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.
'High Ongar: Introduction', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred, (London, 1956) pp. 171-175. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol4/pp171-175 [accessed 4 March 2024]
The parish of High Ongar adjoins Chipping Ongar to the east and south, being divided from it by the River Roding and Cripsey Brook. Until 1946 it included two detached parts, the most important of which was some 3 miles west of the main body of the parish. The main body itself contains two distinct areas. Marden Ash, to the south of Chipping Ongar, is a residential suburb of the town. The soil there is glacial loam and Boulder Clay. The area to the east of the Roding is entirely rural. It includes two villages, High Ongar in the north-west and Paslow Wood Common in the south-east, and numerous farms. The soil is Boulder Clay with a small patch of glacial loam. The detached parts raised special administrative problems, which were made more serious by the poor road system in the main body of the parish.
Uncertainty as to the area of the parish during the Middle Ages makes it difficult to use the taxation returns for that period as a guide to population density and relative wealth, but if the area of High Ongar in and after the 14th century was about the same as it was in 1945 it is probable that the parish was sparsely populated in the Middle Ages. (fn. 1) In 1671 High Ongar had only 57 houses compared with the 81 of Stanford Rivers, a neighbouring parish of similar area. (fn. 2) The development of Marden Ash and High Ongar village during the 18th century increased the relative as well as the total population of the parish, and in 1801 High Ongar had 741 inhabitants-one more than Stanford Rivers. The population rose to 1,126 in 1821 and remained at about that figure for the next century. It then increased to 1,419 in 1931, and to 1,675 in 1951. (fn. 3) Recent growth is mainly due to the building of council houses.
The ancient parish of High Ongar consisted of 4,519 acres of which 1,505 acres were in the two detached portions. The main body of the parish, 3,014 acres in extent, was situated to the east and south of Chipping Ongar. (fn. 4) Detached Part No. 1, of 962 acres, lay between North Weald and Bobbingworth. Its western boundary was that which is now common to those two parishes. Its eastern boundary ran from Bobbingworth Lodge in the north to the southern boundary of Bobbingworth near Blake Hall railway station. (fn. 5) Detached Part No. 2, of 543 acres, lay to the north of Norton Mandeville. Its northern boundary was part of that which now divides Norton Mandeville from the parishes of Fyfield and Willingale. Its southern boundary ran from the Roding at a point about ¼ mile north of High Ongar Bridge east to the present Norton Mandeville-Willingale boundary near Bassett's Farm in Willingale. These detached parts belonged to High Ongar until 1946, when Detached Part No. 1 was merged in Bobbingworth and No. 2 in Norton Mandeville. (fn. 6)
Reasons are given below (see Church) for supposing that in about 1280 a substantial part of the then parish of High Ongar was transferred to Stanford Rivers (q.v.). It is suggested that High Ongar had previously extended continuously from Marden Ash, south of Greenstead and round to Ongar Park Hall and Ashlyns, and that the southern boundary of this part of High Ongar may have been the stream which joins the Roding at Wash Bridge. It is further suggested that the part of High Ongar which may have been transferred to Stanford Rivers about 1280 was this belt between Marden Ash and Ongar Park Hall. This transfer would have had the effect of making the Ashlyns-Ongar Park section of High Ongar a detached part of the parish. This detached part was known as Bobbingworth hamlet or as Westwood hamlet. Throughout most of its history Detached Part No. 1 has consisted of two estates: Ashlyns in the north, and Ongar Park in the south. (fn. 7) Ongar Park was originally part of the manor of Stanford Rivers (q.v.).
Detached Part No. 2 was separated from the main body of the parish by Norton Mandeville (q.v.). In 1181 there was no church at Norton. The tithes from the manor of Norton (Foliot) which belonged to St. Paul's and which was later known as Forest Hall (see below) were then payable to the church of High Ongar.
