The Parish of Blackmore is little more than three square miles in area and is said to take its name from the exceptionally dark soil and large number of springs with the lands lying low and swampy. The name Blackmore, coming from either 'Black Marsh' or 'Black Swamp'. The black soil has now mostly gone leaving us with a mixture of subsoil and clay.
There were three manors in the parish – Blackmore manor, close by the church, the manor of Fingrith a mile to the north and Copsheaves half a mile to the south. At the time of William I and the Domesday book (1086), Blackmore is not mentioned – however the manor of Fingrith is mentioned, recorded as 'Phingaria' (Fingrith), the Latinized form of an Anglo Saxon name meaning 'the stream of the people of Fin'. The manor can be traced further back to the time of King Edward (1042-1066) where it was held by Harold.
The Domesday Book records: “There was at that time one plough on the land occupied by the Lord of the Manor and six villeins. On the surrounding land there were eight bordars with two ploughs. There were 24 beasts and woodland capable of supporting 1,000 swine with three acres of meadow. The value of the manor was put at £14.”
In the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189), the bulk of the property belonging to the Manors – now owned by the de Sanford family, was given to an Augustinian Priory and was dedicated to St. Lawrence. St. Laurence is reputed to have been martyred at Rome by being roasted on a gridiron.
An early deed from the Priory – around the time of Henry III states that the late Alan de Sanford had elected to be buried in their church near to his forefathers. It was on 23rd September, 1232, Henry III granted to the canons a fair at their house on the eve, day and morrow of the feast of St. Lawrence (10th August) and this fair ran continually until the end of the 19th Century.
In 1309, after a visitation by the Bishop of London, an injunction was issued to the Priory. This stated that the Prior and Canons were to cease any strife and contentions amongst them, were not to wander outside the precincts, to receive no money for the purchase of clothes or necessaries, and not to assign any of the church ornaments of their house to the churches appropriated to them. Additionally a priest should be presented to the Bishop for saying Mass and ministering to the parishioners. This last order was neglected by the priory, and on 14th February 1310 the Bishop ordered compliance within 10 days. On 6th April 1310 Nicholas, the Prior, and Walter of Chelmsford, one of the Canons, appeared before the Bishop in London and entered into a covenant with five of the parishioners of Blackmore to present a parish vicar under a penalty of 40 shillings.
THE BLACK DEATH
In the spring of 1349 the Black Death hit Essex. An indication of how bad Blackmore was affected can be taken from the “Court Rolls of the manor of Fingeth” which are now preserved in the Essex Record Office
The year before in 1348, it was recorded that there was around 85 tenants on the manor of Fingrith together with their wives, families and servants, this would have equated to a total population of approximately 450. By autumn 1349 a total of 70 tenants had died due to the black death, together with wives, families, etc - the total number recorded was around 300 people were killed. By the time of the annual fair in August the epidemic was passed, as only one more additional death was recorded. So in just six months, two thirds of Blackmore was wiped out due to the Plague.
It was during this time, or so it is suggested, that the plagues roads where created, formed, to enable travelers to bypass the village. These roads are now called Service Lane and Red Rose Lane, after the “Ring of Roses” associated with the symptoms of the plague. So Blackmore was officially bypassed in 1349!
There is also a suggestion that Nine Ashes was so named after the cremation of plague victims, with the dead carried out and burnt. However, it is doubtful whether the pestilence ridden bodies would have been taken out of the confines of the village.
BLACKMORE AND HENRY VIII
He’s “Gone to Jericho”, nudge nudge wink wink, was said by the royal court about King Henry VIII (1509-1547). This is a Phrase which early historians claimed to have been said for when the King visited Blackmore to be with his mistress Elizabeth Blount, but it is doubtful whether this actually occurred.
However, the association is very strong because his mistress certainly did come to Blackmore.
Elizabeth Blount was a daughter of Sir John Blount and his wife Dame Katherine of Kinlet in Shropshire. She was born in or about 1500 and came to Court as an attendant to Queen Katherine of Aragon in 1512. Although there is no portrait of her, either at court or in later life, she is described as being extremely beautiful and a perfect specimen of the Blonde type, retaining her looks from her Norman ancestry.
She became the King’s mistress in 1518 and was probably the first and he was very much in love with her, particularly as his state arranged marriage to Katherine was completely devoid of affection. It was not unusual for court mistresses to give birth to their illegitimate offspring in religious houses and Elizabeth was no exception. When she became pregnant late in 1518 she was sent to the Priory at Blackmore to give birth to her child. This was no doubt chosen because it was a small and insignificant Priory not too far from London.
She gave birth to Henry Fitzroy on 18th June 1519, and he was Henry’s first born son – but illegitimate. It is most unlikely that Henry and Elizabeth carried on their intrigue at Blackmore or that he visited her. There was ample opportunity to pursue their affection for each other at Court without the long and difficult journey in to the country. Also when pregnant it was the usual custom of a mistress to disappear from the public eye.
