I must apologise to all those who have left comments on this site over the past year or so. I haven’t been active here for a while, so your comments have only just been approved. Thank you for all the interesting information – I’ll work my way through your messages and respond as well as I can (very belatedly, I know). I haven’t posted on this site for some time, simply because my research reached a bit of a dead end, and also because I’ve been busy with other projects. However, if you have new information about the history of Moulsham which you’d be happy for me to share, do get in touch, either via the comments facility, or by emailing me at email@example.com
I’m grateful to my fellow amateur historian Debbie Kirk for alerting me to the fact that John Chapman and Peter André’s 1777 map of Essex has now been digitised and can be accessed online.
As Andrew McNair explains on his website dedicated to the map:
John Chapman was a land surveyor brought up in the village of Dalham in Suffolk who later came to work in London with Mrs Mary Ann Rocque, widow of John Rocque, the highly influential surveyor, engraver and cartographer. Chapman had previously been involved in producing county maps of Durham, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. He died the year after his Essex map was published. Peter André was of Huguenot descent, like many others involved in county surveys, and had gained experience of county surveys with his involvement in the publication of a map of Surrey. In summary the two surveyors were unusually proficient in surveys of large areas of land, such as counties; this probably explains why their Essex map is of exceptional accuracy and beauty…
Chapman and André’s survey of Essex was the first map of the county that allowed contemporaries to place their village, local market town and even their own house within the immediate landscape. Surveyed at the unusual scale of two inches to the mile it contains a wealth of detail that earlier maps did not even attempt to portray and it predates the Board of Ordnance (later the Ordnance Survey) by almost forty years. It was one of a series of county maps published by private cartographic entrepreneurs in the second half of the eighteenth century and because it was surveyed before Parliamentary Enclosure it records landscape features that were to disappear over the subsequent five decades.
It’s a wonderful map, and a fantastic resource for researchers: I’m certainly going to find it useful as I continue to explore the lives of my ancestors in Barking, East Ham and elsewhere in the county.
But my first thought on viewing the map was that it provides us with intriguing new insights into the history of Moulsham, and particularly of Moulsham Hall. In previous posts on this blog, I’ve relied mainly on early Ordnance Survey maps in trying to align modern Moulsham with the landscape of the past, and in attempting to locate the site of the hall. Some time ago I came across a map from 1799, which provided some additional information, and of course there is the invaluable 1591 map by John Walker.
However, Chapman and André’s map presents us with a uniquely clear and detailed image of what Moulsham, and particularly the hall and its park, looked like in the middle of the eighteenth century, before the land started to be sold off and the buildings demolished. We can see clearly the extent of the estate, its boundaries, and the location of buildings and gardens – making it easier than ever before to relate Moulsham past to Moulsham present.
Before looking more closely at the map, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the contemporary context. In 1777, George III was on the throne, Lord North was prime minister, and the American Revolutionary War was at its height. Closer to home, it was nearly half a century since Benjamin Mildmay, Earl Fitzwalter, had inherited Moulsham and proceeded to tear down his ancestors’ Tudor home and rebuild Moulsham Hall in the fashionable Palladian style. In 1756 the estate had passed to his cousin, Sir William Mildmay, who married his cousin Anne, daughter of Humphrey Mildmay of Hampshire. On William’s death in 1771 Anne inherited all of his properties, including Moulsham.
I believe that Anne is the ‘Lady Mildmay’ whose name appears on Chapman and André’s map, beneath the name of Moulsham Hall. She remained its owner until her death in 1795, when ownership passed to yet another cousin, Jane Mildmay, the wife of Sir Henry Paulet St John, who added the surname ‘Mildmay’ upon marrying her. He would be the last owner of Moulsham Hall, until its sale and demolition in 1816.
