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Sun, 30th April 2017

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Walks  »  A walk around Eastwick by John Clarke


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Walk #1  A walk around Eastwick by John Clarke

Let us start in the centre of Eastwick, at the public house, the Lion Inn, originally the farmhouse of the adjacent Green Man Farm. It was turned into a pub over a century ago on the closure of the Rose and Crown opposite.

Always the centre of the village social life, the Lion has had many landlords over the years. For a long time it was supported by its loyal Eastwick tipplers who all walked there or used their bikes – if they were sober enough to sit on them, that is. Beer was the order of the day and the pub was very much a male preserve. Changing social patterns have, however, altered life at the Lion. Patterns of drinking are radically different – lager, wines, tea and coffee! My old chap would never have survived this. In his day there was an active darts club with frequent outings to other pubs, also a Christmas slate club, and bar games. I shall always recall him sitting at the table with his tankard and his dominoes, surrounded by his chums.

A landlord can make or break a pub, and the Lion has been fortunate in having had some good ones over the years. But one thing the brewers cannot seem to do is to paint a good pub sign. The present lion looks far too anaemic. Once we had a heraldic lion, a lion that stood up on his hind feet and displayed his paws like a boxer. Now that was a lion: you could almost hear him roar!

Next to the pub is Culverts, the finest house in Eastwick, the Georgian retirement home of William Frampton, the rich India merchant: this is one of the few village houses to survive the Hodgson brothers’ reforms. The name is of recent origin. For such a tiny village this house is a real gem of a survival, and amply reflects the prosperity of Georgian Eastwick. On the other side of the Lion is Green Man Court, a skillful reworking of the farm barns into houses. I recall these barns being little used and derelict, so this is a great improvement.

Opposite are Manor Cottages, built on the site of the bombed house. Here, in Victorian times, the village blacksmith had his forge. The man’s name was Roe and the craft had been in his family for generations. My old chap, when he wasn’t playing dominoes in the Lion, was a blacksmith at the engineering works, Smith & Shiptons, which had been built on the site of the former school. He did metalwork, but did not himself shoe horses. I remember him, his sleeves rolled up, his bald head reflecting the red-hot fire, as he hammered away at the anvil – a quite lovely profession.

From Manor Cottages there is little point in proceeding further on as there are now few examples of any Eastwick building in this direction. In the old days, however, if you journeyed a quarter of a mile along that main road to a point where it runs adjacent to the river, you would have encountered the Eastwick Mill and opposite it, Mead End House. Of the appearance of the mill we know nothing, except that like most watermills it probably looked very attractive. It had a chequered history: in the time of the de Tanys it is recorded as having completely fallen down. Thus it had to be rebuilt, and again, and again. It was finally demolished more than 300 years ago.

We know little of Mead End House, either, except that it was a big house, possibly of Tudor origin, with substantial grounds and outbuildings. Queen Elizabeth I was reputed to have visited it, but as she is reputed to have visited just about every noble house in England, we do not need to take this too seriously.This area was known as Eastwick Street.

Here was also situated the riverside Green Man inn. This establishment, which had disappeared by the end of the eighteenth century, had in 1730 been the venue of a formal meeting held by the commissioners of the River Stort. This inn gave its name to later Green Man developments: a farm and some housing.

The Brickhouse Farm Cottages remain as well. These are situated near Hunsdon crossroads and consist of a terraced row, built in 1904 to provide accommodation for workers at the nearby farm of the same name.

Back to the centre of Eastwick, via some yellow-brick Hodgson houses, we find a white plastered house, No. 62, on the corner. This is another good survival of a pre-Hodgson house. I presume it to be the house shown in the records of 1839 as being occupied by one John Evans, a landowner. I would like to know the date of this house; it could be 18th-century.

The journey up Eastwick Hall Lane is a long and lonely one, along a meandering and narrow road. After a quarter of a mile we reach a big bend. Here we encounter the sites of the hilltop villages. A modern noticeboard marks the spot. On the right, at the top of the hill, are the remains of the original village. A detour on foot to visit it is interesting; but wear stout shoes as the long grass is frequently very wet. There is not much to see today, but the line of a circular ditch is still clearly visible. It is not what you see that is interesting, but the historic nature of the site is noteworthy because you will be standing at the very centre of our oldest known village which was in existence before the time of Christ. Close your eyes and endeavour to imagine the momentous happenings on this important site during the earliest years of the formation of Eastwick.

Across the road is the site of the overspill village, but this is ill defined and mostly now smothered in undergrowth.

