Living in the Landscape: evidence of human occupation

This article follows on from the brief discussion of the geology of our area and the natural evolution of our landscape.  We have now reached the first point in our history when humans appear in Essex, approximately 400,000 years ago.  There follow periods of warm and cold, of rising and falling sea levels when Britain was at various times either isolated from or connected to mainland Europe.  Fossils found in Essex, dating from these periods, show warm climate species such as Elephant and Hippopotamus living here as well as Reindeer and Arctic Wolf.  Human occupation would have been equally variable, depending on the climate.  Evidence from sites in Clacton and Gravesend in Essex and to the South of the Thames in Kent show potentially differing species of early humans hunting and butchering elephant and other species some 3-400,000 years ago.

A significant, and rare, piece of hard evidence found in White Colne in the 1920s places human occupation here in Essex about 30,000 years ago. It is not known whether this flint bifacial leaf point blade can be attributed to homo neandertalensis, the earliest settlers in Britain who were then reaching the end of their evolutionary path, or to homo sapiens, which was emerging to take over as the forerunner of present day man. The leaf point was found close to the southern boundary of White Colne, alongside the river, 8 feet below the surface in a gravel pit.

Example of leaf point flint            Bronze Age Burial Urn and Cup


Other pre Roman artefacts found in this area include Bronze Age burial urns, one of which is on display in Earls Colne Museum and others in Colchester Castle (photo above), animal bones and other flint tools and chips.  The precise location of these finds has been lost, but most likely was adjacent to Chalkney Mill and the lakes which are former gravel pits to the North of the river.

There is also aerial photographic evidence, although difficult for the untrained eye to interpret, of settlement in the fields either side of Bures Road approximately mid way between the junction with Colchester Road and Insteps Farm.  Visible cropmarks are believed to show circular and linear features, possibly enclosures and pits.

The Roman period

Prior to the Roman invasions of Britain, Camulodonum was an important place – chief settlement of the Trinovantes and then of their conquerors, the Catuvellauni.  When these in turn were defeated by the Romans in AD43, Camulodunum became the site of the first Roman legionary fortress in Britain and the first colonia (Colonia Vitricensis), a town for retired military personnel, in AD49.  The “Etymology of British Place Names” (available online) suggests that the name Colne derives from the Latin colonia, as in Lincoln and Colne (in Lancashire).  Our river is one of several Colnes which could have been named after the local Roman settlement.  

It can be claimed that prior to the Boudiccan revolt in AD61 this was the administrative centre of Britain.  It’s prominence was, however, short lived as Londinium quickly emerged as the capital. So while Colchester at that time was important, its period of prominence was probably insufficient to enable the wealth and development to spread in any intensive way far beyond its defensive perimeter.  So, unfortunately, White Colne did not become part of the “stockbroker belt” of Roman Britain.  It would have become Romanized, however, as the indigenous population intermingled with the new ruling class and their systems of building, farming and communication were superimposed on the existing areas of habitation.  

To the west of Colchester, there is evidence of Roman presence at Great Tey, where there have been excavations of a potential Roman Road, at Mount Bures, Greenstead, and further upstream in the Colne Valley at Ridgewell.  Around White Colne, there are believed to have been villas at Colne Engaine and Earls Colne.  There are Roman bricks incorporated into the fabric of  the 11th Century St Andrews Church, White Colne, and a Roman amphora was found in the grounds of Colne Park, just within or adjacent to the parish boundary.  So the Romans, or Romanised Brits, were here, or hereabouts, but little remains to pinpoint where, when or how important they were.  One intriguing question concerns the potential for a Roman Road through the valley.

Roman roads in North Essex

The principal east-west route in Roman times was Stane Street, linking St Albans (Verulaneum) to Colchester (Colonia Vitricensis), today still existing as large sections of the A120.  A second east-west route was the Via Devana which linked Colchester with Chester (Deva) – Via Devana was literally “The Chester Road”.  It is suggested that it was built primarily for military purposes, so it fell into disuse when the last Roman legion left Britain in AD407.  Thus, its route is difficult to prove and the map above shows only a suggested line joining known routes at Stanway to the west of Colchester and Ridgewell near the Essex/Suffolk border.  This line follows the Colne Valley, in our area probably lying to the south of the river on the higher ground.  

There is evidence of a road through Chalkney Wood and interpretation boards mark its line (see pictures).  This has been interpreted as part of a route from Colchester to Cambridge, possibly part of the longer Via Devana.

