Markets, Churches, Schools and early Industries
Markets, Churches, Schools, Transportation and Industry
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). In 1218 King Henry III gave 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 May fair dealt primarily with wool, and the November fair with horses and cattle. Both were originally held where Barclay's Bank in Station Road is now located but at some point the November fair was moved to Churchgate Street where it was held regularly until 1835.
The original Harlow market was probably 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 was anglicised to 'chipping'. It later moved to the Market Square, an open space extending from 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. Typically, part of the market square was filled in, first by buildings on the north side, and then by a 'middle row' which separated Fore Street from Back (now Market) Street. The buildings in the High Street were not shops during the mediaeval period. Contemporary surveys referred to what is now the High Street as 'the way from the market to the Church'. The buildings were occupied by ‘mole men’ or small-holders whose strips of land lay in the 'Chipping Fields’ to the south. These men rented the land, unlike lower-status villeins, who earned the right to farm their land through payment in goods of labour.
The last documentary reference to the Harlow market was in 1554. There was an attempt to re-establish it in the early 19th century. A new market house was built opposite The Crown public house in Market Street in the early 19th century as part of an unsuccessful attempt to re-establish the market. No trace of this market house survives.
Churches and Schools
Most mediaeval manors had their own church and the landscape of the New Town is enriched by the continued existence of some of these manorial churches which later became the principal places of worship when parishes were laid out. St. Mary's in Churchgate Street, dedicated as early as 1219, was Harlow’s church although, by the mid-12th century the advowson belonged to the Abbey of Bury St. Edmonds. The nave dates from the 12th century; and the transepts a the round-headed window in the north-west corner of the nave from the 13th. A second dedication, to St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, was added in the 15th century. 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, one of the town's major 19th century benefactors. His family seat was Moor Hall, on the Matching Road. The manor dated from the 11th century, but the house he occupied was rebuilt around 1810 as a three-storied, five-bay, neo-classical mansion. At the suggestion of Humphrey Repton, the Matching Road was diverted to give the house more privacy. The house was taken over by the British Army during the Second World War, and the allowed to decay. It was burned by vandals and finally demolished ca. 1960, although part of the stable block and one of the lodges survive.
Harlow’s second church was built by subscription in 1839. The founders and parishioners of St. John the Baptist, located at the north end of St. John's Walk, off Market Street, supported the Oxford Movement. They objected to what they considered the rather 'low' traditions of St. Mary's. The Latin liturgy and incense in St. John’s followed High Church traditions. A new parish, which included most of the town, was created in 1857 and the advowson assigned to J.W. Perry-Watlington. However the two 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.
Prior to the passage of the Elementary Education Act in 1880, and its compulsory requirement that all children aged 5 to 10 years attend school, virtually all education took place either in private or Church-sponsored schools. In 1849 a generous donation from Perry-Watlington of Moor Hall made possible the opening of a Church of England school in Churchgate Street. The new school was built at the urging of the vicar of St. Mary’s who objected to the non-sectarian education teaching offered at the Fawbert and Barnard school in London Road.
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:
English taught grammatically
Penmanship and linear drawing
Arithmetic with the elements of geometry and algebra
The 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 shillings, 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).
The new school aimed 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.
The 1947 decision to use Harlow as the basis of a New Town brought about the school’s 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 construction of the houses in the Jocelyns estate. An effort was made to find the college a new site in Hertfordshire, but this was unsuccessful, and it was closed, and all but one of the buildings demolished in. The surviving building, which had 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 then St. John's House was converted back to a classroom in 1998.
Latton, the parish to the west of Harlow, was served by St. Mary the Virgin, or St. Mary-at-Latton. The present building occupies the site of a Saxon church which was demolished after the Conquest by the new owners. The Domesday Book records that the church was served by two priests, one appointed by site of Mark Hall, but now sits in a splendid location in the middle of the park created when the course of the Latton Road was moved westwards in 1785.
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.
In 1886, in order to marry his beloved Spanish fiance Maria Victorina Ysasi, Newman Gilbey converted to Roman Catholicism. Deprived of support from the lord of the manor the church fell into disrepair. However, eight members of the Gilbey family, including both Newman and Victorina, are buried in the church graveyard 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 just south of the church, approximately 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 Hall, 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 amongst the buildings of Latton Priory Farm which are just outside Harlow, in an area controlled by the Epping Forest District Council. Augustinian canons established Latton Priory near the south end of the parish 1230. It was 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.
The farm and the remains of the Grade 1 listed priory will presumably continue to exist in the future but in an entirely different spatial context. The East of England Plan requires the construction of tens of thousands of new houses in and around Harlow. Plans for up to 2,500 housing units to be built in the Latton Priory estate over a 20-year period were proposed in 2013 but have not yet been approved by the District Council. (For details of the proposed development see www.lattonpriory.co.uk).