We do not know the actual site of the old Eastwick Hall, but it was on the Eastwick-village side of the hilltop village. Here lived generations of knights, noblemen and gentlemen farmers who made history at Eastwick, such as Sir Richard de Tany whose effigy probably lies in St Botolph’s Church (see the History section on the website). But centuries of varied usage have changed the area beyond recognition, and no trace of Eastwick Hall now remains. A long time ago an archaeological dig was carried out on the area, and some ancient glass fragments and metal objects were found, but those in no way gave us a better understanding of the Hall. This would make a nice task for Time Team. But meanwhile, as we stand here it is romantic to envisage Sir Richard de Tany and his wife Lady Margaret riding down to Eastwick Church on Sunday mornings – Sir Richard on his glossy charger, Margaret, richly apparelled, demurely riding side saddle on her little palfrey by his side.

We must now carry on up the lane for another quarter of a mile, where we reach a junction of three tracks: the one on the right leads to Gilston. In the corner of the field here is the pond, surrounded by a metal fence. This is the only surviving remnant of the old Garmans Farm which was demolished in the middle of the 19th century. It is good that this pond survives, because we have lost so many in recent years. The loss of any pond is tragic as they provide wonderful sanctuaries for wildlife.

Ahead is Cock Robin Lane, now finely restored, and leading to the airfield. It remains a superb haven for wildlife and flowers. Visit it in late spring when birdsong is at its peak, and the wild flowers are magnificent, especially the great clumps of red campions. In Victorian times this lane led to the long-abandoned Eastwick Hamlet, a tiny rural community of farm workers. Nothing of this now remains: the hamlet lies under the intersection of the main runway and taxiways of the former Hunsdon aerodrome.

North of the airfield we reach the woods, now fragmentary but once part of the large Eastwick Wood. Taking a right-angled turn we skirt the woodland and on its fringe we encounter what must be Eastwick’s best-kept secret, a quite magnificent moated site. At the time when Eastwick Hamlet existed, this was the gamekeeper’s lonely cottage. All signs of his home vanished in mid-Victorian times, and today we are left with an earth mound completely surrounded by a water-filled moat made all the more impressive by its having been redug in recent times. This must surely have been a medieval farmstead, but it has kept its secrets well. I can find no record of its name nor of the families who lived there; they have all disappeared into the mists of history. This is by far our most mysterious place.

From this point we retrace our steps back to the junction with Eastwick Hall Lane. To the right the track climbs the hill towards Eastwick Hall Farm and then on to Hunsdon. On the right are the red-brick Hodgson semi-detached Eastwick Hall Cottages, and then we come to the old Laundry. This intriguing house was purpose-built and served in its intended role for many years. It was a cavernous place full of steaming cauldrons, giant mangles, hampers, and bundles of linen, with water everywhere. When I was taken there as a youngster I found it a scary place: you feared falling into the boiling water. The house was a Hodgson creation of 1885, and after the laundry was closed it saw a period of life as a guest house. It has subsequently been attractively converted into a private house.

Walking on up the hill we arrive at Eastwick Hall Farm. This consists of a farm house and an impressive array of outbuildings and barns; village barn dances used to be held in one of the barns on a summer evening. Now a major producer of grain and turkeys, the farm once had a superb herd of dairy cows. Also present in the procreative role was the most disagreeable bull I have ever encountered; he rejoiced in the name of Old Tom. He was so unpleasant that he had to be penned up most of the time, only freed periodically to join his devoted harem.

I have two particular childhood memories of the farm. Once I was allowed to paint the ancient Fordson tractor a shocking orange. I did actually get some paint on to the tractor, but much more on myself. I also remember the windpump – a tall metal structure like an electricity pylon with windmill sails on the top. It was originally used for pumping water. It never ceased to fascinate children, although we were never allowed to climb on it. I think it finally blew down in a gale.

From here Eastwick proper ends, so we must retrace our steps to the centre of the village.

Crossing to the war memorial we face, across the lane, the almshouses built around 1890. I have always liked these houses because of the boldness of design, the rich red tiles, ‘Tudor’ chimneys, and the fact that they were built with a desire to impress. They were to play a big part in meeting our social needs at that time.

You will look in vain for any sign of the ancient market and annual St Botolph’s Fair held hereabouts. I am afraid this all came to a sticky end. The libations of the Rose and Crown encouraged the village lads and lasses to engage in practices of a most enjoyable nature, much to the fury of the Rector, who railed at them from his pulpit, condemning their immoral behaviour. There was no improvement in this, so the Rector was instrumental in having the market and fair festivities abolished in 1886. These were sadly missed by all, no doubt . . .