The church of Norton Mandeville was built after 1181 and before 1190 on the manor of Norton (Mandeville). It drew tithes from that manor but there is no evidence that it ever received the tithes of Forest Hall or those of the manor of Newarks Norton (see below). This would seem to be the origin of the second detached part of High Ongar, which included the manors of Forest Hall and Newarks Norton. It is possible that this detached part became for a time part of the parish of Norton Mandeville and was restored to High Ongar after the Dissolution, when the 1st Baron Rich was trading in tithes and monastic lands in these parishes. (fn. 8)
The main body of the ancient parish of High Ongar now stands alone, without detached parts. It consists of two sections, linked by a narrow neck of land. The section to the south of Chipping Ongar is small, but it includes Marden Ash. The name Marden goes back at least to the 11th century and means 'boundary valley': it suggests that this was the boundary between Chipping Ongar and High Ongar even at that time. (fn. 9) Cripsey Brook is the present northern boundary of this part of High Ongar. The brook here joins the River Roding which flows south-east across the neck of High Ongar and forms the boundary of Marden Ash on the east and south. The road from Chipping Ongar southwest to London rises steeply up Marden Ash Hill to a height of 200 ft. above sea-level. Near the top of the hill it joins the road to Brentwood and Tilbury, which runs south-east and leaves the parish via Langford Bridge (see Kelvedon Hatch). Most of the houses at Marden Ash are built along these two main roads and in the streets branching from them. In general the character of Marden Ash is purely residential. The sophisticated quality in some of the 18th- and early 19th-century houses is of special interest. It suggests that the residents were not dependent on local resources.
Marden Ash House, described in 1768 as a 'seat', was probably built by Nicholas Alexander late in the 17th century. (fn. 10) It retains a fine staircase of this period. Externally the appearance of the house was entirely altered in the middle of the 18th century, when it was cased in red brick and a new front was added. The front is of two stories with nine windows to the first floor. It has a central doorway with half-round Ionic pilasters and a pediment. There is a modillion cornice and a parapet, with pedimented dormers above. Internally there is some good mid-18th-century detail and a later 'Adam' ceiling. The oak overmantel in the Jacobean style was carved in the 19th century. (fn. 11) The 18thcentury brick stable block has a clock turret and cupola. North of the house is a consciously picturesque gardener's cottage, probably dating from the late 18th century. It is of one story with a deep thatched roof, the eaves supported on rustic veranda posts. The windows are pointed, with gothic glazing bars and leaded lights.
Opposite Marden Ash House is Dyers, a much smaller house which was also brought up to date in the 18th century. Similarity of detail suggests a connexion between the two houses at this time. Dyers may have a 16th- or 17th-century origin; there is a mid- or late-17th-century window head on the north side. The mid-18th-century front of plastered brickwork is not symmetrical, which suggests the adaptation of an earlier building. Internally the house is extremely rich in mid-18th-century decorative features, including door-heads and overmantels. The fine staircase has enriched strings and there is a Roman Doric order on the half landing.
Houses which probably date from the second half of the 18th century are the White House, near the north end of the Brentwood road, the Two Brewers Inn and houses near it on the Greenstead road, and a red-brick house with a wall sundial on the main road south of Ongar Bridge.
Grey End, formerly The Nook, appears to have been a weather-boarded 18th-century house, part of which was refronted in brick and stucco early in the 19th century. The altered part of the south front has somewhat elaborate detail of the period.
Brewery Cottages, on the Brentwood road, were probably built in connexion with the former brewery at Dyers (see below). They are of whitewashed brick and probably date from about 1830. Orchard Cottage, built by Noble of Ongar in 1837, is a typical small middle-class house of the period with a trellis porch and sash windows. There are several fairly large late-19th-century houses, the most important of which is The Gables, built in 1887 with additions of 1891 and 1894. (fn. 12) For some years before the Second World War it was the Mary Macarthur Holiday Home for Working Women. (fn. 13) Most of the houses along the London road were built during the second half of the 19th century. Three cul-de-sac roads have houses of a later date including seven pairs of red-brick council houses in St. James's Avenue and three pairs in Landview Gardens. Also in St. James's Avenue is the site of the former St. James's Church. (fn. 14) There is a Gospel Hall on the west side of Marden Ash Hill.
