The Hedinghams in 1837
The Hedinghams are in Hinckford hundred, and on a road branching off from the Bury and Norwich road at High Garrett, two or three miles beyond Braintree, and reuniting with it at Bulmer Tye, a little before it quits this county for Suffolk. They formerly constituted one parish : from the time of Henry III they appear as two ; Sible Hedingham, on the south-west bank of the Colne, 48 miles from town ; and Castle Hedingham, on the north east bank of the river, one mile farther. We subjoin the following particulars respecting them.
Sible Hedingham, area 5,490 acres. Population in 1831, 2,194. Living, a rectory in the jurisdiction of the Commissary of Essex and Herts, concurrently with the consistorial court of the bishop of London, of the yearly value of £905 with a glebe-house.
Castle Hedingham, area 2,600 acres. Population in 1831 1,220. Living, a donative in the archdeaconry of Middlesex, of the yearly value of £129.
The population of these places is more than half agricultural.
Sible Hedingham church is a neat and tolerably spacious building, supposed to have been erected in the reign of Edward III. There was formerly a chantry here, founded by the executors of Sir John Hawkwood, whose monument, now demolished, stood in the church : the house of the chantry priest is still standing ; it had been originally built for the reception and entertainment of devout pilgrims, and still retains the name of the hostage. The castle, which gives name to the parish in which it stands, was built by the De Veres, to which family the lordship of Hedingham was given by the Conqueror. Its architecture, which is very similar to that of Rochester Castle, leads to the supposition that it was erected about the same time as that fortress, viz, towards the close of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth century. Maud, wife of king Stephen, is said to have died here. In the civil wars of the reign of John, it was held by Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, for the barons, and was taken A.D. 1216 by the king : it was retaken in the beginning of the reign of Henry III by Louis, dauphin of France, but recovered by the earl of Pembroke, governor to the young king. In the reign of Henry VII that prince was sumptuously entertained here by John de Vere, earl of Oxford, who had suffered severely for his attachment to the Lancastrian cause, and had been one of the chief instruments in placing the crown on Henrys head. As the king was departing, he observed that the earl, to do him honour, had put liveries on his retainers, and in return for his hospitality compelled him to compound by a fine of 15,000 marks for breaking a statute, recently passed, forbidding such a practice. The De Veres retained the castle until A.D. 1625. It has since passed through various hands. The keep is the only part remaining ; it is one of the finest and best preserved Norman keeps in the kingdom. The walls are above 100 feet high, and from 11 to 12 feet thick at the bottom, and from 9 to 10 feet thick at the top : the eastern wall is at least a foot thicker than the others, having been so built, it is conjectured, in order to withstand the violent easterly winds. The building is a parallelogram, of 55 feet on the east and west sides, and 62 feet on the north and south. At each angle on the top there was formerly an embattled turret ; two of the turrets are remaining : the parapet, now destroyed, was also embattled. The castle is built with irregular flints or stones, imbedded in grouting of fluid mortar, and is cased on the outside with squared stone very neatly and regularly put together. It has five stories, including the ground-floor and platform : the principle entrance is on the first story, and on the west side, with a flight of stairs leading up to it : entrances to the ground floor were made with great labour in 1720 by the proprietor, who wished to convert that floor into an outhouse. The whole building is worthy of attention ; it has some fine Norman enrichments in the interior.
Castle Hedingham church is an ancient fabric of stone with brick battlements, partly in the Norman and partly in the Early English style: the tower is of much later date. In the chancel is a superb, but somewhat mutilated monument of John de Vere, earl of Oxford. who died A.D. 1539. A Benedictine nunnery was founded here by the first earl of Oxford and his wife, A.D. 1190. Its revenues at the dissolution were valued at £29, 12 shillings and 10 pence. The nunnery, long since converted into a farm-house, and part of the chapel belonging to it, are yet standing. There was also an hospital for the sick and decrepit poor at Hedingham, attached to which were two or three chaplains with a clerk and servant. This hospital has long been destroyed : it was on the south-east side of the castle.