Heading towards Harlow there is a nice red-brick Hodgson house on the left, Nos 76 and 77. This was once the residence of the village policeman – not a police station as such. Armed with the latest state-of-the-art squad car (a bicycle), our stalwart guardian of the law was required to maintain law and order in both villages. Major crime was thankfully rare: most crime was of the order of domestic violence, riding your bicycle without lights, failing to purchase your dog licence (all of 7/6 – 37½p – per year if I recall correctly), and poaching. It always ruefully amused me that stealing a nice plump pheasant appeared to the official mind a more heinous crime than beating the wife! Rarely did anything else feature in the crime book to break the monotony. In later years the High Wych policeman became responsible for our protection.

Opposite Roseley Cottages is the old school. The two-storey house on the right-hand side was the schoolteacher’s house, and the rest of it was then a single-storey building that housed the communal classroom. This was once a typical nineteenth-century building with all the Hodgson characteristics: diamond-paned windows, tall chimneys, ornate porch, etc. You can still see the arms of William Hodgson (WH) and a date above the front door. I know of no person living locally now who attended Eastwick School.

When converted for industrial use as the Pyrgo Works, the house became the office and the classroom the workshop. When in the ownership of Smith & Shiptons, the works enjoyed a very busy period and employed a fair number of people. There was sub-contract work for the Ford Company of Dagenham (tractor spares), and an enormous amount of blacksmithing work for navvies’ tools that were to be used in the construction work being carried out on the building of Harlow New Town. The bars of the cells at Harlow Police Station were made here, so if you get banged up there you know who to blame!

Later the firm was sold to Dixons of Hunsdon; and a later occupier, I recall, repaired and sold lawnmowers; but in recent years the old school has been redeveloped. The building has been restored to as near as possible its original condition, and the unsightly outbuildings and fixtures have all been removed. It has now become four homes in a most attractive setting

We have to cheat a bit with Eastwick Lodge Farm for, as I mentioned earlier, the farm was for most of its existence listed as in the parish of Sawbridgeworth. Its first mention is in 1402 which shows that there has been a farm here for a very long time. In later years, under James Carter (senior) it had a fine dairy herd and, more recently, a ‘pick your own’ fruit and vegetable scheme. Now at Eastwick Lodge there are retail units and a large complex, including a very fine farm shop, on whose products my dear old Border collie Bruce prospered for many years. If you can, please do support our local industries.

I am reminded of two dramatic occurrences at the farm. Many years ago I found to my horror that the whole horizon behind the farm was ablaze. It was an awesome sight as gigantic scarlet flames leapt into the night sky as far as the eye could see. It really looked as though the end of the world had come. It was in reality only some nocturnal stubble-burning, but it certainly startled me for a while.

The other event that took place was when over the top of the farm hill one day appeared large spindly metal contraptions that so reminded me of the Martians in War of the Worlds. Sadly, Eastwick had not been invaded by little green men from outer space: more prosaically, the ‘spaceships’ were irrigation devices for the farm.

Today, as at most local farms, grain predominates and mechanisation has eliminated practically totally the need for farm labourers.

It was in the barns at Eastwick Lodge Farm that the children of the villages celebrated the Queen’s coronation in June 1952. So much work was put into preparing the day that it is sad to record that only the party meal was enjoyed: the programme of sports and games in the adjacent field was totally washed out in a terrible rainstorm, bringing an exciting day to a premature end.

Opposite Eastwick Lodge were once to be found a number of boarded cottages, the last of which survived until recent memory. This area was known as Hill Gates, possibly an allusion to the nearby Gilston Park manor house gates. The houses would have provided accommodation for workers at the farm. Here also stood the Black Swan pub and later the dreaded workhouse.

Following the demolition of the workhouse, a resident of Hill Gates, presumably a member of the Oddfellows Society, obtained a licence to sell liquor. He set up the Oddfellows Arms (a beer shop) in a house which I can only assume was later to become the village shop. Soon after the First World War, when custom dwindled, the licence was revoked and the name speedily disappeared from the collective memory.

In early days many of the farm outbuildings were also located south of the road, but the land was prone to flooding (as it still is), and when the new farmhouse was built the opportunity was taken to place them on firmer ground, where they remain to this day.

And finally, further along on the left is South Lodge, at the end of a long chestnut tree avenue leading up towards Gilston Park. Here, in the days of the manor, was a quite magnificent metal gateway. In time it disappeared and no one seems to have any idea what happened to it: possibly sold to a local scrapyard, I fear. Now that would be one for our cycling police constable to solve.

In the wood above South Lodge, The Chase, live the Little People, the elves. Elves are prickly characters, quick to take offence. Tradition requires that if you are ever passing the wood, you must raise your hat or pass the time of day with them, because if you do not a mischief will befall you. You can’t say you haven’t been warned!

