History of Castle Hedingham

church - exterior
St Nicholas' Church, Castle Hedingham.
© Copyright Derek Voller contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

History of Castle Hedingham >> White's Directory 1848

White's Directory of Essex 1848

HEDINGHAM, (CASTLE) a large and well-built village, with several good houses, shops, and inns, is situated upon a pleasant acclivity on the east side of the river Colne, 4 miles North West of Halstead, 17 miles North West by West of Colchester, and 19 miles North North East of Chelmsford.

It was anciently a market town, and has still two annual fairs, one on May 14th, for cattle, and the other on July 25th, for pleasure and pedlery.

Its parish contains 1343 inhabitants, and 2431 acres of land.

Ashhurst Majendie, Esq., has a handsome brick residence, built in 1719, near the remains of the ancient castle. He is lord of the manor, and owner of a great part of the parish, but Kirby Hall estate belongs to J.H. Nunn, Esq.. and here are several smaller proprietors, mostly copyholders.

Hops are grown in the parish and neighbourhood, and on an annual hop meeting is held at the Bell Inn, where Petty Sessions are held every alternate Tuesday, for North Hinckford Po1ice Division, which has a Police Station here, built in 1843. Mr. E. Stedman, of Sudbury, is clerk to the magistrates.

The Savings' Bank for Hinckford Hundred has its chief office here, and the Rev. John Gaselee, of Little Yeldham, is the secretary.

The large and strongly fortified CASTLE, built here soon after the Norman Conquest, was the head of the extensive barony, belonging to the Veres, Earls of Oxford, to whose ancestor Aubrey de Vere, this and many other lordships were given by William the Conqueror. It remained in the possession of this noble family, with but little interruption, till 1620.

The Honor of Castle Hedingham had 25 dependent knights' fees. The Castle in its original state covered a very large area, but all that remains of it is the great tower, or Keep, which is large and lofty, and in its outward appearance is still nearly entire, the great strength and solidity of its walls having resisted the ravages of time and man.

It stands on an artificial eminence, and is in the pure Anglo-Norman style. The walls are about 12 feet thick at the bottom, and 10 at the top. Its shape is nearly square, the east and west sides measuring about 60, and the north and south 62 feet. It is more than 100 feet high, and at each angle, on the top, was formerly a turret, which, with the platform, or upper story, were embattled; but the parapet-wall, the battlements, and two of the turrets are destroyed.

The materials of which this massive tower are composed, are irregular flints and stones, embedded in grout, or fluid mortar; but the whole outside is cased with squared stones, laid with great neatness and regularity, and supposed to have been brought from Barnack, in Northamptonshire.

The original entrance is on the west side, where the grooves for the portcullis may yet be seen. The interior consists of five stories, and was constructed with every attention to security from the attacks of external enemies. At the bottom the apertures are mere loop-holes, sufficient only to admit a scanty light, and to allow the discharge of offensive weapons from within.

In the second story are small windows somewhat ornamented, and in the the third are larger windows. In the fourth story the windows are double, and in the fifth, or attick story, they are richly ornamented with the zig-zag of the early Norman era; thus, in proportion as the distance from danger was increased, the architect seems to have introduced light, air, and ornament.

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Castle Hedingham
Low resolution copy courtesy of Footsteps' Shop on Ebay. Quality postcards of Essex.

The fourth story was the armoury, and hall of audience, and is a noble apartment 38 feet by 31, exclusive of the gallery which surrounds it. Its height, from the door to the centre of the great arch, is 21 feet, and to the ceiling 28 feet. In this chamber the ancient Barons received the homage of their feudal tenants, and entertained their visitors.

The Ballium, or inner court, in which the castle stands, contains nearly three acres, and within it were several towers and other buildings, that appear to have been built by John de Vere, the 13th Earl, soon after the battle of Bosworth Field, and were mostly destroyed about the year 1592, by the 17th Earl.

Some other buildings stood in the outer-court, on the sites now occupied by the handsome mansion and its offices, which were built by Robert Ashhurst, Esq., in 1719.

During the contest between the Barons and King John, it was taken by the latter from Robert de Vere, the third Earl of Oxford, in 1216. In the following year, after the accession of Henry. III., it again became an object of contention, and was surrendered to Prince Lewis, the Dauphin of France; who, however, was soon afterwards dispossessed by the joint moderation and firmness of the Earl of Pembroke, governor to the young King.

