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The Structure of Harlow

The Structure of Harlow

Harlow Hundred ca. 1845During the six centuries between the arrival of the first Saxons in the Fifth Century and the Norman conquest the area acquired the system of villages and manors which persisted until the building of the New Town in the 1950s. The mediaeval parish of Harlow had a population of 184 according to the Domesday Book. It ran southward from the River Stort between the parishes of Matching and Sheering on the east and Latton on the west. It contained five manors, all of them established by the Saxons: Harlowbury, Brend (later New) Hall, Kitchen Hall, Hubbards, and Moor Hall. Harlowbury manor was given to the Abbey of Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk by the Saxon thane (i.e. nobleman) Thurstan in 1044. The manor was enlarged by King Stephen around 1150 and remained in the hands of the Abbey until its dissolution in 1539. The chapel is now the oldest building in Harlow, and was probably built by a new, energetic abbot named Samson, appointed in 1182. It is generally assumed that he also built the adjoining timber-framed hall, parts of which survive within the present house. The modern Old Road follows the line of the original main road linking Bury and London, and the Abbot would often have stayed in the manor house, and worshipped in the Chapel, on his way to attend important State or religious functions in the capital. Around 1300 the original simple rafters were replaced by a beautiful crown-post roof.

 Harlowbury Chapel  Harlowbury Chapel roof HarlowBury Chapel doorway 

After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII the manor was sold to a family from Devonshire. By 1720 the chapel, no longer needed for its original purpose, had been converted to a granary. The addition of a second floor to increase the storage capacity put additional stress on the walls, and brick corner buttresses had to be added sometime in the 19th century.After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII the manor was sold to a family from Devonshire. By 1720 the chapel, no longer needed for its original purpose, had been converted to a granary. The addition of a second floor to increase the storage capacity put additional stress on the walls, and brick corner buttresses had to be added sometime in the 19th century.

The original Norman village may have been located to the south of the Harlowbury manor house, but was moved to what is now the Churchgate Street area, probably before the end of the 11th century. Settlement at Market Street and Mulberry Green came later, perhaps by as much as a century.

Perhaps because of its game-rich forests, and its proximity to London, Harlow and the surrounding area was often visited by Royalty, particularly during the Tudor period when a number of property acquisitions were made. Little of what follows has any direct bearing on the structure of Harlow in the 21st century, but will hopefully serve as a reminder that you cannot walk very far in England without tripping over its history, and the old manor houses, and the names of long-extinct manors bear silent witness to the turmoil of the past.

North of the River Stort, in Hertfordshire, lies the village of Hunsdon. Like Harlow, it's listed in the Domesday Book. Sir William Oldhall built a large, brick tower house here in 1447. The house was bought in 1471 by Edward IV who then granted the property to Thomas Howard when he was made Duke of Norfolk. In 1525 the house was purchased by Henry VIII who wanted to use it as an escape from the plague in London, because of its 'wholesome air'. Over the next nine years Henry spent £2,900 building an E-plan mansion of palatial proportions, with royal apartments, a great gallery and a moat.

When Thomas Cromwell decided to look for a country seat near the King's house he sought a long lease of Harlowbury manor from the Abbot. He didn't get the lease but, perhaps as a consolation, the Abbey granted him a pension of £10 a year from the manor. Interestingly the Abbey granted a 60 (later 80) year lease the next year to a William Sumner.

Edward VIHenry occasionally used Hunsdon as a base for hunting, but more importantly, as a place to keep his children. Mary and her household were sent here in 1527. By 1530 both Mary, then aged 24, and Elizabeth, aged 3, were living at Hunsdon. They were still there in 1536 when Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed and their father married Jane Seymour. Prince Edward, later Edward VI, spent much of his youth here, and Hunsdon House can be seen through the open window in the upper left-hand corner of his 1546 portrait. And it was while she was living in this house that Mary signed the hated letter of submission to the terms of the oath attached to the Act of Supremacy.

