Elsenham Village website


The History of Elsenham



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In records the name is written, Alsenham, Elsingham, Elsinham, and Elsynham, the derivation unknown. The earliest records that we have show us that the Domesday Survey noted that Takeley and Elsenham formed part of the densely wooded district in Essex for “they feed between them 3500 swine”. In Elsenham, the destruction of woodland was progressive and between 1066 and 1086 the number of swine fell from 1300 to 1000.

In Edward the Confessor’s time a freewoman named Merunaand, a man called Lestan owned the land, which was made up of 4 hides with two ploughs, eight villeins and five serfs. There were 12 acres of meadow and a mill, 220 sheep, eight cows, 60 swine, one rouncey (a type of horse) and one colt. It was worth £6 then, and £8 at the survey when John, the nephew of Waleran, and Robert Gernon owned the land. John’s share included the corn mill.

It is at this time that we find the earliest records of Elsenham Church, when in 1070 John, nephew of Waleran, gave it as an endowment to the Abbey of St. Stephen at Caen in Normandy. This gift was confirmed by Henry I in 1100, by Henry II in 1154 and by Richard I in 1189.

It was during Richard I’s reign that the church, now with a chancel and nave, was given to the Benedictine Priory of Walden by Beatrice, Lady Say. It is not known exactly when the present church was built but we do know that it was built on the site of an earlier Saxon church.

Soon after the Conquest, the Lordship of Elsenham belonged to the noble family of de Abrincis or d’Auranche, Baron of Folkestone in Kent. It remained in the family until 1230, when it passed to a son-in-law, Hamo de Crevequer. He died in 1262, leaving the estate to his daughter Isabel and her husband, Henry de Gant. In 1248 Guy de Rochford held a licence for free warren in his manors of Elsenham and Berden. He held in this parish, owned now by Lord William de Say, one messuage, 330 acres of arable land, six acres of meadow, 20 acres of pasture and 20 acres of wood. Guy de Rochford died in 1274.

The manor was then held by the ancient family of Walden and during this time “Netherhall” or “Newhall” was built. It was so named to distinguish it from the earlier manor, the identity of which seems to have been lost. When John Walden died in 1419, we find that the records noted that “Newhall” was made up of one toft (homestead) and 200 acres of arable land. From the Walden family the manor passed to the family of John Barley, from Barley in Hertfordshire. His grandson William later forfeited the estate for supporting Perkin Warbeck in his rebellion, but it was afterwards given back by Henry VII and William was pardoned in 1500. He died on 17 March 1520 and was buried in the chancel of the church together with his wife, Elizabeth. In 1607, their brother-in-law Henry Wiseman was appointed guardian and lived in the manor with his wife Mary who was the sister of Thomas. She was buried in the church in 1635.

From the Barley family the manor passed to the Adams family (one of whom, Thomas, was buried in the floor of the chancel in 1670) and then to Bayley Heath of Stansted.

It is not known from the church records what the population of Elsenham was at this time, but a later summary of baptisms tells us that between 1732 and 1756 there were 184 children baptised in Elsenham. The most popular girl’s name was Mary and the most popular boy’s name was John.

From A History of Essex published in 1770 by “A Gentleman”, we learn that “Elsenham was divided from Stansted Mountfitchet by a small stream that turned an overshot corn mill”. The mansion adjoining the church was called Netherhall or Newhall, being the property of William Heath of Stansted Hall.

The Rectory which had been built in Richard I’s reign was now a manor which, with the advowson (the right to recommend a member of the clergy for a (vacant benefice), had been purchased by William Canning Esq about the time of the Restoration. His son, George, and later, in 1757, his grandson John, succeeded him.

In 1756, John Rayner (presumably a son of Thomas Rayner who had been vicar since 1731) left £30 to be applied to schooling poor children, but no interest was paid after 1809 and the original sum was supposed to have been lost. It was also noted that John Wells had left three cottages and an orchard, the rents of which were to provide clothing for the poorest. Rental of the cottages was then £9.

Elsenham landowners in 1768 included Thomas Dimsdale, John Gurson, Clement Barker, John Howlett, Samuel Scott, Charles Hancock, John Chapman and William Crigson. From the records of the church, we know that the chancel and nave were built early in the 12th century. The chancel arch is about 850 years old and it was originally spanned by a rood screen which separated the nave from the chancel. The screen was surmounted by a rood loft or gallery, access to which was made by the stone staircase in the north wall of the chancel. Mortice holes on the underside of the arch and adjacent tie-beam can still be seen. Some 300 years later, the tower was built with a small spire. It was also in the 15th century that the nave roof was renewed and several of the windows enlarged. The south porch was added about 1500 and in the 19th century, a small north porch, now used as a vestry, was added.

One item of interest in the church registers is an entry dated February 1795, when John Brand, aged 69, was buried. It was noted that he was “ignorantly reputed to be a wizard”.

Between 1801 and 1848, the population of Elsenham rose from 348 to 491. The Northern & Eastern railway was opened between 1840 and 1845, extending from Stratford to Ely and it ran in close company with the Newmarket Turnpike. In 1847, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert rode through the village in the train on their way from Tottenham to Cambridge. Elsenham Station was then at Fullers End but it was moved to its present site soon after it was built because the gradient from Fullers End was too steep for the engines to start off on their journey to Cambridge.

In 1848, George Rush, Lord of the Manor, who lived in the Hall, owned most of the 1825 acres. The Hall at that time was described as a “large brick mansion with embattled walls and tasteful gardens.” Thomas Canning was then Vicar.

Between 1851 and 1891, the population of Elsenham decreased from 517 to 423. Excavation work carried out in the late 19th century showed that Elsenham Hall is on the site of the ancient manor hall, but it is not known exactly when the present hall was built.

In 1876, on the death of Mrs Rush, grandmother of George Rush (the great-grandson of the former George Rush) the property was let on lease to Walter Gilbey, who later made improvements to the Hall.

The school had been built in 1863/5, financed by Miss Rush and later the first Elsenham Post Office was opened in the school room. When John Bourne retired as schoolmaster, he moved into the house next to the village pump, taking the Post Office with him. The Post Office later moved to Bert Caton’s shop, next to the Crown Inn. It was to stay there for four or five years before transferring to the cross-roads. While Walter Gilbey lived at the hall, the Prince of Wales was a frequent visitor and on December 11th 1889, he also brought with him Sir Randolph Churchill and several other dignitaries. In 1892, Walter was made a baronet because of his famous achievements as a breeder of shire horses.

In 1891 he had founded what is known locally as the “Jam Factory” (Elsenham Quality Foods). At that time, fruits grown in the orchards of Elsenham Hall were made into preserves in the kitchens there. Lavender was also grown and used in the making of Lavender Water. Sir Walter was also a partner with his brother Arthur in the wine and spirits industry and they founded the company now known as Gilbey Vintners which was based at Harlow. Sir Walter Gilbey was responsible for the building of several houses in the village, including the first Policeman’s house in Park Road. He Built the Pump House in Park Road, during the War World, the gold-leafed dome was covered by a tarpaulin.

At the turn of the century, the church was closed by Act of Parliament. The village cemetery was first used in December 1901, the land having been given by Sir Walter Gilbey.

Park Road, next to the Pump House, was originally made as a private road for Sir Walter to get to the railway station by horse-drawn carriage, but he died in November 1914, before it was completed. He was buried in the family grave in Bishop's Stortford.

Ray Franklin, Elsenham Local History Recorder

Further information see 'Elsenham: village of a thousand years' by Ray Franklin