Robert de Vere, who had taken such an active part in favour of the barons, that he was by name excommunicated by Pope Innocent III., was also pardoned, and restored to his inheritance. From this period, nothing particular occurs relating to the Castle till the time of John, the 12th Earl, to whom it passed in almost uninterrupted succession.

This nobleman espoused the cause of the Lancasterians, and continued so firm in his allegiance to Henry VI., that Edward IV., at a Parliament held Nov. 4th, in the first year of his reign, caused him, though then nearly sixty years of age, to be attained, with Aubrey, his eldest son, and afterwards, with several others, to be beheaded on Tower hill.

John, his second son, immediately took the title of Earl of Oxford, and seems, during the first part of Edward's reign, to have been actually employed in the restoration of his deposed sovereign; in which object, he, with his friends, succeeded for a short time, and was reinstated in his estates and honours.

The superior fortune of Edward having once more regained the ascendancy, the Earl, after the decisive battle of Barnet, fled into France, whence, returning in a short time with a small force, he surprised St. Michael's Mount. in Cornwall, but was soon obliged to yield himself a prisoner, and was sent by the King to the Castle of Hammes, in Picardy, where he was closely confined for about twelve years, but he at length escaped, and joined the army of the Earl of Richmond.

On the accession of the latter, as Henry VII., he was restored to his honours and his estates, and lived here in great splendour and hospitality. Edward, the 17th Earl, was noted for his unbounded profusion, which occasioned him to alienate many of his family estates. He pulled down nearly the whole of his castle here, except the keep, and divided the three parks into farms, and afterwards sold the Honour of Castle Hedingham to Lord Chancellor Burleigh. He married Lord Burleigh's daughter, and left by her three daughters, and by his second wife he had one son, Henry.

He died in 1604, and his son Henry was restored to this estate by agreement with his half-sisters and their husbands. After the death of Henry, the 18th Earl, without issue, in 1625, this lordship was held by his Countess, on whose decease, in 1655, it passed to the Trenthams, (his mother's family,) who held it till 1713, when it was sold to Robert Ashhunt, Esq., from whose family the present owner has descended.

Aubrey, or Alberic de Vere, the first Earl of Oxford, and his wife Lucia, who became the first prioress, founded a Benedictine Priory here, before the year 1190. This nunnery was valued at the dissolution at £29.12s.10d. per annum, and some remains of it are converted into a farm house. An hospital, sometimes called the New Abbey, was founded here about 1250, by the fourth Earl of Oxford. It stood on the south-east side of the Castle, but all traces of it are gone.

KIRBY HALL, in this parish, was long the seat of the Kirby family, who held it under the Earls of Oxford. It afterwards passed to various families, but most of the ancient mansion has been pulled down, and the estate is now occupied an an "off hand farm," by the owner, J.H. Nunn, Esq., of Great Yeldham.

Castle Hedingham © Copyright Footstepsphotos 2006. http://www.footstepsphotos.co.uk/index.html
Castle Hedingham
Low resolution copy courtesy of Footsteps' Shop on Ebay. Quality postcards of Essex.

The Church (Saint Nicholas,) is a stately and ancient Gothic structure, except the brick tower, which was rebuilt in 1616, when four of five bells were sold to assist in defraying the expense of the new erection.

The spacious chancel is separated from the nave and aisles by a lofty carved wooden screen and contains some ancient and modem monuments. On a plate upon a tomb are engraved the figures of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, and his lady, and on the sides are kneeling figures of their four sons and four daughters. The timber work of the roof of the nave is variously ornamented, and supported on circular and retangular pillars.

Anciently, a free chapel stood near St. James well, a remarkable spring, formerly celebrated for the miraculous cure of diseases. A. Majendie, Esq., is impropriator of all the tithes (commuted in 1845, for about £900 per annum,) and patron of the benefice, which is donative, now in the incumbency of the Rev, S.R. Mills, B.C.L., and valued at £120 per annum.

In the village is an Independent Chapel, erected in 1842.

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Castle Hedingham - Cary's New and Correct English Atlas, 1798

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Castle Hedingham - First Series Ordnance Survey Map 1805

This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth. Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-4.0

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