The History of Takeley
The parish of Takeley lies to the west of Essex towards the north of the county. The old Roman road called Stane Street forms its southern boundary. The River Roding rises to the north of the parish and flows east & then south to form the northern and the eastern boundary. The western boundary is less well-defined, and lies between Broxted and Stanstead Mountfitchet. Pincey Brook rises in the west of the parish and flows down towards Harlow to join the River Stort.
Takeley first appears in the historical records in the Domesday Book, but its history goes back very many centuries before 1086. The controversial construction of Stansted Airport has brought, through the archaeology excavations, a fascinating insight into life in Takeley from the Stone Age to the Norman Conquest. The report into the original excavations before the Airport expansion and the recent publication by Oxford Framework Archaeology gives a comprehensive account of the early finds.
They record Saxon evidence in the parish which probably formed part of a large estate created in the early years of pagan Essex. As well as archaeological finds, the evidence of field names (recorded in the Takeley Place Names book) illustrates the presence of Saxon agriculture. The name Takeley itself is Saxon in origin and is usually held to mean 'the clearing in the forest owned by a man called Taecca'. The name occurs in a slightly different form at Tackley in Oxfordshire.
By the time of the Domesday Book Takeley had broken up into three manors. Warish Hall, previously held by Thorkell, a freeman, was awarded by William 1 to the Priory of St Valery in Picardy, France, as a reward for their prayers at the time of the invasion. It became the central manor of the other Essex possessions awarded to St Valery. The name became corrupted to Waleriche and then Warish. During the medieval period both Sheering Hall and The Grange belonging to Tilty Abbey emerged from Warish Hall as separate manors. After the suppression of alien priories by Edward III, Warish Hall was bought by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, who used its revenues to help endow his New College at Oxford where the records still exist.
William’s friend, Eudo de Rai called Dapifer, was awarded the land of Wulfmer (both names are spelt in many different ways), a freeman, which lay across the north of Takeley. This manor was to be divided into the two manors of Colchester Hall and Waltham Hall that were formed by a series of grants to St John’s Abbey at Colchester, and the Abbey of Waltham Holy Cross. Eudo’s successors were to inherit the priest who was recorded at Eudo’s manor in the Domesday Book, and they eventually gave the church advowson to the Bishop of London.
The church’s outstanding feature is the rare font cover that now stands above the font at the west of the main aisle. The vault, that dates from at least 1580, was filled in about 1880 when the church was restored. The rood screen, choir stalls and altar were all donated by Katherine Ross of Hatfield Grange in the early 20th Century. Only the first few steps that lead to the old rood screen now remain in the north wall behind the fine Jacobean pulpit.
The third manor became part of the caput of Robert Gernon at Stansted Mountfichet, and by the end of the 12th Century had taken its name from John de Bassingbourn who held it in the right of his wife Albreda.
Takeley has many beautiful houses still remaining from the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, but it also has several houses which date from the 1300s onwards. Le Knells, Tilty Grange, Sheering Hall, Frogs Hall (Sewers or Mortivals), Fanns and Parkers, Gore Lodge and many others stand in more or less isolated positions, but the greatest concentration of old houses is in Takeley Street. Here are the houses that belonged to the Sharers of Hatfield Forest, a unique group whose Forest rights go back to the early Middle Ages and resemble those of the New Forest Commoners. The name relates to the ploughshare, which was paid as rent at Martinmass to the Manor of Hatfield. St. Martin’s Ford is the old name for the crossing of Pincey Brook by Stane Street. Takeley Street has at least three houses that date from 1300 to the 1450s —Taylors, Raleigh Cottage and Josephs.
The one house in the village which would have justified the description of a stately home was Bassingbourn Hall, which was demolished in 1813 after the death of Sir Peter Parker, friend and mentor of Lord Nelson. Many of the owners were London merchants, and there are connections with Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and one of the Regicides who signed Charles I’s death warrant.
The site and ha ha of the old house still exist. The name was transferred to the very impressive farm house which was almost certainly extended after 1813. This too has now been demolished by the Airport expansion.
The Elizabethan and Jacobean periods probably mark the high point of Takeley until the present day. Later commentators mention the poor state of the village, and its inhabitants were described as the worst in the area. This probably reflects the poor state of the local agriculture and the loss of the three small local maltings and breweries to the bigger companies.
Mole Hill Green is believed to have been the site of the early Saxon Manor of Wulfmer, with the River Roding running to its north. The name may be derived from the Latin name for a windmill. Saxon Takeley had had a water mill on the lower reaches of the River Roding where it crossed Stane Street, using the agger of the Roman Road to form part of the millpond.
The origin of Smiths Green is rather more controversial, but the general belief is that it was the site of one of Takeley’s many early smithies. Another smithy of great antiquity still exists at Mole Hill Green. Jacks Green leading into Jacks Lane takes its name from medieval John le Jekke. Jacks Lane as a name has replaced the earlier Hole Lane and connects Smiths Green with Lower Bambers Green. It is probably of great antiquity.
Modern Takeley has seen the loss of many ancient houses and land to Stansted Airport and is still under the threat of yet more loss of houses, trees, woods and land. The industries of chaff manufacture, the nurseries especially connected with rose growing, milling and the sale of antiques and rare books in the 19th & 20th centuries have also now gone.
It has in recent years seen a big expansion of housing at Priors Green, Morrells Green and Takeley Street, encouraged by the improved transport connections with both London and the Continent. Other small enterprises have replaced those that have been lost. The village now has a thriving community life.
Takeley has a flourishing History Society with an ever expanding web site: www.tlhs.org.uk The Society has published many books on local history.