In 1777, all of that was still decades away, and the map shows Moulsham Hall and its estate in its Georgian heyday. It’s interesting that the park surrounding the hall is much more extensive than it would be even in 1799. If you want a detailed sense of how the eighteenth-century landscape of Moulsham relates to today’s densely-populated suburb, then I recommend looking back over the earliest posts on this blog. However, suffice it to say that the brown-coloured road running from north-east to south-west to the left of the Moulsham estate corresponds roughly to today’s Moulsham Street, as it runs out of the town in the direction of London. The road that leads off from it, before it reaches Widford, and passes by the edge of Thrift Wood, before touching the south-western tip of the Moulsham Hall park, follows the route of the modern Wood Street. As I’ve noted before, the sharp dog-leg turn when it reaches the top of the hill can still be found, where Wood Street forms a junction with Longstomps Avenue and Galleywood Road. In fact, that familiar sharp-angled turn, today marked by a mini roundabout, has been there in some form since John Walker devised his map in the reign of Elizabeth I.
On the 1777 map the eighteenth-century equivalent of Galleywood Road continues south past Tile Kiln Farm, just as today it passes by Tile Kiln Farm housing estate. We can see that the western boundary of Lady Mildmay’s park doesn’t coincide exactly with these roads. The area that today lies to the west of Longstomps Avenue and Vicarage Road was probably taken up by fields, also belonging to the Mildmay family.
The southern boundary of the park, certainly at its western edge, followed the line of the border between Moulsham Lodge and Tile Kiln Farm estates, which some of us can remember as a footpath extending as far as Beehive Lane. The park boundary deviates somewhat from this line as it extends eastwards, taking in a portion of what is now Tile Kiln estate. The fact that the familiar east-west ridge of high ground is clearly marked on the old map makes it easier to see how past and present landscapes relate to each other.
The eastern edge of Moulsham Hall park is more difficult to discern from the 1777 map, partly because it crosses the divide between two separate sections of the map. The boundary seems to run down the hill, through the middle of what is now Moulsham Lodge estate – perhaps following the line of what is now Gloucester Avenue or even St Anthony’s Drive – before striking out northwards towards Lodge Farm, of which all that remains today is the original Georgian house surrounded by new houses in Waterson Vale. The short road extending northwards beyond the lodge corresponds to modern-day Moulsham Chase. The road that crosses it a little further along is equivalent, as it runs westwards, to today’s Lady Lane which, as it approached Moulsham Street, may have joined with the end of what is now St John’s Road: it’s difficult to be precise, when so much has changed in the intervening two and half centuries.
Further east, what in 1777 was called Gravelwood Lane I take to correspond to present-day Beehive Lane. The bend in the road where the hilly ridge crosses it can still be seen near the junctions with Sawkins Avenue and Duffield Close, while the house that can be seen to the left of the road at this point on the map is represented today by the buildings occupied today by (according to Google Maps) The Window Company – but which, in my childhood, was still a farm – one that my father remembers visiting on business when he worked for a seed potato company in the 1960s – and marked as ‘Sawkins’ on nineteenth-century maps.
Moulsham Hall in 1776
So much for the boundaries of Moulsham Hall park. When we turn to the hall itself, we find Chapman and André’s map provides perhaps the clearest image yet of the buildings and gardens at the heart of the Mildmay estate. In previous posts I’ve argued that the large, square-ish field that was still visible on nineteenth-century maps, and whose outline could still be discerned in aerial photographs from as recently as 1935, marked the site of Moulsham Hall and its gardens and outbuildings. The left-hand edge of this field was bounded by the walled Moulsham Hall Gardens, which survived until their demolition in the early 1960s. These gardens can be seen clearly on the 1777 map, once again on the left edge of the square shape around the hall. At their northern end three small squares – additional gardens? – join them at a right-angle. The dark shape to the right of these squares represents the hall itself, with its circular drive way in front of it (clearly visible in the 1776 illustration reproduced above), and other paths leading off in various directions, presumably providing convenient walks around the immediate environs of the house. The map seems to confirm one’s intuition that the site of the hall lay somewhere between present-day Moulsham Drive, roughly where it meets Oaklands Crescent, and Fortinbras Way, opposite the entrance to Moulsham schools.
To the north of the house is the ‘large sheet of water’ described in a publication of 1809, together with a smaller pond, beside the path leading into the estate from Moulsham Street. This would have been a kind of ‘back entrance’ to the hall from the town, but a grander approach would have been by way of the winding drive through the park from the east, entering via the lodge. Visitors approaching Moulsham Hall from this direction would have seen the house and park in their full splendour.
