Magdalen Laver: Introduction

Pages 103-105

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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Magdalen Laver is a small parish about 5 miles to the north-west of Chipping Ongar and 4 miles to the south-east of Harlow. (fn. 1) A very small detached part (5.6 acres) lies on the boundary between Moreton and High Laver, to the east of the main part of the parish. The area of the ancient parish was 1,229 acres. (fn. 2) It was increased by the incorporation of two detached portions of North Weald Bassett. One portion of North Weald (10 acres), lying to the north-west of Weald Lodge, was transferred to Magdalen Laver in 1883; (fn. 3) the larger portion, lying to the north of the middle of Cripsey Brook, near Weald Bridge and including Weald Bridge Farm, Weald Lodge, and Bowlers Green, was transferred to Magdalen Laver in 1946. (fn. 4) Magdalen Laver now has an area of 1,443 acres. (fn. 5) The parish has an unusual number of ancient timber-framed farm-houses, the oldest of which probably dates from the 14th century. (fn. 6) Several of these, as well as the manor house and the old rectory, stand on or near moated sites. There were 28 inhabited houses in 1801, 33 in 1811, and 38 in 1821. (fn. 7) In 1801 the population was 228; (fn. 8) it reached 236 in 1821 and again in 1851. (fn. 9) Then it declined irregularly to 134 in 1931. (fn. 10) By 1951 it had risen to 242, (fn. 11) this being partly due to the incorporation of part of North Weald Bassett in 1946.

The land rises in the west of the parish to just over 300 ft. above sea-level. It slopes eastward and southward to less than 200 ft. along the streams that separate the parish from Moreton on the east and Bobbingworth on the south. Another stream rises in the north-west and flows south-eastward across the middle of the parish, joining one of the other streams on the southern boundary. A small area of woodland lies on the northern boundary.

The road from Epping crosses the southern boundary at Weald Bridge and runs northward for about ½ mile until it is joined by a road from Bobbingworth. To the north of this junction the road meets another road which runs from east to west across the parish. About ½ mile to the west, on the south side of this last road, is the 'Green Man', which was probably built early in the 18th century. Almost opposite the 'Green Man' is a single pair of council houses built during the Second World War. Immediately to the west, on the south side of the road, is the new rectory. (fn. 12) On the north side of the road, by a drive leading north-eastward to Spencers, is Humphreys which probably derives its name from the family of John Humphrey, living in the 13th century. (fn. 13) This has a pedimented door-hood and appears to be an early-18th-century timber-framed house, although the back wing may be older. Immediately west of Humphreys is Mollmans, where another road leads north-eastward to Tilegate Green in High Laver. At Mollmans a fragment of a moat remains. The south end of the house and the back wing were probably built in the late 16th or early 17th century. On the north side of the road leading westward from Mollmans is Rolls, (fn. 14) a timber-framed farm-house standing on a moated site. The moat, more than half of which remains, is curved in shape and of considerable size. The main axis of the house runs north and south and there is a cross-wing at the north end. This north wing has two stories and an attic and dates from the late 16th or early 17th century. It has a chimney with octagonal clustered shafts, now covered with cement. The upper flight of the staircase is original and has turned balusters and moulded newel caps. The main block also has two stories and an attic, but there are indications that it is an adaptation of an earlier structure. The chimney, now cement-covered, has diagonal shafts. The doors and windows of the house mostly date from the 18th and early 19th centuries. From Rolls the road turns northward and then sharply westward past Wynters Armourie to the western boundary of the parish.

