History of Thaxted

Thaxted Copyright The Francis Frith Collection 2005. http://www.frithphotos.com
Post Office, Thaxted, 1906
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection.

History of Thaxted >> White's Directory 1848

White's Directory of Essex 1848

Part 1. Continues Part 2 >>

THAXTED, an ancient town, with a large and beautiful church, is picturesquely situated on the eastern side, and near the source of the river Chelmer, 6 miles north of Dunmow, 6 miles East South East of Newport Station, on the North-Eastern Railway; 7 miles South East of Saffron Walden, and 18 miles North North West of Chelmsford.

Its market, formerly held on Fridays, was discontinued about 35 years ago; but it has still two annual fairs on the Monday before Whitsuntide, and on August 10th, for cattle, etc.

Its extensive parish contains 2527 inhabitants, and 6219 acres of land, forming the north end of Dunmow Hundred, and comprising many scattered farm-houses, etc., and Bardfield End, Boyton End, Wood End Green, Cutler's Green, Richmonds Green, Monk Street, and Sibleys Green, where there are small but straggling assemblages of houses, at the distance of 1 to 2½ miles from the town.

The town has many good houses and well-stocked shops, and some fine specimens of old domestic architecture. The direct road from Chelmsford to Saffron Walden and Cambridge passes through it, but the railways have drawn all the coaches and much other traffic off this route.

Thaxted was formerly a borough, governed by a mayor, bailiff, and chief burgesses, incorporated by a charter of Philip and Mary, which was confirmed by Queen Elizabeth, with a grant of additional privileges; but all these were tamely given up, either through fear or poverty, by the corporate officers, who, on being served with a quo warranto, in the reign of James II., thought fit to retire from their offices in silence.

From a visitation of the heralds in 1637, it appears to have had at that time a mayor, recorder, two bailiffs, and about 20 principal burgesses, of whom ten had passed the mayoralty.

Some years ago, an unsuccessful attempt was made to revive the weekly market, to be held on Thursday instead of Friday.

The earliest account of the town is in the Monastican, which informs us that Clare College, in Suffolk, founded by Eluric, in Edward the Confessor's time, had the church of Thaxted. At that time the lordship belonged to Wisgar, but it was taken from him by the Conqueror, who gave it to Richard Fitz-Gislebert, with other large possessions in this county, and the barony of Clare, in Suffolk.

From the latter his family took the name of De Clare, and were Earls of Clare, till 1295. In the reign of Edward II., Lord Bradlesmere having married the eldest daughter of Thomas de Clare, obtained this lordship, and had liberty of free warren, and of holding an annual fair on the eve, day, and morrow of St. Luke.

After the death of his son, Giles, the manor was equally divided among his four daughters, all married into noble families. Three parts of the estate became the property of the Earl of March, and were re-united to the honor of Clare; and the remaining fourth descended to the De-spencers, and took the name of Spencer's fee.

On the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV. to Henry VII., the honor of Clare reverted to the Crown, and it was settled by Henry VIII., on Katharine, of Arragon, afterwards his Queen; who, in 1514, granted the manor and borough of Thaxted to Sir John Cutts, Kt., whose grandson, becoming embarrassed, was obliged to vest it in trust, in 1599, with Thomas Kemp, who had previously purchased the estate of Cobham's fee, in this parish.

Thaxted soon afterwards became the property of Sir Wm. Smith, Kt., of Hill Hall, from whom it has descended to Sir E. B. Smith, Bart., the present lord of the manor, and owner of a great part of the parish; and of Horeham Hall, a handsome brick mansion in the castellated and Tudor styles, occupied by his son-in-law, Captain Jodrell, and delightfully situated about two miles S.W. of the town.

This mansion is an interesting specimen of the style of domestic architecture which succeeded the ancient castellated mode; but it was considerably altered and modernized about four years ago. There is still at one end of it a large embattled tower, and the chief front exhibits a great variety of architectural forms; though the large bay windows, ornamented gables, etc., shew that it was built either a little before or early in the reign of Elizabeth.

The manor of Horeham, or Horeham Hall, was held of Queen Katherine, of Arragon, by Sir John Cutts, Kt., who erected the mansion, and held the estate as of the Queen's honour of Stambourne. RICHMONDS, another manorial estate in this parish, was held by the Beale family, who sold it and Thaxted Lodge, about 1720, to Guy's Hospital, London.

