Village History

Little Baddow is typical of a small, rural Essex village that has been colonised from the forest. From the evidence of finds found and identified in the locality, we can trace the origins of our village back through Roman Times, through the Iron Age, Bronze Age, Stone Age, as far back as the Mesolithic period.

The evidential finds and locations are as follows:

  • From the Stone Age
    • An axe head found on North Hill
    • stone mace head found near Phillows Farm
    • a lovely flake of knapped flint found near the church
  • From the Bronze Age
    • Numerous part of axe heads and sickle blades found near Chapel Lane and New Lodge chase
  • From the Roman period
    • A coin found near Graces Walk
    • Building materials in the North wall of St. Mary’s Church , including hypocaust tiles, suggesting there must have been an under-floor heating system nearby
  • From the Iron Age
    • Earthworks at the Stronghold on Heather Hills (numerous finds from which were excavated in 2013 and can now be seen in the History Centre, including items from the Mesolithic period).
    • An enclosed circle below the church

Some of the finds from Heather Hills have also been donated to Chelmsford Museum.

It is believed, that from the 3rd Century the Celts , occupied the high ground overlooking the river which was navigable as far as Little Baddow. They are likely to have still been in residence when the Romans built a small farm near to where the Church now stands, and possibly still there when the Saxons settled the lower land, establishing a watermill and a row of farms parallel with the river, some of which still exist today.

After the Norman Conquest the village was divided into at least four manors – Baddow Hall, Middlemead (later divided into Tofts and Bassets), Riffhams and Graces. It was probably Germund, Lord of Badwen manor who began building the Parish Church in around1086. He used various materials including some Roman brick, perhaps from the ruins of the earlier farm.

In the Middle Ages further settlements were established as the population increased. The largest of these was Wickhay Green, now the site of most of the modern village, which is situated almost a mile from the church. The green at Aldermanburgh was only established in the 1970s.

The village evolved with few interruptions. At the time of the Armada Sir John Smythe of Tofts trained some regiments of foot and took them to Tilbury to join the army under the Earl of Leicester. No doubt some Little Baddow men went with him and might even have heard Queen Elizabeth make her famous speech.

Graces manor witnessed the tragic death of Lady Alice Mildmay who drowned herself, supposedly because of her husband’s cruelty, and is said to haunt Graces Walk. When Sir Henry died in 1637 he asked to be buried by Alice and left £40 to erect a tomb in the chancel of the Church.

Passions ran high during the Civil war. Sir Henry’s son (also Henry) became a Colonel of Horse in the Parliamentary Army and was present at the siege of Colchester. In 1672 he tried, by rather dubious means, and unsuccessfully, to convict his neighbour Sir Moundeford Bramston of Bassetts, a known royalist, of papacy. Quite what effect this had on the community is unrecorded, but loyalties in this quiet backwater must have been severely strained.

In 1677 Sir Gobert Barrington of Tofts had a map drawn up showing the boundaries of the manors of Little Baddow Hall and Tofts, giving an index of the field and house names and their tenants. The map still exists today and Sir Gobert’s crest, painted on the map, has become the logo for the History Centre that has been built in the grounds of the URC Chapel.

Puritanism had a strong hold in Little Baddow, with Thomas Hooker and John Eliot, preachers and colonists of North America living at Cuckoos from 1629-31. In 1708 Francis Barrington gave a field for the purpose of building a “Meeting house for the public worship of God by the dissenting congregation of Protestants”. Now called the United Reformed Chapel, it is one of the oldest in the country.

This religious zeal extended to the Parish Church. In 1922, Reverend Jesse Berridge, a keen historian, noticed an entry in the Churchwardens accounts of 1749 about “plaistering about the new door and putting out St Christifer”. Noticing a tiny spot of colour on the wall, he and his son carefully removed the covering plaster and found a well-preserved painting of St Christopher, said to date from 1370. Subsequently a “devil” frescoe, even older than St Christopher was also discovered.

