Stondon Massey: Introduction

Pages 240-242

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.



Stondon Massey is about 2 miles south-east of Chipping Ongar and 4 miles north-west of Brentwood. (fn. 1) It is one of the smallest parishes in the hundred, having an area of 1,127 acres. In shape it is roughly like a reversed L, of which the short arm lies along a ridge about 300 ft. high above the Roding and the long arm extends north-west down to the river, containing the valley of a small stream which flows into the river near Hallsford Bridge, and also a spur extending north-west from the left bank of the stream. The scenery is varied. There are stretches of woodland in the upland areas, notably Oak Wood and the park at Stondon Place, both on the main ridge, and Church Wood on the subsidiary spur. Along parts of the road which runs northwest through the parish to Hallsford Bridge there are high hedges, while the approach east from Kelvedon Hatch is by a road without hedges but lined with tall trees. From the higher ground at Church Hill there are good views across to Chipping Ongar and also north-east in the direction of Blackmore. During the past 30 years the parish has become increasingly suburbanized. It retains several farms on old sites but the buildings have mostly been rebuilt during the past 150 years.

Stondon Massey was one of the three parishes at this end of Ongar hundred where Roman Catholic worship was maintained through the years of persecution in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. (fn. 2) Another point of special interest in the history of the parish is the connexion with Marks Hall in Margaret Roding (Dunmow hundred). (fn. 3)

Stondon means 'stone hill'. (fn. 4) This suggests that the oldest Saxon settlement was on the subsidiary spur, where there are still gravel pits, and it is there that the ancient manor house of Stondon Hall (now a farm) is situated, and near it the parish church. Most of the other houses in the parish, old and new, are also on the higher ground. The farms include Mellow Purgess, Clapgates, and Chivers in the west, Soap House on the Kelvedon Hatch road, Brook and Cannon's on the main road in the centre of the parish, Little Myles's to the west of the church and Woolmongers on the eastern boundary. Bridge Farm, which is exceptional in its situation, is on the low ground just east of Hallsford Bridge. Stondon Place and Stondon House, both near Cannon's Farm, are large houses each of which in turn succeeded Stondon Hall as the residence of the lord of the manor. The old rectory, now Stondon Massey House, is ¼ mile south of the church. The new rectory is farther south near Cannon's. The 'Bricklayers' Arms', the village inn, is at the cross-roads south of Cannon's, and the post-office is near the inn. Until recent years one of the focal points of the village was the cross-roads opposite Stondon Place. Here on a small green are the remains of a sign-post to which are fixed the irons formerly belonging to the parish whipping-post. Immediately north of this green is the site of the former village school and beyond it the village hall, now little used, its entrance overgrown. Since the Second World War the parish appears to have lost some of its corporate life. The two big houses have been empty (Stondon House now has a tenant but Stondon Place is still unoccupied), there is now no resident rector and the village school was closed in 1953.

The medieval settlement of the parish probably spread south from Stondon Hall. Brook Farm, Woolmongers, and several other farms derive their names from medieval tenants. (fn. 5) Apart from Stondon Hall, part of which may date from the 15th century, (fn. 6) none of the secular buildings which now survive appears to contain medieval work. By the 18th century there were houses on most of the present farm sites, and some of the existing buildings are of this period or slightly earlier. Brook Farm is a curious looking building consisting of two wings connected by a narrow covered passage. It is said to have been rebuilt about 1873 (fn. 7) but the north wing is certainly older than this. Heavy ceiling beams are visible on the ground floor and this part of the house may date from the 17th century. Cannon's Farm opposite is a small two-story house with double-hung sashes, probably built in the 18th century but recently modernized. Little Myles's was so named to distinguish it from Great Myles's in Kelvedon Hatch (q.v.) of which estate it formed part. In about 1700 there was a very small house there, with a 14acre holding attached to it, but during the 18th century the house and the farm were both greatly enlarged. (fn. 8) The present building is of two stories, roughcast, with a tiled roof, and plain brick chimneys. In general appearance it is of the 18th century but it probably incorporates parts of the previous building at the back. Woolmongers is a small two-story building, timberframed, plastered and whitewashed and is also probably of the 18th century. Clapgates, which took its name from the gates which formerly stood at this point to prevent cattle straying from Kelvedon Common, was called Stondon Grove in 1777. (fn. 9) It has been considerably modernized but may date from the 18th century. At Mellow Purgess, where the old farm-house was demolished about 1850, there still survives a small whitewashed cottage with dormers and a thatched roof which was probably that shown in a drawing of 1789. (fn. 10) Chivers Farm is not shown on the 1777 map and the present house is in any case a rebuilding of 1898. (fn. 11) Soap House, which took its name from the soap boiling carried on there in the 18th century, was rebuilt about 1902 (fn. 12) but may contain parts of an 18th century or even an earlier building. Bridge Farm (otherwise Hallsford House) was demolished in 1899 and replaced by a new house on higher ground. A photograph of the old house shows an H-shaped plan, suggesting that it dated from the 16th century or earlier. One of the beams removed from it was 23 ft. long and measured a foot square in cross-section. (fn. 13) Stondon Place, which was in existence in the 16th century, was rebuilt about 1707 and again, after a fire, about 1880. (fn. 14) Stondon House, which was probably built about 1740, was also burnt down in the 19th century and the present building is of about 1870. (fn. 15) The Giles Almshouses, at the south entrance to the village, were rebuilt in 1860. The original cottages were of the 16th century. (fn. 16) The 'Bricklayers' Arms' is a late-19th-century building on the site of a tarred weather-boarded cottage which in the early 19th century served as a small provision shop. (fn. 17)