I’m sure I’ll be returning to Chapman and André’s map in future posts, as it continues to offer new insights into the history of Moulsham.
Firstly, I must apologise for not having posted anything on this blog for a while. And apologies to those who submitted comments, but have had to wait for me to log on in order to approve them. I reached a bit of a dead end with my research into the history of Moulsham, so I put this site on the metaphorical back burner. However, I certainly plan to add new material in future, if new discoveries come along, so do get in touch if you come across any interesting snippets of information.
In this post, I want to report a strange overlap between my interest in the history of Moulsham, the area where I spent my childhood, and my research into my family’s history. Readers of earlier posts will recall that I traced the later history of the Mildmay family, the original owners of Moulsham Hall, after they abandoned the hall during the Napoleonic Wars, and following its demolition in 1816.
The last owner of Moulsham Hall was Sir Henry Paulet St John, who added the surname Mildmay in 1790, four years after marrying Jane, the daughter of Carew Mildmay of Shawford, Hampshire. In 1795 Jane inherited Moulsham Hall as part of the estate of her relative Anne, the daughter of Humphrey Mildmay of Shawford and the widow of Sir William Mildmay (d. 1771), the previous owner of Moulsham.
Jamaican plantation in the early nineteenth century, by James Hakewill, from ‘A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica’ (via common.wikimedia.org)
In 1791 Jane Mildmay’s sister Letitia married George William Ricketts. Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, George had been born at New Canaan, his family’s estate in the county of Westmoreland in Jamaica. The Ricketts were a long-established presence on the island, and included plantation owners, colonial officials and military officers among their number, stretching back to the original settling of the colony in the seventeenth century.
My interest in the Ricketts family derives from the fact that my great great great grandmother Margaret Robb, who died in 1843, was born Margaret Ricketts Monteith. She married my great great great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb in Glasgow in 1802, and they later moved south to Yorkshire, and then to London. Margaret’s origins are obscure, but information received from other researchers leads me to believe that her family may have had connections with Jamaica, and with the Ricketts family whose name she bore. In fact, as a result of posting my findings on my family history blog, I’m now in contact with descendants of George William Ricketts and Letitia Mildmay, and was interested to discover that some recent members of the family still have ‘Mildmay’ as a middle name.
So…it may turn out that I, who grew up in a modest terraced house on Moulsham Lodge Estate in the 1960s, may be (very!) distantly related to the family who once lived in a grand mansion on the same site.
Yesterday I wrote about the final days of Moulsham Hall, before the Mildmay family relocated to their new home at Dogmersfield, Hampshire. I noted that in 1807 Sir Henry St John Paulet Mildmay, the last owner of Moulsham Hall before it was sold off and demolished, complained in Parliament about the amount of compensation he was receiving as a result of the fortifications that had been constructed on his estate, in response to the threat of invasion by Napoleon.
Sir Henry St John Paulet Mildmay
I’ve since confirmed that these fortifications were part of the earthworks thrown up to defend London’s north-eastern approaches during the invasion scare of 1803-5. According to one source, these extensive works linked forts at Widford and Galleywood and ‘were constructed on the ridge south of Moulsham’. Although they were demolished in 1813, traces of the earthworks can still be seen on Chelmsford golf course and on Galleywood Common, spanning Margaretting Road. By late 1804, says another source, ‘the county town had been turned into a giant barracks.’
What one writer describes as the ‘entrenched camp’ to the south of Moulsham could hold as many as 15,000 men and over 200 guns. No wonder, one might think, that Mildmay believed his outdoor property had become ‘endangered’ and his family felt ‘alarmed’.
The Six Inch Ordnance map of 1888-1913 shows ‘batteries (disused)’ close to the Chelmsford Union Workhouse in Wood Street, the site that would later become St John’s Hospital, and also on land nearby that would eventually form part of the golf course (see image above). I assume the earthworks then traced a line to the south of Wood Street and to the west of Galleywood Road, until they reached the Margaretting Road at Galleywood Common. (Were those steep slopes at the top of the Common, up and down which we rode our bikes when we were young, the last traces of the earthworks?)