The Strutt family bought Tofts and Little Baddow manors in 1778. William Goodday Strutt, had a successful army career until he lost his leg in active service, forcing him to retire. He then took over administering the family estates, living at Terling Place. In 1810 he orchestrated perhaps the largest change in Little Baddow’s affairs for several centuries, reaching agreement with the copyhold tenants for the division of the common land into portions for enclosure. On his father’s death he inherited Tofts, living there in constant pain from his missing leg until his death in 1848. The death of the General saw the end of the era of involvement in village affairs by the manorial lord – his successors only occasionally resided in the village. His name is still commemorated by the name of the pub “The General’s Arms” and his descendants, the Lords Rayleigh, retained their links to the village until very recently.

On 3rd June 1797 the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation opened to link Chelmsford with the coastal trading ships that unloaded at Maldon. Used commercially for transporting coal and timber until 1972, it supported two mills – for grinding corn and papermaking, until the turn of the 20th century. Little Baddow was the halfway stopover point between Chelmsford and Heybridge, with the bargemen sleeping in the Bothy and stabling provided for their horses. When commercial traffic ended in the 1970s, the canal was opened for pleasure craft with Paper Mill Lock developed as a leisure centre. Today, the” Stables Tearoom” is a popular venue for walkers and fishermen, with boats to hire, moorings for leisure craft and trips on the pleasure barge “Victoria”.

When the 19th century opened there were many families whose names had been woven into the village history for a century or more. Prominent among these were the Fosters who had been at the Cock since at least 1650, and the Sawards, in the village for nearly as long. Other familiar names were Cockley, Duke, Gibson, Horsnell, Orton, Peacock, Perry, Rumsey, Sweeting and Willsher. Among the farmers were Baker, Barnard, Hodges, Livermore, Simmons, Sorrell, Taylor and, above all, Pledger. Some who came for a relatively brief period after about 1750 were: Jordan, Gage, Calcraft (a paper miller whose son, William, became the last public hangman), Blanks and Dennis.

Newcomers towards the end of the 18th century included Balls, Bickmore, Clench, Jarvis, Linsell, Loveday, Lucking, Maddocks, Nunn, Pryor and Perkins. Around 1850 more families arrived such as, Enefer, Humphreys, Joslin, Mason, Miles, Mulley, Oliver, Parminter, Swallow and Watts. The Strutts were the chief landowners but leadership of the community was taken by “gentry” such as the Reverend Ady, Admiral Johnson, the Pledgers of Hammonds, the Phillips of New Riffhams, the Tweeds of the Hall, the Joslens of Phillows, the Bolderos of Woodlands and the Woodhouses of Tofts.

During the second half of the 19th century changes started to come to the village – male suffrage, compulsory schooling, a Parish Hall for recreation, a Post Office, machines on the farms, bicycles making the outside world more accessible. Until the Great War the traditional way of life continued and the village community was based on all the families who had lived there for generations.

The population at the time of the Norman Conquest is estimated to have been between 100 and 150. Although it rose over the centuries that followed, in the 1901 census it was still only 510. The greatest increase in population (now around 1500) came during the second half of the twentieth century but the pattern of the village remains the same. A conjectural sketch map of Little Baddow in the Middle Ages does not look very different from one of 1897.

Agriculture remained the principal occupation of the village until the 20th century, when the availability of land for development and improved transport links made Little Baddow attractive for commuters.

It is still possible to see how attractive the land must have appeared to the early farmers with the combination of woodland, arable land, and the river that supplied both water and opportunity for transport.

Little Baddow has been fortunate in that there have been many individuals committed to writing and researching local history. Many documents, photographs and artefacts have found their way into the “Parish Chest” to tell the story of life and the people who have lived here from the Celtic settlement to the 21st century. This collection is housed in the History Centre which has been built, following a local fundraising appeal, in the grounds of the URC Church.

The History Centre holds regular exhibitions and events and is open to the public for access to the parish archives.

Various publications on the history of the village, the URC Church and its links with North America are available for purchase and some for free download. Full details can be obtained from the History Centre website.