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Elmdon History


Elmdon lies among the chalky uplands of north Essex, part of a chain of villages including Strethall and Chrishall which stand on top of a ridge 400 feet above sea level. The ridge villages have remained isolated even though there are many other villges around – the main roads passed it by. This same kind of feeling persisted into the 19th century and still perhaps exists today. Elmdon is also a county border village, adjacent to the boundaries of Essex, Herts and Cambs, but the inhabitants feel they belong in Essex, looking towards Saffron Walden as their market town.

Elmdon has always been agricultural, but spinning was widespread in such villages at one time – it was one of 12 villages engaged in woolcombing and weaving worsteds and fustians, but the industry disappeared by early 19th century and farming was the main occupation. Mostly this was arable.

As the census figures are linked with Duddenhoe End, it is difficult to isolate the population totals for Elmdon alone, but Elmdon was always a small to medium sized village – even in the 1960s there were only 321 persons.

Since the 16th century the village has come under large landowners. Elmdon village lies between two hills each of which formerly had a manor house, farm and church. On the southern hill was Wenden Lofts bought in 1567 by Sir Thomas Meade, who rebuilt the house and called it Lofts Hall, completed in 1579. He also bought Pigots manor which then disappeared. The Meades also bought Elmdon Bury on the northern hill and from then onwards both manors, Wenden Lofts and Elmdon Bury, had one owner with the landowner generally living at the former.

The property remained with the Meades until 1717 and then, along with part of the village, it came into the hands of the Wilkes family. The Wilkes estate grew, particularly after the 1824 Enclosure Act and by 1927, when the Lofts Hall estate was sold, there were virtually no smallholders left. In the 1960s there were just five farmers. ElmDon is a church village lacking a Dissenting chapel, and for a long time enjoyed the paternalistic relationships of having a resident squire.

In the 20th century there was industrial development in the surrounding area, notably Ciba-Geigy from 1905 at Duxford only five miles from Elmdon, and Spicers at Sawston from 1914, but Elmdon remained agricultural in atmosphere for a long while, with village events, for instance, fitting in with harvests. Today, of course, like everywhere else, it is much more of a commuter’s village but remains attractive and set amid beautiful countryside. Some of the best buildings include the guildhall, formerly a 16th century grammar school , three fine timbered farmhouses and altogether two dozen recorded sites of importance in the 1908 survey by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments.

Elmdon is a linear village with its buildings along the three main roads, with many picturesque cottages. The central point is Cross Hill with a small triangular green, where the war memorial is sited, the meeting point of the three roads. Nearby is the former Kings Head pub. Kings Lane is particularly attractive and retains many lovely houses.

The above is an edited extract from

Elmdon: continuty and change in a north west Essex village 1861-1964 by Jean Robin (CUP 1980).