is no town in north Essex – and very few in England
– to equal in beauty, compactness and juxtaposition of
and Georgian architecture, the town of Thaxted’.
Sir John Betjeman
Thaxted has remained an outstandingly beautiful town for a number of
reasons, historical, geographical and because people, organisations and
authorities have cared deeply and are determined that its beauty shall
not be destroyed.
The Saxon Manor of Thaxted was granted to Gilbert, Earl of Clare, by
his kinsman William I in 1066. The Saxon settlement had developed in
Thaxted around the old Roman road.
Changes in the structure of the manorial system in the 14th century
increased the freedom of some craftsmen, enabling them to hold land and
construct buildings. It was during this period that the Cutlers began
to build the present Guildhall.
Some 50 years earlier, in 1340, the present church building began,
using the walls of the earlier church to phase its construction: it
took 170 years to build and became the crowning glory of the town we
see today. The Guildhall would have been completed before 1400, long
before the Church was finished and it is interesting to recognise that
these two imposing buildings, the oldest in Thaxted, still dominate the
town as they have done for almost 600 years. Around them the present
town has developed. In addition to many old and interesting buildings,
the town has a working windmill built in 1804 by John Webb, a local
farmer and landowner, on the site of a previous mill was that was known
as the Church Mill.
The first weekend in June each year sees the Morris Dancing festival,
an English custom intimately associated with north-west Essex, because
it was in Thaxted that it was revived in the early 20th century by the
Vicar, Rev Conrad Noel. Many meanings have been suggested for Morris
dancing, but there is no agreed origin for this strange ritual,
involving men - and often now women too - dressed in colourful
waistcoats, baggy white trousers, decorated hats, with bells on their
calves and often waving white handkerchiefs or wooden clubs while they
dance vigorously to squeeze-box accompaniment. It certainly involves a
lot of energy and fitness. The new enthusiasm for this activity was
part of a wider movement centred on reviving old crafts and skills.
Noel started a Morris Club in 1911, and it was further promoted by Alex
Hunter and the Rev Jack Potterill, making Thaxted a centre of the
Morris Ring, founded in 1934 for clubs from all over England. Every
year in May they descend on Thaxted for remarkable displays involving
200 to 300 dancers, processing through the streets and performing in
front of the Guildhall. The merriment goes on late into the summer
evening, concluding with the haunting Abbots Bromley Horn Dance with
Thaxted Morris men in costume, some carrying antlers on carved wooden
heads. Morris dancing also takes place on other occasions in the
In addition to this, the latter part of June sees the start of the
annual Thaxted Music Festival in the Church, which continues for three
weekends. It was started in 1980 and goes from strength to strength.
Come and visit Thaxted if you have not done so already – only
visiting the town will you appreciate what a lot it has to offer.
Thaxted Local History Recorder
'An Historical Guide and
brief tour of the Ancient Town Thaxted in Essex' (1978,
revised edition 2002) by Mark Arman, on sale in the church.
(ISBN 0946943 00 1)