Stage 12 - Blackmore to Thorndon Park North Countryside Centre (11 miles)
The stage starts in the entrance to Church Street and just before the Bull Inn. It follows St Peter’s Way for over a mile to Fryerning then through the village and across open fields to Mountnessing. Next is Begrums with its water tower, then Hutton with its nature reserve and old church. From here we go cross-country to Ingrave, past the huge pile of Thorndon House and through the park to the finish at the Thorndon Park North Visitor’s Centre.
On exiting Church Street turn right into The Green.
There is the smaller “The Green” directly opposite the junction with the Leather Bottle pub dominating its north side, the Prince Albert pub and a few old houses to its south, the village shop on the east side and the old post office, with its traditional red phone box and post box, on the west side – it’s a shame that elsewhere throughout the country so many of these old iron relics have been replaced. On a beautiful morning it’s easy to see how unique the centre of this small village looks – it’s Old England. A few yards further along, the road divides Blackmore’s larger of its two greens in two. To the right, near the start of this green, are the old village stocks and the war memorial. Next to each other, they blend in and remember both the past villains and the heroes of the village. Just next to both is the village sign – a statement about the history of the place. Soon and just to the right of the road a sign as a warning to cars reads “Beware Ducks Crossing”, just a few yards later you’ll see why. On both sides there are ponds with overhanging trees. The local ducks are probably too well fed and I assume instead of flying, just walk the few yards across the road from one to the other. Set back from both greens are period houses which blend in well with the surroundings. I have not yet studied them, but one day hopefully will soon and maybe some have stories to tell.
After 200 yards, on reaching the T-junction (with Chelmsford Road), turn left for 30 yards, then turn right to cross the road and onto a footpath directly away from the road across a crop field. The path is St Peters Way and is signed by an inverted crucifix on a circular disc. These discs can be used as a guide for the next mile to the hamlet of Beggar Hill.
Follow the path directly across the field to the other side, then through a gap and straight on along the LHS of a second field. After another 250 yards the hedgerow turns left to form a corner and thus widening the field to the left. Go straight on across this new opened area of field and once again to the left hand edge. Turn left through a kissing gate (or stile) into a third field and go directly across it, passing a pond surrounded by trees in the middle of the field.
On reaching the other side of the field, turn right along a wide track / lane. Follow this for 500 yards too and through a wood, then past some desirable properties to a gate. The last house has a large pond next to the lane. Go through the kissing gate next to the main gate and then straight on along the road (Beggar Hill).
The kissing gate is at 1.8 miles into the stage and it’s just after this where we part company with St Peter’s Way as it turns left to follow a path away from the road.
Follow the road for almost a mile to a T-junction with Mill Green Road in the centre of the village of Fryerning (at 2.75 miles). Turn right along Mill Green Road, staying straight on past the Woolpack Pub, where the road becomes Blackmore Road and soon past the Church to your RHS.
Fryerning was once a parish in its own right. Today it is classified as a village with Beggar Hill a small hamlet just north west. Both places are well spread out and built on green belt. Most of the properties are very private and well hidden from the narrow roads through the village. Some are occupied by professional footballers and first class cricketers. Fryerning gets it name from a mixture of Old Saxon and medieval. The “ing” like many places in this part of Essex comes from a group of Saxons from mainland Europe who came across in the 6th Century. The Fryers (friar) relates to the Knights Hospitallers who owned the area in Medieval Times, only to be suppressed by Henry VIII in 1540. The village has two pubs, the award winning Woolpack, passed on-route, and The Cricketers to the north on Mill Lane. Mill Lane also has an old windmill, but now obscured from view in the gardens of Mill House. The mill dates from 1759 and has a few stories to tell. In 1774 a local farmer died after being struck by the sails. Another incident took place in 1852 when the miller got struck by and caught on the sails. He endured at least ten revolutions before being rescued. He was lucky to get away with just a fractured thigh. The mill stopped working in 1905. However, although hidden away, in recent years owners of Mill House have worked on restoring the mill.
