The district of
Uttlesford, named after one of the
covers most of north-west Essex, a rolling, leafy landscape once
described by the Poet Laureate John Betjeman as ‘a quiet,
prosperous agricultural area of old stone and flint churches, pargetted
cottages with red tiled roofs, spreading farms and gabled manor houses,
little hills, elms, oaks, willowy streams and twisty lanes leading to
towns of renowned beauty as Thaxted and Saffron Walden’. The
chalk hills of the Chilterns peter out here, and some of the major
rivers of the region rise – the Cam, Chelmer, Stort and
In many areas of Uttlesford, a medieval and Tudor landscape survived
and remained little altered until the ploughing-up of pastures during
the Second World War.
Since the cloth trade died away, there has never been any major
industry in NW Essex, but some places have had their own specialities,
the most unusual of which was Thaxted’s cutlery industry, now
remembered only in the 500-year-old Guildhall of the Cutlers and the
outlying hamlet of Cutlers Green. The food industry had some outposts
here – bacon at Dunmow, famous through the Dunmow Flitch
ceremony, still celebrated every four years; sugar beet at Felsted; and
jams at Elsenham.
Saffron Walden made its name in horticulture with the breeding of
Chaters Hollyhocks and the carnation industry at Engelmanns. Walden,
which today still retains its medieval street layout and large numbers
of timber-framed houses, had originally been called Chepyng (market)
Walden, but changed its name in the 16th century to reflect the
importance of the saffron crop.
Farming went through a revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Essex
acquired a reputation for agricultural innovations such as new crops,
growing methods, improvements like hollow draining and machines like
seed drills. The soil of north-west Essex was suited to the growing of
barley, hence the rise of malting and brewing industries, which
increased in importance in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most
complete 16th century maltings complex in the country has been
beautifully preserved at Great Dunmow.
With so much poverty in the 19th century, parishes were often full of
run-down cottages and poor roads, but possibly it was this lack of
investment which kept the villages of NW Essex in a time warp, so that
today they still feature huge numbers of houses dating back centuries.
A recent report on Uttlesford identified 3,500 Listed Buildings, that
is almost a third of all the Listed Buildings in Essex even though it
is one of the least densely populated of the 14 districts of the
county. 40% of Listed Buildings date from the 17th century. This is
undoubtedly an area of immense historical value, as symbolized by its
possessing the only surviving medieval forest in the country, Hatfield
Forest, its 1,049 acres run by the National Trust.
History abounds in the villages of Uttlesford: Hadstock thought to be
where King Canute built his minster church in 1020 to commemorate
victory over Edmond Ironside at Assandun; Tilty with fragments of a
12th century abbey; Hatfield Broad Oak developed from a medieval
priory; Widdington with its restored 14th century barn; Clavering said
to possess the earliest castle site in eastern England; Great
Chesterford once an important Roman town; the Rodings, once an
Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The parish churches possess much of historical
interest: Saxon features at Strethall, Wendens Ambo and the
Hallingburys; the unique painted travelling chest altar in Newport
church; the stunning blue stained glass window in Broxted church,
erected to commemorate the release of the Beirut hostages.
Uttlesford has a remarkable collection of famous people associated with
Saffron Walden has a plaque commemorating
one of the Marian
martyrs burned here in 1555, John Newman.
Democracy was born in Saffron Walden during
the Civil War
when Oliver Cromwell came to Saffron Walden to hear the grievances of
the Army in 1647.
the 16th century poet/ astrologer Gabriel Harvey was
in Walden, as was the founder of Player’s tobacco
company, John Player.
Rab Butler, ‘the greatest prime minister we
had’ is buried in the church of his former constituency.
Henry VIII’s chancellor, Thomas Audley
Audley End near the town.
Robert Fitzwalter, one of the barons appointed to
that the Magna Carta was adhered to, is buried at
John Cutte, who led Marlborough’s attack at
Battle of Blenheim, was born in Arkesden in 1661.
the builder of the first Eddystone lighthouse, on
met his end in 1703, Henry Winstanley lived at
Lionel Lukin, inventor of the first lifeboat, was
1742 in Great Dunmow, where he tested his invention on
George Wombwell from Duddenhoe End was owner
Menagerie, one of the earliest travelling zoos: one of his animals,
Wallace the lion, on
display in Saffron Walden Museum, is featured in the poem
‘Albert and the Lion’
The Countess of Warwick was the ‘Darling
of Little Easton Lodge, mistress of Edward VII.
Dick Turpin was born in 1705 at Hempstead, which
earlier had been
the residence of William Harvey, physician to Kings James I and Charles
I, and who discovered the circulation of the blood.
the noted chronicler, William Harrison, lived at
Gustav Holst wrote part of the Planets Suite while
Thaxted, the tune used for the hymn ‘I vow to thee my
country’. Thaxted was
also the foundation of the Morris Ring in 1934 by Rev Conrad Noel.
the Bardfield artists, Edward Bawden and Eric
Ravilious, were noted
designers and artists of the 20th century.
most recently, the TV celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver,
grew up in
Clavering, where he learned to cook at his parents’ pub, The
Down every little lane in Uttlesford, there lies a hamlet or village,
each with their own unique history. Uttlesford Local History Recorders
are proud to represent, promote and encourage the preservation of our
historical heritage in this beautiful part of England.