The hundred of Waltham: Introduction

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

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'The hundred of Waltham: Introduction', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, (London, 1966) pp. 93-96. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]


The hundred, sometimes called the half-hundred, of Waltham lies in the south-west of the county, beside the river Lea. It includes the ancient parishes of Chingford, Epping, Nazeing, and Waltham Holy Cross, and also Roydon hamlet, in Roydon parish, the remainder of which lies in Harlow hundred. The south-west of the hundred, at Chingford, is urbanized. Farther north are the market towns of Waltham Abbey and Epping. Elsewhere the hundred is still mainly rural, and it includes much of Epping Forest. Notable features are the Iron Age hill-fort of Ambresbury Banks, the church and precincts of the abbey at Waltham, and Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge at Chingford.

Domesday Book mentions Waltham four times as a hundred, and once as a halfhundred. (fn. 1) In the 12th and 13th centuries it was usually called a half-hundred. This description had practical significance in at least one respect: at crown pleas before the justices in eyre Waltham, like the other half-hundreds in Essex, was represented by six jurors instead of the twelve sent by the hundreds. (fn. 2) Later the terms hundred and half-hundred were used indifferently. (fn. 3) It has been suggested that the original hundred of Waltham lay on both sides of the Lea, and that the Essex portion therefore became known as a half-hundred. (fn. 4) There seems, however, to be no evidence of this, and it is more likely that Waltham was sometimes called a half-hundred because it was small, and was therefore assessed at about half the usual number of hides. (fn. 5) In 1086 it contained some 8 estates, comprising 63 hides, (fn. 6) lying in the four villages which gave their names to the parishes of the hundred. The largest estate was the manor of Waltham, comprising some 38 hides. (fn. 7) This covered a wider area than the parish of Waltham as later defined, and clearly extended into Epping and Nazeing. At Chingford one hide had since 1066 been taken from St. Paul's manor by Peter de Valognes. This probably descended with the manor of Higham Bensted, in Walthamstow (Becontree hundred), the lords of which subsequently owed service to the court of Waltham hundred. Another Chingford tenement, 10 a. meadow, had been seized by Geoffrey de Mandeville, lord of the adjoining manor of Edmonton (Mdx.). (fn. 8) This may partly account for the fact that in the extreme south-west of Chingford the county boundary runs slightly east of the river Lea.


In addition to the estates already mentioned were two, at Nazeing and Epping, which Domesday places in Harlow hundred. (fn. 9) The Nazeing estate, held in 1086 by Ranulf brother of Ilger, probably descended with the manor of Netherhall, which lay in Nazeing and in Roydon. (fn. 10) Roydon was mainly in Harlow hundred, but some of it, later known as Roydon Roche or Roydon hamlet, was by 1198–9 in Waltham hundred, (fn. 11) and this included part of Netherhall. It therefore seems possible that Ranulf's estate was transferred from Harlow hundred to Waltham hundred during the century after the Conquest. The Epping estate in Harlow hundred was later known as the manor of Madells, which lay in Rye Hill hamlet. (fn. 12) According to Morant the inhabitants of Rye Hill did suit to the Harlow hundred court, and the land tax assessments of 1780– 1832 also place the hamlet in Harlow hundred. (fn. 13) This was clearly a correct statement of ancient custom, though some 17th-century records list Rye Hill with Waltham hundred. (fn. 14)

In 1189 Richard I granted the manor of Waltham 'with its half-hundred' to Waltham Abbey. (fn. 15) The hundredal lordship subsequently descended along with the manor. (fn. 16) Records of hundred courts exist for 1269–71, and for occasional years between 1400 and 1470. (fn. 17) The hundred court was meeting at Waltham from the 13th century onwards. (fn. 18) A moot hall there is mentioned in the 15th century. (fn. 19) In addition to the hundred, the abbey held the manors of Waltham, Epping, and Nazeing. Only at Chingford and Roydon hamlet were the principal manors in other hands. At Chingford, during the 13th century, the abbey came into collision with two other powerful corporations, the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's, and the Knights Templars. In 1181, when the hundred was still in the king's hands, it was stated that the tenants of the manor of Chingford St. Pauls paid 10d. wardpence to the hundred, (fn. 20) did suit to the hundred court with the reeve and two men, and came to the scotale of the bailiff of the hundred. Since Hugh de Marini became dean (c. 1160) the manor had also paid 5s. to the bailiff of the hundred. (fn. 21) In 1219 the Dean and Chapter took legal proceedings against the abbey for seizing cattle on the manor on the manor of Chingford. (fn. 22) In his defence the Abbot of Waltham pleaded that St. Paul's had failed to do suit at the hundred court, and that he had therefore distrained upon them. In the following year the dispute was settled by an agreement which sets out first the services previously claimed by the abbey from Chingford St. Pauls, and then those that were to apply in future, from which it is clear that the Dean and Chapter had secured important concessions. (fn. 23) Before the agreement all the tenants of Chingford, bond and free, had been obliged to attend at three law-hundreds a year, after Michaelmas, after Epiphany, and on Hockday. At the Hockday court they had to keep watch with the wardstaff of the hundred. The free tenants had to attend the summons of the hundred bailiff every fortnight throughout the year. At the annual view of frankpledge, held at Chingford church, the Dean and Chapter had to render burghal-penny and 10d. wardpence. At scotale the demesne of the manor had to pay 7d., and every hearth of the tenants 1d. Under the new agreement all the tenants of Chingford were to attend the Michaelmas and Hockday law-hundreds, and at the latter were to keep watch with the wardstaff. In addition, the free tenants, if summoned, were to attend the hundred court twice a year. View of frankpledge was to be held annually at Chingford by the bailiff of the hundred and the bailiff of St. Paul's. The Dean and Chapter were to retain all fines levied on Chingford tenants at the hundred court and view of frankpledge, but the abbey reserved the right to distrain on the tenants for default of suit. St. Paul's were to pay the abbey half a mark a year. This agreement is mentioned in a record compiled two years later, which states, inter alia, that the manor of Chingford was 'quit of suit of the hundred' for the payment of half a mark. (fn. 24)

