THE HISTORY OF WENDENS AMBO
Wendens Ambo lies in a shallow, well-watered valley two miles south-west of Saffron Walden. The parish is divided by the railway and a stream, and most of the houses gather around the church area with a few along Rookery Lane and elsewhere. There has been settlement here for a very long time and several important archaeological sites have been investigated. A Roman villa site was found in Chinnell Field in the 19th century and investigated further when the motorway was built. Nearby was found an Iron Age settlement. Thus this part of the parish had been settled continuously for 700 years.
Another ancient site is at Mutlow Hall – the name comes from ‘motelawe’ meaning meeting mound, and this was the meeting place of the Uttlesford Hundred. The name Wenden is said to be Saxon, meaning winding valley – Saxon pottery was once found near the church. Also within the parish is ‘the ford of Udel’, later called Uttlesford – the ford is sited where the Newmarket road crosses the village stream, sometimes wrongly called the River Uttle – it actually has no name but a good name would be the Chinnell stream.
The Domesday Book of 1086 shows that there were two settlements, Wendena Magna owned by Robert Gernon, and Waldena Parva owned by William de Warren. Together they amounted to about 1,044 acres. In medieval times local names like Clanverend (1253), Bulse Farm (1299, after Roger Bulle) and Westbury were first documented. Great Wendens once had a guildhall, ‘Le yelde hall’. The manor later came under Audley End.
The parish registers of Great Wendens begin in the 1540s, but the earliest volume for Little Wendens is lost and the next volume begins 1602. Some fine buildings date to the 17th century, among them Wenden Hall once used for the Sessions of the High Constable.
In 1662 the two parishes were joined together as Wendens Ambo, ambo meaning both. The population around this time was about 320. The church at Little Wendens had gone by the late 17th century – it is believed to have been on the north side of the Royston road in the garden of the old vicarage. The Church of St Mary the Virgin was rebuilt by the Normans, but included a few Saxon features. It was enlarged in the 13th century with further additions over the centuries. From 1325 onwards the name of the vicar is recorded, but very little is known about most of them. One prominent vicar was Rev Robert Fiske, incumbent for 42 years until his death in 1783, after which there was no vicar for 30 years.
When Nonconformism began in this area in 1682, there was a meeting house at Wendens, replaced in 1851 and continuing until closure in 1971.
The Eastern Counties Railway made a big impact on the village, cutting it into two. The line was completed in 1845. At first its stopping point here was called Wendens Station, but was renamed Audley End Station in 1848. Then in 1865 a branch line to Bartlow was opened, continuing for a century. The railway led to more demand for houses and Lord Braybrooke built a terrace of nine attractive cottages, and built the Neville Arms Hotel near the station – this and the branch line both disappeared in the 1960s. Further change came in the 1970s with the appearance of light industries, the building of the M11, and the purchase of The Wick as a village green.
Today Wendens Ambo, and particularly the picturesque little lane leading to the church, remains a lovely village, and a busy community.
Based on Wendens Ambo: the history of an Essex village by John J. Mackay (1982) – this well-written book gives much more information, including a map and description of the geography of the village. It is available in Saffron Walden Town Library.