Henry Fitzroy was Henry’s pride and joy at the age of six he was created Earl of Nottingham, and on his birthday, June 18th 1525, Duke of Richmond and Somerset and elected Knight of the Garter. At the tender age of eight he was constituted Admiral of England, Ireland and Normandy. He married while a boy, Mary, daughter of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk and died without issue on June 24th 1536 aged 17 to the intense grief of his father, Henry. He is buried at Thetford in Norfolk. Without doubt had he lived he would have been made King. Hence Blackmore’s principal claim to fame.
Elizabeth married Lord Tail bois four years after her affair with Henry. It is interesting to note that through Cardinal Wolsey, Henry continued to keep an eye on Elizabeth’s welfare right up until her death.
Of course the other main historical facts concerning Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey – is the dissolving of the Monasteries and Priories in England. The Priory was dissolved on 10th February 1525 by John Alen, agent of Cardinal Wolsey. After a year the Priory was granted by Wolsey to his College at Oxford, and three years later in 1529, it was transferred to his 2nd foundation at Ipswich. In 1532 it came into the King’s hands and on 1st January, it was granted to the Abbott and Convent of Waltham.
Eventually in 1540, Henry granted the Blackmore Priory to John Smyth and his heirs. The Smyth family were descended from Sir Michael Carrington, Standard Bearer to Richard III in the Holy Wars. One of his descendants, John Carrington, changed his name to Smyth in the 13th Century. The John Smyth, who was granted Blackmore, was one of the King’s auditors.
THE PRIORY BUILDINGS
When the Priory came in to John Smyth’s hands, he immediately started pulling down the monastic church in order to build his new mansion, Smyth’s Hall. The angry villagers of Blackmore eventually obtained an injunction, but by the time the order was made restraining him, Smyth had removed most of the church. In making good the damage, he merely bricked up the east wall where he had stopped his demolition.
Smyth’s Hall was a picturesque and ancient building which was situated about 1/2 mile south of Dairy Farm Lane, (now called Wenlocks Lane) and it was there that the Lord of the Manor lived until the house was pulled down in 1844. The will of John Smyth is preserved and gives us a complete list of the contents of a mediaeval house. When the Smyth line died out in 1724, the property passed to Mary Tendring who be quested it in 1732 to Thomas Alexander on condition that he took the name of Smyth, on his death in 1747 it passed to his nephew Charles Alexander and after he had died in 1775 it went to the Crickett family, until it was pulled down in 1844. Robert Alexander Crickett new fronted the old mansion including some very fine painted glass windows, reputed to have been taken out of the Priory and representing ancient military figures. These he carefully preserved and formed a beautiful window for the staircase. When the house was pulled down some of this glass was transferred to Brize’s Park, Kelvedon Hatch.
The original Jericho stood in the Priory grounds near the church and was sold in 1714 by Mr Smyth to Jacob Ackworth a shipbuilder and afterwards surveyor of the Navy, who obtained his money from Government contracts. He built the present building now known as Jericho Priory. When digging the foundations the workmen found a leaden coffin about a yard long full of human bones with other human bones scattered nearby. This was probably the old Priory cemetery. The House passed to his descendant, Jacob Wheat in about 1768 and eventually in to the Crickett family following the demolition of Smyth’s Hall.
THE PRIORY CHURCH
Most of the local Lords of the Manor and their descendants are buried in the Church of St. Laurence and it has been largely unaltered for the past 400 years. The present chancel and nave stand almost entirely on the nave of the priory church.
The timber tower erected around 1400 is a masterpiece of joinery and has been described as the most impressive of its type in England. This solid structure rises in 3 diminishing stages and is capped by a shingled spire. Arched braces, cross-beams and struts are carefully joined and stand on a base of some 30 feet. The tower contains a carillon of 5 bells, three of which were cast by Miles Gray famous for his tenor bells and dated 1647 and 1648, another Bell cast in 1647 was re-cast in 1901.
The roof of the nave incorporates a number of carved bosses of the late 14th century, including faces, and a series of painted shields of local families or of association with the church or priory. Some of the carved bosses contain shot holes from the bullets of the Roundheads at the time of the Civil War.
The Cresset Stone, which can be seen in the Church, dates from about this time. It is a primitive form of oil lamp made of stone containing several shaped hollows. These recesses were filled with oil in which was placed a floating wick. The example in the Church is one of the finest in the country and the only one in Essex and it was, without doubt, used in the Priory to light some dark passage.
At the end of the church is the tomb of Thomas Smyth who died in 1594 (the son or grandson of John Smyth mentioned previously), and his wife, Margaret. Also in the Church is a mutilated effigy of a villein of about the year 1450. It is not a whole effigy, but the upper half of a whole effigy, originally about 21 inches high of which the lower part has disappeared as has its inscription. The man is represented clean shaven and his hair as close cropped in a manner which suggests the wearing of a wig. His long gown which extends, no doubt, to the level of his ankles has extremely loose baggy sleeves, gathered at the wrists and is not confined at the waist by a belt, as was usual. The cuffs and collar are narrowly fur-trimmed as was, no doubt, the bottom edge of the garment.
