Stage 11 - Toot Hill to Blackmore (7.5 miles)
The stage starts in the middle of the village of Toot Hill just north of the Green Man Pub at the junction of Mill Lane and Toot Hill Road. The route is almost completely off-road. We follow the Essex Way to and through Greensted and onto Chipping Ongar. Here we divert off the Essex Way to take in some of the sights and history of this old town. On leaving Chipping Ongar we rejoin the Essex Way for a short distance, before leaving it for one last time. Our route then follows St Peters Way through High Ongar and for most of the way to the finish at Blackmore.
Toot Hill village sign, on the small green about 200 yards south of the start, has a windmill on it. The windmill was next to the start of the stage on Mill Lane. It was built in 1824, but five years later was badly damaged by lightning and the miller was seriously injured (read The Times Report from 24th June 1829). Some money was raised for him and his family, the mill was repaired and it continued to operate until 1900. It was struck by lightning again in 1910 and then was damaged by a fire in 1928. The locals eventually gave up on the mill and it was demolished in 1935. Very little sign of the mill remains today and Mill House is built on the site. On a recent visit the then owner showed me some old metal weights sitting at the front of his house and as far as he knows this is all that remains of the windmill.
Although there are a few small late 20th Century housing developments there are still many old buildings of interest within the village. They include old farms and large private homes. There are some pleasant old cottages along the main road through the village and one worth a mention is Rose Cottage. It is just a few yards south of The Green Man pub and on the same side of the street. It has an old red Post Office mail box built into the front wall as its letter box. I have spoken to the owner and, yes they do sometimes have people stop and use it as a post box. He does understand their mistake and always transfers the mail to the correct village post box. Another remnant of the old Post Office – the old red phone box – has been purchased by Stanford Rivers Parish Council and turned into a tourist information kiosk.
Just south of the village green and a short distance along School Road is Toot Hill Golf Club. The golf course covers an area much larger than the village and claims to be one of the most testing in Essex. It was built on farmland with the original farmhouse now tastefully converted to form the clubhouse.
There is a small village hall just off Toot Hill Road. It looks to have potential, but in my few visits, I have never seen any activity here.
From the start Cross straight over Toot Hill Road and turn left to go north along Toot Hill Road staying on the RHS. After 200 yards the road turns sharp left past entrance to Wealds Farm. Just a few yards after this, turn right onto path across grass and away from road keeping Wealds Farm buildings to your RHS. Go through gap into a field and turn right along RHS of field for 35 yards. Turn right to cross footbridge, turn left and go east along LHS of field. Go straight on for 160 yards with a fence to your RHS and hedgerow to your LHS. Cross over a footbridge then a stile and follow the path straight on along the LH edge of another field. After Cross over stile then footbridge and stay straight on along LHS of fields for 800 yards – still going east.
On approaching a farm (Widows Farm) veer left keeping the farm to your RHS and soon to a wooden kissing gate. Turn left through the gate and go straight on along the LHS of four paddocks and metal curtain gates (lift clasp and close) there can be animals in fields – now going north. After exiting the 4th paddock follow the path as it goes downhill and bears left to a wooden kissing gate. Go through the gate and turn right along the RHS of a field for 170 yards to reach Greensted Road. Cross over the road bearing slightly left to stile immediately before the entrance to Greensted Farm, turn right over a stile onto a footpath next to a stream and along the edge of a large field.
Follow the path straight on along the left hand edge of three fields, and after 1,000 yards, at the far side of the third field, cross over a small footbridge onto a lane. Turn right along the lane for 100 yards to a converted barn. Stay straight on through a gate and past the tasteful front doors of the cottages built in the old barn. Do not be tempted to go straight through the farm yard as it is private property. The public right of way is through the enclosed area in front of the cottages.
Once past the barn go straight on along the lane past a large house and then an old church. Immediately after the church turn left onto a narrow path, signed Essex Way.