       Chalkney Wood trackway  and Interpretation Board


In “A History of the County of Essex” other minor Roman roads are identified at Copford, to the West of Colchester. One, was a road known as Colneweye in 1401 which was probably the road from Colchester to Halstead and Cambridge, possibly the origin of today’s A1124. (From: 'Copford: Introduction', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10: Lexden Hundred (Part) including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe (2001).)

Post Roman: the Anglo Saxon and Medieval periods

As the Roman empire began to collapse, its political and military presence was finally withdrawn from the island of Britain around 410 AD. The resulting vacuum was filled by tribes of Jutes, Saxons, Frisians and Angles from Denmark, Germany and the coastal areas of what is now Holland, collectively called “Saxons”, competing for land and power with the indigenous Britons.  After many years of warring between the Britons, Saxons and tribes of Picts and Scots, the Brits were relegated to Cornwall and Wales and seven Saxon Kingdoms emerged controlling the remainder of England.  The most powerful of these, and source of the earliest Kings of England, was Wessex.  In the East were two kingdoms, Essex and East Anglia.  Essex (East Saxons), stretching from the Thames in the South to the Stour in the North, remained independent until subsumed firstly by Mercia and later by Wessex.


England after 886 AD

Later, in the 8th century AD, Viking invaders started populating the East coast.  In 878 AD a treaty between the Saxons and Danes partitioned Britain, with Essex becoming part of the area under Danish rule stretching from the Thames to the Tees, later known as the “Danelaw”.  

There followed a period when Danes and Saxons fought for control over England, with each attacking the other’s territories.  So, our area of North Essex was at times at risk from incursions by Saxons attacking Danish strongholds at Bury, Colchester (920 AD), Ipswich and (possibly) Sudbury. The Danes were eventually defeated in East Anglia and pushed north into Northumbria.  Their domination of the eastern half of England ended in 956 but by 991 they were attacking the east coast again with some success in London, Ipswich and Maldon.  Following these and later raids the Danes were bought off by payments of “Danegeld”.  In spite of these payments attacks took place almost every year to 1014.  In 994 with particular severity, London was attacked and Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire were ravaged.  Following further invasion in 1010 when Cambridge, Bedford and towns in the Thames Valley and Kent were destroyed, Danish rule was established over the whole of England.  Continued fighting for control of England between the Saxons and Danes left England weakened and unable to resist the next invaders, the Normans under William who arrived in 1066.

There is little solid evidence of the way of life locally, or indeed on a wider scale, in the period up to the Norman Conquest in 1066.  The major sources are all suspect in being written centuries after the events and often based on myth or fable.  The exact organisation of local government at this time is extremely vague to us today. However, Anglo-Saxon England was a highly structured and organised society. Administration seems to have been very efficient by the standards of the time.

Described as the most remarkable administrative feat of the Middle Ages, Domesday Book was completed in 1086 and provided a comprehensive census of land ownership; it now serves as the starting point for the history of most English towns and villages.  As a “snapshot” of England, recorded over a period of months, it reflects the structure of society existing at the time.

“The Victoria History of the Counties of England” (available at ) is a ready source for information on White Colne and its neighbouring parishes from the 11th century onwards.  The history is patchy and there are many areas of uncertainty but it represents a good start point.  Much of the following is based on this source.

This area of the Colne Valley was part of the Hundred of Lexden.  According to Wikipedia, the term “Hundred” is derived from the number one hundred and it may in some areas once have referred to a hundred men under arms.  In England, specifically, it has been suggested that it referred to the amount of land sufficient to sustain one hundred families defined as the land covered by one hundred “hides”, the smallest land unit defined by the Anglo-Saxons for taxation purposes.  The dictionary defines a Hide as “a measure of land sufficient to support one free family”, varying between 60 and 120 acres depending on locality.  The quality of the land in White Colne could indicate a larger acreage to meet this definition.

Lexden Hundred was first recorded in the Domesday Book and included White Colne, which name derives from Colne Miblanc, after the tenant who “held one hide of  Aubrey de Vere’s manor of Colne”.  In all there were seven tenants recorded in 1086 in the area that now makes up our village

Aubrey (Albericus) de Vere descended from a French family, born before 1040, came to England as part of William’s invasion force in 1066. He was rewarded by his brother-in-law, William, with large estates in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Kensington, Middlesex, including 2 1/2 hides here in the Colne valley and further land at Hedingham where his successors built Hedingham Castle. Towards the end of his life he took religious vows and founded Colne Priory, where he died and was buried.  Our fragmentary knowledge of the local community at that time and how it impacted on our landscape is limited, pretty much, to these upper levels of society, to those who owned the land and manors, some of which still survive in whole or in part, and to the Church.  

