A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Chipping Ongar is a parish and small town 11 miles west of Chelmsford and 21 miles north-east of London. (fn. 1) It has been known in the past as Castle Ongar. (fn. 2) The modern form of the name dates from the 14th century and relates to the ancient market of the town. (fn. 3) Ongar has been important for more than 1,000 years as the principal place in the hundred and later as the head of a poor law union, petty sessional district and rural district. The population has always been small and the main street is still only a few minutes walk from the open country, but the town houses, the concentration of shops, and the little gasometer by the bridge all proclaim the place to be more than a village.
Chipping Ongar is situated on one of the few patches of glacial sand in this clay area. The parish is bounded on the east by the River Roding and on the south and west by Cripsey Brook. The land rises sharply from 150 ft. above sea-level in the south, east, and west to more, than 200 ft. in the centre and north. The main road from Chelmsford to Epping enters the parish in the north-east by High Ongar Bridge and leaves it in the north-west by Ackingford Bridge. At Wants crossroads this road is joined by that which runs north to Shelley, Fyfield, and the Rodings, and by the main road from Chipping Ongar to Stratford and London. The town lies mainly along this last road, which runs south down the hill and leaves the parish in the southwest by Ongar Bridge. Beyond the bridge the road runs up Marden Ash Hill. Marden Ash is in High Ongar parish (q.v.) but is in fact a suburb of Chipping Ongar. The road from Ongar to Brentwood and Tilbury branches south-east from Marden Ash. To the west of Cripsey Brook, in the parish of Greenstead (q.v.), there is a new housing estate which is also part of the town. Ongar railway station, in the north of the parish, is the terminus of the line from Epping and London.
Soil and situation were favourable for early settlement. The name Ongar ('grass land') indicates that this place and High Ongar (q.v.) were less thickly wooded than the surrounding district. The possible use of Roman bricks in the castle gateway and the church (see below) and the importance of Chipping Ongar in and after the 11th century suggest that this was one of the oldest settlements in the hundred. The huge mound which formed the centre of the castle (see below, Manor), together with the other earthworks, probably dates from the 11th or the 12th century. (fn. 4) The castle stood on the spur midway between the Roding and Cripsey Brook. To the west of it were the inner bailey and the town enclosure. The defences of the enclosure are well preserved on the north-east and consist of a rampart and outer ditch branching from the north end of the inner bailey. The ditch, now nearly dry, is 55 ft. wide and 17 ft. below the crest of the rampart. The profile diminishes westward and the rampart disappears before reaching the road. The south arm of the enclosure probably followed the line of what is now Castle Street. The course of the enclosure on the west appears to be marked by an escarpment running south through the gardens of the houses on the west of High Street. The entrances were probably at the points where the main road passes through the enclosure. (fn. 5)
In the 12th century there were no doubt several buildings within the enclosure; for Ongar was then an important place, and its castle the home of Richard de Lucy, the Justiciar. Apart from the church (see below) there is no surviving building earlier than the 16th century, although it is possible that some traces of medieval building are obscured by later work. (fn. 6) The White House and the Castle House (for both of which see below, Manor) are the largest houses in the town which date from the 16th century. The other buildings of that century are actually outside the town enclosure. A house, now shops, which stands on the west side of High Street to the south of Castle Street retains an original central chimney-stack with grouped diagonal shafts. (fn. 7) South of it is another building of the same or slightly later date which has a half H-shaped plan with wings extending towards the west. An upper story formerly projected on the east front of the north wing. (fn. 8) Near these buildings, on the opposite side of the road, is The Old House, which may date from about the same period. (fn. 9) Apart from the Castle House and the White House the oldest secular buildings inside the town enclosure are the market house (see below, Occupations) and the house next to it (now shops). (fn. 10) On the opposite side of High Street, on the corner of the street leading to the church, is a twostory shop with basement and attics, which bears on its original doorway (now blocked) the initial and date w. 1642. (fn. 11) Opposite this shop is that of Baugh, chemist, which with King, greengrocer, forms a threegabled building having the original central chimneystack with eight octagonal shafts. (fn. 12) All the above buildings are timber-framed and plastered, but the King's Head Hotel, which bears the initials and date RS 1697, is built of red brick. (fn. 13) By this time the rectory (see below, Church) had been built to the north of the town enclosure. (fn. 14) Other buildings in the town probably include portions dating from the 17th century, but these are obscured by later facades. In 1671 there were 94 houses in the parish, including the building on the castle mound. (fn. 15) In 1758 there were 93 premises assessed for the payment of rates. (fn. 16) It is therefore probable that the buildings shown on the