Wynters Armourie, formerly Winters, which probably derives its name from the family of Alice Winter, living in about 1248, (fn. 15) stands on a moated site. The moat encloses a long narrow rectangle from north to south. There is part of a transverse arm in the centre but the south end has been obliterated by the farmyard. The house is timber-framed and consists of a central block with cross-wings to the east and west (see plate facing p. 137). On the north side there is a singlestory addition and a small staircase wing. The central block originally consisted of a partially aisled hall of two bays, probably dating from the 14th century. Ceilings, fireplaces, and partitions have been inserted later and the west bay has been raised in height and rebuilt. Most of the main roof truss dividing the bays is still in position and at the east end of the hall are the remains of a 'spere truss', suggesting that the hall is of the transitional type where the aisles are retained in the screens bay only. The central truss has a steeply cambered collar below which are deep curved braces, moulded at their lower edge. The collar purlin and some of the original rafters are in position and there are indications of a former kingpost. All the timbers are blackened with smoke from an open hearth. Rising obliquely from near the base of one of the principal rafters and reaching to the underside of the plate is a wind-brace or strut. (fn. 16) The others are missing. In the east bay the north doorway of the screens passage is in position and there is one jamb of an opposite doorway on the south side. A post dividing the 'nave' from the north aisle still exists and the corresponding post of the south aisle has only recently been removed. On this side a large curved brace, springing from the east wall and rising to the underside of the plate, forms part of the 'nave arcade'. Below the main truss a later tie-beam spans the whole width of the hall. The detail here is similar to that of the open trusses on the upper floors of the two cross-wings and it is suggested that all these features represent additions, possibly dating from the late 15th or early 16th century. The rebuilding of the west bay probably took place later in the 16th century when the roof was raised to give higher rooms and an attic. The gable ends have unglazed windows with diagonal mullions and the roof has small curved wind-braces. The central chimney was probably inserted at this time and the single-story addition at the back of the house, which has an open queen-post truss and a large end chimney, may be a kitchen of the same period. The present owner restored the house, which was in poor condition, in about 1935. (fn. 17)

On the north-west side of the road from Mollmans to Tilegate Green is the village hall. On the other side of the road is the former rectory, (fn. 18) on a moated site. North of this, on the west side of the road, there are three pairs of white plastered council houses. Almost opposite these houses one drive leads south-eastward to Spencers and another, newly made, leads northeastward to Magdalen Laver Hall. (fn. 19) Spencers, which probably derives its name from the family of John le Spenser, living in 1339, (fn. 20) is a large timber-framed farm-house with considerable remains of a moat. It has an irregular three-gabled front and additions on the other three sides. The stop-moulded ceiling beams on the ground floor indicate an early-17th-century date but it is possible that parts of the structure are older. The new drive to Magdalen Laver Hall is extended in a north-easterly direction to form an approach to the church. (fn. 21) Previously the approaches to the church had been by the footpaths which run from the road to Spencers on the south and through the farm-yard of Magdalen Laver Hall on the north. Immediately north-west of the churchyard are traces of a large moated site, where the first manor house probably stood. (fn. 22) To the south-east of the church, in a field known as Redmill Shot, a stone coffin containing a skeleton was discovered in about 1757 and human bones were found in other parts of the same field at different times. (fn. 23) There was a tradition in the 18th century that the church originally stood in this field but no trace of a church or of any other building has ever been found. (fn. 24) It may be, however, that the field was once a burial ground belonging to the parish.

Immediately north of Magdalen Laver Hall the road to Tilegate Green becomes part of the northern boundary of the parish. On the north side of the road, within the parish of High Laver, is Magdalen Laver school. (fn. 25) At Tilegate Green the road is joined by Pole Lane, now only a footpath, which leads eastward to the Ongar-Harlow road. On the south side of Pole Lane, north-east of the church, is a moated mound, about 80 ft. in diameter. At the junction of Pole Lane and the Ongar-Harlow road is Start Farm, a small timberframed farmhouse, part of which may date from the 16th century.

To the south of Start Farm the Ongar-Harlow road is joined by the road which runs right across the parish to Mollmans and Wynters Armourie on the west. On the south side of this road, close to the eastern boundary of the parish, is Bushes, an L-shaped timber-framed farm-house with wings extending to the north and east. The north wing, now of four bays but formerly longer, was built as a two-story structure and probably dates from the late 15th century. On the west side the upper floor overhangs on curved brackets. In 1933 the plaster was stripped away revealing a fine timbered front with close studding and curved braces. The roof is original except at its south end and there are two king-posts with two-way struts in position. The chimney is a later insertion. The east wing, lying at right angles to the two-story wing, may represent the medieval hall, much altered. A large chimney and ceilings have been inserted. The roof is not ancient but two of the rafters are formed from old moulded timbers. Also incorporated is a cambered and moulded tie-beam of medieval origin. The south porch and the brick chimney appear to be of the 16th century. There is a considerable amount of 16th- or early-17th-century panelling internally. In the angle between the wings there is a later timber structure. The house was restored and the staircase altered in 1933. (fn. 26) The north and part of the east sides of a large moat are still in existence. To the west of Bushes is Ashlings, where traces of a moat remain. About ½ mile south-west of Ashlings is Lunds, a timber-framed farm-house probably of the late 17th or early 18th century; it has been faced with yellow brick. To the west of Lunds, on the north side of the road, is Whites, a timber-framed farm-house probably dating from the late 17th or early 18th century. Almost opposite Whites is the junction with the road leading south to Epping.