Today’s church contains some remnants of the original believed to date from the late 11th century. Materials used in its construction include some Roman brick, recycled presumably from earlier disused local settlement.  Aubrey de Vere, prior to his death in 1141, passed ownership of the church and rectory to Colne Priory.  In 1291, the priory’s possessions (known as its “temporalities”) amounted to £49 4s. 9d. yearly, of which £10 17s. 6d. came from White Colne, £10 12s. 7½d. from Monk's Colne (now Earls Colne), sums of over £1 from Great Bentley, Halstead, Aythorpe Roding, Sudbury, Ashingdon, Aldham, Beauchamp William, Alphamstone, Great Tey and Sible Hedingham, and the remainder from nearly twenty other places.  ('Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Earl's Colne', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2 (1907)  So White Colne appears as the most highly valued of its possessions.

There are only limited records of the early incumbents – apparently there was a priest of Colne Miblanc in the mid 12th century but 100 years later the living was vacant, with nothing known thereafter until the 16th century.  

Medieval White Colne Manors

In the 12th Century, White Colne remained in the ownership of the deVere family, but between 1142 and 1150, Aubrey de Vere, 1st Earl of Oxford, gave half the village to Colne Priory which held that estate until the Dissolution in the 1530s. This became known as BERWICK, which today survives as Berewyk Hall.  Manorial rights for this estate were extinguished in 1868.

Also in the 12th Century, a second estate, equivalent to a knight’s fee (amount of money and/or services necessary to

pay to support one knight), was granted by deVere, half of which passed through marriage to a Thomas of  Ingoldisthorpe.  The estate, which took this name, in part survives today as INSTEPS.

The other half, later becoming BART HALL manor, passed through many hands until about1765 when it and Ingoldisthorpes were owned by Osgood Hanbury.  The two estates remained linked by common ownership until the 20th Century.

In the late 14th Century, John Bagerowke held a small estate in White Colne.  Named after him, BAGGARETTS grew to include some land in Colne Engaine.  It passed into the same ownership as Colne Park in the 1800s until that estate was broken up in 1896.

COLNE PARK, partly within White Colne, was created in the 1760s from an estate previously known as Sherives or SHRIVES which itself dates from the mid 13th Century.

Little remains today of the manorial buildings.  Baggaretts incorporates a 15th or 16th century timber-framed hall house, but other houses are more recent.  Detail of these and other significant properties in White Colne are available elsewhere on this site.

Medieval Life

While the local landowners – the de Veres – remained at the centre of power and government in England, albeit with some ups and downs, little of their wealth and influence seems to have made it to White Colne.  Their main interests in the valley remained at Hedingham and Earls Colne, with many generations being born or dying in the Castle or Priory.  

Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford, was among the 26 Barons who in 1215 forced King John to sign the Magna Carta and de Vere was subsequently excommunicated by the Pope.  These Barons attempted to secure the English throne for the French King’s son, Louis.  A French force landed in England and took Colchester Castle where they were attacked by King John’s forces and defeated.  John then attacked Hedingham Castle which fell to him after a long siege in 1216.  The following year the French force returned and successfully laid siege to Hedingham Castle.  While our area does not appear to have been directly involved in either conflict, it lies between the two battlegrounds and would possibly have witnessed the forces of both King John in 1216 and the French Dauphin a year later.

During the Wars of the Roses, John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, fought on the Lancastrian side and was beheaded in the Tower of London with his son, Aubrey, when they lost.  Another son, John, became 13th Earl and helped restore the Lancastrian Henry VI to the throne and later still fought alongside Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.  Under Henry VIII, the dissolution of the monasteries resulted in the destruction of many religious houses and forfeiture of their wealth.  Ownership of Colne Priory and of its estates, including Berwick and the rectory in White Colne, passed back to the de Veres.  The family held the office of Lord Great Chamberlain of England until the death of Henry, 18th Earl, in 1625. The title and properties then passed to another branch of the de Vere family and the properties were sold after the death of the 20th Earl of Oxford in 1703.  

Throughout the Civil War (1642-46) Essex was strongly Parliamentarian, providing the backbone of the army, later the New Model Army.  During the Second Civil War (1648-51), Royalist forces took Colchester and withstood a brutal Parliamentarian siege lasting 2 ½ months which ended with Royalist defeat and several reprisal executions.  By the time of the Civil War, the de Vere family was no longer at the centre of British politics and their Essex estates seem to have avoided the conflicts.