This tiny village, hidden well off the beating track is called Greensted, or to give its full name Greensted-juxta-Ongar. In literal terms this means a settlement in a green area (or clearing) adjoining Ongar – most likely a clearing in what was a huge forest at Epping. The large house just after and behind the barn is Greensted Hall and the small wooden church immediately past it is St Andrews. The manor here dates back to Saxon times. The earliest record I can find is during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1003 – 1066). However, the history of the place goes back long before this as you can see below. Like most other manors in England, it was held by Norman Lords after the invasion of 1066 – you can read more about the owners during this time by following the link to British History Online.
Alexander Cleeve, a London businessman and administrator of Gambia, bought the hall and its estate in 1695. It stayed in the family until 1752, when Cleeve’s nine surviving children, who all owned in part, sold to David Rebobiter, a London Merchant. In 1837 the manor was bought by the Reverend Philip Budworth, a great grandson of Cleeve. He also bought other lands in the area and thus took most of the manor back into the family line. Philip’s only son, Captain Philip J Budworth inherited the hall and lands and made it his family home in 1854. He bought more property in the area and held most of the parish lands. He was an active member of local society and affairs. He died in 1885 and is commemorated at Chipping Ongar through the building of a local community hall, Budworth Hall, in his name.
The Manor of Greensted dates back to at least the time of Edward the Confessor (r1042 – 1066). The house was rebuilt by, London pewterer, Alexander Cleeve between 1695 and 1700. It was significantly extended by Philip J Budworth in 1875 and has connections to other well-known people.
Julia Warren Farr (1824 -1914) was born here as Julia Hutchinson. In 1846 she married George Henry Farr, an Anglian clergyman. Through circumstances they immigrated to Adelaide in Australia in 1854. She went on to set up a charity there for orphaned girls which still holds her name today.
Another resident of Greensted Hall was Gerard Corley Smith (1909 – 1997). He was British ambassador to Haiti in 1960, but was expelled for his criticism of Papa Doc Duvalier’s oppressive regime. His next post was British ambassador to Ecuador from 1962 – 67. One of Corley Smith’s hobbies was bird-watching and during his time in Ecuador he became friends with Professor Jean Dorst, a French ornithologist and also president of the then recently formed Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands. He visited the islands on a few occasions; the second was on the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1964 with Prince Philip, who later became patron for the foundation. Corley Smith realised the uniqueness of the islands and worked to establish a national park, under Ecuadorean control, to protect their environment. He organised a British financed study of how this could be done at the same time as developing tourism to help the economy of the islands. Corey Smith left Ecuador in 1967 and a year later the new National Parks Service of Ecuador was formed. In retirement Corey-Smith was active with the Charles Darwin Foundation and in 1972 became its secretary-general, a position he held twelve years. During this time most of the Foundation’s administration, including the production of the bi-annual bulletin “Noticias de Galápagos”, was carried at his home Greensted Hall. When Gerard Corey Smith stood down as secretary-general in 1984 he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Ecuadorean government. After his death in 1997 the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) on Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos renamed its library the CDRS Corley Smith Library in his memory.
The Church of St Andrew’s dates from c1053 AD, but research suggest earlier churches on the site may date back to the 4th Century and there is evidence of Roman occupation in the parish. It is the only Anglo-Saxon log church still standing, is thought to be the oldest wooden church in the world and the oldest wooden “stave” building in Europe. Its date is difficult to pinpoint accurately as nothing else in this design still survives. The nave is constructed of oak logs split in half with the round side used for the outside and the flat side for the inside. It is held together by pegs, grooves and lap joints. In 1972, because of its uniqueness, it featured on a Royal Mail postage stamp. You can view the stamp on the Collect GB Stamps website under Village Churches. In the churchyard next to the porch a long stone marks the grave of an early crusader.