The nave of the Church of St Mary the Virgin dates back to the 11th Century and contains courses of Roman bricks. The stone tower was added in the early 16th Century and replaced an older wooden one. The church is listed in the top 100 historical churches in the UK and there are many interesting things to see in and around it.
Squadron Leader Claude Ashton (1901 – 1942) is buried in the graveyard. He played football for England against Northern Ireland in 1925. It was his only appearance and he was captain. He also played first class cricket for Cambridge University and Essex. He died on 31st October 1942 when the plane he was piloting was involved in a mid air collision whilst training with the Royal Air Force in North Wales.
One well-known person who lived in the village was English soprano, Elizabeth Harwood (1938 – 1990). Whilst resident here she sang in the church every Christmas and is commemorated by a plaque, and a rose named after her is planted by the tower. She died from cancer aged 52 on 21st June 1990 at her home in the village.
In the north wall of the church has a window in memory to Airey Neave MP (1916 – 1979). It contains a picture of Colditz, the notorious German Prisoner of War Camp, from which he escaped, and another of the Houses of Commons where he served as an MP for 24 years and was blown up in a car bomb, later dying from his injuries. To read more about the history of the church and village visit the church website.
250 yards after the church and as the road turns right, cross over to the RHS and go straight on over a wooden stile, next to a gate and just right of the entrance drive to Longview Cottage and Church Hill Cottages. Go straight on along a footpath next to a fence with a lawn to the LHS. Follow the path straight across fields, passing a fishing lake to the left and eventually veering slight right past farm / industrial buildings with many old vehicles in the yard, keeping them to your RHS.
On approaching the lane to the farm the footpath veers half left to descend a few steps to a lane. Go straight across the lane and over a wooden stile and onto a path between some trees and into a field. Veer slightly left to follow the path across the field. Exit the field over a stile and cross straight over the road (Trueloves Lane) and onto a footpath across a large crop field.
There are good views across the countryside and the path is well defined. Slightly to the right and in the distance you can see the white sails of a windmill.
After 340 yards the path crosses a footbridge over a stream (be careful to step over the metal bar on the bridge). Continue straight for 200 yards, and 100 yards before reaching a row of trees, turn right onto a wide path heading almost directly towards the windmill. At the other edge of the field turn left for just a few yards, then turn right to follow the path through the hedgerow and then left past Mountnessing Windmill keeping the windmill to your LHS.
Mountnessing Windmill is a landmark for many miles around. The mill was built in 1807, on the site of a previous mill. There are records of a mill here from at least c1477. It was worked by the Angis family from 1807 until 1933. The local council took it over and restored it in 1937. It was later bought by Essex County Council for one shilling (5p). They repaired and replaced many parts. It still grinds flour which can be bought and is open on the third Sunday of each month in spring and summer.
Thoby Priory is 500 yards north of Mountnessing Windmill. It was a 12th Century House of Augustinian Cannons which was dissolved in 1536. Legend has it that during Norman Times when local men folk would go off to the Crusades or were away for other reasons, then the number of available men in the area would not meet the demand of the women folk. The Monks of the Priory were an obvious choice to help meet the demand. The situation got so bad a local law was made for a Leap Day, as every four years, on this day, women had the opportunity to propose marriage and many did to unsuspecting monks, especially after they had a few drinks. The law stated if a woman proposed to a man and he accepted on a Leap Day, and the man was drunk, then the acceptance could not be counted as binding. For the occasion the monks would brew up an intoxicating mixture. On the given day, all the monks would partake; hence if any fell for ladies’ advances on the day, the law could be applied. (Note: I found this story about 10 years ago on the Internet. I can no longer find the original source, so can not verify its authenticity. If anyone knows more, I’d be really grateful to hear from them)
The priory takes its name from its first prior “Tobias” and has connections with the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. With the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” the priory was dissolved in 1525 and given to Cardinal Wolsey by Henry VIII. However, it would only be a few years before Wolsey was made to give it back. It was then granted to Sir Richard Page for life in 1530. On 5th May 1536 both Page and the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt were arrested for high treason after they were both accused of being Anne Bolyen’s lovers. Fortunately for them, they were subsequently released on the advice of Thomas Cromwell because the claimed affairs were said to have taken place before Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII. In 1539 the priory was sold to William Berners. Some time between 1525 and 1539 the priory was converted to a Tudor mansion. Queen Elizabeth I visited in 1539.