Perhaps the most impressive building in the parish is the former rectory, built about 1800. (fn. 18) Near it to the south is Rectory Cottage, a tiny house with a very tall chimney, a high-pitched roof, and round-arched central door between two similarly arched 'Gothic' windows. It was formerly thatched but is now slated. Its style is similar to that of some other cottages in the district, for example the gardener's cottage at Marden Ash in High Ongar (q.v.) and is of the early 19th century. The house has been known locally as the Doll's House and is said to have been built by the owner of Stondon House for one of his daughters. (fn. 19) There are several other 19th-century houses and there has been considerable development since the First World War, mostly along the road to Hallsford Bridge. There are many privately built houses, including some bungalows and a number of council houses of which the most interesting are nine pairs built about 1947 in Reeve's Close, opposite the Giles Almshouses. Near Hallsford Bridge there is a small engineering works, opened about 1952.

The population of Stondon Massey was 200 in 1801. (fn. 20) It rose to a peak of 299 in 1831 and remained at about that level until late in the 19th century, when it declined gradually to 213 in 1921. (fn. 21) Since then there has been a great increase, to 282 in 1931 and 489 in 1951. (fn. 22)

The road system of the parish is simple, consisting only of the Hallsford Bridge and Ongar road, that to Kelvedon Hatch and Blackmore, the road to Paslow Wood Common and Chelmsford, and the loop to the farms in the west of the parish. There have probably been few changes since the Middle Ages. The most important was the building of Hallsford Bridge in the late 18th century (see below). The only other change that has been noticed was the disappearance of a track leading from Mellow Purgess to Kelvedon Common. This was in use up to about 1550 but soon after this the right of way was barred by the farmer of the neighbouring land. About 1604 the rector, John Nobbs, sued William Byrd, then tenant of the land, in an attempt to reopen the track, but he was evidently unsuccessful. (fn. 23)

No mention has been found of a bridge at Hallsford before the 18th century. The map of 1777 shows only 'All Ford' (fn. 24) but by this time steps had been taken to build a bridge. In 1775 a petition was sent to Quarter Sessions by the inhabitants of Stondon and others complaining that the ford was dangerous. They asked for a bridge to be built and this was done. (fn. 25) Hallsford Bridge appears in the lists of county bridges from about 1800. (fn. 26) In 1858 the county surveyor reported that the bridge was a recent erection in timber. (fn. 27) The present bridge was built in concrete in 1934. (fn. 28) The building of a bridge at Hallsford greatly improved communications between Stondon and Chipping Ongar, but the parish was not on a main road and until the coming of motor-buses after the First World War there was no public transport there. There are now fairly good bus services to Brentwood and via Blackmore to Ongar.

Stondon was in 1852 being served by a postal messenger from Kelvedon Hatch. (fn. 29) It was later served through Brentwood (fn. 30) and it was not until 1898 that it had its own post-office. (fn. 31) There was a telephone service by 1930. (fn. 32) Water is supplied to the parish by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co. (fn. 33) Electricity was laid on in June 1938. (fn. 34) There is no gas supply. The village hall was opened in 1919. (fn. 35) The Blackmore, Stondon and District Ex-Servicemen's Club, founded in 1922, is just outside Stondon parish, at Tips Cross on the south. (fn. 36) A branch of the county library was opened in 1927. (fn. 37)