It is recorded that St Edmund’s body laid here overnight in 1013 on its way from London to its final resting place at Bury St Edmunds – this was over 140 years after he died. He was born in Germany in 840 and was crowned King of East Anglia in 855. He repelled two Danish invasions in 870. They soon returned with many extra forces. To avert a fruitless massacre he disbanded his army, but was captured by the invaders. They took him to a forest at Hoxne in Suffolk on 20th November 870 and tortured him. They beat him with sticks, tied him to a tree and whipped him almost to death. When he would not give into their demands, because of his strong faith in God, still tied to the tree they filled his body with arrows and then cut off his head. He was buried at what is now Bury St Edmunds, but in 1010 his remains were moved to London for safety. They were returned to Bury three years later via Greensted.
The church and area are also connected to the Tolpuddle Martyrs. They were a group of six agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle in Dorset, who in 1833 founded the “Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers”. It was basically a trade union set up to protest about the unfair lowering of agricultural worker’s wages at the time. Trade unions had been made legal the previous year through the passing of the “Reform Act of 1832”. However, James Frampton, a Dorset landowner complained to the Prime Minister. They were arrested on a charge, drummed up from an old sea mutiny law, of swearing an oath to each other. They were convicted and sentenced to seven years in a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia.
By 1836 they had become heroes to the people of England. There was public outcry that they had been unjustly convicted and with the support of the new Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, they were pardoned and freed. They came back to England and were given lands at Greensted as they were unable to return to their Dorset homes.
At Greensted they continued their trade union activities by forming a local Chartist association. This did not go down very well with the wealthy Essex landowners and even the local Greensted Vicar preached against their activities.
One of the martyrs, James Brine, was married in the church in 1839 and his name can be seen on the church register.
In 1844, due to pressure from wealthy landlords and the local vicar, five of them moved to London in Ontario, Canada to start a new life. Only James Hammett moved back and settled in Tolpuddle where he died in 1891 and is buried in the local graveyard. All five who immigrated to Canada lived well into old age and were very successful. One even became mayor of the Canadian town. Today they are remembered throughout the world as the original founders of the Trade Union Movement and are celebrated by many memorials, museums and a festival in their honour.
Follow the narrow path, signed “Essex Way”, east past the church yard and through a gate into a field, then straight across the field to its north eastern corner and straight on into a second field. Here veers left to the northern edge and then turn right along the edge of the field. After 100 yards (at 2 miles into the stage), the path veers right along the LHS of the field to the corner. Go straight through the hedgerow into the next field and veer half left across to the LHS of the field. Veer right along the LHS of the field and at the opposite corner go straight on across a lane and through a small wood, emerging into a large field.
Follow the large track straight on, gradually downhill and across the RHS of the field and directly east. After half a mile go straight on over a concrete bridge over a stream and onto a lane (Bansons Lane) follow it straight past Sainsbury’s and up to a T-junction with Chipping Ongar High Street.
Turn right along the pavement for only a couple of yards, then cross over the High Street using the well placed zebra crossing. Once across turn right along the pavement and through what is the oldest part of the street. At this point the route parts company with the Essex Way, but will rejoin it for a short distance before going away from Chipping Ongar.
Chipping Ongar (meaning “market & grassland”) dates back to at least Saxon times and may be much older. An article in the Independent on 10th July 2004 states a substantial Roman Road had been uncovered in Leyton. Research suggests the road stretched north east from London to Chipping Ongar where it seems to change direction towards Great Dunmow - once site of a small Roman town. This indicates that Chipping Ongar may have been an important communications hub in Roman times and probably the site of a Roman town. The theory is backed up by finds of Roman brickwork in the area.
Most of the town is now designated a Conversation Area and contains over 100 listed buildings. There are many old buildings on the High Street and it’s a delight to see it’s not overcrowded with multi-national shops, like most high streets throughout the rest of the UK. Many of the buildings are not now used for their original purposes; however some plaques have been erected to tell their history and previous use.
Immediately to the right at the junction of Bansons Lane and the High Street is Budworth Hall. It was built in 1886 as a public hall for the recreation of the people and as a memorial to Captain Budworth, a local Justice of the Peace. The clock on the tower was added in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee.