map of 1777 covered the same area as those that had existed a century earlier. (fn. 17) The map shows that the built-up area extended down High Street from the north end of the town enclosure as far as Ongar Bridge. Roden House (near the bridge) existed, and there were a few buildings to the south of the bridge, on the parish boundary. The main body of the rectory had been built early in the 18th century. (fn. 18) Lauriston, on the east side of High Street, below Castle Street, is also of the 18th century. The doorway has a pediment supported by Ionic pilasters. (fn. 19) The original Independent Meeting House was built in 1720. (fn. 20) A letter dated at Ongar on 16 October 1798, which describes the illuminations by which the town celebrated the Battle of the Nile, mentions some of the larger houses that could then be seen in a walk through the town. (fn. 21)
Between 1777 and 1841 some cottages were built to the south-west of Ongar Bridge, probably to accommodate the labourers at the brickfield and gas works. (fn. 22) This expansion of the town was accompanied by the improvement or rebuilding of some of the older houses. (fn. 23) Much of this was carried out by the firm of Noble of Ongar, founded in 1805. (fn. 24) The present façade of the White House, dating from about 1835, is said to have been built by this firm. (fn. 25) Holmlea, a short distance north of Lauriston, is a good house built about 1780, with a central round headed window in the first floor and in the roof. (fn. 26) Mayfield, a red-brick building in Castle Street, is said to date from 1809. (fn. 27) Ongar House, of gault brick, and The Wilderness, which stand on the east of High Street, near the north arm of the town rampart, were refronted early in the 19th century. (fn. 28) Ongar House has a symmetrical façade with five windows in each of the upper floors. The doorway has simple pilasters but no porch. The windows have external shutters. A third story was added to the house in 1952. (fn. 29) The Wilderness is an H-shaped house in which there have been many alterations at various times. One important building erected during this period was also demolished before 1840. This was the Assembly and Card Rooms, built in or soon after 1786 on ground in High Street, previously occupied by the parish pound, pillory, and cage. The Rooms were removed about 1830. (fn. 30)
Several buildings erected after 1841 are in classical style. The most striking of these is Greylands, which adjoins King the greengrocer to the north. It was built in 1843 by J. Gerry to the design of T. M. Baynes. (fn. 31) It is a large symmetrical house of gault brick with an imposing porch flanked by heavy Doric columns. (fn. 32) The wine shop, opposite Greylands, is roughly contemporary and is also of gault brick. It is said to have formed a pair with a building which once stood on the site of the present London Co-operative grocery. (fn. 33) The old grammar school (see below, Schools) was built about 1850. The present façade of Roden House dates from the late 19th century (see below, Schools).
The police station (see below, Public Services) was the first large building in the town to depart from the classical style. Contemporary with it is the original portion of the Ongar Primary School (see below, Schools). The railway station came slightly later, the Budworth Hall, High Street, was built in 1886 and the offices of the Ongar R.D.C. in 1896. (fn. 34) In 1896-7 High Street was made more accessible to traffic by the removal of the old Town Hall. (fn. 35) This had stood detached in the street at the point where it now widens, to the north of the church. (fn. 36)
Several of the smaller buildings erected about the middle of the 19th century were possibly the work of Edward Sammes, who was described as a builder in a directory of 1840. (fn. 37) In 1837 he owned two houses in the town. (fn. 38) By 1848 he owned some 20 houses and cottages. (fn. 39) Sammes Cottages, near the gasworks, were named after him. He was a grocer and general broker as well as a builder. (fn. 40)
Apart from those named above few buildings in Ongar were erected between 1875 and 1914. There are some houses in Castle Street dating from this period, a small terrace to the south of the railway station, and also a few houses at the south end of the High Street, and in Bushy Lees. (fn. 41) The building at the north end of High Street, which is now Great Stoney Boarding Secondary School, was erected in 1903. (fn. 42) It was originally a children's home of the Hackney poor law union. In 1931 there were 206 dwelling houses in the parish. (fn. 43)
Medieval taxation assessments, printed below (pp. 300 f.) suggest that Chipping Ongar was then much more densely populated than any other place in the hundred, although its total population was not the greatest. Some idea of the population can be gathered from the fact that there were 108 poll taxpayers in 1377. In 1801 the population was 595, and by 1841 had risen to 870. (fn. 44) After some fluctuations it was 967 in 1901. An increase to 1,362 in 1911 was largely accounted for by the arrival of the children at the Hackney home. Population has decreased steadily since 1911. One cause of this was the decline and closing of the grammar school. In 1951 the population of the parish was 925. (fn. 45) In the suburbs of Ongar, just beyond the parish boundaries, there has, however, been a considerable growth of population through the recent building on the Greenstead and Shelley estates and at Marden Ash. An attendance of over 300 pupils at the Ongar primary school in 1952 gives an indication of the population of the town and its suburbs (see below, Schools).
