Berden is at the North West corner of Essex, on the border with Hertfordshire and only 5 miles from the border with Cambridgeshire. It is one of the higher parts of the county rising to almost 120m and is part of the chalk uplands that stretch across to Royston. There is one strange exception to this. On the southern side of Little London is a deep stretch of clean sand which might just give some credence to the theory, referenced in The Estuary, by A.K.Astbury (The Carnforth Press 1980), that the river Thames might originally have flowed through Bishops Stortford to its outlet to the sea somewhere around Kings Lynn.
Some historical notes about the village of Berden – from our village archivist Mark Trapmore
It was the Saxons who founded Essex in around 600 AD. The East Saxons, whose name derived from ‘sword’, is the reason why we have three of them on the coat of arms. The name of our village suggests that it has Saxon origins, but as you will read later, there has been human activity in this area since at least the Bronze Age, some 3,500 years ago.
Berden has been spelt in many different ways over time but its meaning may come from the old English for ‘Swine pasture valley’. It has also been suggested that it may mean ‘Corn valley’. These theories help to explain the design found on the village sign. When walking around the area with a map, you will come across several other places that may have links with the past. For example; Arnold Spring may well have been named after John Arnold of Clavering in 1373, Coles Green after John Cole in 1273 and Rooks Farm after John de Rooke in 1327. C I Cherry suggests that Little London may be ‘a little lane leading to the London Road’ * and is a common name in England.
* C Cherry, The History of Berden, p 3 (1980)
This was a former Wesleyan Chapel built in 1907 and replaced an earlier building on the same site. However, it was also the site of a Bronze Age burial site that contained a skeleton, an armlet and a beaker. The so-called ‘beaker people’ were from the Rhine basin and were the last major group to arrive in Britain for a millennium. The site was dated to around 3,500 years ago. It was used as a school for evacuees in the Second World War, and has since then been the village hall.
This was the main road through Berden. Alongside it is a stream that has now been piped underground in places. There used to be a ford near the telephone box and flooding has been a problem in the past. Next to Forge cottage (the former post office) used to be a Blacksmiths owned by the Sibley family. ‘Wheelwrights’ was a former sweet shop run by Miss Ann Tant. Berden School was built in 1857 along with a teacher’s cottage in 1864 at the cost of £105 and 5 shillings. It was closed in 1947. Quebec Cottage was rebuilt after a fire but it is thought that a building with the same name has been there since the 18th Century. From there we come to the location of the former village pub. The Raven had been in existence for at least 300 years but it closed in the 1960s. It was the main meeting place in the village and was a favourite venue for skittles. Church view Cottages were built by the former lords of the Manor; Christ’s hospital In London in 1861. They were for the farm labourers who worked at Berden Hall. The coat of arms for this organisation can also be found on The Rushes, Berden Lodge and The Vicarage. These were built between the 1860s and 1870s.
St Nicholas Church
This was built between 1200 and 1340, the nave is Norman and the Chancel has been dated to around 1270. St Cede brought Christianity to the area in the 7th Century and a wooden church may have built on the present site. It is named after a saint who was very popular with Knights who went on the Crusades. The tower was added later in the 15th Century when England was going through an economic boom due to wool and later cloth exports. It would have been an expensive project and may well have celebrated the good fortunes of the Lord of the Manor at the time. The two transepts would probably have been private family chapels belonging to Berden Hall and Berden Priory. The South Transept door way has now been blocked in but its windows date from the early 14th Century. In the churchyard is a leaning gravestone marking the resting place of Henry Trigg who was murdered in his parent’s home on the village street next to the entrance to Berden Hall in March 1814. He was the local parish constable and was shot by one of two men who entered the shop. The two men were later arrested and hanged outside Chelmsford prison. Next to ‘Broad Croft’, which was named after Broadcroat field behind it, is a footpath that was the coffin walk from Little London. It is an ancient path that traditionally would have been 5ft wide. When you walk up it and turn right towards Little London you will have passed the site of a Home Guard look out post established in the Second World War according to M Ancell *. In the 1950’s a military jet crash landed in the field and missed Berden Priory Farm by 250 metres.
* M Ancell, Recollections of Berden, p108 (1980)
The present hall was built in the 16th Century with some alterations in the 17th Century. Along with the Priory and the Church, it has been the focal point of the village for hundreds of years. It traditionally has been the home of the Lord of the Manor and from the Saxon period these have included Godman, a sokeman (free man) of Robert FitzWymarc during the reign of Edward the Confessor, Alfred a freeman of Swein of Essex in 1086 and the Rochfords and de Bohuns in the 12th and 13th Centuries. Walden Abbey owned Berden during the time of the Black Death in 1348 and at the time had 74 men aged over 14 along with their families living in the village according to the surviving manorial court records. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 the manor was passed on to Lord Chancellor Audley of Audley End. Others have included; Lord Howard, first Baron de Walden, The Calverts of Hunsdon and the Governors of Christ’s Hospital.
This was previously known as Stocks Farm and is the site of a mound that has been dated to between the 11th and 13th Centuries. It may well have been a look out post and the site of a small wooden motte and bailey castle. Nearby was Cumber Hill that was levelled in 1952. This was a large mound that may have been a burial site or look out post, medieval pottery has been found there. It was surrounded by a ditch and could be found between Berden Hall and Park Green. Alongside the Crump is an ancient lane known as Blakings Lane. It has also been dated to around the 13th Century. In the field on the other side of the path, Roman remains have been found so perhaps the path is much older. The Crump barn dates to the 17th Century. The road splits at this point; heading right from the village is Park Green and straight on is Brick House End. Most houses were weatherboard hence why this house gave the area its name and so few houses from earlier periods have survived.
The Village Shop and White House Farm
Returning to the village and turning left at the ‘triangle’ you will find a building that was once the Village Shop, Mr Alfred and Beetie Smither once owned it. This was a popular stop for cyclists but was also a lifeline for the villagers. It stocked everything apart from furniture. However, travelling salesman did arrive on a Saturday from Bishop’s Stortford. Next door was the bakery and across the Stocking Pelham road is White House Farm, dating from the 16th century.
The original priory no longer exists. It was established in the 12th Century and was a hospital dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. It is likely that the Rochford family founded it. It was a small priory of the Augustinian order and probably had no more than 10 monks. Occasionally a midsummer fair was held to raise funds and a licence was granted to hold one in 1214, 1222 and 1267. These fairs would have been visited by a variety of sellers, peddlers and entertainers from across the district. In 1308 the priory was burnt down so 21 bishops offered to pray for wealthy sinners in return for a donation to rebuild the cloister, refectory, dormitory, infirmary and hall. There must have been plenty of donors because in 1314 the priory bought 18 acres of land and took responsibility for the church. In 1536 the priory was closed down by Henry VIII and sold off to his chamberlain; Henry Parker and his wife Mary. The present house is believed to have been built in preparation for Elizabeth I’s visit in 1578. Over the years it became a farm but has suffered from two fires in 1870 and 1970 that destroyed the older buildings. The Priory Well dating from the 17th Century still exists and the water wheel remains. A medieval fishpond is nearby along with several sites that have contained Roman pottery. It is believed that a Roman settlement was built near Dewes Green. This may well explain the Roman tiles found in the 15th Century tower Of St Nicholas.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the area please consult the following books:
The History of Berden by C Cherry (1980)
Recollections of Berden by M Ancell (1993)
Information provided by village historian Mark Trapmore. All mistakes and inaccuracies are his and any corrections will be warmly received.
Mark Trapmore, 1 Church View Cottages, or send Mark a message here