A quarter of a mile east of Marden Ash the Brentwood road is joined by the road running west from Hallsford Bridge. Newhouse Farm, on this latter road, is a timber-framed and plastered house dating from about 1600. The original structure is L-shaped with a small staircase wing in the angle. There may have been a second cross-wing at the east end, giving the more usual half-H plan. There are two rather closely set gables at the front, decorated during the past 30 years with imitation half-timbering. (fn. 15) The central chimney has six octagonal shafts with moulded bases. There are two original ground floor rooms, that to the west having a very wide fireplace opening surrounded by old carving reset. The east room is completely panelled with a carved frieze and fine carved overmantel, all of about 1600. If these fittings are in situ they suggest a house of considerable status which is likely to have been more extensive at the time it was built. Alterations took place in the 18th century when a low two-story wing was added at the back and most of the small mullioned windows were replaced by larger casements. The two doorways are Georgian, one retaining an earlier nail-studded door. Single-story additions at the back of the house are of a still later date.
At Hallsford Bridge there is a brickworks. To the east of the bridge the Stondon Massey road runs southeast, and Mill Lane, leading to High Ongar village and the east part of the parish, runs north. This section of the parish is bounded on the west by the Roding, from which the land rises gradually to the east, reaching a height of 300 ft. at Paslow Wood Common. The main road from Epping to Chelmsford enters the parish in the north-west by High Ongar Bridge across the Roding. Near the bridge to the south of this road is the rectory (see below, Church). High Ongar village is ½ mile east of the bridge, lying along the road. Here are the parish church, the village school, the village hall, the post-office, and a small sawmill. There has been a village in this place since the beginning of the 17th century and no doubt earlier, although in the Middle Ages it may have been no more than a tiny hamlet. In 1637 there were nine tenements in 'High Ongar Street' belonging to the rectory manor (see below, Church) and there may have been other houses in the village not included in that manor.
The oldest surviving house in the village is the timber-framed and weather-boarded building immediately east of the church; this dates from the late 16th or early 17th century and may have been built as the rectory. It has a half H-shaped plan, the wings projecting to the north. The front has two flanking gables and the upper floor oversails across its entire length. East of the centre is a brick chimney with four octagonal shafts with moulded bases and joined caps. The weather-boarding was probably added in the 18th century and at some time the west wing was extended northwards and further chimneys added. A small lean-to shop, now the post-office, was added to the front of the east wing, probably early in the 19th century. There is also a single-story addition at the back between the two wings. Before these extensions were made the house probably had fourteen rooms. The house is now divided into four tenements. Part of it was at one time used as a lock-up, and the postmasters' tenement contains a small room that may have been one of the cells. (fn. 16)
Opposite the church is a row of timber-framed houses known as 'The Street'. They are fairly uniform in character and probably date from the early or mid-18th century. The fronts, some altered, are mostly roughcast but one pair is weather-boarded and the Three Horseshoes Inn has timber framing recently exposed. Several houses near The Street appear to be of the same period, faced later with brick. The Tabor almshouses (see Charities, below) were situated near the post-office to the east.
Mill Lane, running south from the village, took its name from the windmill which formerly stood to the west of the lane ½ mile from High Ongar. (fn. 17) The Old Cottage also on the west of the lane has diagonal shafts to the chimney and is of the 17th century. Nash Hall cottages are an attractive row with a mansard roof and gabled dormers. There are 9 pairs of council houses on the west side of the lane immediately south of the village. Farther south on the same side are 7 pairs. Behind these is Millfield, a council housing estate consisting of some 20 pairs of houses and 4 pairs of old people's bungalows. It was built about 1948. Also in Mill Lane is a small chapel (see Nonconformity, below). Clatterford Bridge, in Mill Lane, spans a stream which flows west to join the Roding.