During World War II it was taken over by the War Ministry and later used as a German Prisoner of War Camp. After the war it was sold off by the government and was demolished in 1953. All that remains now is a small section of wall. You can read more about Thoby Priory at British History Online and at British Listed Buildings.
After passing the windmill continue straight on (and south) across the playing field, past a pavilion and village hall to your LHS and onto a road. Cross straight over the road and turn right. On approaching a crossroads veer left on a footpath through a small green and then left into Church Road.
The main road through Mountnessing (and the one our route has just crossed) is the B1002 or Roman Road. The name comes from Roman Times when this was part of the main route between Britain’s two most important Roman towns – London and Colchester. Today the A12 bypasses the town to the south and takes away most of the traffic. The whole setting of this area around the crossroads does give the feeling of a small village. With the windmill, the recreation ground, the village hall, a Coronation Memorial on one corner of the crossroads and a war memorial on another. There are two pubs almost opposite the village hall on the south side of Roman Road – The Plough and The Prince of Wales. The only feature missing is the Parish Church. This is the 12th Century St Giles and is over a mile west of the town on Old Church Lane and next to Mountnessing Hall. The town gets its name from the Mountney family who were lords of the manor from the 12th Century. They were based at Mountnessing Hall and the church was built for the manor. The town grew up west of here along the London to Colchester road and in 1873 a new church was opened. This is the Church of St John in Church Close, just off Church Road, and nearer the centre of the village opened. It often referred to as “The Iron Church”.
According to “BBC Domesday Reloaded”.
“Opposite the windmill is the "Prince of Wales" public house. It stands on what was once the main London to Colchester road built by the Romans in the third century A.D. For hundreds of years the pub was the bakery that took its flour from the mill. The pub is supposed to be haunted by a young boy whose hand was cut off for stealing a loaf of bread. During the 19th century the road outside the pub was turnpiked and we saw the board with the list of charges. . .”
The Blackmore Area Local History website has a very detailed history of Mountnessing with many old photos, sketches, paper-clippings and much more.
To the west along Roman Road is Brentwood, which is brushed by the route, a new R.C. Cathedral, designed by Quinlan Terry, was opened in 1991. Brentwood was built on what was the route of many Pilgrims going to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. He was killed by soldiers of the king in 1170. At the time the area was covered by a great forest and when a clearing was made by fire, it was named Burnt Wood - hence Brentwood. The town is now very urbanised and the remains of a late 12th Century Chapel of St Thomas a Becket can still be seen in the High Street.
Follow Church Road for 250 yards to pass over the A12 and the railway. 80 yards after crossing the railway, turn right to cross the road and into a field, signed public footpath.
About 100 yards in front along the road at this point is Begrums Farm and its adjacent large imposing concrete water tower. The tower is built on the highest point in the area as there is a trig point next to it.
“Begrums is built on the highest point in the valley, at 259 feet above sea level, with a wonderful view over the fields stretching for miles. The present occupant is of the opinion that this site was an important Roman settlement for the following reasons: it was the highest point in the area, it was near the Roman Road going through the village, and, most importantly, it was exactly one day's march from Tilbury Docks. It is sited on a crossroads near where there are other equally old houses, whereas most of the village, of newer houses, is further away. He supports this claim by saying that every year after harvest he opens the fields to metal detecting enthusiasts, who find many Roman coins in the small area between Begrums and High Street. There was also a moat around the house until the 60's. …”
The paragraph above is taken from document entitled “Mountnessing, Essex”, which was written sometime after the 1970s and comes from ancestry.co.uk . It goes on to tell more about the history and architecture of Begrums, plus the existence of a moat and priest holes. The whole document can be downloaded by following the link.
