Braintree in 1837
Braintree is in the hundred of Hinckford, and on the north bank of Pods Brook ; it is on the high road from London to Norwich, through Bury, 40 miles from London and 11 from Chelmsford, the county town. Anciently the manor of Braintree, or, as it is termed in Domesday, Raines, comprehended the neighbouring parish of Rayne as well as that of Braintree : part of the lands in it belonged to the bishops of London ; it was alienated by Bishop Ridley at the time of the Reformation : the manor-house (long since destroyed) was an episcopal palace. The parish was dismembered from that of Rayne, of which it was previously a hamlet, about the time of John or Henry- III, the former of whom constituted it a market-town. The growth of the place is to be ascribed to its situation on one of the high roads from London into Norfolk and Suffolk, and to the building of inns and lodging-houses for the reception of the numerous pilgrims to the shrines of St. Edmund at Bury, and our lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. At the Reformation this source of its prosperity failed ; but the town, and the adjacent village of Bocking, obtained consequence by the settlement of the Flemings who fled from the tyranny of the duke of Alba and established here the manufacture of baize and other light woollens, which for some time constituted the staple manufacture of the place, and is still carried on, though not to so great an extent as formerly.
It will be desirable to consider, in connection with Braintree, the adjacent village of Bocking; for although Bocking Church and Church Street are a mile and a half from Braintree, and on the north-east bank of the Pant or Blackwater, what is termed Bocking Street is contiguous to Braintree, and the two form one continuous place, the main street of which covers two-thirds of the extent between Pods Brook and the river Pant, and stretches about a mile. Braintree consists of this street and of some others, formed by the intersection of the road from Bishops Stortford and Dunmow to Coggeshall and Colchester, with the Norwich road, and by the convergence at this point of bye-roads from the surrounding villages : there are some back streets or lanes. The streets are inconveniently narrow ; and many of the houses are of wood, and of considerable antiquity. The church is on the right at the entrance of the town from London ; it is large, built chiefly of flint, and mostly to the perpendicular style of English architecture : the tower, at the west end, is of early English, and is surmounted by a lofty shingled spire of much later date. This church was enlarged in the time of Henry VIII, the expense of the alteration being partly defrayed by the profits of three mysteries or plays performed in the church. There are places of worship for Independents, Baptists, Quakers, and Methodists. Bocking Church is remote from the town : it is spacious and handsome, and chiefly in the perpendicular style ; the tower is lofty and well designed. In the neighbourhood of Braintree are the remains of an ancient church, formerly the parish church. Some coins, sepulchral urns, and other Roman antiquities, have been found.
The parliamentary returns for 1831 assign to the parish of Braintree an area of 2,500 acres, 708 inhabited houses, and a population of 3,422, about one-sixth agricultural : to that of Bocking an area of 3,800 acres, 647 inhabited house and a population of 3,128, about one-fourth agricultural, giving an aggregate of 6,300 acres, 1,355 houses, and 6,550 inhabitants. The woollen manufacture has been in a great degree superseded by that of silk and crape, which is carried on to a considerable extent. The market is on Wednesday for corn, eggs, poultry, and occasionally cattle and livestock of all kinds. There are several fulling and corn mills on the Pant.
The living of Braintree is a vicarage, of the yearly value of £212, with a glebe-house, in the archdeaconry of Middlesex : that of Bocking is a rectory, of the yearly value £923, with a glebe-house, in the peculiar jurisdiction of archbishop of Canterbury, being subject only to his jurisdiction, or that of his commissary, who is called Dean of Bocking.
There is at Bocking an almshouse or hospital, originally for seven poor people, but now divided into nine tenements, with an endowment from the benefactions of several individuals. The returns made to parliament show that there were in the two parishes in 1833 twelve day or boarding and day-schools (two of them with 255 to 275 scholars, endowed, and three others with 340 scholars, supported by subscription), containing 813 to 833 scholars ; one dame or infant. school, with 60 or 70 scholars ; and four Sunday-schools with 540 scholars.