South of the main Chelmsford road ¼ mile east of the village is Nash Hall (see below). Chivers Hall (see below) is north of the road 1 mile east of the village. At Cozens Farm, on the road 1½ mile east of the village, there is an incomplete moat. The house itself is not older than the 17th century. It is timber-framed and plastered and has an original chimney. Spurriers, ½ mile east of Cozens Farm, is a brick farm-house of the late 18th or early 19th century. Half a mile east of Spurriers is Norton Heath, a hamlet partly in High Ongar and partly in Norton Mandeville. (fn. 18)
At Spurriers the main road is joined by the road running south-west through Nine Ashes and Paslow Wood Common to Stondon Massey. Bluegates, which is ¼ mile south of Spurriers on this latter road, has a late-18th-century front. Withers Pawne (see below), now called The Rookery, is ½ mile south-east of Spurriers. Rookery House, formerly called The Rookery, is ¼ mile west of Withers Pawne. It is a substantial brick house built about 1870. Nine Ashes Farm, now divided into tenements for the employees of Paslow Hall farm, is probably of the early 18th century. North of Nine Ashes the road is joined by King Street, which runs north-west to the main road. In King Street are Paslow Hall (see below) and Old Thrifts (see Frith Hall). Old Withers, a timberframed and plastered farm-house, on the north side of King Street, appears to be of the late 17th or early 18th-century. This is an ancient moated site, which derives its name from the family of Richard Wyther (fl. 1340). (fn. 19) The three-sided moat is now (1953) being filled in. There are eight pairs of council houses in King Street.
The village of Paslow Wood Common takes its name from the common which formerly adjoined the road here (see below). It has a primary school and a mission church. There is fairly continuous building on both sides of the road; most of this dates from the 19th and 20th centuries and there is a large proportion of small modern bungalows. Larkins Farm is a timberframed house, probably of the 17th century but encased in red brick early in the 18th century. In the King Street-Paslow Wood Common area there are several 18th-century cottages. In 1777 there were eight houses around the common itself, but most of these have now disappeared. (fn. 20)
There are several references in the Quarter Sessions records of the late 16th and early 17th centuries to the bad condition of the roads in the parish. It is significant that most of the references concern the remote detached part of the parish to the west of Bobbingworth. More than one complaint was made of the lane between Bobbingworth Green and Reynkyns Brook (apparently the present main road, A. 122). (fn. 21) Both that detached part and the main body of the parish were served by the Epping-Chelmsford road which was turnpiked late in the 18th century. A toll-gate was erected across the road opposite High Ongar Church. The toll house was sold in 1870. (fn. 22) It stood against the south wall of the churchyard. (fn. 23) King Street probably owes its name to the family of Richard le Kyng (fl. 1341). (fn. 24) The most serious defect in the road system of the parish has always been the absence of a direct road from Marden Ash to Paslow Wood Common. The road from High Ongar village to Paslow Wood Common is also somewhat roundabout. There is no reason to suppose that these defects ever had serious social results, as did the bad road system of Lambourne (q.v.). Marden Ash could supply its social needs in Chipping Ongar. Until the 18th century there were probably few residents at Paslow Wood Common, and they were not far from Blackmore.
High Ongar Bridge, which carries the main Chelmsford road across the Roding, has been important from the 16th century and no doubt earlier. It was often presented at Quarter Sessions as needing repair. In 1563 it was not known who should repair it. (fn. 25) In 1574-5 it was said to be the responsibility of the county. (fn. 26) Complaints continued to be made about its condition, and the county indicted for failure to repair it. (fn. 27) In the late 17th century, however, considerable sums were spent on its repair, and the county continued to maintain the bridge. (fn. 28) In 1858 the county surveyor made a detailed report on it; it was then a brick bridge. (fn. 29) In 1913 it was rebuilt in concrete. (fn. 30)
A foot-bridge between Chipping Ongar and High Ongar was also presented at Quarter Sessions at various times in the 17th century. It apparently adjoined High Ongar Bridge. (fn. 31) In 1677 the inhabitants of High Ongar were indicted for not repairing the foot-bridge leading to Brentwood-presumably a bridge at Marden Ash. Hallsford Bridge is dealt with under Stondon Massey.