Follow the path across the field (south and at 5 miles into the stage) and soon with a ditch to your LHS. After another 400 yards and at a junction of paths, turn left to cross over the ditch and stay straight on along the RHS of a field for 150 yards. Follow the path as it veers right, then left onto a lane past Arnolds Farm.
At the T-junction with Arnolds Farm Lane. Turn right along the road and after 450 yards to a T-junction
Turn left into Lower Road and after 100 yards veer right into Wash Road. The road soon passes over the River Wid (at 6 miles into the stage) and after another 200 yards over the railway. After another 150 yards (and with an industrial estate to your RHS) turn left through a small car park and through a black metal gate into Hutton Country Park.
On entering the park take the path to the right through the trees. After 50 yards follow it through a gap and into a field – avoid the wide path going off to the right. Go straight on, diagonally across the field for a few yards and at a fork veer right to a gap in the hedgerow. Go through the gap and along an elevated wooden walkway over marshland. The walkway leads south to a path, which in turn leads through a gap to a large field. Veer slightly left onto a path across the field to its south east corner. Go straight on along a footpath between garden fences and after 120 yards follow it as it turns right and out onto a residential road (Goodwood Avenue) with Hutton Stud Farm on the opposite side.
Turn right along the road to a T-junction with Rayleigh Road, then left along the pavement. After just a few yards and on approaching a wooden bus stop, on the opposite side, turn right to cross over the road, staying right of the bus stop and into Hutton Village.
Follow Hutton Village for 600 yards, firstly past some residences and then a wood to the left, staying on the LHS. Immediately before the corner, where the road turns sharp right, turn left onto a path through the trees. After just a few yards, turn right onto a path with trees and wooden fences to the right and grassland to the left.
Just to the right of the path, but hidden from view, is Hutton Hall. It stands on the north end of a large rectangular moat which has been partially filled in. The present house dates from the 17th Century with later alterations. Evidence suggests an older house on this site dated back to at least Norman Times. A previous occupant was Sir William Bonham, High Sheriff of Essex in 1526.
The path leads directly to the car park of All Saints Church. Go straight through the car park and onto a lane. Turn right along the lane and past the church. Immediately past the church turn left onto a footpath, signed “Footpath 94 to Bridleway 72”.
Hutton is a large village in Essex, but really can be described as an outlying suburb of Brentwood. In Saxon times it was called “Atahou” (translates to “”at a ridge”). By the 13th Century the name had changed to Houton (Manor at Hou). It is recorded in the Domesday Book as a village which exported fish, thus it must have had many ponds – we do pass at least one which still remains, it’s just north of the church.
Thanks to Hutton Country Park for giving a route which allows diversions and an off-road path to take the route away from the houses and make it scenic. The park is a wildlife reserve covering 90 acres and is managed in partnership by Brentwood Council and Essex County Council. The area is made up of natural grassland, ancient woodland, wetland and ponds. It is bounded to the north by the River Wid and is dissected by the railway. Up to the 1970s this was the property of a local farm which used it to graze their livestock. During the 1970s and 1980s there were plans to develop the site for housing and commercial units and to build a link road across it. However, due to its rich wildlife and nature, the place remained unchanged. Much work has been done to make the park accessible to the public and protect this natural habitat. Hedges have been planted, ditches dug, a wooden walkway over the wetland built, livestock have been reintroduced and there are areas to picnic and just enjoy walking your dog. In 2008 over 500 new trees were planted to add to the already ancient woodland and to preserve the nature, wildlife and birds of the park.
The small All Saints Church is Norman and has a long list of rectors dating from 1325. According to a leaflet from Brentwood Council the church is built on the site of a crossed spring, which suggests pagan rituals may have been preformed here before Christian ones. The church website indicates the adjacent Hutton Hall was once the site of a moated Saxon farmhouse who’s owner Gotius disappeared after the Norman Invasion of 1066. This suggests the moat we still see today maybe Saxon. However, there is evidence on even older settlers here, at least back to Roman times and of a medieval house on the site. The hall and the church are so close together and so set away from the village. It appears the church was built for the Norman lords after taking over the previous Saxon farmhouse. All Saints Church website does give a good history of the place. However, I do really feel there are gaps and there must be a lot more history to this area – let me know if you can fill in any of the gaps.