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 plumes 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 six-bay tithe barn, referred to now as the Monk’s Barn, dating from ca. 1440 was used to store 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 Monks’ Barn was formerly used as an engineering workshop and then a
riding school. It suffered serious fire damage on 26 June 1970, but was carefully restored so that the original, fire-blackened, timbers can easily be differentiated from the modern replacements which faithfully reproduce the original unique joint work.
The manor and its church were sold to the Arkwrights in 1903 and then bought by the Harlow Development Corporation in 1947. The church was declared redundant in 1978 and, along with the Monks’ Barn and the adjoining 16th century Day Barn were converted into the Harlow Study Centre.
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.
When the Gilbey family were the lords of Mark Hall manor, they 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, justabove 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
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.
This was a busy stretch of road. In 1812, peak London-bound traffic occurred on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with five coaches each, and the addition of three wagons and a cart on Tuesdays, one wagon on Thursdays and two wagons 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 flows south from Bishops Stortford and joins the Lee at Hoddeston, connecting West Essex to London. Its usefulness as a transportation artery was seriously reduced during the Middle Ages as the number of mills, with their ponds and dams, increased. By the 18th century the growing demand for malt to feed the insatiable appetites of London brewers and the increasing abilty of Essex farmers to meet that demand made it imperative to improve the navigability of the river. Work began as early as 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. Here you can turn eastwards (right) onto its towpath. Or you can proceed straight ahead, following the Limehouse Cut. In either case you'll end up at Limehouse Basin on the Thames. The 30 mile journey from Harlow Mill lock to Limehouse takes about three and a half hours by bicycle.
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. The company’s long-term goal was to build on from Cambridge to York, but when the Great Northern Railway Bill was passed by Parliament in 1846 to permit another line direct from London to York, these plans were abandoned.
Typically the company had to deal with the opposition of landowners who were horrified at the prospect of a rail line crossing their property. One was Joseph Arkwright of Mark Hall who petitioned the House of Commons in a vain attempt to keep the railway off his land. Because he was convinced that the line would never go beyond Bishops Stortford he argued that it "cannot be of any public advantage sufficient to justify the proposed invasion of the property of your Petitioner". However, he agreed to withdraw his objection when the company offered him in £7,800 to compensate for the thirteen acres required.
The line reached Harlow in 1841 and Cambridge four years later. Passengers could board, or disembark from the trains at two places: a halt at Burnt Mill to the west and a station north of the town at the end of the former New Road which was renamed Station Road in recognition of its new purpose. The Burnt Mill
halt was demolished in 1960 when Harlow Town Station was opened and the original station was renamed Harlow Mill, reflecting its location close to the old water mill. The modern appearance of the station 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 1921 Ordnance Survey map shows that 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. The hotel never prospered and when I first saw it in 1977, it had been abandoned for many years. In the 1980s it enjoyed a brief new life as a nightclub before it was demolished in the early 1990s. In the 1940s and 1950s Holbrook and Sons machine tool manufacturers had a large precision lathe plant north-east of the station.
Milling, Malting and Brewing
While Harlow's major function over the centuries has been to provide services to the population of its surrounding agricultural hinterland, it has also provided the site for a variety of industrial functions, most of them producing for the local market. Harlow Mill 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 1920s. The buildings over the mill race were destroyed in 1946. The rest of the structure is incorporated in the restaurant.
In addition to Harlow Mill, there were water-powered mills at Burnt Mill, Latton, and Parndon. There were also windmills at Kitchen Hall, on Harlow Common near Foster Street and one east of Churchgate street for the Moor Hall Estate. Latton Mill, operated in the 1890s by Joseph Thurgood who ran a bakery in Broadway (now part of Market Street), closed in 1926 and was demolished, although the locks and water channels which supplied water for the mill can still be seen from River Way, the walking trail on the south side of the canal. Parndon Mill, closed in 1950, was the last to go, but it got a new lease of life in 1969 when it was converted to an art gallery and artists' studios.
Malt (i.e. malted barley) was an important local product. Malt was being sent to the London market down the Stort Navigation by 1754. In 1833 there were 100 malt warehouses in Bishops Stortfort, 11 in Sawbridgeworth and 10 in Harlow. The last maltings in Harlow was built in the 1870s in St. John's Walk, next to Harlow College and St. John’s Church. During the World War II it was converted by the de Havilland Aircraft Company into a machine shop, and then lay derelict for many years until it was bought by Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1968. After conversion by local architect John Graham it became the main building of the University's Harlow Campus.