On 13 January, 1559, Queen Elizabeth made her cousin Henry Carey (the son of Anne Boleyn's sister Mary) the first Baron Hunsdon, and granted him the manor. Much of Henry's great house was pulled down in the mid-18th century and the moat was infilled around 1788. An almost new house was built around 1810, incorporating the little that was left of Henry's house. It, in turn, fell into ruin until it was renovated and 'Victorianized' in 1860. That house, only about a quarter the size of Henry's, survives today.

The adjoining manor of Eastwick was given to Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII as a wedding present, and was later bought by Henry Carey. In 1534 King Henry also gave Anne the manor of Pishiobury, in Sawbridgeworth, just north of the Stort River (which forms the border between Essex and Hertfordshire), although there is no evidence that she ever lived there. The original Tudor house was remodelled to designs by James Wyatt in 1782, and the grounds were redisigned by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the preminent landscape designer of the age. The stable block, built in 1660, has been converted to flats.

Mark Hall

Mark Hall was the principal manor in Latton, the parish to the west of Harlow. Its lands provided most of the site for the post-war New Town. After the Battle of Hastings its new owner was Count Eustace Adelof de Merc (from Mercke near Calais) whose family held the manor for more than 250 years. Over time the name was anglicized to Mark Hall. One of the long succession of important owners was James Altham, Sheriff of London in 1557 and of Essex in 1570, who played host to Queen Elizabeth I on three occasions (September, 1571; August, 1576 and July1578) during her Royal 'progresses' through the county. The Queen's retinue was too large to be accommodated in one house, and part of it stayed at Latton Hall which was also owned by Altham. 

Altham Estate Map        Mark Hall_1616 Latton Progresses 

Between 1776 and 1786) the estate was owned by one of Altham's cousins, William Lushington, who demolished the Tudor/Jacobean house and replaced it with a new neo-Classical style building. To provide a suitably spacious setting for his new house he moved Latton Street 500 yards to the west and enlarged the park, demolishing Latton Hall in the process. The cycle track running through the Mark Hall North neighbourhood of the New Town follows the line of relocated road. The Hall and the manor church (St. Mary at Latton) were now splendidly isolated in the park. William's father bought Latton Priory and lands in Latton and Netteswell, beginning a process of estate expansion that would continue to the end of the 19th Century.

In 1786 the estate was bought by Montague Burgoyne, who asked Humphrey Repton, the best-known landscape designer of the age, for advice on landscaping his park. He was a philanthropist who supported the establishment of free schools. He was also a progressive farmer, and a founder of the Essex Agricultural Society in 1793. He introduced the use of mechanized seed drills and threshing machines to his farms. . Montague was, more successful in his endeavours than his first cousin once-removed, General 'Gentleman Johnny' Burgoyne, whose defeat at Saratoga, New York in 1776 was a major contributor to what might be called, depending on your point of view, either the loss of the American colonies, or the liberation of those colonies from British domination and exploitation.

In 1819 Burgoyne put the estate up for sale by auction at Garraway's Coffee House in 'Change Alley, Cornhill, London. It was purchased for 100,000 guineas by Richard Arkwright, son of the man whose mechanized spinning maching, patented in 1769, helped revolutionize the cotton textile industry and usher in the Industrial Revolution. Richard had been looking to buy a house and living for his clergyman son Joseph. It is possible that he became aware of the availability of Mark Hall through good offices of Joseph's father-in-law, Sir Robert Wigram of Walthamstow, who was a partner of Mr. Perry Watlington of Moor Hall in the firm that owned Blackwall Docks in London. Richard's daughter Anne had also married into the Wigram family.

Loftus Wigram Arkwright inherited the whole Arkwright estate, including Mark Hall, in the 1860s. His five unmarried sisteres were in residence at the Hall, so he decided to build a new house for his family at Little Parndon, just north of the site of the now-demolished Parndon House. The new building, known as Parndon Hall, serves today as part of the Princess Alexandra Hospital. The last member of the Arkwright family to live in Parndon Hall was Commander Godfrey Arkwright, RN. On his final night in the house in September, 1953 after 134 years of Arkwright residence on the estate, he wrote a sad letter to the Harlow Development Corporation as the bulldozers were literally coming up the drive, lamenting the loss of his family's estate, but wishing the Corporation well in an undertaking which he recognized was well-meant and necessary.

