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Blackmore Area Local History

Blackmore: People's History of Essex

An extract from 'People's History of Essex' written in 1861 by D.W. Coller.
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Proceeding two or three miles further to the west we reach Blackmore, which is bounded by Ongars, and forms the verge of the Hundred in that direction. It is now a small and pleasant village, considerably improved of late years, but in old times it must have been a place of some importance as the site of a monastery and an occasional home of royalty. Henry VIII., as we have seen, was often at Jericho House, which appears to have been substantially a portion of the priory. since, if it were not actually connected with the buildings it stood close to them, and formed the mansion of the manor of Blackmore, the whole of which belonged to the monks. The house is still standing within whose retired shade the stern religious reformer sheltered his vices from the observation of the followers of his court; but of course it has undergone many changes, improvements, and enlargements, to adapt it to modern requirements. Sir Jacob Ackworth, who purchased it, at the beginning of the last [18th] century, of the family of Smyth, to whom it was granted at the dissolution, made many additions to it ; and in the course of the works a small leaden coffin, about a yard in length, and filled with bones, was exhumed. Other memorials of the past have occasionally been turned up on this spot; but, save the church near, not a stone or other fragment of the Priory now remains. Even the foundations are gone. We recollect some forty years ago [c1821] observing a stone which appeared to have been taken from the ruins, and upon which an inscription was still half legible, used as a door-step for a house in the neighbourhood. The shrubberies and lawns of Blackmore House have long since extended, and flower-beds have been planted, and kitchen gardens flourish in luxuriance over the very spots where the friars feasted and the monks prayed. The monastery was never of very great importance. It was founded by the family of De Sandford, either in the reign of Henry II. or King John, for canons regular of the order of St. Augustine; but though it was endowed with several manors, and had lands and other rights in Margaretting, Willingale, Broomfield, Shellow Bowels, Norton [Mandeville], Writtle, South-weald, Kelvedon [Hatch] and Stondon [Massey], its whole income in 1527 at £85. 9s. 7d.  Although the reformation had not commenced, it was dissolved in that year, and the property granted to Cardinal Wolsey, for part of the college he was endowing at Oxford.  On the fall of the Cardinal, two years after, it reverted to the crown, and soon after passed in exchange to the abbey of Waltham, which, by the deed, had a grant of a fair of three days, on the 9th, 10th and 11th of August; and less than a century ago [c1780] this was a cattle mart of some importance. On the general crash of the monastic property, the manors were granted by the king to the Smyth family, descended from Sir Michael Carrington, standard-bearer to Richard I. in the holy war, who subsequently acquired other property in the neighbourhood, and was long located at Smyth’s Hall. The property of the parish is now [1861] divided. The manor of Blackmore, and that of Fingrith, once in the Mildmay family, belong to James Parker, Esq. The latter was originally held by the De Sandfords and De Veres of the king, in capite by grand sergeanty, viz. “the tenant having the honour of being chamberlain to the Queen of England, of keeping her chamber, and the door of the same, on the day of her coronation; and of having for his fee the furniture of the chamber, the beds, basins, &c;” but this has been laid aside, with other ridiculous usages and tenures of the former times. Though the claim was made at the coronation of Queen Anne, and again at that of Queen Caroline in 1727, it was disallowed.

The Church, there is no doubt, was a part of the old priory. The cloisters, in fact, appear to have abutted upon the wall of the south aisle; and it was here that the monks assembled for matin worship and mass.  The western end appears to have been part of the original old fabric, low, and heavy; but upon this has been engrafted an elegant, light and lofty building; and at the point where the two join, the tasteful pilaster of a later day may be seen dove-tailed into a heavy Norman pillar. The tower is of wood, on the same principle and pattern as that of Margaretting, - probably by the same architect, as both belonged to the monastery; and Suckling supposes that the massive Norman walls and columns were left because the monks contemplated raising a goodly tower of stone, but having emptied their treasury by the other works, their taste yielded to necessity, and they wound up with a spire of timber.  The sacred edifice is dedicated to St Lawrence, whose martyrdom is represented in stained glass over the door; and on the wainscoted roof of oak are the royal arms, among them those of Richard II., and of some ancient and noble families, who are probably thus commemorated for their gifts or endowments to the monastery. At the end of the chancel is the burial place of the Smyths, with its decayed tombs and half-obliterated inscriptions. It is a singular fact, however, that only one solitary remnant of the funeral monuments of the monastic inhabitants remains.  An old grey stone, worn by time and tread of the worshippers, and robbed of its elegant-shaped cross of brass, lies in the chancel; some years ago might be traced on this, in the Saxon character – “To the memory of the just Prior, Thomas De Vere”. Here too, lies one of the expelled clergy and victims of the Commonwealth: on a grey marble stone, beneath the arms of the Lynch’s appears the following epitaph:

“Here lyeth the body of Simon Lynch, Rector of Runwell, who for fearing God and King, was sequestered, prosecuted, and persecuted, to the day of his death of Gog and Magog, and left issue Elizabeth, Sarah, Symon, and Ithnel, to whom the Ld. Be merciful, who died on the 19th of June, 1660, aged 60 years”

Local benevolence in former days provided largely for the poor of this parish. A house, garden, and orchard, called Claydons, were left by George Callice in 1580; the rent of the Bull public-house and 10 acres of land, by Thomas Almond in 1728; a rent-charge of £3. 5s. secured by John Witham, on lands at Blackmore; 10s. left by H. Waller, in 1601, out of a farm at Ongar; £2 left by J. Simonds in 1606, out of Copyhold Farm; £4 from the house and garden left by William Peacock, and purchased by the parish in 1724, subject to certain charges; these to be distributed in bread.  Sir S. Powell [Powle, pronounced 'Pole'] in 1618 left 40s. a year out of Smyth’s Hall, for eight poor women; and a rent-charge of £3. 5s., purchased by the parish with various donations, is distributed amongst 18 of the poorest.
Bell Rope Piece – half an acre of land – is left to supply bell-ropes. These charities form together a handsome income. Pauperism, however, is as rife in this parish as elsewhere – so true is it that charity often destroys the self-reliant spirit which can alone form a class of independent poor.

Last updated 1 January 2010