Living and Working in White Colne

So while the well known historic events taking place through the centuries may have had little direct impact on our village, the system of government, patronage, land ownership and the role of the Church determined the way of life in White Colne, as in most other English villages. We do not know the population of White Colne over these centuries, how many labourers were employed on each manor or how large the manorial families were.  The Black Death which swept across England in the middle of the 14th century took 30% of the population nationwide, severely reduced the numbers of peasants who worked the estates.   

In 1377, only 38 people paid the unpopular poll tax (our views on taxes don’t change!) making White Colne the smallest recorded village in Lexden Hundred, although it is known that large numbers of people avoided paying the tax and would not have been recorded.  Everyone over the age of 14 was supposed to pay a flat rate for all, with some exemptions, which meant it affected some 60% of the population.  Only 4 years later the Peasants’ Revolt saw large numbers from Essex and Kent march on London, capture the Tower and kill several leading figures including the Archbishop of Canterbury.  They were protesting at the repeated imposition of the poll tax burden used to finance war with France, loss of personal freedoms and their obligation to work free on church lands.  Colchester was one centre of the revolt in Essex.  It appears that their action did little to change their way of life in the long term although poll taxes were not imposed thereafter.

The little local information we have shows the slow evolution of an agricultural community.  Back in 1086 it seems that the landscape was gradually being cleared of the native woodland making land available for agriculture, although it appears the damp clay soils were regarded as inferior to those in neighbouring parishes.  

As an indication, in 1086 Miblanc’s estate (later Berwick manor) included 2 ploughs on the lord’s demesne (the land kept by the lord for his own use, but worked by villains or serfs) and 1 plough on his tenants’ land.  A plough or ploughland was defined as the area of land that could be cultivated by a plough and 8 oxen in a year.  This imprecise measure is believed to be between 80 and 120 acres, so this one estate at that time had between 240 and 360 acres of cultivated land.  Later records show that in 1643, Berwick manor comprised 180 acres arable, 153 acres meadow and pasture, 14 acres woodland and 20 acres of furze (a.k.a. gorse!), broadly consistent with the earlier acreage.  Later still a map of 1724 shows the manor as Barwick Hall, with 385 acres; a simplified version of this map is included here.

The medieval agricultural system was highly structured with different classes having different entitlements to land and dwellings as well as different obligations towards the lord of the manor in respect of providing labour and equipment to work the lord’s lands, his demesne.  Typically, tenants or freeholders “owned” or rented their land from the manor and had no work obligation to the lord whereas serfs (villeins and cottagers) were obliged to provide labour on the lord’s land in exchange for accommodation and either land of their own (villeins) or merely a share of the lord’s production (cottagers).

Arable land worked by tenants and villeins would have been allocated on the strip system and there would also have been access to pasture or meadow land for grazing animals.  Meadowland would primarily have bordered the River Colne but there are records in 1524 and 1529 of common meadow bordering a stream in the west of the parish, now part of Colne Engaine.  This was known as Longstroppes meadow, but seems to have disappeared from the map of 1724 which names or identifies all arable land, pasture, meadow and woodland in the parish.

Of  the many changes in agricultural practices which have taken place over the centuries, the enclosure movement was one of the most dramatic, yet the South East of England as a whole was one of the least affected areas.  Enclosing agricultural land was done for many reasons, all driven by increased productivity.  The elimination of the medieval strip farming system saw the change from small labour intensive units to larger, more mechanized systems which had profound impacts on the agricultural populations of some areas, but it seems less so here.  More likely to have been the case in Essex was the move from arable to livestock farming.

The wealth enjoyed (at least by the higher layers of society) by North Essex and South Suffolk was derived from the wool trade, the most visible remains of which are the magnificent churches which dominate towns and larger villages such as Lavenham, Long Melford and Sudbury in Suffolk and Coggeshall closer to hand in Essex.  These date from the 15th and early 16th centuries as wealthy landowners enlarged or rebuilt their local churches.  Although not constructed on this grand scale, there is evidence that replacing and adding to the smaller village churches at this time was due to the cloth, wool and later silk trades which flourished across East Anglia.  St Andrew’s White Colne dates in part from the 11th Century with additions in the 14th, but does not seem to have benefited from further investment on any great scale until the 19th Century.

In some ways it would appear that little has changed since the 1700s – but the village has evolved. Field boundaries have changed enormously. As an example, in 1724 the area to the north of the Colchester –Halstead road bounded by Bures Road to the west and Boley Road to the east contained about 27 separate fields.  Today, some parts of these fields have become gardens as new houses have been built alongside the roads, but the greatest part of this area now consists of only 4 fields and one small area of woodland.  Field names in 1724 may give some clues to former usage.  Apart from the expected names – such as “Ten Acres”, “Barn field” and “Brook Meadow” – “Tanners Yard” identifies a former cottage industry alongside the river, “Gravel Pit Field” is a somewhat surprising previous usage for what is today a fairly flat and uneventful area, and “Hop Ground” indicates a crop no longer grown here.

