn. 59) In 1839 it was still a large, half H-plan house opening to the south, but only the western half remained in 1876. The malting, used in the 18th and 19th centuries, was attached to the southern end of the house; about half of it was demolished after 1897. (fn. 60) Threshers and Bunches are both 16th-century houses, with early 19th-century facades. Threshers is an early 16th-century hall with a storeyed north end; it was extended later in the 16th century by a south cross wing, and made into a two-storeyed lobby-entrance house in the 17th century, when a stack and floor were inserted in the hall. The house, recorded c. 1550, was held by a blacksmith in 1587, (fn. 61) but the sur- viving brick forge (converted into a garage) is probably 19th-century. The Bunches, recorded by that name in 1608 and owned in the 18th cent- ury by surgeons, (fn. 62) is late 16th-century and two- storeyed, with a slightly later north bay. Fore- acres is a small 16th-century house with central stack. Cummins and Valley House are much alt- ered lobby-entry houses. The core of Cummins, earlier Cammes or Cannings, was probably the house assessed on two hearths in 1671, (fn. 63) but that was extended on all sides in the early 19th cent- ury, and further enlarged and partly remodelled before 1913. (fn. 64) Valley House, probably late 17th- or early 18th-century, has been refronted in brick with a pedimented doorcase.

There are two more lobby-entrance houses at Gallows green: Fairmead and the Old School House, both recorded in 1675. (fn. 65) Fairmead, orig- inally single storey with an attic, had a smithy at the roadside; part of the house was a shop and off-licence in the earlier 20th century. The Old School House, of two storeys with an attic later made in the roofspace, was a boarding school in the late 18th century. (fn. 66) North of the green, at Old Hill House, formerly Hill Farm, an early 19th-century brick facade conceals the remain- ing bay of a 15th- or early 16th-century hall which was raised and floored in the 17th cent- ury, when a two-storeyed range was built; a par- allel range was added slightly later.

Motts Cottage in Rectory Road, probably named for its tenant in 1401, (fn. 67) is a late 15th- century, two-bayed hall with a storeyed east bay and crown-post roof, into which a floor and chimney stack were inserted in the late 16th century; a two-storeyed west bay was added in the 17th century. Bentalls Cottage, opposite the 19th-century church, incorporates a 16th- century or earlier hall house with storeyed end. A floor and chimney stack were inserted, prob- ably in 1615. (fn. 68) The house, formerly thatched and weather-boarded and divided into cottages, was restored and enlarged in 1937. Church House Farm, formerly Churchmans, named from the medieval church, was in 1639 appar- ently a jettied, three-bayed house of the mid 16th century with a central chimney stack and a doorway at its south end; (fn. 69) a north-west wing was added a little later. In the mid 19th century the house was faced in white brick and extended to north-west and south-west, and the stack was removed for a staircase hall. Half-a-Loaf, near Motts Cottage, is also 16th-century, of one storey with attics. Peakes, recorded in 1347, (fn. 70) and Headborough, recorded in 1403, (fn. 71) both in Tey Road, have developed from early 17th-century lobby-entrance houses. Built at the end of the 17th century or early in the 18th are Crapes, (fn. 72) in Rectory Road, Chase Cottage, behind Bentalls, and Brick Cottages, Brook Road.

Riverdale, south of Bridge House in Ford- street, is probably early 19th-century; it was a doctor's surgery in the 1840s. (fn. 73) In the mid 19th century a few cottages were built east of Gallows green, along Halstead Road; there was further building there in the 1930s. In the 20th century new council and private estates created a village around the 19th-century church. Twelve coun- cil houses were built on the west side of Brook Road between c. 1925 and 1931, and 8 east of the church in 1938 and after the Second World War. In 1966, after pressure from the parish council, another 30 houses were built in Hardings Close, north-east of the church. At the same date private housing estates were built at Hines Close and south-east of the church. Else- where in the parish several larger houses have been built, including Hill House, designed by Sandon and Hardy and built in 1963 and 1964.