MEDIAEVAL VILLAGE LIFE
An accurate picture can be built up of life in Blackmore in Mediaeval times, by the various entries presented to the Local Courts of Law during this time by its inhabitants.
- In 1584 counter accusations were shouted at Blackmore, John Fuller being charged with calling the Minister a whore-master knave, his defense being that Mr Binder openly abused him in church.
- In 1588 Nicolas Simon did not take communion. In mediaeval times, not going to church was a crime.
- In 1596 Thomas Robert of Blackmore encouraged the bell ringers to ring unlawfully and had to give 6d to the poor.
- In 1597 two highly pregnant women, were presented to the Blackmore wardens. – Early Police Men.
- In 1667 a woman who was sitting on an oyster cart was attacked. Oysters where standard commoners food in this times.
- Edward Ansell was presented for threshing on several Sabbath days last winter which some of the neighbors do certify.
- Robert Godfrey for suffering men to be drinking during service time.
There are many similar references to Blackmore in court proceedings, many relating to events in connection with the fair which later became a very large Horse Fair. Connected with the horse fair is the leather trade, in which Blackmore was an old center and hence the, ‘The Leather Bottle,’ next to Horsefair Green. A large number of alehouses sprung up in the village at this time.
In addition to those in evidence today, namely The Bull, Prince Albert and the Leather Bottle, there was the Red Lion in Church Street. The Swan opposite Horsefair Green outside the Leather Bottle, the Barge by the pond and the Kicking Dicky opposite Spriggs Lane on the Chelmsford Road.
During the last 200 years the village has been a rural community with the population virtually static at 600, (615 in 1911) until the advent of the 20th century, principal crops were wheat, oats, and barley. Large quantities of hay were sent twice weekly to London’s Haymarket. Charcoal burning was carried on in the High woods until 1900.
The Census taken in 1841 can be viewed online at: Essex 1841 Census
And during 1912 the main commerce operating in Blackmore were: (The 1912 Business Directory!)
- John Arthy: grocer and post office, also Churchwarden
- Thomas Biscoe: The Bull public house
- George Brown: hay dealer
- Stephen Chapman: blacksmith and farrier
- Charles Farmer: hay cutter
- John Hardy: Prince Albert public house
- Ethelwyn James: draper
- Charles Martin: proprietor of steam thrashing machine
- John Thomas Martin: shopkeeper
- Laura Pragman: draper
- Phillip Pragman: carpenter
- Thomas Puddephatt: shopkeeper
- William Scudder: Leather Bottle public house
- Edward Shaw: baker
- Alfred Stiff: butcher
- Walter Wilson: baker
WORLD WAR ONE
Blackmore village like most places in this country has a Memorial to those who had fallen in the war, Please see the following page for further details on the memorial and the 19 men connected with Blackmore who lost their lives.
The first Modern development occurred in the 1920’s at Elkins Green (Chelmsford Road) and Wyatts Green. Plots at the former were advertised in the Daily Telegraph for £60 each. The next building was the Council development at St. Laurence Gardens, just before the Second World War and after the War; in the late 50’s Blackmore Mead and the bungalows in Fingrith Hall Road were built, a Baptist church was built in 1841 by the Ashley Barrett.
The 60’s saw the building of the Meadow Rise Estate, Woollard Way and Orchard Piece. These estates were basically urban developments with concrete roads, kerbside footpaths, and urban design houses and in some cases street lighting. No thought was given to the use of local materials, local character or the nature of the countryside in which these developments were set. (So was written in the 1977 – perhaps a different view is now given 40 years on!) Since then development in the village has now been stopped apart from the occasional re-building and the center of the village has been made a conservation area.
In the last 10 years, Blackmore has lost two shops a Newsagent and Antique shop – now the HQ for a well established Golf Holidays company – bringing business into Blackmore, The library has now turned Mobile. But the three Pubs, the Post Office, The Mini Market, Jerico House and “Hair and Beauty” still are busy and going strong. Petrol/Fuel, MOTS, and Repairs can be obtained from Wakelins garage.
This brings us to up to date with the brief history Blackmore, The village all await the outcome of the “Village Centre and Library” buildings – What will be built in those areas!
The Above history is accurate as far as I have researched - any information that is incorrect, please contact me, also with any additions that can fill the gaps, at Dave@BlackmoreVillage.co.uk
- Kellys Directory 1912 Essex edition
- 1977 Silver Jubilee booklet – History of Blackmore
- A guide to Blackmore walking - Brentwood Council Publication
- The King's England: ESSEX - by Arthur Mee
- The People's History of Essex - D W Coller
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