If this is the case, then one is tempted to conclude that Sir Henry Paulet St John Mildmay was guilty of a degree of exaggeration when he claimed that the military works were constructed within 400 yards of his home. By my estimation, it was just under a mile from Moulsham Hall to the top end of Wood Street. At the same time, we need to remember that there would have been nothing but parkland and open fields between the Hall and the line of earthworks being constructed, making them very visible from the house. If, as Mildmay claimed, there were up to 1500 men working on the fortifications, with all the associated noise and disruption, then it must all have seemed very close to home. No wonder he wanted to withdraw to the relative peace of Dogmersfield, and was reluctant to return when the threat of invasion had passed, especially after Moulsham Hall itself had been leased to the army, with who knows what impact on its elegant architecture.
In an earlier post I wrote about Benjamin Mildmay, Earl Fitzwalter, who inherited the manor of Moulsham in 1728 and proceeded to pull down his ancestor’s Tudor hall and replace it with a grand Palladian mansion, designed by the Italian architect Giacomo Leoni. Earl Fitzwalter died in 1756, leaving no children, so the ownership of the Moulsham estate passed to his cousin Sir William Mildmay, who belonged to the Springfield Barnes branch of the family.
William was created a baron in 1765 and was Sheriff of Essex in the same year. As Sir Henry Mildmay notes in his 1907 memoir of the family, William is the only Mildmay to have left any printed works, being the author of a number of texts that include accounts of his travels in England, Scotland, France and Italy. Sir William died in 1771 at Bath, where he had travelled ‘for the recovery of his health’. Like Benjamin Mildmay, he died without issue and thus his branch of the family became extinct.
William had married his cousin Anne, the daughter of Humphrey Mildmay of Shawford , Hampshire, and on his death she inherited all of his Essex properties, including Moulsham. Anne died in 1795 and her estates passed to her relative Jane, daughter of Carew Mildmay, also of Shawford. In 1786 Jane Mildmay had married Sir Henry Paulet St John, Bart., of Dogmersfield, Hampshire, who in 1790 took the name and arms of Mildmay by royal warrant, the family being known from that time as St. John Mildmay.
Sir Henry Paulet St John Mildmay was a Member of Parliament and was said to be ‘a clear and logical speaker’. Apparently there was a condition requiring his residence at Moulsham for three months in every year. However, in 1807 he explained to Parliament that four years earlier it had been found necessary to throw up military works within 400 yards of his house (i.e. Moulsham Hall). This was during the Napoleonic wars, when the threat of invasion was at its height. According to Sir Henry Mildmay’s memoir:
The works were commenced, and what with the multitudes employed on them, amounting to 1500 men, and the numbers brought to that part of Essex by the fear of invasion, which then prevailed, the neighbourhood assumed the appearance of an entrenched camp, all his outdoor property became endangered, his family alarmed, and he himself so inconvenienced that he obtained from Government relief by Act from the necessity of residing there, and compensation to be given him for the house and twenty acres of pleasure grounds at the rate of £400 a year.
The baronet went on to explain to Parliament ‘that about eighty years previously, the house had cost £70,000 in building; there were over fourteen rooms on a floor, one being sixty feet long; it was expensively furnished; the estate was worth £11,000 a year; and he would like to know what gentleman would think £400 a year compensation for being turned out of such a place.’ Apparently Sir Henry Paulet St John Mildmay eventually received £1300 for one year, and £600 for subsequent years, ‘as long as the land was occupied by His Majesty’.
This account is interesting in the detail it provides of Moulsham Hall’s grand scale, and the extent of its parkland or ‘pleasure grounds’, 20 acres equating to a little less than 10,000 square yards. We also get a vivid image of the disruption caused by the wartime fortifications. I wonder where the fortifications were that Sir Henry describes? We know there were barracks in what is now Wood Street. Perhaps the ‘military works’ were on the top of the hill overlooking Moulsham Hall, possibly where Wood Street meets what is now Galleywood Road? According to the same memoir, the works were ‘thrown up as part of the Chelmsford lines by J.T.Jones, later a Major-General, and builder of the famous earthworks at Torres Vedras’. (The Lines of Torres Vedras were fortifications ordered by Wellington and built in secrecy in 1809-10 to defend Lisbon against French forces during the Peninsular War.)
