Widdington History

Other spellings of Widdington are:1042 as Wipegn-Tun; Domesday Book 1086 as Widituna; 1174 as Ulditone; 1204 as Widiton; 1303 as Wyditon; 1327 as Wytington; 1368 as Wodeton; 1412 as Weyndon; 1494 as Wedington; 1529 as Wedynton; 16th century as Weedington; 1594 as Widditon; 1768 as Widington.

There is a shortage of early evidence, although Saffron Walden Museum has Iron Age pottery discovered at Amberden Hall. The first documentary record is 1042 when there were two manors on the sites of houses now known as Priors Hall and Widdington Hall.

In Norman times Widdington Hall was held by Robert Gernon and Priors Hall by the Priory of St Valery in Picardy – there were monks living there and farming the land, with a chapel. There was also a private chapel at Widdington Hall, but in the early 12th century they combined to build a church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. All that remains of this early building is a small window in the north wall of the chancel, but the present church follows basically the same plan.

The landscape was much more wooded than today, with a huge wood belonging to the manors between Amberdana and Widintuna. By medieval times there had been a lot of changes. Mole Hall was first referred to in 1286 as a secondary manor, a sub-division of Amberden Hall. By the 15th century a lot of the woodland had gone, and small moated farms appeared on cleared land. Priors Wood and Littley Wood are survivors of the earlier woodland. Much of the landscape would still be recognisable to those who lived here then, although a lot of the pasture has gone. Widdington Hll was owned by John Greene, who died 1473, and the estate was sold to Sir William Finderne of Amberden Hall. John Greene’s coat of arms was found on an old font discovered under the ruins of the church tower in 1872.

In the 16th century, there are references to Waldegraves (1510) and Hollow Lane (1538). Many field names are still the same, although spelt differently, for example Burgatefelde in 1539 is Burgate Common today. This was a time of mixed fortunes for the village. The church was in a state of decay, but on the other hand there were extensions at Widdington Hall. Priors Hall still has a barn 500 years old. In 1989 an English Heritage inspection found some Saxon brickwork incorporated into the building, which suggested that it could date back to the tenth century – which makes it Britain’s oldest house. Another important building was Widdington post mill built in the early 1600s – this fell into disuse in 1902 and was taken down in 1910.

The parish registers date from 1666, earlier records being either lost or destroyed. By then Widdington Hall was owned by John Turner. The rectory was built in the late 16th-early 17th century, Swaynes Hall in 1689, Thistley Hall in 1666, Newlands Farm House in the early 17th century. Quite a lot of other 17th century houses survive in Widdington today, among them Shepherd Wright’s Cottage, Bishops Cottage, Old Forge, Rumbolds and others. The Fleur-de-Lys pub was built on the site of a 17th century building.
Widdington had its fair share of disasters in the 18th century. In 1771 the whole of the church steeple and ten feet of the church walls fell down, burying the bells in the wreckage. There had been reports for some time that the steeple was cracked and the church needed repairs. The damaged section was rebuilt with a wall of red bricks topped by a dovecote. This considerably shortened the church.

In 1723 Widdington had 50 famiies. By 1778 there were 43 houses, 57 houses and 73 families in 1801. By 1797 Widdington Hall was owned by the Vincent family. A map of 1771 shows that the only populated area of the village was between Cornells Land and Springhill included Lower Green, in fact the area which is the main street of the village.

The big story of early 19th century Widdington was the murder of James Mumford, son of the occupier of Priors Hall. This took place in Hollow Road. John Pallett, who lived in the village, was found guilty of murder and executed in Chelmsford jail on 15 December 1823.

Other events included the opening of the village school, the replacement of the Tudor Bishops Farm, the building of new houses on the west side of the village street – there were protests about this and the owner, Francis Smith was accused of spoiling the village. In the 1870s the church was restored, and in 1858 a Congregational chapel built.

In the early 20th century there was a reading room in Brick Cottage, then in 1905 Sir George Clausen gave his studio to the men of the village as a reading room and mens’ club. The village later had two bands, a slaughter house, two shops, dairy, shoemaker, bakery and builder. Greater changes were to come in the post-war period.

There have been some notable people living in the village. C. Henry Warren, who taught at Newport Grammar School, was a noted Essex author. Sir George Clausen, the famous painter, spent some formative years in Widdington and Priors Hall Barn was the inspiration for many of his pictures of Essex barns.

These extracts are taken from The Widdington Chronicles by Alan Calver (copies in Saffron Walden Town Library). Much more Widdington history and old photos can be found on the village website by following the link above