Ongar was originally a Saxon settlement in the middle of a “hundred” – an area of land which supported 100 families. Ongar Great Park, to the west of the town, is the oldest recorded park in England, first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon will of 1015. It is known there was a Saxon fortification here from before the Norman Invasion of 1066. The town was protected by Crispey Brook to the west and the River Roding to the east. At the time of the Domesday Book it was recorded as being owned by Eustace, Earl of Boulogne. In the 12th Century the manor was gifted by the King Henry II to Richard de Lucy, Lord Chief Justice of England. Sometime between 1155 and 1162 he built a “motte and bailey” (mound & courtyard) castle here and for some years the town was called Castle Ongar.
The mound was surrounded with water and had a wooden “keep” on its top. The keep was a lookout point and was the last line of defence if attacked. It was protected by an inner “bailey” on its west and a larger kidney shaped outer bailey on its east. Either the keep or inner bailey would have housed the Lord of the Manor and his family. The baileys also housed knights and servants, and would have had a kitchen, workshops, stables and possibly a church. The ditches around the motte and baileys were filled with water and they were connected by drawbridges. Outside the castle was the town with its traders, potters, blacksmiths, weavers, brewers, bakers, builders, and ordinary people (or peasants). The whole settlement was enclosed by a surrounding ditch.
For ordinary people, the small farmers, most tradesmen, and all their families, even monks and priests, times were hard. Today these are equivalent to your carpenters, electricians, plumbers, builders, small businessmen, nurses, lower ranks of the emergency forces and white collar workers who can afford to live in nice houses. There was no going to your local supermarket to stock up on food. Meals such as breakfast and lunch (then called dinner) usually consisted of stale bread and hard cheese washed down with weak ale (water was not safe to drink). Supper in the evenings was a hot bowl of a crude vegetable and oat stew called pottage and if you were very lucky it may contain some meat. Sometimes people even went for days without eating because they could not afford it. There was no birth control and if you had more children than you could afford feed, new born babies were often left in the forests to die at the hands of wolves of foxes. Most people worked from daybreak to dusk to feed their families. The houses were basic (if you were luck enough to have one) usually made from mud, timber and straw with a hard bed of rushes to sleep on. There were no toilets and diseases flourished and killed many, even the young and strong. Underwear was not part of the clothing, not even wonder bras, thongs or boxer shorts. Over garments were your only clothes and these didn’t get washed very often. Women were not respected like they are today and children had no rights apart from those granted to them by their kin. Brothels were more common than ale houses, but condoms did not exist. It usually meant the girls and women who occupied them were well fed and could sleep in a soft bed, but their life expectancy was short. You could say the Lord of the Manor ruled the roost. He controlled the gaming writes to the forest, the rivers and lakes and if you wanted to do anything yourself you either paid taxes to make it legal or were punished severely if you were caught doing it illegally. The only charity came from monasteries where monks may let you in just before dark, give you some stale bread and weak beer, a roof over your head, a hard floor crowded with many others to sleep on and kick you out at daybreak. The common people were basically owned by the Lord and in many instances were not even allowed to leave the town without his permission. On the other hand, the “well-born” and wealthy ate to excess. Their meals were long lasting and always extravagant with various meats and fishes, fresh bread and the best vegetables washed down by good quality beers and wines. The leftovers ware usually fed to their pets or thrown in the rubbish. The servants were not allowed to finish off what was left, yet they did out of view of their masters, but were punished if caught.
Ongar was now a very important site. It levied its own taxes, administered the laws for the district and had its own market. The first recorded mention of the market was in 1287, but this is believed to be the successor of a previous market going back to Saxon times. In medieval times part of the High Street was widened to accommodate the market, a feature which it still retains today.
The castle buildings were demolished in the 16th Century and a stone mansion was built on top of the mound. This was demolished in 1744, but the “motte”, “bailey” and ditches from Norman times are still well preserved and although most of the site is on private property and partly overgrown by trees, there is a path around two sides of it making it easy to view these old earthworks. An information board behind the library and next to the path has a map and aerial view of original Norman castle and town.