The military takeover proved to be the undoing of Moulsham Hall and it was never occupied again. As we know, the house was sold and then demolished in 1816. According to the memoir, in 1907 the stone Fitzwalter coat of arms from the pediment of the Hall could be found ‘fixed in the wall of a motor garage at Brentford, owned by Messrs. Johnson.’ Apparently it was 12 feet long and 6 feet high, but the crest was missing. How it ended up in that location, or if it’s still there, is not known.
We learn from the memoir that most of the paintings from Moulsham Hall were removed to the Mildmays’ other house at Dogmersfield in Hampshire, ‘and the red cloth hangings with large wide chairs en suite from the state bedroom are now  in the drawing-room of that house’. Not only that, but we know that many of the Mildmay family records were also taken to Dogmersfield, where they would remain until they were eventually donated to the Essex county archives.
Dogmersfield was a manor house with a history that in some ways parallels that of Moulsham Hall. Like Moulsham, it was rebuilt in the early decades of the 18th century, by its then owner Ellis St. John, albeit on a slightly grander scale (the image above shows that Dogmersfield consisted of three storeys compared to Moulsham’s two). I’m not sure when the Mildmay family sold the house, but it was used as a school in the early 20th century and later became the novitiate and house of studies for the Catholic De La Salle Brothers. After that it was sold to the Vallance family, the owners of Daneshill School, which relocated from its previous home in Old Basing. The property was later sold on to an investor who had the intention of opening a health farm; however this never happened owing to a devastating fire that took place in 1981.
After changing hands a few more times, Dogmersfield House eventually re-opened as the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire. Coincidentally, I stayed there with my family a few years ago, completely unaware at the time of its connection to the Mildmay family. When I began to study the history of Moulsham Hall, and particularly Earl Fitzwalter’s rebuilding of the house in the 18th century, it occurred to me that Dogmersfield was actually very similar in its construction. Moreover, the fact that Dogmersfield has survived more or less unspoilt can perhaps help us to understand what Moulsham Hall was like in its heyday.
Like Moulsham, Dogmersfield had a grand frontage with wings behind, built around a central courtyard. Here are a couple of photographs that I took of the hotel during our stay:
In future posts, I’ll be looking more closely at the design of Earl Fitzwalter’s rebuilt Moulsham Hall. For now, these pictures of Dogmersfield can perhaps bring home to us the scale of what was lost when Moulsham Hall was demolished two hundred years ago.
A few weeks ago I suggested that the regular flooding experienced in their gardens by some residents of St John’s Avenue could be evidence that their houses were built on the site of the ‘large sheet of water’ that was situated to the north of Moulsham Hall in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and traces of which can still be seen on early 20th century maps of the area.
Now one of those residents, Andy Lodge, has been back in touch to tell me that the recent wet weather has led to more flooding – and to send me some visual evidence. So, here are two photographs that provide further evidence to support the claim that the site of Moulsham Hall was roughly where Oaklands Crescent meets Moulsham Drive, and that its lake was somewhere in the area between St John’s Avenue and St Vincent’s Road:
A few days ago I wrote about the chapel that can be seen on John Walker’s 1591 map, standing on the hill above Moulsham Hall, where Moulsham Lodge Estate now stands. I suggested that this might be the chapel at Moulsham that belonged in the Middle Ages to the Priory or Abbey of St Osyth, but at the Reformation was given by Henry VIII to William Gonson, the treasurer of the Navy.
Gonson also happened to be the father-in-law of Thomas Mildmay the younger, who bought the manor of Moulsham at around the same time and built the first Moulsham Hall. I’ve now found additional evidence that it was on account of this relationship that the chapel and its lands became absorbed into the Moulsham estate.
At the National Archives website I came across a reference to a document which seems to indicate that William Gonson bequeathed the chapel to his son-in-law after his death. The description of the document reads as follows:
GRANTOR: William Gonson, esquire. GRANTEE: Thomas Mildmaye, one of the King’s Auditors. PLACE OR SUBJECT: Demise, indented, for his life and the life of Benett his wife, of the site, etc., of the chapel in the hamlet of Moulsham by Chelmsford from the end of the lease made by the late Abbey of St Osyth to William Aylnoth. COUNTY: Essex.