The town got national news coverage a few years ago when a car wash opened where cars were cleaned by scantly clad young ladies using their busts and backsides to wash while the occupants stayed inside. BBC News covered this. I watched the programme, but I don’t know if any news footage still exists or if the young ladies managed to clean all parts of the cars.
Hutton also has a darker side in its history for being in the news. The first police officer of the Essex Constabulary to be killed whilst on active duty was Robert Bambrough - he was drowned in a pond in Hutton by the criminal, He was escorting William Wood from Billericay Magistrates Court on 21st November 1850. Wood overpowered him and put his head in a pond at the junction of Rayleigh Road and Church Road. When the police officer refused to let go of Wood, the criminal forced mud into his mouth. It was all seen by an 11 year old girl from a window at Hutton House. Wood ran off, but came back to take Bambrough’s head out of the pond then ran away again. By this time the police officer was unconscious and the young girl’s screams alerted local workmen who soon arrived. They pulled Bambrough from the pond and took him to the nearby Chequers pub, but he died soon afterwards. Wood was later caught, and brought to the pub to show him the body of the man he had just killed. He claimed he never meant to hurt the policeman and later was found guilty of manslaughter. Maybe he didn’t as he felt guilty and came back to take Bambrough from the pond that helped save him from being hanged for murder. A memorial stone was erected in 1990 next to the A129 in memory of the dead officer.
Follow the footpath straight, with the wall of the churchyard to the left. Then straight on across a field (past a pond to the right at one point) and out onto a lane at the opposite side. Go straight across the lane and past a gate onto a wide track along the edge of a field signed “Bridleway 72 to Ingrave”. After another 0.43 miles follow the track through a gap, and later as it veers right along the edge of a wood to your RHS and a large field to your LHS.
The track eventually turns left then right, always with the trees to the RHS and the field to the LHS and after 0.35 miles comes to a T-junction with a farm to the left (at 8.25 miles into the stage).
Turns left towards the farm and after just 30 yards turn right onto a footpath between trees. This leads to a field. Continue straight on along the RHS of the field with trees still to your RHS. After 250 yards and at the end of the trees the footpath turns right for just a few yards and then turns left along the LHS of a second field with trees now to your LHS and going south.
After 250 yards, at the south-east corner of the field turn right to follow the path west with the field to your RHS and the trees to your LHS. In 350 yards follow the path as it veers left then right and over a ditch. Stay on with the ditch, now to your LHS, soon turning left and with the ditch still to your LHS. After another 50 yards, and on approaching some trees, turn right along the LHS of a field and away from the ditch. In 100 yards, and at the corner of the field, turn right and still along the edge of the field. After another 60 yards turn left (now at 9 miles) and follow the path for 200 yards west, still with the hedgerow to your LHS and eventually over a wooden stile next to a gate and onto a lane (Middle Road).
Turn left along Middle Road and soon through the village of Ingrave. Once in the village go straight on past Common Road and then stay with Middle Road as it veers right and leads to a T-junction with the busy A128 (Brentwood Road).
The Manor of Ingrave dates back to at least Saxon Times with the name coming from Old Saxon – Ging-Ralph. The are the ruins of the 12th Century St Nicholas Church just south west of Ingrave Hall on Rectory Lane (now Middle Road). It was replaced by the current St Nicholas’ Church on Brentwood Road in 1736. During an archaeological dig of the old site on Middle Road, in 1975, it was discovered that Roman tiles were used in the old church’s construction, but it is not known if there was a Roman settlement here. The Rectory of the old church dates from c1600 and is still standing. It’s 200 yards north of where we join Middle Road. It has been renamed “Heatleys” after the Rev. Henry Heatley, the last rector of the old church.