A similar dispute, between Waltham and the Templars, occurred in 1270. In that year there was a vacancy at the abbey after the death of Abbot Adam de Wiz, and the king entrusted the abbey to Geoffrey, the prior. During the vacancy Geoffrey distrained upon the cattle of the Templars, who were then holding the manor of Chingford (Earls) as lessees. In the ensuing lawsuit the prior justified the distraint on the ground that the lords of the manor had failed to perform the services due to the hundred. (fn. 25) These included attending the annual view of frankpledge, paying 10d. wardpence, and bringing the wardstaff to Waltham on Hockday every other year, for the whole of Chingford.

One important matter mentioned in both the above disputes was the view of frankpledge, held at Chingford church. Under the agreement of 1220 this jurisdiction was to be exercised jointly by St. Paul's and Waltham Abbey. How long this somewhat unusual arrangement continued is not clear. The abbey was still holding the view at Chingford in 1464 (fn. 26) and no doubt continued to do so until the Dissolution, but by the end of the 16th century the lord of Chingford St. Pauls was exercising this jurisdiction. (fn. 27) The wardstaff of the hundred, also mentioned in the disputes, was a symbol of the king's peace. The customs connected with it in Waltham hundred were evidently similar to those in Ongar hundred, about which more is recorded. (fn. 28) The last known reference to the Waltham wardstaff is in 1456, when the manor of Chingford St. Pauls was presented at the hundred court for failing to produce it. (fn. 29)

One of the issues in the dispute of 1219–20 was evidently the abbey's claim that the free tenants of Chingford St. Pauls should attend all the fortnightly meetings of the hundred court, and one of the main concessions secured by the agreement was the limitation of this obligation to their attendance, if summoned, at two annual meetings only. A similar issue later arose at Epping: in 1273–4 the tenants there complained that though they were not obliged, nor accustomed, to attend the abbot's court more than twice a year, except by order of the king, or to deliver the abbot's gaol, the abbot was holding a three-weeken court and compelling them to attend it. (fn. 30)

At a quo warranto inquiry in 1285 the Abbot of Waltham justified his claim to return of the king's writs, pleas of withernam, view of frankpledge, and the assize of bread and ale in Waltham (presumably the hundred) and elsewhere. (fn. 31) He also seems to have had the right, in the middle of the 13th century, of appointing two coroners for the hundred. (fn. 32) At the end of the 14th century he further acquired the forestership of the hundred. (fn. 33)


  • 1. V.C.H. Essex, i. 442, 446, 514, 539; cf. 407.
  • 2. J.I. 1/233 m. 59 (roll for 38–39 Hen. III).
  • 3. P.N. Essex, 18.
  • 4. E.A.T. N.S. xviii. 193.
  • 5. Cf. E.H.R. xlvii. 374.
  • 6. Occasional ambiguities in Domesday Book make the exact totals doubtful.
  • 7. See p. 155.
  • 8. See p. 103.
  • 9. V.C.H. Essex, i. 539, 472.
  • 10. See p. 142.
  • 11. Rot. Cur. Reg. (Rec. Com.), i. 209: the vill of Roydon, entered in Waltham hundred; cf. S.C. 2/173/30: cf. E.R.O., D/DP M1154: the tenant of Netherhall owed suit to Waltham hundred in 1456.
  • 12. See p. 94.
  • 13. Morant, Essex, i. 51; E.R.O., Q/RPl 421, 441, 473.
  • 14. E.R.O., Q/RTh 1 and 5.
  • 15. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi. 65–66: for this example of the 'hundred and the hundredal manor' see E.H.R. xlvii. 369.
  • 16. Morant, Essex, i. 40.
  • 17. S.C. 2/173/30–38; E.R.O., D/DP M1154.
  • 18. B.M. Cott. MS. Tib. C. ix, f. 240; E.R.O., D/DP M1154.
  • 19. E.R.O., D/DP M1154.
  • 20. Cf. V.C.H. Essex, i. 514.
  • 21. Domesday of St. Paul's (Camden Soc. 2nd ser. lxix), 144.
  • 22. Cur. Reg. R. 1219–20, 154; Bracton's Ntbk. (ed. Maitland), ii. 70.
  • 23. Feet of F. Essex, i. 56–57.
  • 24. Domesday of St. Paul's, 85–86.
  • 25. B.M. Cott. MS. Tib. C. ix, f. 240.
  • 26. S. C. 2/173/37.
  • 27. E.R.O., D/DU 158/1.
  • 28. V.C.H. Essex, iv. 7.
  • 29. E.R.O., D/DP M1154.
  • 30. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), i. 150. A royal edict of 1234 had provided that hundred courts should meet at intervals of three weeks, instead of two weeks as before: Pollock and Maitland, Hist. Eng. Law, i. 538.
  • 31. Plac. Quo Warranto (Rec. Com.), 235.
  • 32. H.M. Cam, Hundred and Hundred Rolls, 178, quoting J.I. 1/233 m. 47.
  • 33. See p. 167.