At this point we must cheat again and leave the village completely to make a short visit to the Dusty Miller at Burnt Mill Corner. This house, probably of early-19th-century date, has an interesting and complicated history. Originally the Bakers Arms, it was burnt down in a major fire around 1870. It was purchased by McMullens the brewers in 1873 and rebuilt in brick; the name was changed to the Railway Inn. In 1959 the name was changed yet again, this time to the Dusty Miller. The original sign caused great confusion to the locals, for it displayed a fishing fly known only to our angling friends. 

Having left the Dusty Miller, we make a sharp turn right to walk down the steep hill known as Burnt Mill Lane. Some of the old houses here have long disappeared, and the first house we now arrive at is Gilston House. This was originally Gilston Cottage, but it has been altered over the years and greatly enlarged in the.1930s. However it still retains a uniform appearance, and its fitments include fireplaces built in the style of Robert Adam.

The famous conchologist (shell collector) and luminary Lovell Augustus Reeve, who lived from 1814 to 1865, lived here for some years; in fact the Reeve family probably built the house.

At the bottom of the hill stand two further buildings that require our attention. On the left is an attractive red-brick lodge house, previously a lodge house to Terlings Park. I assume it was built at the same time as the old Terlings manor house in the 1860s. Following the closure of the manor, the lodge became a private house, and was once a crèche when the building was greatly enlarged for the firm of Merck, Sharp & Dohme which had taken over the manor site for its research work. The lodge had great charm and repays study, but it is now marred by the erection of a hideous security fence, and by the overall effect of its recent redevelopment, which has reduced the original pretty cottage to a sprawling complex.

Opposite the lodge, the house standing by the brook has been extensively modernised, with a most attractive garden; but when we were young we stood in awe of the place because it hung precariously over the water. We feared that one day it would all fall in!

And finally we have the ghost. On eerie moonlit nights, a spectral horse and carriage are reputed to gallop down the hill, but they never come up the hill again. Now if it was the other way round, we could reckon the coach’s occupants had called into the pub for a quick one. They would not have called into the Moorhen for that is a very recent establishment.

Anyone interested in the history of the neighbouring village of Burnt Mill, of which almost nothing remains, is encouraged to read The Life and Death of Burnt Mill Village by Hazel Lake, published in 1999. A copy of this work may still be available from Harlow Central Library. The book contains two pictures of the Dusty Miller.

From this point we must retrace our steps to Eastwick. On re-entering the village you will see on your left Cat Lane, which leads via a quaint ford to Parndon Mill. This lane is interesting in that it will show you what all the rural lanes of England looked like in years gone by – the days when, if you couldn’t hitch a lift in a horse-drawn cart, you WALKED. Life in Eastwick in the past was always very slow.

I have left Eastwick Manor and Church to the last. The manor, originally the Rectory, was built in 1826 on the fine hilltop site. It replaced an earlier rectory that had been in existence since the seventeenth century, possibly earlier. We know very little about what this earlier rectory looked like, but we know it had a very fine library. The Rector at that time employed a number of servants, a cook, and maids for the house, and gardeners for the grounds. Another Rector offered private education for boys (fee-payers) – our only private school! The new rectory was imposing in style and reflected the Rector’s superior position in society.

Now in lay hands, Eastwick Manor used to provide the venue for our annual fete (alternating with Gilston Rectory). On our last occasion, in 1982, all the traditional attractions were set up on the lawn, attractions which had for so long successfully served the church funds.

As with all church fetes, this particular one had required a great deal of preliminary work, all done by volunteers. At the appointed hour, the gardens at Eastwick Manor opened to a large attendance, with all the stalls set up, and teas being served from a shady spot outside the kitchen. At 3 o’clock, Yolande and I were in full swing with the “treasure hunt” (a large map of Britain into which people were invited to stick pins to guess the place where the treasure was buried), and “Guess the weight of the cake” (we were flummoxed when one youngster gave a suggestion in kilogrammes). All our compatriots were likewise at the peak of their achievements – and then the heavens opened up. Even by British standards the rain was heavy. Our customers disappeared like magic, a few to take refuge in the barn, but most retreating rapidly down the drive to the village centre. By 4 pm the rain had ceased, but customers were there none. We all packed up our stalls.

Although we broke even, that was the end of the village fetes, and another little piece of village history had come to an end. At least it did not end on the same note as the market had done!

We will finish our walk at the church of St Botolph, the centre of religious life in the village for a thousand years.