In 1903 composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) came to Brentwood to give a series of lectures on folk music. After one of these he was approached by two middle aged ladies, Georgina and Florence Heatley, daughters of the Rector of Ingrave. They invited him to tea at their father’s vicarage and offered to arrange for some of the locals to sing folk songs for him. Vaughan Williams cycled to Ingrave on 4th December 1903. On his trip he visited 74 year old Charles Potiphar, an illiterate labourer living in a cottage in Rectory Lane (now 43 Middle Road, Ingrave). He heard Potiphar sing many traditional songs including “Bushes & Briars”. Vaughan Williams was so moved by what he heard that the event was to influence the rest of his career. During the next 10 years he went on to collect over 800 songs. A book has been written on the event by Frank Dineen entitled “The Ingrave Secret – Ralph’s People”. In 1972 Ralph Vaughan Williams featured on a Royal Mail postage stamp.
At the T-junction cross straight over the road, using the zebra crossing, and turn left along the pavement. After 50 yards, turn right into Thorndon Gate. Continue straight on along the lane for about 250 yards. Immediately after passing the entrance to Thorndon Hall turn half right onto a footpath, signed “Public Footpath 42”, and through some trees – now at 9.7 miles into the stage. The path soon passes in front of the large hall and continues through the woods and deeper into Thorndon Country Park North. After 0.7 miles it comes out onto a wide track and then veers right to a lane.
The entrance to Thorndon Hall Chapel is a couple of hundred yards north along lane and to the right. It is hidden in the trees and as far as I can ascertain has been inaccessible to the public for many years. However, a news article in the Times Online dated 10th January 2009 states the Historic Chapels Trust have announced they are to take on the preservation and restoration of the Thorndon Hall Chapel. It reads:
“……chantry chapel in the park of Thorndon House in Essex, the seat of one of England’s oldest Catholic families, the Petres. After years of neglect, caused by a dispute that prevented access for repairs, there were holes in the roof, blocked gutters, saplings seeding themselves and heavily eroded stonework.
The simple exterior gives no clue of the angel roof within, as richly carved as that in any medieval Suffolk church. Attributed by Pevsner to Pugin, the chapel is now known to be the work of William Wardell, whose health failed in 1858, prompting him to emigrate to the warmer air of Melbourne where he recovered to become chief government architect for bridges, docks and handsome public buildings.”
Turn right along the lane for just a few yards then turn left onto a path going west and signed “Wildside Walk”. Follow this for 0.2 miles to a junction of footpaths. Continue straight on along a wide path, still going west and still Wildside Walk, for a further 0.2 miles. Here turn right (now going north and still Wildside Walk) and follow it to a car park. Turn left along the southern edge of the car park and finish at the entrance gate of Thorndon Park North Countryside Centre.
Thorndon Hall was designed by architect James Paine for Robert Edward, the 9th Lord Petre (1742 – 1801). It was built between 1764 and 1767. The grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown between 1766 and 1772. In 1778, fearing an invasion from France, many thousands of militia were camped nearby at Warley Common. In October, George III and Queen Charlotte visited Lord Petre at Thorndon Hall to inspect the troops. The review included a mock battle in which 10,000 men were engaged. The camp broke up the following month, but was reformed in 1779, 1781 and 1782.
The original Thorndon Hall was situated a mile south of the present one and dates back to at least the early 15th Century. It was called West Thorndon Hall and purchased from the Mordaunt family by Sir John Petre in 1573. In 1603 he became the 1st Lord Petre. The family fortune had been acquired by his father Sir William Petre (1505 – 1572). William was born at Tor-Brian, in Devonshire He was knighted in 1535, and became one of the chief secretaries of state in 1543. He was Secretary of State to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I, but still retained his Catholic faith and his lands. John was William’s only son and inherited his father’s wealth and the family seat at Ingatestone. Shortly after buying the Thorndon Estate, he demolished the hall and built a magnificent new one on the site which is now referred to as Old Thorndon Hall and through successive generations the lands around the hall were developed into what is now Thorndon Park.
Over the years the Petre family maintained their strong Catholic faith. The family produced two bishops and was instrumental in preserving Catholicism in England. In the main it did not hinder their statues. However, William (1626 - 1684) the 4th Lord Petre did get implicated in the concocted Titus Oates Plot (or Popish Plot) in the late 17th Century which claimed the lives of at least 15 prominent citizens. The last being Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland (now Saint) executed on 1st July 1681. William Petre was arrested in 1678 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was held there without trial until his death in 1684.