For transport High Ongar has depended mainly upon Chipping Ongar, and upon services along the main Epping-Chelmsford road. High Ongar village is now (1953) well served by buses between Epping and Chelmsford, and also by those between Chipping Ongar and Brentwood via Blackmore and Nine Ashes. Marden Ash has buses to Romford and Brentwood passing through and the terminus for the services to Epping and to Brentwood via High Ongar is at the foot of Marden Ash Hill.
A post-office at High Ongar is listed in 1856. (fn. 32) Edward Knights was receiver between 1862 and 1890. (fn. 33) In 1895-1902 there was a sub-postmaster. (fn. 34) The post-office was closed for a short time about 1905- 6, but was reopened after a petition from the parish council. (fn. 35)
Water was supplied to High Ongar village in 1914 by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co. (fn. 36) Between 1894 and 1908 there were many complaints of foul and open drainage ditches in the parish, but in spite of this a proposal by Chipping Ongar for a joint sewage scheme was rejected in 1901. (fn. 37) The main drainage of High Ongar village had been completed by 1915, although the school was not connected to the main sewer until 1925. (fn. 38) There is main drainage on the Millfield estate and at Marden Ash. The Ongar Gas Co. supplied gas to Marden Ash, no doubt from its early days. Marden Ash also received electricity when Chipping Ongar was supplied in 1932. Gas was supplied to High Ongar village in 1910, (fn. 39) and electricity mains were extended there in 1935. (fn. 40) Paslow Wood Common has electricity but no gas or main drainage. (fn. 41)
In 1895 the parish council considered that a policeman was needed in High Ongar village, (fn. 42) and one was stationed there by 1898. (fn. 43) The constable was retained until 1914 (fn. 44) but appears to have been withdrawn during the First World War. In 1921 the parish council examined complaints that the village youths were disorderly and decided to apply for a resident policeman. (fn. 45) The application was not immediately successful, but there is now (1953) a policeman in the village. (fn. 46)
A village hall was opened in High Ongar in 1925. It had an original endowment of Mill Lane allotment field, the income from which was to be used in the maintenance of the hall. The trustees were to be a committee of twelve elected residents. In 1928-34 the allotment field was sold in several lots for £187. The money was invested and in 1949 brought in £4 19s. 10d. This was supplemented by £119 18s. 4d. raised by letting the hall for social and recreational purposes, including film shows. (fn. 47) A branch of the county library was opened in 1928. (fn. 48) There was a club room at Marden Ash in 1914, possibly in connexion with St. James's Church. (fn. 49)
The Fane Memorial Nursing Home was set up by a deed of 1901. (fn. 50) A public subscription in memory of the Revd. F. A. S. Fane (d. 1894), for many years Curate of Norton Mandeville, and chairman of the Ongar Board of Guardians, had been used to buy property fronting on the main road at Marden Ash and this deed put the house in trust to be used as a home for a nurse employed by the residents of Ongar Union. (fn. 51) Before 1948 the house was for many years used by the district nurse provided by the Ongar and District Nursing Association. In 1949 the property was transferred to the county council.