With the Arkwrights now living in their new home at Parndon Hall, Mark Hall was let to its last tenants, the Gilbey family, in 1893. The Gilbeys were a local family, of coachmen, whose original line of work was destroyed by the coming of the railway. By the time of the Crimean war the family had branched out into the wine trade, and by the time they came to Mark Hall also owned several gin distilleries. In 1963 they opened a new head office and distillery complex just north of the Town Centre. Their presence in the town explains the fact that Gilbey's head office and distillery was located in the New Town between 1963 and 1990. Regrettably, following the takeover of the company by IDV in 1990 the plant was closed and the buildings demolished. The site is now occupied by a Sainsbury's Superstore. One of the copper stills has been preserved and is located in the walled garden of the former Mark Hall stables, which now house the Museum of Harlow.The manor house was destroyed by fire in 1947 while it was occupied by members of the Womens' Land Army, but the Georgian stable block (built ca. 1785) escaped destruction and now houses the Museum of Harlow. The Victorian-era servant's wing on the east also survived . Between 1951 and 1960 it was used as a temporary school for some of the New Town's first children and then as the first home of Tany's Dell School. It then fell into disrepair and was demolished. Two of the estate's gatehouses survive: East Park Lodge in London Road, opposite Fawbert and Barnard's School, and North Lodge at the intersection of Fesants Croft and the cycle path which follows the old Netteswell Road.

There are no Royal or aristocratic families in the Harlow area any more, but they have been replaced by some modern celebrities. Between the southern boundary of Pishiobury and the River Stort lies Rowneybury House, built in the 1930s as a home for disabled children on an estate carved out of Pishiobury in 1880. Now known to locals and readers of the tabloid press as 'Beckingham Palace' it is one of the homes of Posh and Becks - Victoria, formerly Posh Spice of the 1990s singing group The Spice Girls and world-class footballer David Beckham. Victoria is a local girl, raised in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire. The couple bought the house in 1999 for £2.5 million, in spite of the fact that it had been abandoned for nine years, and then allegedly spent a further £18 million refurbishing it. In the fall of 2010 there were rumours that the couple planned to sell the house but by the end of the year they were back in residence as David began a three-month training program with Tottenham Hotspur.

Just six miles to the south, on the outskirts of Epping, is the century-old Wood House, part of a private gated development adjacent to the grounds of the ruined Copped Hall. This is one of the U.K. homes of singer Rod Stewart, and comes complete with a full-size football pitch.

The Market

Like most mediaeval towns, Harlow grew around two principal nodes: the market place and the church. Markets and fairs were a vital part of the economic life of every successful town and a source of considerable income for the landowner. The right to hold markets and fairs was much sought after, and the authority to grant market rights jealously guarded. The first documentary record of the Harlow market is in the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154) although it may have been in existence before then. In 1218 King Henry III granted to the Abbot of St. Edmunds permission to hold a weekly Monday market and an annual two-day fair to be held on 'Christmas and its morrow'. The rights to the market and the fair were renewed by Henry VI in 1449, although the market-day was changed to Friday and two new fairs were instituted, one on May 31 in honour of St. Petronilla, and the other on November 17, the feast of St. Hugh. The former dealt primarily with wool, and the latter with horses and cattle. Both were held where Barclay's Bank in Station Road is now located.

The original Harlow market appears to have been held where the Chippingfield estate now stands, east and south of the old Post Office on London Road. 'Chep' was the Saxon word for market and the word has been anglicized to 'chipping'. It later moved to the Market Square, an open space extending from what is now the south side of Fore Street north to the site of the St. John's Church (now the Arts and Recreation Centre). Most of the buildings around the open space were dual-purpose (residential and commercial) buildings with stalls in front. Part of the market was filled in, first by buildings on the north side, and then by a 'middle row' of buildings which separated Fore Street from Back (now Market) Street. The market area was for a long time differentiated in some legal documents from 'the Upland' which lay to the east along what is now High and Churchgate Streets. The houses down the High Street were not shops during the mediaeval period, but the dwellings of small-holders whose strips of land lay in 'Chipping' (from the Saxon 'chep' or market) Fields to the south. On mediaeval surveys the High Street was never referred to by this name, but as 'the way from the market to the Church'.

