The History of Berden

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People in History St Nicholas Church The Priory of Berden War Memorial Historical Notes Boy Bishops and May Queens

Although there are many gaps and very little in written records we have a Bronze Age burial right on the site of the present village hall. It must have been an exciting day for the late Rev H.K. Hudson, vicar of the parish to learn that men digging the foundations for the new Wesleyan chapel had unearthed a skeleton with an armlet and beaker some 18 inches below the surface. The year was 1907. Within a few hours the armlet had been sold and it was not until 1918-19 that Guy Maynard and G Montague Benton heard of the important find. Luckily they were able to take statements from the men on their return from war service. Jumping some 2000 years we come to Roman times, of which coins and other traces of habitation have been found.

 The name Berden has had many spellings form Berdane, Bearden, Byerden, Bardyne, Byrden but they all derive form Old English meaning 'Swine pasture valley'. Another authority suggests the name means corn valley. Other local names are derived as follows: Arnold Spring form John Arnold of Clavering 1373, Coles Green from John Cole 1273, Rookes Farm from John de Rooke 1327, Dews Green is listed as Douse Green 1777. Little London may be a little lane leading to the London Road, this name occurs elsewhere in England near main roads. Park Green may have been originally an area fenced off for hunting. Cumber Hill is thought to have been a burial ground, this was between Berden Hall and Park Green, but was levelled in the early 1950s. The mound at  Stocks Farm  is thought to be the remains of a motte and bailey castle site.

In the Domesday book Berdane had been held by Godman a socman of Robert in the reign of Edward the Confessor, now by Suene by Alured with two hides, that is 240 acres. There was wood for 10 swine and two acres 
meadow. By 1086 there were 3 horses, 2 foals, 13 beasts, 21 swine, 122 sheep, 8 goats and a hive of bees. Villagers were described as villains, bordars, serfs in that pecking order.

An interesting mystery relates to the huge sandstone block on Churchland at the corner of Judas Hill and Church Drive. It has not been noted in any history book, I have asked the local people but no one could offer an explanation, just that it had always been there.

Berden Church is medieval, dedicated to St Nicholas. It is built in cruciform shape from pebbles, flints and clunch with a few Roman tiles.

Berden Priory was founded about 1200 AD by the Rochford family, owners of land in Berden, Manden, Henham, Rickling and Rochford. This was originally a hospital, dedicated to St John the Evangelist, connected with Waltham Abbey. The site is now occupied by a farmhouse. The prior and up to 10 brethren worked happily here until 1308 when fire destroyed most of the church cloisters, hall dormitory, infirmary and many outbuildings  It was rebuild  and a few beams re-used for new barns, but other fires in 1870 and 1970 did extensive damage.  The priory was 
dissolved 1536.

The 19th century census gives the population of Berden: 1801 - 201 people; 1811 - 303; 1821 - 338; 1831 - 342; 1841 - 391; 1851 - 418; 1861 - 414; 1871 - 426; 1881 - 363; 1891 - 336; 1901 - 286.

The names on the war memorial are: Walter King, Harry Seabrook, Frank Chapman, William Turpin, Sidney Stone, Frank Phillips, Fred Mascall, Arthur Hammond, William King, Walter Hammond, Earnest Knight all from WW1. From WW2 the names are Ronald Davies and Bertha Brett.

The Boy Bishop ceremony was revived in miracle play written by Rev HK Hudson, incumbent 1897-1937. He formed the Guild of St Nicholas for local children in 1901, a great success, with each child taking a solemn vow on joining to do his best under all circumstances. On St Nicholas Day 6 December after tea the play based on the life of the saint was acted by their children. The first one to play the Boy Bishop was Aelfric Hudson, eldest son of the vicar.  The ceremony was performed from 1901 to 1937. They were truly red letter days which lived on in the memories of all village children of that time.



Edited extracts from C.I. Cherry, History of Berden (1980)