The document is dated the 34th year of the reign of Henry VIII: in other words 1543-4. We know that William Gonson died in 1544 and that his wife Bennett made her will in 1545. Thomas Mildmay had married the Gonsons’ daughter Avis some time before 1540. I’m not quite sure why William Aylnoth’s name appears here: according to other contemporary records, he was a resident of Moulsham who also owned property in Mountnessing and Ingatestone. Perhaps he held the lease of the chapel and its lands while it was still owned by St Osyth’s Priory.
There is a tragic coda to the Gonsons’ story. One of William and Bennett Gonson’s sons, David, was a knight of the Order of Malta, on whose ships he served in the Mediterranean. However, Henry VIII suppressed the Order in 1540, and when David Gonson returned to England he refused to accept the King’s self-proclaimed authority in spiritual matters, and as a result was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for adhering to the traditional Catholic faith. The sentence was carried out on 12th July 1541. Pope Pius XI declared David Gonson ‘Blessed’ on 15th December 1929.
We don’t know what David’s sister Avis, or his brother-in-law Thomas Mildmay thought of his principled stand. The Mildmays were zealous protestants who had benefitted materially from Henry VIII’s religious policies, and indeed as one of the King’s auditors Thomas had helped to carry them out. As for William Gonson, we know that he committed suicide in 1544. Whether his grief at the death of his son David was a factor is not known.
John Walker’s 1591 map of Moulsham very helpfully gives the names of the fields whose boundaries he painstakingly marks. That’s how we know, for example, that today’s Longstomps Avenue is named after two large fields – Upper and Lower Stomps or Stamps – that could be found in this area in Tudor times, and probably long before that. On Walker’s map these particular fields are bounded on their western side by two roads: firstly, Moulsham Street, as it runs southwestwards away from the town and then, past a three-way junction at a small green, by a winding southeasterly road which, as I’ve noted before, follows more or less the route of the modern Wood Street.
Just as it does today, this road eventually makes a sharp bend to the east, and then forms a sharp ‘dog leg’ junction with a road running southwards. This is the point at which Wood Street, Longstomps and Galleywood Road meet today. As those who know the area will be aware, this marks a relatively high point in the landscape from which one looks down on Moulsham and the town. In Walker’s time, it would have been an excellent vantage-point from which to view Sir Thomas Mildmay’s splendid Hall and park.
I’ve also noted before that the fence or boundary running eastwards from this junction, zigzagging across the fields, is almost identical with the boundary between the modern Moulsham Lodge and Tile Kiln estates. This was marked by a footpath when I was a child and traces of it can be seen in the path that runs from Wood Street roundabout to Dove Lane.
Just to the south of this boundary on Walker’s map we can see an area labelled ‘Chappell fylde and Spring Pastur’. Immediately to the north of it is a smaller field, more or less square in shape, containing a number of trees, and jutting out from its eastern edge is an even smaller square. Just to the right of this is a small red shape, with a tower or spire at one end, that looks very much like a church or chapel. This stands at the southernmost point of a large field that extends down the hill, almost as far as the gardens and orchards of Moulsham Hall, and includes a wooded area, and then a line of trees going from south to north. This larger area is labelled ‘Chappel lande or’ – but the writing beneath this is too small to see on the reproduction that I have in my possession. I can only make out the last two words: ‘Spring Pastur’, once again.
The chapel and its lands were situated in the area covered by the western section of today’s Moulsham Lodge Estate – roughly speaking, the Gordon Road / Heath Drive area and beyond that some of what is now Moulsham School field.
But why was there a chapel in the grounds of Moulsham Hall? The answer takes us back beyond the Tudor period, before the Mildmay family came to Moulsham and built their Hall. In the Middle Ages the Augustinian Priory of St Osyth on the Essex coast was one of the largest monasteries in the county. The Priory owned a number of churches and extensive lands in Essex, Suffolk and Kent. It also owned chapels at Brentwood – and at Moulsham.