The roads leading out of Chipping Ongar to the south, east, and west all pass over bridges on or near the parish boundary. Ongar Bridge is entirely in the parish. Ackingford Bridge is common to Chipping Ongar and Bobbingworth and is treated here. High Ongar Bridge, although it spans the boundary between the two Ongars, has usually been considered as falling wholly in the parish from which it takes its name, and is treated under High Ongar (q.v.).
Ongar Bridge, on the most direct road to London, must have been of the greatest importance to the town. Sir Peter Siggiswyk, whose will was proved in 1503, left 10s. to be spent on the upkeep of the bridge. (fn. 46) In 1574 it was stated at Quarter Sessions that the bridge was in decay and that responsibility for it was unknown. (fn. 47) This presentment was later repeated. (fn. 48) In 1581 Quarter Sessions ordered that the county should assume responsibility. (fn. 49) This decision had apparently been forgotten by 1626 when the bridge was once more in need of repair. (fn. 50) It still needed repair in 1628, and the sessions ordered a county rate to be levied for this purpose. (fn. 51) Soon after this the hundred jury complained that although the rate had been collected the repairs had still not been carried out. (fn. 52) The bridge was again presented for disrepair in 1641, and by order of the sessions a 'lean-to or rail' was set up on it. (fn. 53) Repairs were again ordered in 1657. (fn. 54) The next reference to the bridge in the sessions rolls is in 1660, when it was stated that the wharf was decayed and should be repaired by the county. (fn. 55) In 1677 the bridge was in a dangerous condition. (fn. 56) The sessions ordered Richard Luther and Thomas Alexander to employ workmen to repair it without prejudice to the county if it should later be found that the parish was responsible. (fn. 57) After this time Ongar Bridge seems to have been accepted without dispute as a county bridge. The county paid £85 for its repair in 1697 and £166 in 1715. (fn. 58) In 1857 the county surveyor described the bridge as having three unequal arches finished with a brick parapet, the walls being coped with stone. (fn. 59) It has not been radically altered since. (fn. 60)
Ackingford Bridge was in need of repair in 1573, and responsibility for it uncertain. (fn. 61) The hundred jury stated in 1604 that it should be repaired by the county (fn. 62) but in 1615 they said that Bobbingworth ought to mend their side of it (fn. 63) and in 1620 Bobbingworth and Chipping Ongar were held jointly responsible. (fn. 64) In 1621 the county was said to be responsible (fn. 65) and from this time the bridge always seems to have been regarded as a county bridge. By the end of the 18th century the road which crossed it had been turnpiked and was probably carrying much traffic. This was no doubt the reason for the building of a new bridge in 1806. The plan of this bridge, drawn by the architect, John Johnson, still exists. (fn. 66) The bridge was completed by January 1807. (fn. 67)
The county surveyor, who visited Ackingford Bridge in September 1857, described it as being built of oak resting on piles with brick abutments. It was precisely similar to Leaden Wash Bridge (in Leaden Roding). (fn. 68) It was then in good repair, but by 1862 the ends of the main girders had begun to decay. (fn. 69) Between 1867 and 1875 many big repairs were carried out. (fn. 70) The bridge was rebuilt in 1913, in concrete. (fn. 71)
In 1659 the inhabitants of Chipping Ongar were presented at Quarter Sessions for their failure to repair the foot-bridge called Bantons, which spanned Cripsey Brook on the way to Greenstead. (fn. 72)
In 1637 a carrier from Chipping Ongar made a weekly journey to London, stopping on Wednesday at the 'Crown' without Aldgate. (fn. 73) In 1686 Ongar was evidently a fairly important staging place for travellers: according to a survey of that year there was accommodation in the town for 71 lodgers and 104 horses. (fn. 74) These figures were larger in both cases than those for Braintree, Harwich, Maldon, Witham, and Coggeshall; for lodgers Ongar had more accommodation than Billericay, Dunmow, Kelvedon, and Saffron Walden, and for horses there was more stabling than at Rayleigh.