Other estates in this large parish, called Fitzralphs, Vernors, Stanfold Garden, Gerdelay, etc., belong to Viscount Maynard and a number of smaller proprietors.

church - exterior
St John the Baptist's Church, Thaxted.
© Copyright Robin Webster contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The CHURCH is a very large and beautiful structure, which appears from the various arms and cognizances in several parts of it to have been built at different times in the 14th century. Its dedication seems unknown, as it is ascribed by different authors respectively to the Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, and St. Lawrence.

The whole fabric is embattled, and supported by strong buttresses, terminated by canopied niches, and curiously purfled pinnacles. Below the niches in each buttress, is a singular or grotesque head, with a spout issuing from the mouth to carry off water from the roof.

The windows are mostly large, and pointed; and many of them are ornamented with tracery and painted glass, but the latter is much broken and otherwise defaced. The north porch is richly ornamented with sculpture, and the cornice and upper part are charged with various figures and devices.

At the west end is an embattled tower, sustained by butttresses, and terminated by a neat octagonal spire, rising to the height of 181 feet. The circumference of the entire building, including the projections of the buttresses, is 345 yards. Its length is 183 feet, and its breadth 87.

The interior consists of a spacious nave, transept, chancel, and side aisles. The arches of the nave are pointed, and supported by eight clustered columns on each side. The chancel is neat, and displays various cognizances of Edward IV., who contributed towards its erection.

The most ancient part of the building is supposed to have been erected by Lady Elizabeth Clare, daughter of Gilbert, surnamed the Red, and his wife, Joan of Acres, daughter of Edward I. Wm. de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, and son of Lady Clare, built the nave, previous to the year 1340. His son-in law, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, erected the south porch, between the years 1362 and 1368.

The north aisle and north part of the transept, were raised about 1380, by Edmund, Earl of March, who was much celebrated for his skill in architecture; and it is observed that these portions of the church are most distinguished for superior elegance and taste, displayed in the ornaments and disposition of the parts.

The chancel was begun by one of the Earls of March, but completed by Edward IV., who is also thought to have been at the charge of the north porch. Edmund, the last Earl of March, who died in 1424, is supposed, from the arms on some of the arches, to have built the tower, which was intended to have been erected at the intersection of the nave and transept, but probably this design was abandoned from a fear of injuring the other parts of the building by its weight.

The church underwent considerable repairs during the last century. In the summer of 1814, the spire was considerably injured by lightning, and scaffolding was erected at the cost of nearly £400 for taking down the damaged part, of which 46 feet had been removed, when, on the 16th of Dec. following, a violent storm arose, which threw down the scaffolding, and the remaining part of the spire.

The body of the church was also very considerably damaged, but was completely repaired, and the spire rebuilt in 1822, at the cost of more than £1000, by Mr. Cheshire, of Over-Whitaker, near Coleshill, in Warwickshire.

Nothing has so much improved the appearance of the interior of this noble church as an elegant window of stained glass, at the east end, executed by Mr. Egginton, and given by the present Vicar. The ceiling of the whole church exhibits abundance of carved work, with representations of martyrdoms, legends of saints, grotesque physiognomies, and animals.

The pulpit and font are fine specimens of ancient workmanship. A chantry, valued on the suppression, at £11.19s.6d. per annum, and twenty obits, besides various altars and chapels, existed here in Roman Catholic times.

The rectory, with the estate called Prior's Hall, was appropriated to the College of Stoke by Clare, and was granted by Edward VI. to his preceptor, Sir John Cheeke. It afterwards passed to the Howard and Petre families, and some of the latter sold it to an ancestor of Viscount Maynard, the present impropriator. who is also patron of the vicarage, valued in K.B. at £24, and in 1831 at £450.

The Rev. Thos. Jee, M.A., the present worthy incumbent, was inducted in 1806, and has a good residence, but only about two acres of glebe. The tithes were commuted in 1842, rectorial for £1184.11s.5d., and the vicarial for £460 per annum. The vicar has also £100 a year from Lord Maynard's Charity, as afterwards noticed.

End Part 1. Continues Part 2 >>

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print published 1834

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Thaxted - Cary's New and Correct English Atlas, 1798

Thaxted - 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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