Chaplin's Brewery operated in Fore Street from 1897 until 1926. The brewery chimney dominated the western skyline of Harlow for many years. The 1851 Census shows that Thomas Chaplin was a man of some standing. He employed 12 men at the brewery, and 11 men on his 300 acres of farmland. Some of this was at Chippingfield, rented from the Rev. Joseph Arkwright. The brewery supplied many of the local pubs. In 1933 the now-disused brewery was taken over by Windowlite Limited, makers of a new type of wire-mesh-reinforced plastic sheeting. It was originally intended for use in greenhouses and conservatories, but during the War it was widely used to replace windows blown out by German bombing. The brewery/factory buildings and the manager's house survived until 1969 when they were demolished to make way for the houses of the Seeleys estate.
One of Harlow's best-known 19th century citizens was Sam Deards, whose accomplishments remind us that the wealth of Victorian England did not all come from the big cities. Deards was a pillar of the local community, serving as a member of the Fire Brigade for 35 years, and Captain for 30 of them. He was also a very successful inventor and entrepreneur. He was apprenticed into his father's plumbing and glazing business, but soon branched out on his own. Among his inventions was a machine to make building blocks using the clinker waste from the coal-fired power stations in the Lea Valley. Another was the first successful English mechanical cricket scoreboard. The Marigolds Cricket Club was founded in 1774. Its grounds were in High Street, behind the Fire Engine House, and it was here that Deard’s score board was first tried. It proved so successful that it was widely adopted throughout the U.K. Deard also developed a novel method of installing glass panels over large areas of roof. His 'Victoria Dry Glazing' method was used to roof Liverpool Street Station in London, the Colonial and Indian Exhibition Hall in South Kensington, and the Crystal Palace when it was moved from its original site in Hyde Park to Sydenham in 1852.
A London newspaper story entitled 'An Easter Egg for Harlow', published on 1 April, 1904, reported that Deards had been awarded a £10,000 contract by HM the King's Admiralty for the roof of a new factory. He had already put a new roof on the gun mounting stores at the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth, and the Admiralty were so impressed with the 'excellence and economy' of this roof, both in manufacture and maintenance' that they awarded him this large new contract. The story enumerated the material that would be required: 10 miles of steel glazing bar, 20 miles of 12 inch wide glass sheet and 100 tons of lead to prevent rusting of the steel bars, and for flashings.
Many Harlow residents were employed at the River's Nursery in Sawbridgeworth. Founded by John Rivers from Berkshire in 1720, it became one of England's largest and most successful nurseries, employing more than 2,000 people at its peak in the mid 19th century, many of them from Harlow. This was no ordinary nursery. It specialized in providing garden stock for large houses with estate gardens. Always a family-owned and run business, it was extremely progressive. Correspondence with nurserymen all around the world made possible a collection of foreign and domestic plant varieties unrivalled in England. Charles Darwin made use of its research collection during the writing of The Origin Of Species. When the tax on glass was removed in 1849 it became possible, for the first time, to build glasshouses on a large scale. Rivers designed glasshouses for some of the most important estates in the country, including Audley End, where the 1856 glasshouse has recently been restored, and stocked with plants supplied by the Rivers gardens. The coming of the railway made it easy to ship their fruit trees, which came planted in huge pots, all over the country.
The firm made use of the new hothouse growing environment to develop whole new ranges of fruit cultivars, including the Thomas Rivers apple that is now extremely rare. The family always had a special fondness for experimentation with citrus fruits, and this was to serve the world well. In the late 19th century, American oranges were flourishing in Florida, but these varieties did not do well when transplanted to California. In 1876 the third Thomas Rivers sent a number of young plants to California and one of them, Valencia Late, proved satisfactory and laid the foundation of the citrus industry in that state.
The number of large country houses with gardens began to shrink after about 1900, and the country house was in serious decline by the 1930's. This caused the nursery to cut back on the scale of its operations. Then the range of varieties had to be cut dramatically during the Second War because of regulations which severely limited the amount of heating that could be provided in the greenhouses. In the post war era competition from overseas sources made the operation increasingly unprofitable, and after 265 years of operation the nursery was closed in 1985. The land was sold to a medical group and a private hospital, the Thomas Rivers Medical Centre, was opened in 1992. The surviving gardens are being maintained by a charitable trust. The story of the nursery is told in a book published in 2010, and available at The Museum of Harlow.
The manufacture of Spirella corsets is most commonly associated with Letchworth Garden City. The company’s headquarters and main factory was located there. But in the 1950s it also had a satellite operation in Harlow, just north of Harlow Mill Station.
John Kirkaldy’s Burnt Mill Engineeering Works
In the 1880s John Kirkaldy moved his heavy engineering works from a Thames-side location in Poplar, east London, to a derelict flour mill on the navies of Japan and Brazil. After the war the company diversified into the manufacture of machinery for the freezing of meat, but this wasn’t sufficient to maintain its operations and it closed in the 1930s. Most of the factory buildings were demolished but one of them remains as the site for the Harlow Outdoor Pursuits Centre, just west of Harlow Town station.