Just past Budworth Hall and on the same side of the High Street are the King’s Trust Cottages. They are named after Joseph King, a local property owner. A plaque on the front states:
“JOSEPH KING (died 28th FEBRUARY, 1679) left this row of properties in Trust to provide out of the rents schooling for poor people of the Parish. The Trustees continue to use the income for educational purposes”.
Shortly after King’s death the cottages were used for teaching and it was not until 1846 when a purpose built school was completed.
Going south along the High Street there are many old buildings with one or two narrow side streets breaking off to the left and containing some strange shaped houses and shops. All in all it gives a feeling of a well preserved, ancient and bustling small town.
The town was at the junction of many old roads and during the coaching era was an important staging point for travellers from London to East Anglia. It was because of its position and its transport links why the town grew. The phrase below is from Essex Council records.
“Chipping Ongar appears to have become a significant staging-point for travellers in the early post-medieval period, and by 1686 there was within the town accommodation for 71 people and 104 horses. The taxation data for 1801 records a population of 595, rising in 1841 to a population of 870. However the main period of growth has been as a commuter town in the second half of the 20th Century.”
This explains the many old pubs and coaching inns along the High Street. The oldest is thought to be The Cock Tavern dating from 1580. The King’s Inn was built in 1679, is said to be haunted, and there are records of a coach departing from the inn daily from 1848. The inn still provides overnight accommodation and even organises its own ghost evenings.
The railway reached Ongar on 1st April 1865. It was a single track branch line from Epping. Steam trains continued to run up to the 1950s when the line was taken over by London Transport and electrified in 1957. Ongar was on the Central Line and was the most north easterly station on the London Underground. Due to low passenger numbers the line was closed on 30th September 1994. Some of the tracks near Epping were lifted but most stayed in place. On 10th October 2004, ten years after the line closed trains were once again running from Ongar. This was thanks to the restoration carried out by members of the Epping Ongar Railway Volunteer Society. The railway is now mainly for recreational and educational purposes with vintage DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) trains running hourly on Sundays and Bank Holidays (except in winter) from 11am to 4pm to North Weald and Coopersale. The society intend to reintroduce steam trains and hope to extend the line as far as Epping again so it can act both as a tourist attraction and a functional transport line. Their work was recently featured by BBC Essex in an article still available on their website.
Near the bottom of the High Street are Livingstone Cottages. David Livingstone (1813 - 1873) was a Scottish missionary and explorer. He came to Chipping Ongar with Joseph Moore (afterwards a missionary in Tahiti) in 1838 to study with the Rev. Richard Cecil. During their time here they resided at the cottages. A plaque over the central passageway states “in this room Dr David Livingstone lived in 1838 just before proceeding to his great work in Africa”. Livingstone enjoyed walking and on one occasion is recorded as walking all the way to London and back in a day. A circular walk around the Parishes of Ongar and Stanford Rivers is named after him and a guide to the walk is available from the local parish council.
Other famous residents of the town included the “Taylors of Ongar”. The Rev. Isaac Taylor moved here with his family in 1811. He was pastor of the local Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church), at the bottom of the High Street, until his death in 1829. For the first three years of his stay he lived with his wife Ann, their two daughters Jane & Ann and son Isaac at Castle House, before moving to a farm nearby. They were accomplished in many fields, but especially in literature, their children being famous for nursery rhymes and children’s stories. The most well known of their works is “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” written by Jane. The parents and Jane are buried under the floor of the church and there is a memorial to each of them.
Father Thomas Byles was Rector of St Helen’s Catholic Church from 1905 until 1912. He was to go to New York to conduct his brother’s wedding. He left for America on the Titanic, but like over 1,500 others perished when the ship hit an ice-burg in the North Atlantic at 11.40pm on 14th April 1912 and sank 2 hours and 40 minutes later. On the day of the accident he had conducted services for many of the less wealthy passengers. According to some of the 700 survivors he died a hero, helping other onto the lifeboats, giving up his own place and comforting the dying. He was characterised in both the 1979 movie S.O.S. Titanic and the blockbuster 1997 Titanic movie. His body was never recovered and a door was installed at the church by his brothers as a memorial to Father Byles.