The church is basically that of 1872–75, plain and simple in design, but with enough of the fittings salvaged from the old church to make it of great interest. Predominant, and everyone’s favourite, is the marble figure of the knight. This probably commemorates our old friend Sir Richard de Tany, and is now well over 700 years old. It is a quite magnificent work of the finest quality. No local stonemason carved this: it is practically certain that it was carved by a master craftsman in London, the style chosen and paid for by the de Tanys. It would have cost them dearly, too, as such craftsmanship did not come cheap.

The figure is over six feet long and represents a knight in a suit of mail (interlocking metal rings). Note the sword and the vicious spurs that were worn. The shield is also notable: it is large and was originally painted with the arms of the de Tany family – six black eagles (similar to the one used by Barclays Bank today), displayed on a golden background. When completed, the figure must have looked splendid, and even today the condition is remarkable. Contrary to popular belief, the crossed legs do not denote a knight who went on the Crusades: they merely give the figure a more lively aspect. The base chest is Victorian: originally the knight lay on the floor. There is no inscription. Sir Richard himself is not buried here; he and his wife Margaret were buried in the east end of the old church. In olden days, villagers used to say that the knight was a giant who would come to their assistance in time of need. I remember him fondly at a flower festival when the village children decorated his head with a circlet of wild flowers. I think he would have liked that.

In the tower area of St Botolph’s, both on the wall above the effigy of the knight, and on the opposite side, are a collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wall tablets, commemorating members of the Plumer family. To restore peace to the fractious villagers who were forever suspicious that Gilston had all the favours in life, the Plumers chose diplomatically to be buried at Eastwick, thus showing that they regarded Eastwick to be on an equal footing with Gilston and should not be regarded as in any way its inferior. Later Gilston squires, the Hodgsons and the Bowlbys, continued this tradition. The tablets are too high up to be read easily: they are of good quality, but one does show that even skilled craftsmen can make mistakes. The date has been carved wrongly and an attempt (rather obvious) has been made to recut the correct date.

The wooden cross commemorates a member of the Bowlby family who was killed in the First World War; it originally marked his grave in a military cemetery in Flanders.

On the west wall under the window is a brass commemorating Robert Lee, who had lived in Eastwick Hall and died in 1564. In his will he left money to the poor of Eastwick. His wife Joan greatly outlived him, and only her brass figure now survives: the figure of her husband has long been lost. The Lee family came from Cheshire, and Robert was certainly not of farming stock, for he was on the staff of a number of Tudor kings and queens, and thus presumably spent most of his time in the London area. He died a wealthy man.

Joan is depicted as wearing the typical costume of the late sixteenth century. What is particularly interesting about this brass, although you cannot see it, is that it has been re-used. On the other side is the figure of one Eleanor Pate who died in 1521. This is a classic case of early recycling. What happened was that the brass to Eleanor would have been laid in a monastic church, possibly in Leicestershire, where the Pate family originated from. When the monastic churches were destroyed, the brass was torn up and sold for salvage. An engraver bought it, turned it over and engraved a new figure on it. He probably got a good bargain out of this exchange.

Towards the east end of the church, forming the chancel arch, are to be found the marble pillars. These are lovely items and date from the same time as the figure of the knight. They look so new, but in fact were hewn from the ground on the Isle of Purbeck nearly 800 years ago. The pillars would have been taken to Eastwick first by sea (to London?) and then transported by river. If the high quality of these columns is anything to go by, then the old church must have been a building of some considerable merit – which makes its loss even more tragic.

The church has three bells of varying ages: one is very old. All bear inscriptions. The fittings are unsafe, so sadly the bells are not rung these days.

Outside is the large churchyard. At the rear of the church is the big tomb of the Hodgson brothers (they who built the new villages), and the Bowlby family vault. There are also monuments to past rectors. Nearby is the tomb chest of William Frampton, who died in 1789, and who we have previously mentioned as the builder of the house now called Culverts. The tomb originally had ornate Georgian iron railings. Frampton himself is not buried in the chest, but in a vault buried deep in the churchyard (so no peeping!). At the east end of the churchyard is the tombstone to the Revd Cyril Lewis, the first Rector of the two villages, who served us for over 35 years.

On closing, my nicest memory of Eastwick Church is of the flower festival held in the mid-1990s, when the church was ablaze with colour. I have never seen it looking prettier and, to accompany it, there was beautifully recorded birdsong and a demonstration of rural crafts: a great credit to all the volunteers, and a wonderful day for the many visitors. One day possibly we will meet here again.

May I conclude by recommending that this section is read in conjunction with ‘A History of Eastwick’, also to be found on this website.

 

JOHN CLARKE

January 2016

 

 



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