For much of its history High Ongar has been occupied mainly by tenant farmers. During the Middle Ages the Waldens and Batailles of Ongar Park were probably resident lords, from the 15th century to 1578 the Pawnes probably lived at Chivers Pawne, and from the 16th century onwards the Stanes of Forest Hall lived on their manor, but with these exceptions it is doubtful whether any of the lords lived in the parish until the 18th century. About 1730 the leading vestrymen were William Stane and William Baker (of Withers Pawne). (fn. 52) By this time the Stanes owned the manors of Newarks and Chivers Hall as well as Forest Hall. A hundred years later their new mansion of Forest Hall was the centre of an expanding estate of more than 1,000 acres. (fn. 53) Meanwhile, in the detached part of the parish adjoining Bobbingworth, the manor of Ongar Park had been acquired by the Capel Cures, of Blake Hall in Bobbingworth. Both the Stanes and the Capel Cures let most of their land to tenant farmers, but being themselves resident were in a position to exercise fairly close supervision over the tenants. (fn. 54) In 1849 the parish contained some 20 farms of more than 30 acres. (fn. 55) Of these the largest (Paslow Hall) contained 705 acres. There were five others of more than 200 acres, six of 100-200 acres, four of 50-100 acres, and four of 30-50 acres. In the previous year it had been estimated that 2,500 acres of the parish were arable and 1,500 acres were meadow and pasture. (fn. 56) As these figures indicate, mixed farming was then, as now, being carried on in High Ongar. In general this applied to individual farms: in about 1820-30 Ongar Park Hall farm (in High Ongar and Stanford Rivers) consisted of 421 acres, of which 119 acres were pasture and 302 acres arable. (fn. 57) In 1827-9 wheat, barley, clover, and oats were the main crops. (fn. 58) Warden's Farm in the same parishes contained 93 acres of pasture and 176 acres of arable. (fn. 59) Newhouse Farm, on the other hand, was entirely pasture (106 acres). (fn. 60)
The Capel Cures still live at Blake Hall (1953) but the Newalls were not resident at Forest Hall after about 1900 and their estate was broken up in 1919-20. The largest farm of the estate, Paslow Hall, was acquired as a dairy farm by the Stratford (now the London) Co-operative Society. A previous tenant of Paslow, Hugh Craig, attained distinction as a maker of cheese. During the summer of 1904 he made several Cheddar cheeses, using as much as 160 gallons of milk. (fn. 61)
There is little information about inclosure in the parish. Richard I granted Waltham Abbey 60 acres assarts in the manor of Paslow. (fn. 62) Paslow Wood Common, which contained 83 acres, was inclosed in 1859. (fn. 63)
There was a windmill in Mill Lane in 1777. (fn. 64) The mill was still working in 1874, but fell out of use soon after. (fn. 65) A bakery was run in conjunction with it, which continued after the mill itself had closed. (fn. 66) The base of the old windmill, now an outhouse, stands in the garden of Mill Cottage. It is of unusual octagonal shape and has thick battered walls of red brick. The cross-trees are still in position. The mill may date from the 17th century. Mill Cottage, which included the bakery, is probably of the same period. It has been considerably extended by the present owners.
In 1833-4 and 1848 malting was being carried on at Marden Ash by Henry Johnston. (fn. 67) In 1848 there was also a brewer, Henry Saltmarsh, in the parish. (fn. 68) In 1874 J. and J. Palmer were brewers at Marden Ash, and their business was still being carried on in 1906 by E. J. Palmer. (fn. 69) The brewery was behind Dyers (fn. 70) and must have been a flourishing concern if Brewery Cottages (see above) were built to house its workers.
In 1823 a lacemaking school was established in or near Marden Ash by Charles Walker, who took pauper apprentices from local parishes. (fn. 71)
The brickworks at Hallsford Bridge were opened about 1914. (fn. 72) Other occupations that have been noted were mainly of the types common in rural areas, but a marine store dealer and a fishmonger occur in 1886. (fn. 73) There is now (1953) a sawmill opposite the church in High Ongar village.
About 1220 there were two separate grants of a fair in High Ongar, one to William de Monceux, lord of the manor of Ongar (later Nash Hall), and the other to the Rector of High Ongar. (fn. 74) In 1657 Quarter Sessions suppressed a fair in the parish that was said to have been held illegally. (fn. 75)