The Harlow market was never particularly successful and is last documented in 1554. There was an attempt to re-establish it in the early 19th century, and a new market house was built opposite The Crown public house in Market Street. The effort failed and no trace of this market house survives. However the November fair continued to be held in Churchgate Street until about 1835.

Churches and Schools

The church serving mediaeval Harlow was St. Mary's in Churchgate Street. The earliest recorded dedication was in 1219. An additional dedication to St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln ,was added in the 15th century. There was probably a rector here by the mid 12th century when the advowson belonged to the Abbey of Bury St. Edmonds. The nave dates from the 12th century and the transepts the 13th. A 13th century round-headed window survives in the north-west corner of the nave. The church was extensively rebuilt after a serious fire in 1708 which destroyed the steeple and melted the bells. It was then subjected to a major 'Victorianization' between 1877 and 1880, with half the cost born by John Perry-Watlington, owner of Moor Hall and one of the town's major 19th century benefactors.

For more than a century Harlow was served by two churches, the second being St. John the Baptist, located at the north end of St. John's Walk, off Market Street. It was built, by subscription, in 1839 by parishioners who supported the Oxford Movement, and objected to what they considered the rather 'low' traditions of St. Mary's. The services here followed High Church traditions and were offered in Latin, with incense. A new parish, which included most of the town, was created in 1857 and the advowson assigned to J.W. Perry-Watlington. However the benefices were reunited in 1923, and St. John's declared redundant in 1979. The disused church was converted to the Harlow Arts and Recreation Centre in 1985.

In 1849 a Church of England school was opened in Churchgate Street, near St. Mary's Church, through the generosity of Mr. Perry-Watlington of Moor Hall. The new school was built because the vicar objected to the non-sectarian education teaching offered at the Fawbert and Barnard school in Harlow. The Prospectus of the new school promised " to afford to children of both sexes, of the age of seven years and upwards, residents in Harlow and the neighbourhood, a sound English Education based upon the principles of the Church, embracing:

Religious instruction

English taught grammatically

Penmanship and linear drawing

Arithmetic with the elements of geometry and algebra T

he theory and practice of vocal music

History, especially of our own country

Geography, with the sketching of maps.

In the girls school, half the day will be given to needlework. The terms including books and stationery will be, for parishioners of Harlow, six shililngs, for children from other parishes twelve shillings a quarter. The children of the poor will be admitted: those of Harlow at one penny, from other parishes at two pence a week for each child. Payments to be made in advance. Application for admission to be made to the Vicar."

The school rapidly outgrew its cramped accommodations in Churchgate Street, and with an important change in its mandate, moved to a new site near St. John's Church. The new school, St. Mary's (later Harlow) College, opened its doors on 29 May, 1862 (see the 1875 and 1921 Ordnance Survey maps above). Its stated purpose was "to provide a superior education for the sons of gentlemen and (when sufficient amounts have been obtained) to train at low charge the sons of missionaries abroad, of clergymen similarly engaged at home, as well as orphan sons of gentlemen who have been reduced in circumstances". By all accounts the College provided an excellent education, and was highly regarded, but the decision to use Harlow as the basis of a New Town brought about its demise, in spite of the assertion in the 1962 prospectus that the buildings of the New Town "do not in any way encroach in the school grounds, nor can they be seen therefrom." Two years later the headmaster was told that the site would be required for housing. An unsuccessful effort was made to find the college a new site in Hertfordshire, and it was closed, and all but one of the buildings demolished, in 1965 to make way for the houses of the Jocelyns estate. The building which housed the Lower and Middle Remove and some staff accommodation became part of the Memorial Campus. Both parts of the original building were converted into faculty accommodation in 1969 (St. John's House and St. John's House Cottage) but St. John's House was converted back to a classroom in 1998.