I’ve scoured Walker’s map and failed to find signs of any other chapels in Moulsham. And I’ve come across another clue that points to this particular building being the chapel belonging to St Osyth Priory – and may help to explain the chapel’s survival after the manor of Moulsham came into the hands of the Mildmay family. St Osyth’s Priory was suppressed in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, and given initially to his enforcer-in-chief Thomas Cromwell, though it reverted to the Crown when Cromwell fell from royal favour.
In February 1540 the King granted many of the properties formerly owned by St Osyth’s to Richard Rich, the controversial Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations who, you may recall from an earlier post, sold his house at Guy Harlings to an up-and-coming Chelmsford market stallholder by the name of Thomas Mildmay, whose two sons would both work for the Court, and one of whom, Thomas junior, would become lord of the manor of Moulsham. In fact, both Rich and the younger Thomas Mildmay played a role in the suppression of religious houses and, like Cromwell, took advantage of this to acquire monastic property for themselves. (As an aside, I have to say that I don’t have much time for the recent Wolf Hall-inspired makeover of Thomas Cromwell’s reputation. This may be because I’ve discovered that a number of my ancestors were Augustinian friars whom he turned out of their monasteries, which then became his personal property. Most notably, Cromwell was responsible for shutting down the ancient Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overy, Southwark: my ancestor Bartholomew Fowle was the last prior there.)
It was through his job at the Court of Augmentations that Thomas Mildmay junior met William Gonson, the treasurer of the Navy, whose daughter Avis he would eventually marry. Interestingly, I’ve discovered that, at the same time that he gave much of St Osyth’s property to Rich, Henry VIII also granted the Priory’s chapel at Moulsham to none other than Gonson. And this was in the very same year that Thomas Mildmay acquired the manor of Moulsham, which had itself been owned previously by the Abbot of Westminster. So does this mean that Thomas and his father-in-law owned adjacent property, and does it explain how the chapel lands became absorbed into the manor of Moulsham after the latter’s death in 1544?
I’m unclear of the precise function of the chapel at Moulsham in pre-Reformation times. Medieval chapels were places where Mass was said regularly, or else where saintly relics were kept, often at the best of a wealthy patron, or to serve a nearby institution such as a hospital or manor house. But who used the chapel at Moulsham, up there on the hill? If anyone reading this has any knowledge of the chapel’s history, or of the use of such chapels before the Reformation, I’d be keen to hear from them.
I’m not sure, either, how long the chapel at Moulsham survived the coming of the Protestant Mildmays. Obviously, it was still there in 1591, half a century after Thomas Mildmay built his splendid Hall in the fields overlooked by the chapel. But it doesn’t feature on later maps of the estate. Today, of course, there’s no sign that it was ever there: my guess is that the site is somewhere between Gordon Road, Fir Tree Rise and Hornbeam Close.
In the last post I mentioned that I’d come across an alternative image of the park surrounding Moulsham Hall, on a map from 1799. This map, which I found on the British Library’s georeferencer site, gives a much clearer and more detailed picture of the Moulsham estate than the 1805 Ordnance Survey map which I used in my original post about the boundary of the park.
The description accompanying the map on the British Library site notes: ‘A lake and individual trees in the grounds of Moulsham Hall are recorded, towards the bottom of the landmass, a reminder of the meticulous nature of the Survey.’ Given this accuracy by the original surveyors, it’s a pity that there’s an error in the way the map has been lined up with its modern equivalent on the website. Everything is just slightly askew, making it difficult to match the late 18th century features to the modern landscape.
However, a number of things strike me as interesting about the 1799 map. Firstly, you can indeed see the individual trees in the grounds of Moulsham Hall: for example lining the ‘chase’ that leads from the Lodge to the Hall itself, and also standing in a north-south line between Lady Lane and that path to the Hall, as well as grouped around the lake to the north of the house. As for the Hall itself, could it be represented by the red rectangle beside the path, at the top of that large square that we’ve noticed in previous discussions?
Focusing on that square, we can now see that it includes green patches: I assume these are the orchards and formal gardens attached to the Hall. I noted in an earlier post that this area coincides with what is now the lower end of Moulsham Schools, a section of Princes Road, and the western end of Fortinbras Way. The walled kitchen garden, which survived into modern times as Moulsham Hall Gardens, can be seen to the left of this area, apparently connected to the house by a path.
