henham village sign


welcome to the history of Henham village in Essex


email henhamhistory
Homepage Henham history website
Henham village website
Henham Publications

If you want information regarding the history of Henham, click on the middle icon above. You'll find over 1,500 pages of text, photos, maps, audio recordings and data. For present-day village life, select the right-hand icon.

pond pennington hall

The Parish of Henham consists of Henham on the Hill, as it has been known in historical documentation, and the two hamlets Little Henham and Pledgdon (sometime known as Prison Green).  Henham is the third highest point in the county of Essex in England.  church pub There is archaeological evidence of human habitation in Henham going back to the Roman period and even earlier to the Neolithic Age.

The earliest certain mention of Henham appears in the Anglo- Saxon period. During that time we have the first written mention of Henham in the tribal Hideage, drawn up in 626 AD under King Edwin where the village is described as the little clearing on the top of the hill emerged from the dark ages – ‘Hean’ meaning ‘high’ and ‘ham’ meaning ‘dwelling’.
Henham and Plegdon together, had cleared land with tremendous effort from the surrounding forests, that would have been about 2408 acres or a little more – no so different from today. There is a survival before our eyes of the Danish occupation. The thatched roofs which are turned up at the ridge ends in a curious ‘neck’, are very strange and interesting survivals of the dragon’s head which was used by the Vikings and Danes to frighten away evil spirits from sitting on the roof.  Examples here are the Bury, all the cottages at Church End, and near the Church.

In the time of Edward the Confessor we get another mention of Henham from the University Library at Cambridge. Henham belonged to Thurston, a great warrior, son of a Saxon earl and a loyal friend to the King. The beginning of his will is particularly nice: -

 “I, Thurston, Wine’s son, make known to all men the things which God has lent me, for as long as it shall be His will”, and among his bequests, of gold to the king, two war-horses and their trappings and armour, he left to his wife, Aethelgyth, the estate at Henham, “except half a hide which is to go to the church”.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 reads at first like a lot of dull numbers, but as one disentangles it, a shadowy picture of life emerges, and reveals, for the Hall, a manor of about 1,610acres, worked by 18 villeins, or men who were not serfs, but who were not noble; 5 bordars, or herdsmen, and 8 serfs or slaves, the lowest of the manor of whom it was said, very terribly, “A slave is a thing, not a person”. There were four teams or ploughs of 8 oxen, and 8 teams of oxen of the homagers – men who would have made the old Saxon oath of fealty to Thurston or his wife Aethelgyth. There were always 16 acres of mead and enough wood for 100 swine – pigs were very economical as they fed on acorns and nuts. There were three domestic horses or ponies. Seven “beasts” or cows, non – ploughing cattle, cheaper at about 6d each than ploughing oxen. Sixteen hives of bees, providing the only sugar, and much needed wax, for candles and rushlights. The value of the manor in the Confessor’s time was £ 12 – in the Conqueror’s £ 20. And the sheep. 160 of them in King Edward’s time. Though we talk of the great “wool” churches of medieval East Anglia, perhaps we do not realize the sheep farming of England, and its great wealth, was founded in Saxon times, when there were 7 ½ million sheep, three or four to every man woman and child. The Survey for Pledgedon or Prison Hall manor, about 580 acres, shows little change under the Conqueror. A greater proportion of meadow land than Henham, always double the number of sheep, and fewer swine, showing less woodland. Obviously a very scarcely populated manor, with only six hives of bees. But perhaps at this time the 6 villeins and 16 bordars who are listed, were piling up the moat and mound of a palisaded stronghold at Prison Hall under Richard of Eudo, who held “Plicedana”.

The Survey of the Broom shows it to be small and very poor. “Richard, a socman of Angar, held 1 hide, twenty acres in the time of King Edward. Then 1 team, now none. Always 3 bordars, Wood for 20 swine”. Just as the new village organizations were being brought into being, the physical shape of our village was being formed too. More meadow land for grazing sheep was being cut from the surrounding woods; moats dug for defence, and ponds for essential water for man and beast; roads, showing today their origin, were being cut from winding tracks and footpaths through the trees, and common land and strip fields reclaimed according to the turn and width of the plough. The new lords of the manor in Henham were the Fitzwalters, living partly in London at Baynard’s Castle, but also, we are fairly certain, in a fortified castle surrounded by a moat in Hall Road. in King John’s reign we have the first mention of field names in Henham, allied to those of householders. Aerial photographs of Henham show how these strips have persisted right through to today.

Pressing on from the 17th century, we have a picture of a village much less wealthy than in Tudor times. A very agricultural village, rather backward in taking to new methods. We kept our artisans very late, the sounds of the four blacksmiths at work, the seven carpenters, the saddlers, and the twelve shoe-makers in six workshops – a basket-maker, a tailor, dressmakers, and a wheelwright, and four thatchers. The number of shoe-makers was probably accounted for as there were two or more butchers, and a slaughter house. There was a Boarding School for Young Ladies kept by Elizabeth Warner; at the Vicarage there was a footman, a cook, a housemaid, a groom and an agricultural labourer living in; there were three grocers, two butchers, and a drapers. Later there was a Dame School at Apple Tree Cottage. All this seems to indicate a Henham fairly buzzing with noise and activity. There were chickens and geese being reared on the Greens.

The Census figures for 1851 shows that we had nine farms, large and small. The Parsonage: Lodge Farm: Little Henham Lodge: Little Henham Hall: Old Mead: the Broom: Pledgdon Hall: and Sandpits House. At Pledgdon Green there were two smaller farms, George Orger’s with 88 acres, and Joseph Haughton with 60. Henham Lodge was far the largest with 466 acres, employing 24 men and 15 boys; Old Mead came second with 396 acres and 22 men, which shows us the difference in work on the land before mechanization.stone cottage and pond

The break-up of the landed estates, which saw the auctioning of properties between 1860 and 1922, brought a rapid decline for men, women and children employed in domestic service. The construction of the Elsenham - Thaxted Railway in 1913 gave access to the mainline to London and Cambridge. Post World War II mechanisation reduced the need for agricultural workers and turned the area into a satellite commuting village for the two cities. This line was closed in 1952 thus contributing to the increase of cars in the village. 
There is little opportunity for local employment and the lack of affordable housing for our young people has forced them to move from their home village to more urban areas of habitation. 

Today our farms only require barely six men.