Most mediaeval manors had their own church - St. Mary's in the case of Harlow - and the landscape of the New Town is enriched by the continued existence of some of the other manorial churches. Latton, the parish to the west of Harlow, was served by St. Mary the Virgin, or St. Mary-at-Latton. According to the Domesday Book the church was served by two priests, one appointed by each of the manors of Mark Hall and Latton Hall. The church is close to Mark Hall, and now sits in a splendid, but slightly lonely location, in the middle of the park created when the course of the Latton Road was moved westwards in 1785. The present building occupies the site of a Saxon church which was demolished after the Conquest by the new owners.

Remnants of the Norman church, built in 1087, remain: a small window in the south wall of the nave, and the arch of the original south doorway. Both are turned in Roman brick. The tower was rebuilt in the late 16th century, and incorporates more Roman brick, as does the south-east corner of the chancel. New stained glass windows were inserted during this rebuilding. One of the new windows cut off part of another Norman doorway on the south wall - this one had originally led into a small vestry. The porch was added by the Altham family in 1562. During the first half of the 20th century, when it was owned by the Gilbeys, it fell into disrepair. Newman Gilbey had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1886, in order to marry his Spanish bride Maria Victorina Ysasi. However, eight members of the Gilbey family, including both Newman and Victorina, are are buried in the graveyard south of the church and Simon Gilbey, who died in March, 2009, asked that his name be added to one of the stones. Two of the family's servants, Mary Ryan and Antonia Ruiz, are buried here as well. Antonia's inscription, dated 1959, reads: 'Greatly loved for over 60 years in the service of Newman Gilbey and Maria Victorina.' Between 1924 and 1941 only two people regularly attended the annual Vestry meeting: the Vicar and the Mark Hall gardener. Some of the stained glass in the southern windows was lost in 1945 when a V-1 rocket bomb exploded about where the sculpture 'Solo Flight' is located, south of Second Avenue. The church was repaired and re-consecrated in 1950 and then completely restored after a serious fire in 1964.

A new vicarage was built by Joseph Arkwright ca. 1820. Now called Moot Hallo, it was converted into a community centre during construction of the New Town and now forms part of the complex centred on The Stow shopping centre.

The impressive remains of Latton Priory can still be seen south of Latton Common. Established by Augustinian canons in 1230, it was always a poor priory, and struggled to maintain even the small complement of a prior and four canons. It was long ago converted to a barn, but the four 13th century arches of the crossing survive, as do portions of the transepts and a short section of the nave. The remains can be accessed by means of a public footpath running south from Latton Common Road.

Netteswell was served by St. Andrew's. The nave and chancel were built in the Early English style in the 13th century but there has been a church on this site for far longer - perhaps as early as the 8th century. The first written record of a church at Netteswell is in a charter of Henry II, dated 1177. The wooden bell turret was added ca. 1400, and two of the three bells date from this period. Two 13th century lancet windows survive, one in each of the north and south nave walls. The southern window contains red and blue bplumes which are said to be the device of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester - Lord of the Harlow Hundred - who was put to death by Richard II. The church was ' thoroughly restored', as they say, in 1875. The church was granted to Waltham Abbey in 1177. The adjoining 15th century, six-bay tithe barn (ca. 1440) was used to store the grain before it was sent on to the Abbey. Netteswell Pond, north of the church and barn, was one of the Abbey's fishponds.

The manor and its church were sold to the Arkwrights in 1903, They were bought by the Harlow Development Corporation in 1947. The church was declared redundant in 1978 and converted into the Harlow Study Centre.

The barn was used as an engineering workshop and then a riding school. It suffered serious fire damage on 26 June, 1970, but has been carefully restored so that the original, fire-blackened, timbers can easily be differentiated from the modern replacements whic faithfully reproduce the original unique joint work. The restored barn served as the Harlow Visitors' Centre until 1999 when all the museum and archive facilities in the town were consolidated in the Mark Hall Stable block. Both the church and the barn are now used as offices by the Harlow Educational Consortium.

