Langley Village Sign

 Langley History

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Langley is an Anglo-Saxon name, meaning 'a long clearing in woodland'. This is not to say that the area was entirely uninhabited before the Saxons arrived. In earlier times there had been Iron Age settlements and evidence of Roman farming. Part of a Roman road still survives as a path along the parish boundary between Clavering and Langley, and beside it a Romano-British burial mound  excavated in the 19th century.

The meadows along the streams flowing from Langley to form the river Stort in Clavering were, on Langley Lower Green, divided communally. In Langley nearly a third of the arable was still in strips until 1851. Langley was not included as a separate manor, manorially it was always to remain part of Clavering.

It was probably Robert fitzSweyn who first built a church at Langley – the evidence of a small Norman church survives in the present building - the south doorway, a north doorway now blocked, and a small narrow window in the north wall of the nave. Windows were enlarged and a tower built in the 14th century, a hammerbeam roof installed in the 15th century, the chancel rebuilt in the 17th century. The addition of a porch and vestry in the 19th century has added very little to the original size. Langley Church was a chapel of Clavering, and has always been part of the Clavering benefice, except for a brief period between 1875 and 1928.

Robert fitzRoger early in the 13th century gave land to the Priory and Hospital of St Bartholomew, Smithfield. This became the sub-manor of Langley Hall,  adjoining the churchyard – none of the medieval building now remains. The present Langley Hall adjoining the churchyard is of the early 17th century. Langley Church remained under Prittlewell Priory. In the far north-west of the parish, the lord’s hunting ground continued to be known as Clavering Park, now Langley Lawn Farm. In 1259 royal records show the king helping to restock the park at Langley with twelve does and three stags from the royal forest of Hatfield.

The tax assessment for Langley in 1525 gives a total of 22 taxpayers in Langley, which equates to a population of about 100 at that time, most on low assessments. Parish registers began in the 16th century - in 1599 Langley was ordered by the archdeacon to get one, but this seems to have been lost, the earliest surviving register book beginning in 1678. Once in the Langley register, a curate was inspired to comment on an entry: ‘March 19th 1797 Mary wife of Edward Wisby aged 82 years had lived with her husband aged ninety upward of 63 years, had left behind her 10 sons and daughters, 53 grandchildren, 31 great grandchildren in all 94 lineal descendants’. 
Thomas Nightingale bought the old medieval hunting park of the manor and built a house, Langley Lawn – he became a baronet in 1628 - his grandson still owned it in 1673. In 1685 Langley Hall was conveyed to Sir Nicholas Bacon of Shrubland Hall Suffolk, and for later owners it was was simply an investment.

The Hearth Tax for Langley in 1673 lists 49 householders, including those too poor to pay - Sir Thomas Nightingale of Langley Hall had 7 hearths, but there were very few other well-to-do people in Langley, with only 6 houses above the level of 2 hearths. The tax list suggests a population of around 200, a considerable population growth since 1525, and more so in Langley than in Clavering. The increase was likely to have been in the 16th century. Langley registers, surviving from 1678, show a level of baptisms and burials about half that of Clavering.

At the first official census taken in 1801 the population of Langley was 247. Since 1673 the population of Langley increased by 25 per cent. In the 1801 census the number of houses had reduced from 49 to 40, giving an average occupancy of six, suggesting much poverty.

The 1783 survey of Langley by Christ’s Hospital, patrons of the living, shows that there were 10 open fields remaining, divided into strips, and no dominant landowner.  There were 36 houses in Langley, 20 of them on the Upper Green. Most of the cottages on Lower Green were near The Bull, including a shop, and a few more on Waterwick Hill, which was just a bridleway. There was also a poorhouse.

Between 1801 and 1851 the population of  Langley nearly doubled from 247 to 483, with the number of houses growing from 53 to 102 – there was particular development around the Upper Green, where houses grew from 7 to 24 between 1783 and 1840.  In the second half of the 19th century, two new farmhouses appeared – Langley Bury and Brickhouse Farm (Langley Bower), while Langley Lawn was substantially rebuilt.

In the 19th century new dissenting chapels appeared – a Primitive Methodist chapel at Lower Green in 1862, and a Baptist chapel at Upper Green, rebuilt 1892.

Langley like everywhere was affected by agricultural depression from the late 19th century onwards. The lowest population figures were in the 1931 census, just 263 in Langley. Langley Lawn Farm which had been leased at £1 an acre in 1881, was down to 5 shillings an acre by 1928.

Post WW2 has seen great change in village life, led by the transformation of farming. Electricity did not come to Langley until 1950 and population grew only slowly until the 1980s. The shop, school and Methodist chapel have gone, but the Baptist chapel remains popular, the little church is a gem, the Bull pub a favourite local and Langley is a good place to live, the Upper and Lower Greens forming an open and peaceful upland landscape, still surrounded by farmland and with a rural atmosphere.

Notes from Clavering & Langley: the first thousand years and Clavering & Langley 1783-1983 both by E.M. Ludgate: these can be ordered by