The Parish Church of St Martin of Tours is the oldest surviving building in the town with the chancel and naves dating from the 11th Century. It is built of flint and has Roman bricks and tiles in its walls. In Medieval times a hermit was enclosed for life in the walls and his window, overlooking the altar, can still be seen. The foundations of a Roman building are said to have been dug up in the churchyard and inside is a black marble slab which marks the grave of Jane Pallavicini (died 1637), a cousin of Oliver Cromwell. There is also a 15th Century font which was dug up in the garden of a local house and restored to the church in 1963. The church website has a very detailed history and some good photographs.
To read an in-depth and factual history of the town, the archaeological diggings and the people of Chipping Ongar visit the Essex County Council website and download the council’s Historic Towns Assessment Report of 1999 (link is broken, so upload file and add link). The History House website has also a great deal of information on the History of Chipping Ongar.
Two miles south east of the town, just off the A128, hides one of Britain's darkest secrets - the government's secret nuclear bunker at Kelveden Hatch. It was to be the focal point from where the country was run from in the aftermath of a nuclear war. However, with the ending of the “Cold War” it has become a tourist attraction and is now open to the public.
150 yards after the zebra crossing, turn left into Castle Street and past the Parish Church of St Martin of Tours to the left – now at 3 miles into the stage. Near the end of Castle Street, veer left, through a kissing gate (next to lamp post marked “Spring Meadow”), and onto a footpath. Follow the path past Castle House, and then as it veers right and gradually left around what was the outer bailey of the castle.
It’s on Castle Street where we join another long distance path, St Peter’s Way. This starts here and runs for 45 miles to the ancient Chapel of St Peter-on-the Wall at Bradwell on Sea. You can download a leaflet of the walk at Essex County Council (link is broken, so upload file and add link).
Castle House was built in 1542 in the castle grounds. Through the trees to the left of the path is part of the old moat (still filled with water) to the right is a large open field. There are also views of the other earthworks of the Norman castle. In June up until recent years the grounds played host to a Folk Festival and Medieval Fair.
The path soon leads to a small open area with outbuildings on the right. Turn left past the entrance to Castle Farm, then right along a wide straight and fenced off track between fields.
A path to the left, just as the track straightens, leads around the northern edge of the Norman Motte & Bailey Castle. It gives the best views of the old earthworks and leads to the car park behind the town library, on the High Street almost directly opposite Budworth Hall. In the car park there is a sign giving information and a map of the remains of the Norman Castle.
Follow the wide track for 200 yards, then right past a children’s playground and cricket pitch to its left. After another 60 yards the track turns left and eventually leads through a gap into an open field with a housing development to the left. The path coming from the left at this point is the Essex Way and our route rejoins it for a short distance.
Turn right and go along the edge of the field and gradually downhill to the bottom corner. Go straight on through a gap into a large open meadow.
At this point the Essex Way turn left and departs for the final time on its way to the coast at Horwich. It has been a good servant and it has helped make our route possible.
After going through the gap follow the path as it veers slightly right and downhill to a bridge over the River Roding. Once over the bridge follow the path straight on, leading uphill and across the common. In 400 yards the path leads to and through trees, then up steps (at 4 miles into the stage) and out onto small common with houses opposite. Turn left along the grass (keeping the common and the houses to the right) and after 200 yards along a path between houses to a road (Mill Lane) at High Ongar.
High Ongar is much smaller than Chipping Ongar and the route only passes through the southern edge of it. The main part of the village is a short distance to the left along Mill Lane. Once again the village is designated a Conservation Area and is built around the 12th Century Grade 1 listed parish church of St Mary the Virgin. Immediately east of the church is a late 16th Century timber-framed building called “Post Office Cottages”. It is thought to have originally been built as a rectory, at one time it had a “lock-up” and is now divided into three cottages. The village has two pubs the Red Lion (17th Century and now an Indian Restaurant) and The Foresters Arms (18th Century). There are many other old buildings of note within the village and each year it has its own High Ongar 10 kilometer Charity Run.