  • 1. This article was written in 1998. The author has known Aldham since 1966. Architectural descriptions were com- piled or revised by Elizabeth Williamson.
  • 2. Morant, Essex, ii. 200; E.R.O., D/DWe T52; ibid. D/P 37/28/6; D/P 208/12/1; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Essex XXVI. 8 (1876 edn.).
  • 3. Census, 1881-1951; Local Government Board Order 22363; O.S. Map 6", Essex XXVI. NE. SE., XXVII. NW., SW. (1876 edn.).
  • 4. Geol. Surv. Map, 1/50,000, solid and drift, sheet 223 (1982 edn.); O.S. Maps 1/10,000 TL 92 NW., SW. (1975 edn.).
  • 5. E.C.C., SMR 11863; Colch. Mus., 1550.08, 2081.10; ibid. field-walking rep. (uncat.).
  • 6. P.N. Essex, 359, 391.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/DWe P1; ibid. D/CT 2B; R.C.H.M. Essex, iii. 2. The farmhouse at Checkleys, ruinous in 1922, has been replaced by a bungalow.
  • 8. Colch. Mus., field-walking rep. (uncat.); E.R.O., D/DWe P1; D/DWe M18.
  • 9. P.R.O., JUST 1/270/8.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/DWe P1-3.
  • 11. Ibid. D/DWe M8, M26; D/DWe P2; D/DBm T22.
  • 12. L. Dudley Stamp and W. G. Hoskins, Common Lands of Eng. and Wales, 274; inf. from English Nature.
  • 13. E.R.O., D/DWe P9; D/DWe T55; D/DWe M6; ibid. D/ABR 12, f. 109.
  • 14. Ibid. D/DWe M6.
  • 15. Ibid. D/DWe P9; D/DRc B14; cf. D/DPo T2.
  • 16. Ibid. D/DWe M8; D/DWe P1-2; Essex Map (1777).
  • 17. E.R.O., Q/SO 43, p. 194; O.S. Map 1/25,000, TL 92 (1982 edn.).
  • 18. P.N. Essex, 359; E.R.O., D/DWe M5, M18.
  • 19. E.R.O., Q/SR 73/63.
  • 20. Ibid. D/DWe M26; ibid. Q/ABp 50; Aldham par. council mins. 1962-3, in possession of clerk to the council.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/DWe M21; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Essex XXVII. 9 (1876 edn.).
  • 22. V.C.H. Essex, i. 457, 465, 481, 573.
  • 23. E.R.O., D/DWe M1, M18.
  • 24. Ibid. D/P 208/1/1.
  • 25. Ibid. Q/RTh 5.
  • 26. Ibid. D/P 208/1/2; Guildhall MS. 25750; Lamb. Pal. Libr., Terrick papers 14, Porteous papers 24.
  • 27. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 350; Census, 1911-91.
  • 28. Essex Almanac (1894); Kelly's Dir. Essex (1894).
  • 29. Axten, 'Hist. Public Transport in Colch. Area', 44, 46, 54.
  • 30. D. I. Gordon, Regional Hist. Railways of G.B. v (Eastern Counties), 37-79; V.C.H. Essex, ix. 235-6.
  • 31. E.R.O., D/RLw M1/9, pp. 629, 637; J. C. Thresh, Essex Water Supply, 132.
  • 32. E.R.O., D/RLw M4/3, p. 449; V.C.H. Essex, ix. 291.
  • 33. E.R.O., Colch. Boro. Mun., Electricity Supply Cttee. Min. Bk. 1929-34; ibid. D/RLw M127, meeting of 9 June 1965.
  • 34. J. Devey, 'Reminiscences of Ford Street', TS. in E.R.O.
  • 35. E.R.O., Q/RLv 10; ibid. D/DU 91/1; P.R.O., DL 43/2/1; DL 30/123/1859.
  • 36. Bucks. R.O., D/X 648, p. 21; E.R.O., D/DPo T2; Morant, Essex, ii. 200.
  • 37. E.R.O., Q/SBc 2/22.
  • 38. Ibid. D/DWe M25, M31; D/DU 652/1; ibid. Q/SBb 246; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1845 edn.).
  • 39. E.R.O., Q/RSf 2.
  • 40. Ibid. D/DHw O15; D/DR Q4; ibid. Acc. C445 (uncat.).
  • 41. A. F. J. Brown, Meagre Harvest, 60, 71, 169, 173.
  • 42. E.R.O., D/DWe M8.
  • 43. Ibid. D/DWe T51.
  • 44. Ibid. D/DWe P2.
  • 45. Aldham Par. Council mins. 1935.
  • 46. E.R.O., D/RLw M4/2, p. 335.
  • 47. P.R.O., JUST 1/270/8; D.N.B.
  • 48. L. R. Poos, Rural Soc. after Black Death, 258-9; P.R.O., KB 9/268, rott. 18-19; E.R.O., D/DVz 85.
  • 49. Cal. Assize Rec. Essex, Eliz. I, p. 484; A. Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart Eng. p. 264.
  • 50. E.R.O., Q/SBa 2/82.
  • 51. E.R.O., sale cat. B5193; inf. from Mrs. C. Ashton and Mr. G. Stearn.
  • 52. E.R.O., D/P 208, passim; below, this par., Church, Educ.
  • 53. E.R.O., D/DWe M25; Lamb. Pal. Libr., Terrick papers 14; Constable Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings, ed. L. Parris, I. Fleming-Williams, and C. Shields (2nd edn.), 35; John Constable's Correspondence, ed. R. B. Beckett, i, p. 8; inf. from L. Parris, Tate Gallery.
  • 54. E.R.O., D/DU 1158/38; P.R.O., DL 43/2/1; below, this par., Church.
  • 55. O.S. Map 1/2,500, Essex XXVII. 5 (1876 edn.).
  • 56. Morant, Essex, ii. 200; R.C.H.M. Essex, iii. 3 (Boy Scouts hall).
  • 57. It may have been the Flemish House described in 1940, Country Life, 1940, lxxxvii (2245), 106.
  • 58. Dated brick on south gable wall.
  • 59. P.R.O., DL 43/2/1; DL 30/123/1859; R.C.H.M. Essex, iii. 2; Dept. of Env., Buildings List; date on porch.
  • 60. E.R.O., D/CT 2A-B; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Essex XXVII. 1, 5 (1897 edn.); ibid. Essex XXVII. 16 (1923 edn.).
  • 61. P.R.O., DL 43/2/1; E.R.O., D/ABW 40/97.
  • 62. E.R.O., D/DU 91/1; D/DWe M18.
  • 63. Ibid. Q/RTh 5: assessment on Rob. Trowles who occupied Cannings in 1680; ibid. D/ABR 12, f. 109.
  • 64. Ibid. sale cat. B1147.
  • 65. Ibid. D/DWe P2.
  • 66. Above, this section.
  • 67. E.R.O., D/DWe M1; Arch. Jnl. cxxx. 175-6.
  • 68. Date on house, possibly added in 1937 restoration.
  • 69. E.R.O. D/DWe P1.
  • 70. B.L. Cott. Ch. xxviii. 52.
  • 71. E.R.O., D/DCm M1, pp. 110-12.
  • 72. Below, this par., Charities.
  • 73. E.R.O., D/DWe M20: sale cat. 1844.