Chipping Ongar: Public services and social life

Pages 158-159

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

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In 1890 Ongar's water supply was being obtained from wells 20-30 ft. deep. (fn. 1) Local waterworks were established in 1897. (fn. 2) In 1879 the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co. had been empowered to supply Ongar and neighbouring parishes from the pipes between Epping and Sawbridgeworth (fn. 3) and in 1907 the Herts. and Essex Co. took over the local company. (fn. 4) Some form of main drainage was already in existence at Ongar in 1827. (fn. 5) The Ongar Gas Co. began to supply the town in 1836. (fn. 6) In 1911 it was absorbed by the Bishop's Stortford Gas Co. and in 1934 the Ongar works were closed, gas being supplied by a trunk main from Epping. (fn. 7) The gasworks were situated to the south of Ongar Bridge, and were at first run in conjunction with the neighbouring brickfield. (fn. 8) There is still a gasometer. Ongar was included in the area covered by the County of London Electricity Act, 1927, and electricity was first supplied in 1932. (fn. 9)

The Royal Exchange Insurance Co. had a fireengine at Ongar in 1853. It was kept in the former parish cage at the south entrance to the town. In that year the parish vestry resolved to demolish the cage and order the removal of the engine. (fn. 10) In 1886 there was a town fire-brigade consisting of a captain and eight men. (fn. 11) The former engine house south of Ongar Bridge was demolished in 1951. (fn. 12)

The Ongar Cottage Hospital, consisting of two converted bungalows, was opened in 1928. It had 30 beds. (fn. 13) The Ongar and District War Memorial Hospital (in the parish of Shelley) was opened in 1932. (fn. 14) The burial grounds attached to the parish church and the Congregational church were closed by government order in 1864 (fn. 15) and in 1866 a new cemetery was opened in the north of the town. (fn. 16)

In 1843 the committee of the newly formed Essex Constabulary rejected an application for a lock-up in Ongar. (fn. 17) Negotiations were reopened in 1847, when Mr. Budworth offered land for a police-station. (fn. 18) By 1854 building was proceeding and in 1855 there was a police superintendent at Ongar, Joseph Catchpole. (fn. 19)

Before the 18th century the social life of Ongar was probably limited to the parish church, the court house, the shop, and the inn. From about 1720 the Congregational church was drawing nonconformists from the villages as well as the town, and at the end of the 18th century the building of the Assembly Rooms provided another social centre. During the ministry of Isaac Taylor at the Congregational church (1811-29) there is said to have been an improvement in the relations between dissenters and the other inhabitants of Ongar (see Protestant Nonconformity). It is probable that this was largely due to the personalities of Isaac Taylor and his family (see also Worthies).

In the second half of the 19th century the local gentry gave a strong lead in the social life of the town. Prominent among them was Capt. P. J. Budworth of Greenstead Hall. He was probably responsible for reviving the fair and was active in most local affairs. The Clerk of the Peace for Essex, Henry Gibson, lived at the White House and in 1870 he built a lecture hall for the town. (fn. 20) In 1873 a drill hall was built by subscription for the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Essex Regiment; it was also used for meetings and concerts. (fn. 21) The Budworth Hall was built in 1886 as a memorial to Captain Budworth. It contained a large assembly room, reading-rooms, and coffee rooms. A clock tower was added in 1887 and a museum in 1898. (fn. 22) By this time also the Roman Catholic church had been built and the grammar school had greatly increased in size. A cricket club had been formed in 1845. (fn. 23) A Mechanics' Institute is said to have been founded in 1848, but it is not known how long this lasted. (fn. 24) In 1906 there was an Ongar Agricultural Association, a Constitutional Association, a Horticultural Society, and a Reading and Recreation Society. (fn. 25) A branch of the county library was opened in 1930. (fn. 26) Activities at the Budworth Hall have declined, but Ongar is now (1952) well provided with societies, including the Ongar Social and Sports Club with its own ground. (fn. 27) There is no cinema. The coming of the motor bus in the 1920's has diminished the importance of Ongar as a local shopping centre, but the town still supplies some of the surrounding villages with certain commodities, particularly foodstuffs. (fn. 28) Expansion of the present town centre would be difficult owing to lack of suitable space. (fn. 29)


  • 1. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890).
  • 2. Essex Almanac, 1906, p. 226.
  • 3. E.R.O., Q/R Um 2/258.
  • 4. Inf. from Herts. & Essex Waterworks Co.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/P 124/8/3.
  • 6. Inf. from Eastern Gas Bd.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. See Occupations.
  • 9. Inf. from Eastern Elec. Bd.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/P 128/8/3.
  • 11. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1886).
  • 12. For a photo. of it see E.R.O., T/P 96, W.E.A. Survey, Ongar, 1951.
  • 13. Inf. from Mr. C. H. Hackney.
  • 14. Inf. from Councillor Miss Hadler.
  • 15. E.R.O., D/P 128/8/3.
  • 16. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1886).
  • 17. E.R.O., Q/ACm 15, p. 77. For the old parish cage see above, p. 156, and Parish Government, below.
  • 18. Ibid. p. 123.
  • 19. E.R.O., Q/ACm 16, p. 8; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1855).
  • 20. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890).
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid. (1906).
  • 23. Inf. from Mr. D. W. Hutchings. The original printed rules still exist.
  • 24. Inf. from Mr. Hutchings.
  • 25. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1906).
  • 26. Inf. from County Librarian.
  • 27. Inf. from Mr. D. W. Hutchings.
  • 28. Mr. D. W. Hutchings of Ongar Secondary School recently carried out an inquiry among 200 children at the school, drawn from 35 places, mainly in Ongar Rural District, concerning the use made by their families of goods and services provided by Chipping Ongar. The answers to his questions suggest that Chipping Ongar provides some goods and services for most of the places within 4 miles of it but that it is an important centre only for people living in 11 villages: Bobbingworth, Fyfield, Greenstead, Kelvedon Hatch, Moreton, High Ongar, Norton Heath, Shelley, Stanford Rivers, Stapleford Tawney, and Toot Hill. Most of these places are within 2 miles of Chipping Ongar, and they lie mainly to the north and west of the town. For villages to the south and east Brentwood is no doubt the main centre.
  • 29. In The Greater London Plan (1944), Professor Patrick Abercrombie proposed that Chipping Ongar should be the nucleus of a new town of 60,000 inhabitants (see pp. 169-71). The suggestion has not been adopted. It involved a large area surrounding the present town but did not provide for an important alteration of the old town centre.