In 1791 a coach left the 'Three Nuns', Whitechapel, for Ongar every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, (fn. 75) and a carrier's wagon left from the same place every Tuesday and Friday. Another wagon for Ongar started from the 'Saracen's Head', Aldgate, on Tuesday and Friday. (fn. 76) In 1817 coaches plied daily to Ongar from the 'Three Nuns' and from the 'Bull', Aldgate. (fn. 77) There were wagons from the 'Three Nuns' on Tuesday and Friday and from the 'Swan', Whitechapel, on Wednesday and Saturday. (fn. 78)
In 1826-7 a coach left the Crown Inn, Ongar, every weekday and returned from the 'Bull', Aldgate, the same day. (fn. 79) There were two carriers to London, Stephen Clements who left on Tuesday and Friday, and Thomas Nichols who left on Monday and Thursday. Their terminus was the 'Three Nuns', and they returned on the following days. (fn. 80) In 1833 the coaches belonging to A. Nelson & Co., left the 'Bull' twice a day for Ongar, with accommodation for 6 passengers inside and 12 outside. (fn. 81) Carriers' wagons also ran daily from the 'Bull'. (fn. 82) In 1848 there was a daily coach to London from the 'Lion' at Ongar. (fn. 83) There were also coaches to Brentwood railway station, leaving the house of John West, coach proprietor, twice daily. (fn. 84) Stephen Clements's wagons still left for London on Tuesday and Friday. (fn. 85) The wagons of Samuel Drake and Henry Wood left for Chelmsford on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. (fn. 86) In 1863, shortly before the railway reached Ongar, there were still one daily coach to London and two to Brentwood station. (fn. 87) There was also a mail cart to Romford. (fn. 88) Clements operated the same wagon service to London, and Samuel Drake to Chelmsford. (fn. 89) John White's wagon went daily to Brentwood. (fn. 90)
The railway service between Ongar and London was opened in 1865. (fn. 91) Bus services have been operated since the 1920's. In 1922 there were daily services to Bishop's Stortford and Brentwood. (fn. 92) Now (1953) there are good services to Epping, Brentwood, Romford and Chelmsford and others to the Rodings and to Harlow.
The earliest reference in the post-office records to a postal service in Chipping Ongar is in 1717. In that year the name of Joseph King of Ongar occurs in a general list of sub-postmasters; he had a yearly salary of £25. (fn. 93) His successor in 1727 was Lionel King, who was still serving in 1756, with the same salary. (fn. 94) He was followed by Mrs. Eliza Bancilhon, at first with a salary of £25, (fn. 95) later of £11, with riding work reckoned at £21. (fn. 96) This last payment was made by the deputypostmaster to the district surveyor, and it indicates that Ongar was already the centre for some postal service to the surrounding villages. There are similar details for the Epping post-office and it is clear that a by-post served Epping and Ongar at least from the early 18th century.
A directory of 1791 includes this service, the post leaving Epping every day save Monday, with a return service from Ongar every day except Saturday; Mrs. Bancilhon was still postmistress, with Thomas Hendry, victualler, of the 'White Hart', as 'Post Office Keeper'. (fn. 97) Ongar is also included in a list of the chief post and sub-post towns given in Cary's Atlas of 1793, with a note that letters leaving London at 3 p.m. reached Ongar at 10 a.m. the next day, the cost of a letter being 4d. (fn. 98) The rate was raised to 6d. in 1815. (fn. 99)
This by-post between Epping and Ongar is traced as a daily horse-ride in a post-office map of 1813. (fn. 100) The ride from Epping loops south as far as Abridge and goes on through Stanford Rivers.
In 1810 James Merrington resigned and James Scruby was made deputy-postmaster at Ongar. (fn. 101) Miss Maria Scruby was appointed six years later (fn. 102) and still held the office in 1845, when it was described as a postoffice issuing money orders. (fn. 103) William Scruby was subpostmaster at least between 1851 and 1886. (fn. 104) Later holders of the office can be traced in the county directories.
In the mid-19th century there were some changes. In 1847 application was made to the Postmaster General both by Epping and Ongar for a daily mail, which was set up later in the year; (fn. 105) and in 1852 Ongar was made a post town. (fn. 106) Moreover in addition to the old-established by-post between Epping and Ongar, there was a postal service between Romford and Ongar, described as a 'ride' in 1849, (fn. 107) and as a mail-cart service in 1857. (fn. 108) In 1855 a contract was also made for an Ongar-Brentwood day mail service. (fn. 109) After this time the Ongar post-office developed normally in line with the national service. The present post-office is in the centre of the town on the west side of the High Street. The telegraph was in use at Ongar after 1872 (fn. 110) and the telephone from 1913. (fn. 111)