Robert, the 7th Lord Petre inspired Alexander Pope to write his famous poem “The Rape of the Lock”. It was written as a favour to his friend John Caryll who wished to diffuse a family feud between the Petre and Fermor families, both Catholic and interconnected. The young Lord was an admirer of Arabella Fermor and without her permission cut a lock of her hair. Arabella a beautiful young society lady took great offence and a family feud followed. The original poem was a mock piece written in less than a fortnight with the intention of making the two families laugh at the incident and bring them together again. Pope published it on 20th May 1712. Over the next couple of years Pope extended it and republished it on 2nd March 1714. A final version was completed by 1717, and by this time Robert had already died of smallpox and Arabella was married. It is recognised as one of the finest mock epic poem in English language.
Robert James Petre, the 8th Lord Petre (1713 – 1742) from an early age was very green fingered with a huge interest in horticulture. He collected trees and plants from all over the world and grew them in his park at Thorndon. He became the most prolific collector of American trees and shrubs in Europe. In total he collected over 200,000 species it’s believed the first Camellias grown in the West were at his nurseries at Thorndon Park.
The old hall was demolished by Robert Edward Petre, the 9th Lord Petre in the late 18th Century after building the current Thorndon Hall, but a few remnants still remain in the Old Park.
In 1878 a devastating fire caused a great amount of damage to the “new” Thorndon Hall. It fell into disrepair and was leased along with 240 acres of park by a group of businessmen in 1920. Their intention was to build a championship golf course and magnificent private housing development. The course was designed by Harry Colt, but with building restraints the housing development never materialized. Initially Thorndon Park Golf Club used part of the large hall as their clubhouse. Over the years the golf club purchased the land and in 1968 bought the hall. However, in 1974 a new clubhouse was built and the following year Thorndon Hall was sold to a building company. They restored the facade of the Palladian mansion to its former glory and converted the building into luxury apartments.
In the early 20th Century when the Thorndon estate was broken up and sold off, parts of it were bought by Essex County Council. The present country park occupies 385 acres of this and includes the North Park and the South Park. In 1992 the Woodland Trust bought 136 acres from Hatch Farm and once again united both parks.
The South Park has a visitor’s centre named the South Pavilion. It was opened by the 18th Lord Petre of Ingatestone in 1992. It has a restaurant and toilets and holds an exhibition of art which reflect the landscape, history and wildlife of the area. There is a barbeque and picnic area. There are many walks through the woods, the “Old Deer Park”, the “Ruin Wood” where the remains of the old hall can be seen and close by “Old Hall Pond” for which tickets can be purchased to fish.
The North Park has its own deer park and woods. Childerditch Pond at its south-west corner is formed by a clay dam which dates back to the 13th Century. However, there are no fishing rights as it is managed for conservation and is a haven for waterfowl. There is also the Thorndon Hall Chapel where the Petre’s and other local Catholics practiced their religion out of sight of their suppressors. The Thorndon Park Countryside Centre, at the end of the leg is built from timber blown over in the 1987 storms in the park. It has permanent exhibition, a shop selling gifts and a small restaurant. There is an ample car park used by walkers, some running clubs and other countryside users. The Essex Ranger Service is based at the centre. They spent much of their time conserving and improving the park and offer a wide range of service to the public, including educational and fun activities to all ages.
It’s great to see that this ancient deer park and woodlands, reorganised by Capability Brown, in the late 18th Century is still being looked after and improved by our local councils today.
For the long distance walk around London I have chosen a direct route through the park to the finish of the stage at the Countryside Centre. You can download the map to see the alternatives and also read more about Thorndon Park on the Healthy Life Essex website. These different routes go through the ancient woodlands and take in some spectacular scenery.
The “Wildside Walk”, which we follow for the last two-thirds of a mile, is a 5 mile walk around of the north and south parks, takes in most of the points of interest and starts and finishes at the Visitor’s Centre at the end of this stage.
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