The parish of Parndon was divided in two in the 13th century, and therefore had two churches. St. Mary, Little Parndon was demolished in 1868 and its replacement paid for by Loftus Arkwright. The original church of St. Mary The Virgin, Great Parndon standing in the shadow of Katherines manor house, was built in the early 13th century. It was thoroughly restored in the 15th century; futher additions (the south transept) were made in the 16th century, and the north transept added in 1913. The tower was restored in 1895 and again in 1969. It contains three bells, two cast in 1613 and one in 1779. One of the oldest ones is original; the other two were re-cast in 1958.

Essex has a long history of non-conformity and this has left its mark on Harlow. The Baptists, one of the break-away groups which enjoyed a degree of religious tolerance under Charles II, were organized in this area as early as 1662, based on the manor house at Campions. Two chapels were built: one in Fore Street in 1764, and one in Potter Street in 1756. The Fore Street chapel was enlarged in 1810 and then replaced in 1865, when the congregation numbered 600 souls, by the existing Italianate-style chapel.

The Gilbeys, when they were the lords of Mark Hall manor, provided a centre for Roman Catholic worship in buildings of their estate. In 1950 Mr. and Mrs. Newman Gilbey made available a plot of land at Mulberry Green for the building of Our Lady of the Assumption - the first Catholic church built in Harlow since the Reformation.

A small Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in 1886 in High Street, just above Mulberry Green. It was apparently intended to be the Sunday School of a larger chapel that was never built. It was converted to flats in 2004.

Roads and Coaches

The Plan of Harlow was determined to some extent by the fact that by 1600 a main route from London to Cambridge via Hatfield Broad Oak, Thaxted and Saffron Walden passed through it. The London Road ran north from Epping to the Harlow market place, where it turned east down High Street to Mulberry Green, and then north along Old Road to Cambridge via Sawbridgeworth and Bishops Stortford. the Green Man inn at Mulberry Green, first recorded in 1444, was an important coaching inn until 1828. Then, as part of its scheme for road improvements between London and Bishops Stortford, the Hockerill Turnpike Trust completed a new stretch of road, originally called New Road, (now Station Road) from the Great George inn at the top of High Street, to Harlow Mill. Henceforth, traffic between London and Cambridge bypassed High Street and Mulberry Green. A milestone showing the distances to Bishops Stortford (6 miles), Epping (6 miles) and London (22 miles to Whitechapel Church) is located in Station Road just north of Market Street.

The Road Pattern Of Harlow

This was a busy stretch of road. According to an 1812 Commercial Directory peak London-bound traffic occurred on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with five coaches each, and the addition of three waggons and a cart on Tuesdays, one waggon on Thursdays and two waggons and a cart on Saturdays. In 1838 three coaches, the Royal Mail, Magnet and Telegraph, called at The George every morning on their way from Norwich to London. It would not have been a very easy journey by today's standards. The Royal Mail coach left Norwich at 4:30 pm, reached Harlow at 3:50 am and London at 7 am, 14.5 hours after its departure. The return coach left London at 7 am, reached Harlow at 11:16 am and Norwich at 10:45 am the next morning.

Mail service to Harlow began in 1823. Mail left London by coach at 8:00 am, and arrived around noon. Replying by return post was quite possible, as the southbound mail coach left Harlow at 3:10 pm, reaching London at 7:00 p.m. The main post office moved into Gothic House at the intersection of London Road and High Street in 1909. At least through the 1930s On weekdays the mail was delivered in the town on weekdays, including Saturday, at 7:00 and 9:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. But, alas, there was only one delivery on Sunday!

Construction of the A414 beginning in 1962 drastically reduced the congestion on Station Road. However High Street continued to handle vehicular traffic until 1970 when it was pedestrianized and traffic bound for Mulberry Green and points east was diverted along the new Wayre Street to Gilden Way (the B183, or Sheering Road). Unfortunately, this destroyed the continuity of the Market Street/High Street/Churchgate Street axis which had linked the various parts of Harlow for centuries.

In 1975 the Harlow District Council was awarded a special Civic Trust Award for its 'continuing contributions to conservation', specifically for having transformed 'a traffic-choked village high street into a successful and picturesque shopping precinct'. The medallion, one of only 20 donated by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, was presented to the Chairman of the Council by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle. That year had been designated European Architectural Heritage Year, and the Council also received a European Heritage Medallion in recognition of the High Street project.