If the 1799 surveyors were as precise as the British Library website claims, then perhaps we can take their positioning of Moulsham Hall as reasonably accurate. As I’ve noted before, the large square denoting the formal gardens survived as a field boundary into the next century, after the demolition of the Hall. Even if this boundary doesn’t follow exactly the same lines as Earl Fitzwalter’s gardens, it might help us in our quest for the location of Moulsham Hall. If we look for that large square on the Ordnance Survey map from the 1888-1913 series (above), we can imagine the Hall about halfway along the northern boundary of the formal gardens. When we lined this up with the modern Google maps (see below), we can see that this point falls at the junction of Oaklands Crescent with Moulsham Drive, or else very slightly to the south of it, between Moulsham Drive and Fortinbras Way. Of course, the Hall was quite a large building, so it would have covered a substantial amount of ground in this area.
If we’re right, then the site of Moulsham Hall can be also seen on this aerial photograph of 1935 that I’ve written about before. We can still see part of the outline of the large square field, its northern edge visible just to the north of the new houses of Moulsham Drive, as they extend eastwards from Moulsham Hall Gardens. If the Hall did indeed stand somewhere close to the mid-point of that field boundary, then the house builders have probably just reached its former location: somewhere close to that intersection with what will become Oaklands Crescent.
A final point about the 1799 map for now. There are three other features that might well be stretches of water, close to the far eastern border of the park. These are in a line running north to south, parallel to what is now Moulsham Chase, roughly in the area bounded by Princes Road and Waterson Vale today. The southernmost pond, close to the Lodge itself, may be on the same site as the spring that is clearly marked in the late 19th century map. Indeed, all three ponds may have been fed by the spring and may have been some kind of water supply for the estate, whether for human or animal consumption.
Interestingly, John Walker’s map of 1591 features three shapes in approximately the same position (see below): in fact, this comparison with the later map helps us to identify that these two locations are, in fact, the same. The Tudor map shows a tree-lined path extending from what I assume will one day be Lady Lane: this must correspond to the later Moulsham Chase, though at this date it did not extend all the way to the Hall (Thomas Mildmay’s Tudor hall was reached solely by the westerly route leading from Moulsham Street). Were these also some kind of water supply for the estate? And could the little red house that we can see just below these shapes, and to the right of the path, be the Tudor equivalent of the Lodge?
Note that the Tudor estate also had an avenue of trees running southwards from ‘Lady Lane’. Perhaps Earl Fitzwalter didn’t have to plant new trees when he rebuilt his Hall in the early 18th century, but could simply landscape his park around trees that had been there for two hundred years. Sadly, those ancient trees seem to have been uprooted by the time the late 19th century map of the area was drawn up, and there is no trace of them now.
Andy Lodge, who lives in St John’s Avenue, got in touch after reading my post on the ‘large sheet of water’ that was situated on the north side of Earl Fitzwalter’s rebuilt Moulsham Hall. Andy writes in his comment on my post:
The bottom of my and neighbour’s gardens in St John’s Avenue which I think is near the 100m contour is very wet and floods in rain and most winters. We have always thought it may have been a pond.
In an email to me, Andy adds:
We have lived here 20 years and my wife tells me older neighbours told her that there were ponds there before the houses were built. We dug ditches years ago in attempts to drain what was a vegetable patch and they remained at least 1/2 full all year. So we always assumed it was some sort of pond in the past which is strange as we are on substantially higher land compared to the river.
I found Andy’s house on Google maps and then, using the georeferenced maps at the National Library of Scotland website, I overlaid the Ordnance Survey Six Inch map from the 1888-1913 series. Sure enough, the house was on the exact site of the two blue ‘blobs’ that I wrote about in an earlier post. Obviously, these were ponds of some kind, and my suspicion is that they were all that remained of the ‘large sheet of water’ to the north of Moulsham Hall.
Incidentally, I’ve now found a much clearer image of Earl Fitzwalter’s lake – and of his park generally – in a map from 1799 on the British Library’s georeferencer website, and I’ll be writing about it in another post.