The map of 1724 shows the full extent of the parish, including several areas since redistributed between Colne Engaine, Earls Colne and White Colne.  The following series of maps show how the parish boundaries have altered since then and highlight the key changes within the parish.

Although, as we said at the outset, detail is often scarce, the following table gives a little more on the way White Colne has changed over the past 400 or so years.  Local information is shown in colour, significant national or international events included to give some context are shown in black.

It would seem that the industrial revolution which swept Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries had little impact on our village.  The 1831 census gathered limited data on social structures, summarized in the 2 charts below, showing (only for males over 20 years of age) broad divisions of social class and employment.

The second pie chart shows no involvement in manufacturing at all, which presumably would indicate no resident males of working age (i.e. above 20) either working locally or travelling to work in manufacturing elsewhere.  There is a population peak in 1851 (459 residents) which is unexplained and unlikely to be due to boundary changes (unlike the increase between 1981 and 1991 (273 rising to 445).

The involvement of 13% of the local male working population in retail and handicrafts reflects the presence of small “cottage industry” craftsmen rather than shopkeepers.  Obviously the dominant representation is in agriculture, which is also reflected in the first pie chart where labourers make up over half the male working population.

“Employers and Educated Men” include agricultural employers, capitalists, bankers, professionals and other educated men.  “Middling Sorts”, not quite our view of the middle class today, includes farmers not employing labourers, those employed in manufacture, retail trades and handicrafts.  It would include skilled manual workers.

The 1851 census confirms the predominance of agricultural workers in the village, but also gives an interesting picture of family economics.  At that time a typical village household would have had a working father, mother possibly working or bringing up children, unmarried children either in education or working and possibly one or more lodgers.  The most common male employment was as a farm labourer with low pay requiring other male or female family members to work.  Straw plaiting was a common employment, particularly for young women.  In 1851 the census returns showed 42 residents employed as straw plaiters – the oldest 47, the youngest only four.


Straw plaiters by age and sex, 1851:

 Age          0-10   11-20   21-30   31-40   >40

 Female      4          21         11          3        1    

Male           2           1

Ten years later, the census returns showed only a handful of villagers employed as straw plaiters.  Nationally, the craft declined in the face of competition from cheap Far East imports.   The main product was straw hats which were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries but the peak of domestic production was in the mid 19th century when the Napoleonic wars restricted imports.  Essex was the smallest of the four counties North of London where production was centred and the first to see its decline.  There were almost 40,000 female plaiters in 1871 in Beds, Bucks, Herts and Essex, which was the highest recorded, but Essex had fewer than 3000 by that time.

The arrival of the railway in 1860 seems to have had little impact on the size or composition of our village.  The population, which peaked at 459 in 1851 was down to 312 by the 1901 census. While it seems the railway brought little inward investment it would have enabled greater movement by residents to work outside the parish, either in the mill at Halstead or in other industries in Colchester.  There was little change in the number of properties in White Colne, unlike in Earls Colne where the existing village strung along the main road expanded northwards along station road towards the railway following the opening of the station.

The following chart shows the changes to population in White Colne since 1801, taken from annual census returns.  The chart also shows Earls Colne’s population over the same period for comparison.  While the larger village has seen steady growth, enabled by the local employment provided by Hunts and other businesses and the greater availability of retail, social and other facilities, our village has only recently returned to its peak seen in 1851.  The increase shown between 1971 and 2001 was a result of parish boundary changes when we gained land and properties bordering White Colne Green, formerly within Earls Colne and Colne Engaine.

Sources: and HMSO

The twentieth century and beyond

There are many residential properties of historic interest, some dating as far back as the 14th century on Colneford Hill, and in all there are about 30 listed buildings in White Colne. Two former village inns are still identifiable. Former churches and schools can still be seen along Colchester Road and alongside the Green. Apart from these, the church and Village Hall, little remains to see of the activities of previous centuries.  Today’s road system, although better surfaced, is much as it was in the 18th century.  The village now is a pleasing mix of ancient and modern although housing pressures across the South East threaten to swamp small communities such as ours.

The motor car apart, there are few modern intrusions on our landscape.  The 1960s saw the arrival of large scale electricity in the form of overhead wires carried on pylons across the valley.  We have so far thankfully remained free of mobile phone masts.