In 1776 the parishes of High Laver and Magdalen Laver came to an agreement about repairs to roads for which they were jointly responsible. (fn. 27) These roads were to be equally divided by a white post and each parish was to repair the part lying nearest to it. (fn. 28)

Water was supplied by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co. in 1912. (fn. 29) Electricity was laid on in part of the parish in 1950. (fn. 30) A branch of the county library was opened in June 1939. (fn. 31)

Magdalen Laver has always been a rural parish engaged almost entirely in agriculture. The lords of the manor lived in the parish during most of the period from 1622 until 1832. (fn. 32) After John Cozens sold the estate in 1832 the owners were not resident until Matthew Torrance purchased the estate shortly after 1922. (fn. 33)

In 1848 James Ewing owned, but did not occupy, Magdalen Laver Hall Farm (191 acres). (fn. 34) There were only two other substantial owners in the parish; John Archer Houblon owned but did not occupy Spencer's Farm (126 acres) and Christian P. Meyer owned Mollmans Farm (111 acres) but did not farm it himself. (fn. 35) There were seven other farms of over 60 acres; of these three were more than 90 acres. (fn. 36)

Magdalen Laver, like neighbouring parishes, has always been a parish of mixed farming with a marked predominance of arable. In 1331 the manor contained 331 acres arable, 30 acres pasture, 6 acres meadow, and 80 acres wood. (fn. 37) In 1847 it was estimated that there were 835 acres arable, 150 acres meadow and pasture, and 15 acres woodland. (fn. 38)

From 1680, if not before, until 1731 a regular item of income in the churchwarden's annual account was 6s. 8d. 'faire money'. (fn. 39) This suggests that until the second quarter of the 18th century a fair was held annually in the parish, although it is not clear why it should have been a source of income for the churchwardens. No reference to 'faire money' has been found after 1731. (fn. 40)


  • 1. O.S. 2½ in. Map, sheets 52/40, 52/50.
  • 2. O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheet xli.
  • 3. Under the Divided Parishes and Poor Law Amendment Act, 1882, 39 & 40 Vict. c.61.
  • 4. County of Essex (Rural Parishes) Confirmation Order, 1946; see North Weald Bassett.
  • 5. Inf. from Essex County Council.
  • 6. See below.
  • 7. Census Reports, 1801, 1811, 1821.
  • 8. V.C.H. Essex, ii, 350.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Ibid.; Census Reports, 1911 f.
  • 11. Census Report, 1951.
  • 12. See below, Church.
  • 13. P.N. Essex (E.P.N.S.), 64.
  • 14. In 1539 Rolls Farm, consisting of 82 acres, belonged to Sir William Sulyard, who owned half of the manor of Otes in High Laver (q.v.): Morant, i, 143; by 1848, however, Rolls no longer formed part of the Otes estate: E.R.O., D/CT 211.
  • 15. P.N. Essex (E.P.N.S.), 64.
  • 16. An almost identical truss at the Old Parsonage, Marlow (Bucks) retains its moulded king-post and has been dated c. 1340 (Jnl. Brit. Arch. Assoc. 3rd ser. xii, 54-55).
  • 17. Inf. from Mrs. Fitzgerald.
  • 18. See below, Church.
  • 19. See below, Manor.
  • 20. P.N. Essex (E.P.N.S.), 64; Feet of F. Essex, iii, 51.
  • 21. See below, Church.
  • 22. See below, Manor.
  • 23. Hist. Essex by Gent. iii, 354.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. See below, School.
  • 26. Inf. from Mr. Radbourne, present owner.
  • 27. E.R.O., D/P 111/22. See also High Laver.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Inf. from Herts. & Essex Waterworks Co.
  • 30. Inf. from East. Elec. Bd.
  • 31. Inf. from County Librarian.
  • 32. E.R.O., D/DA T 199; Q/RPI 685- 737.
  • 33. See below, Manor.
  • 34. E.R.O., D/CT 211.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. C135/26.
  • 38. E.R.O., D/CT 211.
  • 39. E.R.O., D/P 62/5.
  • 40. Ibid.