Friday, 27 May 2016
The idea came to me last night to travel north to the far flung (six miles) town of Halstead. This appeared to me to be a good idea until leaving the bus I realised just how steep a hill the town was built on. What sort of clown builds a town on a hill?
The name of the place 'Halstead' comes from the Saxons who lived here before my time. It could translate as 'Healthy Place' or 'Place of refuge' depending on how well you understand Saxon. There was enough settlement here to be recorded in the 'Domesday Book' under the Normans by that time of course.
The River Colne probably had something to do with the settlements origin and at the top of the hill lies the crossroads of the east/west and north/south highways. That also may have encouraged settlement as time past. The lucky thing is that it was the women who daily had to drag the water up the hill while the men got on with the hard labour either in the fields or in the pub.
The town stands on the route from London to Bury St Edmunds so for many years pilgrims trudged past heading north. This would have enabled Inns of various quality to make a living out of the passersby. Agriculture must have been an important employer until weaving arrived then everything changed.
Whether the Flemish weavers (the term Flemish must cover those from what is now northern France, Belgium and Holland) who moved into Essex established themselves at the top of this steep hill which I mention again is not known to me however in 1818 Samuel Courtauld built his mill here and began a business that lasted until recently.
At the top of the hill today stands St Andrews church which as is nearly always the case a church that goes back to the Normans and possibly to the Saxons also. There was indeed a church here when King John (reigned 1199 - 1216) gave the town a market, that certainly led to the towns prosperity growing.
You will note I found a war memorial at the top. A once proud remembrance of the fallen the fallen the stone is sadly beginning to fade and decoration is fading fast which is a pity as we can see.
St Andrews Church was renovated by the Victorians in a manner that impressed me and I am not known for being impressed by artworks. However it is a fetching sight when seen inside and luckily the locals mange to keep the doors open.
Apart from the stained glass windows, very good in the usual Victorian almost pre-Raphealite form the walls of the chancel have also been painted strikingly! The colour on these pictures is too bright as I had to fiddle the camera to get a decent impression of the painting.
Imagine a slightly more colourful version of the wall behind. The walls and the ceiling have been done extremely well in my view, even though I would not have it in a proper dour kirk! Who was the artist responsible I have not discovered as there was no booklet on the church history on sale as far as I could tell. An impressive building, well maintained and still in normal use.
A much better system for removing rain water than the plastic pipes which dominate the world today. These gargoyles are all around the church, many have them, and might be a spot of Victorian humour.
Back down the hill past the many houses going back to as early as the fifteen hundreds. Most have been altered over the years occasionally the outside also and certainly inside they can be changed considerably however many are still pokey wee places for those using them. Small rooms, low ceilings and it is easy to imagine the many who have passed through these houses, mostly shops today and it is possible many have always been businesses.
I searched the important shops, the charity ones and bought a dingy black jacket for £5 which seemed a good price to me and went some way towards aiding the St Helena Hospice. At least in the shops I was away from the traffic. The highway is still the main road north and as such is extremely busy. No chance of a bypass for this town however.
By now I, like you, was becoming weary and was tempted by the 'White Hart.' Lots of these places around here as the 'White Hart' was the sign of one of the prominent nobles and I have forgotten which one, he became king eventually I believe but don't all English nobles think they are king?
Anyway the place was not yet open so I trudged on down and came upon this!
This was found in the fancy shopping centre. No I don't know what it is either but someone will know and soon inform us.
"Time for bed," said Zebedee...