The history of the railway is detailed separately on this site.  Initially, it was probably the biggest change seen in the village, but by the period between the two world wars it was in decline as it faced growing competition from road transport.  The start of the century saw a new station serving Earls Colne and the temporary closure of our own small station.  Apart from its use during WW2 in the transport of munitions, the railway’s decline continued until closure in 1965.

The war memorial in St Andrews churchyard shows that 11 White Colne residents were killed in action in WW1 and a further 4 in WW2.  The publication “Soldiers died in the Great War” shows a further two men who died of their wounds but who are not on the memorial. One of these is listed on the Colne Engaine memorial. One other “memorial” of WW2 also passed us by.  The Eastern Command Line was the first line of defence or “stop line” constructed  quickly in 1940 to impede any German invasion following landings on the North Essex coast.  The line followed the river Colne from Mersea as far as Chappel then continued north to Bures and along the Stour to Sudbury.  It consisted of a series of pill boxes, many still remaining and visible in fields along the rivers, and anti tank obstructions, all sited to take advantage of natural defences and crucial crossing points.

Today’s residents also are a mix of lifetime residents with families which go back generations and those more recently arrived, attracted by the quality of life here and its convenience for the bigger employment centres of Colchester, Chelmsford, Ipswich and beyond.  

In common with all communities, our way of life today is vastly different from previous generations. While there are a number of thriving businesses within the parish, these are small and employment opportunities are few.  Latest statistics show the average distance travelled to work by residents is almost 18 miles (28 km).  Shopping, schooling, most recreation and social activities take place outside the village.  The Church, Village Hall and Meadows now provide the only opportunities for hosting village activities.  

On the plus side, however, we are fortunate to be part of the beautiful Colne Valley, which provides many outdoor recreation opportunities, and to have facilities on our doorstep in neighbouring communities. The History Group, responsible for this website,

is one example of community activities which are growing in number and popularity in the village.  The Village Hall hosts a variety of classes, organisations and events aimed at both adults and children.

People and Places

Long Melford

White Colne





Major Roman Roads





Population 2001: 480,  Households : 179

1997: Last inn in village closed

1978: Parish Hall opened

1965: Railway closed to all traffic

1932: School closed (25 pupils)

1876: Quaker Meeting House established

1863: National School opened (near Church)

1860: Colne Valley & Halstead Railway opened

1850: Colnes United British School established, closed 1874

1841: 1 inn (Kings Head) recorded

White Colne Parish ca. 1750

White Colne Parish ca. 1850

White Colne Parish ca. 1950

White Colne Parish 2008


Detached part of White Colne to

    North East

Detached parts of Colne Engaine

   and part of Earls Colne to south

   side of Colchester Road and east

   of Colneford Green.

2 Inns recorded in the Parish -

    Red Lion & George


Detached parts of Colne Engaine and

    Earls Colne to South side of  

   Colchester Road and Colneford Green.

New Baptist Chapel in Colchester Road.

United British School established 1850,

    closed 1874 in Colchester Road to

   become Quaker Meeting House in 1876   

Site in Bures Road near

   church for new National

   School built 1863, closed

   in 1932.

King’s Head only inn recorded

   in village.

Railway opened 1860


Detached part of Earls Colne

   to South side of Colchester

   Road and East of Colneford

   Green, now known as White

   Colne Green.


Colneford Hill area south of

   Colchester Road now within

   White Colne Parish.

1778 & 1790: only about 40 houses recorded in

   the parish

1765: Road from Colchester to Cambridge through

   White Colne turnpiked.

1754: 2 inns (Red Lion & George recorded

1966 - England win World Cup

White Colne residents killed in action

WW1:  11  WW2:  4 (per War memorial)

Population 1901: 312   1951: 369,   1891: 273,   1991:445 (boundary change)

Population 1801: 221   1851: 459

1672:  Presbyterian meeting

             house licensed

1638: A “great mortality”

1671: 20 households assessed for

   hearth tax - further 27 exempt


Crimean War

1805 - Battle

    of Trafalgar

1800 - Bill to unite Great Britain & Ireland

1776 - American

Declaration of


1650-61  – Commonwealth/Protectorate

1605 – Gunpowder Plot

1603 – Union of England and Scotland

Census 1831: White Colne

Social Status                                                       Industry

Manufacture recorded as 0%

Comparative percentages for England & Wales

Labourers & Servants                   42

Middling Sorts                               43

Employers & Educated Men          10

Others                                            5

Agriculture                          33

Manufacture                       10

Retail/Handicrafts               30

Others                                27

White Colne

(left hand scale)

Earls Colne

(right hand scale)