The Stort Navigation

The Stort river, flowing south from Bishops Stortford, joins the Lee at Hoddeston, thereby connecting West Essex to London. Its utility as a means of transportation was seriously reduced as the number of mills, with their ponds and dams, mutliplied during the mediaeval period. By the 18th century the growing demand for malt to feed the insatiable appetites of London brewers and the increasing ability of Essex farmers to meet that demand made improvements in the river essential. Navigational improvements along the Stort River date from 1424, but the major transformation of the river didn't occur until the founding of the Stort Navigation Company in 1740. The canalization project required several cuts across the neck of meanders in order to shorten the channel length, as well as the building of 15 locks. When the job was completed in 1769, Ware and Bishops Stortford were once again efficiently connected to London. Later ambitious plans to connect Bishops Stortford to the River Cam at Cambridge were never realized.

The advent of the railway in the 1840s had a disastrous effect on the canal. Revenues plummeted and a long process of deterioration set in under a series of owners, although Joseph Arkwright, owner of Mark Hall and an implacable foe of the railway, subsidized the operating costs of the canal for some years in a vain effort to keep the company afloat. But the directors sold out to The Lee Conservancy Board 1911. Many of the locks were rebuilt during the 1920s but the major use after that time was for recreational boats. The last horse-drawn barge transited the canal in 1952, but a fleet of self-propelled steel barges operated along the canal until 1956.

The towpath is accessible in both directions at Harlow Mill and still provides a wonderfully peaceful and scenic walk through the Essex countryside. You can walk or cycle north through Sawbridgeworth to Bishops Stortford, or south all the way to London. If you're heading to London, you'll come to the junction with the Grand Union Canal, and here it is best to turn eastwards (right) onto its towpath. You'll end up at Limehouse Basin on the Thames. The 29.5 mile journey from Harlow Mill lock to Limehouse takes about three and a half hours by bicycle.

The Railway

In 1836 the Northern and Eastern Railway Company secured an Act of Parliament authorizing them to build a railway from Islington in north London to Cambridge. There were the usual problems with landowners opposed to the building of a line across their property, most particularly Joseph Arkwright of Mark Hall. In 1839 he petitioned the House of Commons in a vain attempt to stop the railway from crossing his land. Because he believed that the line was to be completed only as far as Bishops Stortford he argued that it "cannot be of any public advantage sufficient to justify the proposed invasion of the property of your Petitioner'" He was persuaded to waive his objection by an offer of £7,800 for the thirteen acres required. The line reached Harlow in 1841 and Cambridge four years later. There was a railway halt at Burnt Mill to the west and a station north of the town at the end of New Road. The portion of this road down to Market Street was renamed Station Road. The halt was demolished in 1960 when Harlow Town Station was opened. At the same time the original station was renamed Harlow Mill. Its present appearance belies its importance in the late 19th century when it served the needs of the occupants of, and visitors to the many big houses in the area.

The new name for the original station reflects its location close to the site of the water mill which served the needs of Harlowbury manor from 1066 until the middle of the 19th century. The buildings which survived after it ceased operation as a mill, most of them dating to the 17th century, were converted to a country club in the 1930s. This was damaged by fire during the Second World War, and the remnants are incorprated in the restaurant which now occupies the site.

Harlow Mill station yard contained a large set of cattle pens and a substantial Railway Hotel, built in 1880 by the local brewer Philip Chaplin,. It was never very successful, and when I first visited Harlow in 1977, it had long been disused. It had a short new life as a nightclub in the 1980s before it was demolished in the early 1990s.

The Harlow area was served by several mills, some water- and some wind-powered, They were located in Churchgate Street, at Kitchen Hall, and at Latton, Netteswell, Burnt Mill and Parndon. Latton Mill closed in 1926 and Parndon Mill, located beside a lock on the Stort Navigation, was the last to close, in 1950. In 1969 it was converted to an art gallery and artists' studios.