On the History House website there is an incredible story taken from a newspaper dated 31st December 1823. It tells how a local man led his wife into the market, exposed her, and auctioned her to the highest bidder. She was sold for 10 shillings, from which he had to pay the auctioneer’s fee. However, it doesn’t say why the man would carry out such a deed.
To read more about High Ongar visit British History Online and the entry on Wikipedia.
At Mill Lane turn right for 60 yards then turn left to cross over and go through a gap in the hedge, next to a small electricity sub station and into a large field. Turn half right to follow a path across the field.
The field is huge, and the path seems to go on forever. However, thanks to the local farmer for keeping the paths through it well maintained and wide. I just wish all farmers would be as thoughtful so people on foot would not have to fight their way through, possibly causing them to veer from the paths and as a consequence get lost and thread on the crops.
On reaching the opposite side of the field, follow the path straight on through some trees and to a lane. Turn left along the lane for 0.8 miles, then right and left around the back of the farm buildings at Paslow Hall. A few yards after the last building, and immediately past a pond to your LHS, turn right onto a wide track.
After another 150 yards follow the main path cross-country across crop fields for 400 yards and then with a hedgerow to your LHS. 80 yards later veer slightly left onto an enclosed track which soon leads to a field. Stay straight on along the RHS of the field for 450 yards to the southern corner (at 6 miles into the stage). Go straight on along what seems to be an ancient wooded lane for 400 yards and out onto a road next to a few houses. The road soon leads to a T-junction (with Nine Ashes Road). Cross straight over and follow the lane into Paslow Common Farm. The route has now joined another long distance path called St Peter’s Way. It is signed by circular discs with inverted crucifixes.
On approaching the farm buildings the lane divides in two. Veer slightly right keeping the farm buildings to your LHS left. The lane soon veers left to the back of the buildings. Here turn left behind a long farm building and with fields to your RHS. At the end of the buildings turn 90° right onto a narrow path across the fields and directly towards the spire of Blackmore church in the distance. NOTE: At this point it’s tempting to take a track made by the farmer’s vehicles just to the right, but the spire of Blackmore Church in the distance shows the correct direction.
The small hamlet of Paslow Common once had a beer house called the White Horse. It was just south along Nine Ashes Road from Paslow Common Farm. However, it appears to have burnt down just under one hundred years ago. Next to the beer house was a pub named the Black Horse. This closed around 2002 and is now a private house.
After 350 yards the path across the field soon runs next to a deep ditch on your LHS (be careful not to fall in). Then in another 350 yards turns right with the ditch still to the LHS. 60 yards later turn left over a wooden footbridge and straight on across a large crop field to Blackmore. Be wary as sometimes this path is very overgrown, even above head height, but through experience it is dead straight after the bridge and you can get through.
At the opposite side of the field the path comes out onto a lane (Green Lane) and soon afterwards to a T-junction with a road (Blackmore Road) – at 7.15 miles into the stage. Turn left along Blackmore Road and after 150 yards (and immediately before Meadow Rise to your LHS), turn right to cross over the road and through a gap in the hedgerow to follow a path straight on across a common. On approaching the trees, at the opposite side of the common, veer left and then right through trees to a lane past the church (on your RHS). On reaching the gate to the church follow the road left (Church Street) to the finish, over 200 yards later at the end of Church Street and just after the Bull Inn.
Blackmore name means black marsh (or swamp) due to the black clay it is built on, although it does have associations with the “Black Death”. In 1349 the plague hit Essex and Blackmore is recorded as the most affected village. Of its 450 inhabitants at the time two thirds were killed by the disease.