Annual Census Data  1801-2001

White Colne Buildings

114 Colchester Road

Numbers 112 and 114 Colchester Road are a terrace of brick and flint rubble cottages. Number 114 was said to have been four cottages at one time but is now one house. It consists of a house and out-shut, all built of brick and flint rubble. One surviving partition wall is timber framed with wattle and daub infill. The sill to this wall has pegged mortices suggesting that it is a re-used timber from an earlier timber framed house. The joists and upstairs partitions a made from timbers of small scantling. On the ground floor, next to number 112, a passageway through the building, has been created by building a brick wall. This enables the householder to move rubbish,etc., from the back garden to the front without going through the house. There is a well in the yard behind the house. The terrace was probably built in the 18th century to house agricultural labourers.

112 Colchester Road

This house is in two sections, the rear section is part of the same terrace as number 114, with the same materials and type of construction. The front section is a new house of 1901. This section is at a higher level than the terrace and there are three steps leading down into the rear section. This part of the house is built of red brick with a slate roof.

The deeds of the house go back to 1838, when Sarah Fairhead was admitted as a copyhold tenant to the Manor of Berwick Hall. In 1869 the house was enfranchised and became freehold. The house may have been built to house the owner or foreman of a local gravel quarry.

Baptist Chapel, Colchester Road, White Colne

The Particular Baptist Refuge Chapel was built in 1843 and had a resident minister by 1848. In the 1851 census it attracted up to 120 people to its afternoon and evening services. There was also a Sunday School, which attracted 70 children. The congregation was mainly made up of poor agricultural workers and their families.

The building is mostly made of brick but:some of the external walls are made of flint. The low pitched roof is covered in slate.

Inside there used to be rows of simple wooden benches. The last service was held there in 1971 and the building was converted into a house in about 1987. The land in front of the chapel is a graveyard and when a survey was made in about 1985 there were about twenty gravestones.

A record of the legible gravestones has been deposited with the Essex Society for Family History. The brick house next to the chapel, which was demolished in 2006, was probably built as the house of the resident minister.

Village Hall

The current use of the building dates from 1976, when planning permission was first sought to convert the old stationmaster's cottage for use as a parish hall. The building itself dates from about 1860, the original station building being part built from pale stone and brick. Believed to be the first station built and opened for the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway (CVHR), and smallest on the line, the later extension (in red brick) was added to give accommodation for the station master.

Originally known simply as Colne, the station served the two villages of White Colne and Earls Colne until a new station (known as Ford Gate) was built between Earls Colne and Colne Engaine in about 1898. The station in Bures Road was closed at this time but reopened in 1907 as White Colne Station. The line closed to passengers in 1961 and to goods traffic in April 1965.

The present building is all that remains of White Colne Station, although the car park, football and basketball areas are on the site of the goods yard. The platform itself, now removed, was situated across Bures Road, in the grounds of what is now a private residence. A programme of work is now underway to improve the standard and appearance of the hall to provide better facilities for residents and other users.

White Colne Points of Interest


The Colne Valley and Halstead Railway (CVHR) opened in April 1860, running over six miles of track between Chappel and Wakes Colne Station to the east and Halstead to the west. The line was then extended in stages, eventually reaching Haverhill in 1863. This provided a rail connection between Colchester and Cambridge, although plans to run ‘through trains’ between these never materialised. In an age of considerable competition, when the rail network was expanding rapidly, vested interests often prevented new investment and  the construction and completion of the line was a considerable achievement by local businessmen and investors.

As a single track,. local service the railway was not financially successful and went through several periods of financial hardship, even entering receivership in the 1870s.   Later  improvements in its fortunes were short lived as competition from the new bus services following the First World War, hit its passenger traffic. Freight traffic remained more robust and eventually the line only ran freight trains prior to its closure in 1965.

During World War II the line, and White Colne Station, were important in supplying local RAF and USAAF air stations with munitions. Ammunition trains were unloaded at White Colne, their loads destined for Earls Colne  Airfield, just two miles to the South West, and other local airfields.

Running broadly from east to west, the line entered White Colne, crossing Reedings Brook and Boley Road where Colne Valley Nursery now stands. The route then took a gentle curve running roughly parallel to the main A1124 road, crossing Bures Road where the first station was built. Further on, the route crossed Colne Park Road, where the bridge supports remain, and followed the River Colne into the parishes of Colne Engaine and Earls Colne.  Although much of the route is now private land, the section from Colne Park Road westwards is now a footpath open to the public. (for more detailed information on the Railway click here )

The Meadows

Over a period of four years, the Parish Council and residents of White Colne have transformed a six acre site from agricultural land into an attractive amenity area for use and recreation by all, as well as providing new habitats for wildlife. Located just a few hundred metres from the Village Hall, the site was originally given to the village by the Hunt family of Earls Colne, and used as allotments, about a dozen of which still remain and are under cultivation

With generous funding from both national and local agencies and with practical support from the River Colne Countryside Project, local volunteers have planted over 1000 trees and hedging plants, erected barn owl and bat boxes, built insect habitats and a pond dipping platform, and installed a beacon and art feature.