In this parish as elsewhere in the hundred mixed farming is carried on. In 1848 it was estimated that there were some 600 acres of arable in the parish and 400 acres of meadow and pasture. (fn. 38) In 1849 there were 10 farms in the parish of over 40 acres and several smaller holdings. (fn. 39) The only farms of over 100 acres were Stondon Hall (231 acres), Chivers (127 acres), and Little Myles's which was partly in Stondon and partly in Kelvedon Hatch. In general therefore this was a parish of small farms, and it appears to have been so for centuries. (fn. 40) In the 19th century the ownership of the land was also widely distributed. The Stondon Place estate was reduced in about 1816. In 1849 it contained only 250 acres. (fn. 41) The Revd. G. G. Stonestreet then owned Stondon Hall farm and Woolmongers totalling 247 acres, and John Fane owned Little Myles's and Clapgates, totalling 138 acres. No other owners had as much as 100 acres. (fn. 42) During the 1850's P. H. Meyer increased the Stondon Place estate slightly but he never came near to owning the greater part of the parish as did his friend Capt. Budworth in Greenstead (q.v.). In the 18th century, however, and previously in the 16th century and even earlier the lord of the manor had owned much more than in Meyer's time. In this connexion it is perhaps significant that there was never more than one manor in Stondon. From the 16th century at least the lords of the manor were usually resident in the parish. In the 18th and 19th centuries they took an active interest in the life of the parish. William Taylor-How (d. 1777) left a legacy for the village schoolmaster. (fn. 43) P. H. Meyer contributed generously to the village school and the church and led the local Volunteers. (fn. 44) The parish was also fortunate in having a succession of able and publicspirited rectors during the same period. The agricultural depression of the 1870's may not have affected Stondon quite so severely as some neighbouring parishes because there were in this parish several wealthy families-notably at Stondon Place, Stondon House, and the rectory-which did not depend wholly upon farming for their incomes, and which brought money into the parish. An example of the way in which this effect may have been produced comes from a slightly earlier period: the prosperity of the 'Bricklayer's Arms' was built up partly upon the liberality of Miss Hollingworth of Stondon Place. (fn. 45) The depression did, however, have one striking result in the parish. Stondon Hall farm, which in 1868 had been bought by the tenant, James French, for £11,000, was sold after his death soon afterwards at a substantial loss. The purchaser was a Welsh cattle-dealer who turned the whole farm over to pasture. (fn. 46)

There have been few occupations in the parish other than those connected with agriculture. Gravel digging has probably been carried on in a small way for centuries. One gravel pit, to the north-east of the church; was opened as recently as 1886. (fn. 47) Soap House perpetuates the memory of a local industry carried on in the 18th century. It was occupied from 1696 to 1743 by Robert Dennett, a soapboiler, and the industry is said to have been carried on there until about 1800. (fn. 48) The new engineering works near Hallsford Bridge deals mainly with repairs to agricultural machinery and implements.


  • 1. O.S. 2½ in. Map, sheets 52/50, 51/59.
  • 2. See also Kelvedon Hatch and Navestock.
  • 3. See below, Manor, Church.
  • 4. P.N. Essex (E.P.N.S.), 81.
  • 5. Ibid. 81-82. For the history of the parish farms see E. H. L. Reeve, History of Stondon Massey, pt. III, ch. iv.
  • 6. See below, Manor.
  • 7. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 123.
  • 8. E.R.O., D/DFa P1, P6.
  • 9. Chapman and André, Map of Essex, 1777, sheet xvii.
  • 10. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 126. For the curious name of this farm see P.N. Essex, 81.
  • 11. Reeve, op. cit. 124.
  • 12. Ibid. 152.
  • 13. Ibid. 124, 119.
  • 14. See Manor.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. See below, Charities.
  • 17. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 49.
  • 18. See below, Church.
  • 19. But cf. Church. If this is the former Bell Rope Cottage it is of c. 1842.
  • 20. For census figures 1801-1901 see V.C.H. Essex, ii, 350.
  • 21. Ibid.; Census, 1911-21.
  • 22. Census, 1931, 1951.
  • 23. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 126.
  • 24. Chapman and Andre, Map of Essex, 1777, sheet xvii.
  • 25. E.R.O., D/DFa E43/36. For a photo of Hallsford in flood, 1903, see Reeve, Stondon Massey, 162.
  • 26. E.R.O., Q/ABz 1, 2.
  • 27. E.R.O., Q/ABz 3.
  • 28. Inf. from Essex County Surveyor.
  • 29. P.M.G. Mins. 1852, vol. 127, p. 281.
  • 30. Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1886, &c.
  • 31. P.M.G. Mins. 1898, vol. 631, min. 8137, vol. 640, min. 14753.
  • 32. Brit. Post. Guide, 1930.
  • 33. Inf. from Herts. & Essex Waterworks Co.
  • 34. Inf. from Eastn. Elecy. Bd.
  • 35. Inf. from Mr. C. H. Hackney.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Inf. from County Librarian.
  • 38. E.R.O., D/CT 337.
  • 39. Ibid.
  • 40. Cf. Reeve, Stondon Massey, pt. III, ch. iv.
  • 41. E.R.O., D/CT 337. And see below, Manor.
  • 42. E.R.O., D/CT 337.
  • 43. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 47.
  • 44. Ibid. 50-51. And see Church, Schools.
  • 45. Reeve, Stondon Massey, 49.
  • 46. Ibid. 120.
  • 47. Ibid. 4.
  • 48. Ibid. 124, 152.