The Priory Church of St Lawrence dates from the 12th Century and has one of the finest 15th Century timber bell towers in England. It is unique in having three layers to the tower. Behind it are the remains of a 12th Century Augustine priory. This was one of the first monastic establishments to be dissolved by Henry VII. The adjoining Jericho Priory is built on the site of a 16th Century house. The house is associated with the saying "Go to Jericho" as it was used by Henry VIII as a country retreat and Jericho is where his servants said he was going to when he was coming here to visit his long time mistress Elizabeth Blount (born 1502). She was the daughter of Sir John Blount of Shropshire and a maid of honour to Henry’s first wife Katherine of Aragon. There are no pictures of her but all accounts said she was very beautiful. It was at Blackmore on 18th June 1519 where she gave birth to Henry’s natural son and the only illegitimate child whom he recognised, Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Richmond. Fitzroy was adored by his father and married Mary Howard, daughter of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk in 1533 at the young age of 14. However, he also died very young and just a few days after his 17th birthday on 24th June 1536. If he had lived he would have probably become king. Although Elizabeth Blount married a few years after her affair with Henry VIII, the king still kept an eye on her welfare up to her death in 1540.
The Blackmore History website has a lot of well researched and what seems to be accurate information on the history of the village. It somewhat contradicts the story of Henry VIII meeting his mistress in the village, but does recognise his illegitimate son was born here. It suggests that when Elizabeth became pregnant, she was sent here to be away from the eyes of the royal court, to rest and to give birth to Henry’s son.
The centre of the village has many interesting old buildings, and a mile to the north is Fingrith Hall. The Manor of Fingrith dates back to at least Norman Times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. At the time the main settlement in the area was concentrated around the manor, but this seems to have moved with the building of the Augustine priory and the growth of the current village around it. A Medieval hall built on the site of Fingrith manor was once home to Sir Walter Mildmay (c1520 - 1589), Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I and founder of Emmanuel College at Cambridge.
Blackmore has two greens. One directly north of Church Street is called The Green, is in the shape of a small square and is the centre of the village. The Leather Bottle pub dominates its north side, with The Prince Albert pub and a few old houses to its south. For a village it’s not bad, you have three old pubs within less than 100 yards of each other. The post office is on the west of The Green with all its traditional parts, shows how during the late 80's and early 90's our government stripped the country of many of its well known symbols. Thank God some places like here held onto their identities and traditions.
A few yards east of The Green is the second green. This time it’s larger and is dissected in two by the road and still called The Green. There are two ponds, one on either side of the road and both overlooked by willow trees. A comical warning sign asks you to “Beware of Ducks Crossing” – I presume they walk from one pond to the other as it’s too short of a distance for them to fly. The southern half has lots of things of interest: the ancient stocks where locals were shackled to punish them for their sins: the war memorial; the village sign and the beer garden of the Bull Inn backing onto it. All in all it’s a very picturesque setting with the houses in the background blending in with their surroundings.
The Bull Inn (presently closed) in Church Street, next to where the stage finishes, was built around 1385 and is a fine example of a medieval building. It has a wealth of exposed beams, a priest hole and escape tunnels left over from the time of the Reformation. It is said to be haunted by at least three ghosts with sightings claimed by many customers and staff over the years. Church Street is narrow and long stretching from the centre of the village to the church. This was the approach road to the old priory and it still gives a feeling of being sent back hundreds of years in time with all the old houses looking over the street and some of them even hanging over because of their age. It’s no surprise that since 1982 Blackmore has been voted “Best Kept” village in Essex at least seven times.
Each year, at the late May Bank Holiday, the village also holds the popular Blackmore Village Fayre which is attended by thousands of people.
Where’s Blackmore you may ask. The answer being, it’s one of the prettiest villages in Essex (even England) and it’s at the end of stage 11 of the London Green Belt Way.
For our two day charity relay run around London, this is the overnight stopping point for some well earned refreshments and rest. Tomorrow the route heads south through some beautiful Essex countryside and eventually to and across the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge to Kent. Let’s see what delights await us in Kent and Surrey and along the North Downs.
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