The Meadows were officially opened in June 2006 with a Medieval Revel, one the successful village events which have introduced many people to the site. The primary purpose of The Meadows, however, is to enable visitors to enjoy the beauty of the area and its surroundings, and as the plants develop enjoy the wildflower meadows and trees, and the increasing number of birds and animals visiting or living on the site.

Old Railway Line

This section of the old track bed is now a footpath joining White Colne with neighbours, Earls Colne and Colne Engaine, This part of the old railway was until recently managed by Essex Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve. There have been plans to improve and incorporate this section into a long distance, multi-access path along the Colne Valley.

Old Boundaries

There are two areas covered by these walks where boundary changes have had a significant impact.

Colneford Hill: The river has long formed the southern boundary of the parish to the point where it crosses the main road at Colneford Hill. White Colne Village Green, formerly known as Colneford Green, adjoining properties, the meadow to the west of the green and part of Colchester Road was transferred to White Colne in 1985 from neighbouring parishes. This resulted in a population increase for white Colne from 273 in 1981 to 445 in 1991.

Colne Park: the present parish boundary runs along the driveway from the gatehouse in Colne Park Road, turns eastwards before reaching Colne Park House and then northwards between the house and Insteps farm. The map of 1744 shows the boundary running further west and north with Home Farm and Colne Park House within White Colne. By 1840, the boundary had be redrawn to run south and east of the house, migrating to its present line 1985.

Soane's Monument

Colne Park was created from the ancient manor of Sherives by Michael Hills, who bought the estate in 1762. He and his heirs rebuilt the house and created the park, although little of either remain in their original form. In 1791. Phillip Hills erected to the north of the house, a memorial 23 metres in height, an ionic column topped by a copper urn. Although bordered by mature woodland, the top of the column is visible for some distance around. The inscription on the plinth reads:

                                                                     Michael Roberto Hills


                                                                             Phillipus Hills

                                                                   Observantaei Ergo 1791

The memorial was designed by Sir John Soane, an eminent architect of 18th Century, whose major works included the Bank of England, State Rooms in 10 and 11 Downing Street and, more locally, Tendrinq Hall in Suffolk. His own house and collection are preserved as  the Sloane Museum in  Lincoln's Fields, London.

Roman Remains

Although just outside the present boundary of the parish, the site of a Roman find was within White Colne until 1985. Located in Colne Park, in the field just beyond the cattle and where the footpath crosses the entrance drive, a Roman Dressel type 1B amphora was discovered in the 19th Century. This type of vessel is believed to have been produced in the first century BC principally for storing wine. Although this is believed to be an isolated find, the extensive use of Roman brick in the 11th century church indicates local Roman settlement.

School (Colchester Road)

At the top of White Colne Green, now two private houses, is the building which housed the Colnes United British School, established in 1850. ‘The Society for Promoting the Lancastrian System for the Education of the Poor’ was formed in 1808, supported by a number of prominent evangelical and non-conformist Christians, including William Wilberforce. In 1814 the Society was renamed 'British and Foreign School Society’, and throughout the 19th century set up 'British Schools' and teacher training institutions on non-sectarian principles in Britain and overseas. The Society now administers various trusts and funds in pursuit of its educational aims. The White Colne school existed for only 24 years, closing in 1874. At its peak, attendance was about 60 pupils. It is almost certain that this building became the Friends Meeting House shown on the 1881 map.

School (Bures Road)

In 1863, a National School was built on the corner of Bures Road and what is now Boley Road. It seems this was largely due to the work of the curate of the nearby St Andrew's church, G J Taylor. Two years earlier he had opened  a church school in a cottage. By the 1870s the school had 70 pupils, and a new infants class. It declined in the 1900s and by its Closure in 1932 only 25 pupils were on the roll.


Victoria County History of Essex, volume 10 . page 138.

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Living in
the Landscape
Evidence of Human Occupation
Roman Period
Anglo Saxon & Medieval periods
England after 886 AD
Medieval White Colne Manors
Medieval Life
Living & Working in White Colne
Twentieth century and beyond
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