Earls Colne in Earliest Times

In Roman times this part of Essex was occupied by a native tribe called the Trinovantes. The tribal centre, that we know as Colchester and which they called Cumulodunum, became the capital of the Roman province.

Chalkney Wood is surrounded by a bank and ditch, marking it out as a SPecial place. A Roman road runs through the wood. In a field to the north-west of the wood, archaeologists have found evidence of Bronze Age burials, together with the site of a high status Roman Building. Finds include some 20 coins from all periods of the Roman occupation, a bronze axe head and a Neolithic flint arrow head, evidence of human activity from earliest times.

Distant view of Chalkney Wood

Photograph by J. Watt. © Earls Colne Heritage Museum

Local tradition claims that there is a Roman well at the present-day Tile Kiln Farm

Tile and brick production has been a long-established local industry and re-used Roman bricks have been identified in the base of the tower of St. Andrew’s Church, Earls Colne.

Photograph by J. Watt.  © Earls Colne Heritage Museum

The Domesday Book

The de Vere Coat of Arms

on the pulpit of

St Andrew’s Church, Earls Colne

The Domesday Book lists a number of Manors in this part of the Colne Valley, the largest of which it records as ‘Coles’. Later, it was known as Great Colne, Monks Colne (after the Priory) and, when the de Vere family were granted the Earldom of Oxford in 1142, as Colne Comitis or ‘the Earl’s Colne’.

Before the Norman Conquest, the Manor was held by a Saxon lord called Wulfwine.

After 1066, King William granted it to Aubrey De Vere, grandfather of the first Earl of Oxford, along with many other estates in eastern England, including those at Lavenham, Chelmsford, Maldon and a ‘town house’ called Earls Court.

Aubrey de Vere made Castle Hedingham his headquarters,  but Earls Colne seems to have been his ‘weekend retreat’. His manor house stood on land south of the church and the whole of the southern area of the village was his deer park. The road which led from the manor house to the deer park is still called Park Lane and the moated hunting lodge is now Lodge Farm.

Photograph by J. Watt © Earls Colne Heritage Museum

Aubrey de Vere, grandfather of the first Earl of Oxford, built a Benedictine priory in his manor of Colne as an annex of the main monastery at Abingdon in Berkshire.

The ground plan of priory buildings was traced by an archaeologist in 1935.

Colne Priory

The priory church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St John, was a magnificent building, twice the length of the parish church, with twin towers at the western end and a bell tower in the centre.

For 14 generations, the church was  the family mausoleum of the Earls of Oxford  and became full of their elaborate monuments.

The Earls of Oxford

Arms of the Earls of Oxford on Pew Ends in  St Andrew’s Church, Earls Colne

Photographs by J. Watt  © Earls Colne Heritage Museum

Aubrey de Vere, grandson of the dynasty’s founder, was granted the Earldom of Oxford in 1142 and the title passed down through  20 generations, together with the hereditary post of Lord Great Chamberlain.

Like all families, they had times of mixed fortune, but some Earls had particularly interesting careers.

ROBERT, the NINTH EARL (1362 to 1392)

Robert was a close friend of King Richard II and was at the King’s side during his negotiations with the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

JOHN, the THIRTEENTH EARL (1442 to 1513)

John de Vere (known to his friends as ‘Jack’) was a commander of Henry Tudor’s troops during the final battles of the Wars of the Roses.


More has been written about Edward, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford than any other member of the de Vere family. He was a prominent figure  in his own lifetime, but interest in him grew when theories were published in 1920 that he had written plays and poems under the pen name of ‘ShakeSPeare’.                    Much more detailed information on The Earls of Oxford is to be found in the museum.

The 1598 Map by Israel Amyce

Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, led an extravagant life-style and got heavily into debt. His father-in-law, Lord Burleigh, arranged for several of the family’s estates to be sold to balance the books.

The Manors at Earls Colne were bought by Roger Harlackenden, who had been the Earl’s steward (estate manager).

Roger Harlackenden’s

memorial in

St Andrew’s Church, Earl’s Colne

click on the picture

 for a larger version

In 1598, Harlackenden commissioned a survey and large scale map of the Earldom and Priory Manors. The work was carried out by Israel Amyce, Esq., himself a former employee of the De Vere family

The Diary of the Reverend Ralph Josselin

The Revd. Ralph Josselin became the Vicar of Earls Colne in 1640 and, from then until his death in 1683, he kept a daily record of events in the village and beyond.

A full edition of the Diary was published in 1970 and has become a valuable source of information for students of social history all over the world.

In June 1648, during the Civil War, a  troop of Royalist soldiers heading for Colchester took  a detour through Earls  Colne. Ralph Josselin reports:

  On Monday morning , the enemy  came to Colne, were resisted by our town


     No part of  Essex gave them so much opposition as we did.  They plundered us

     - and me in particular - of all that was portable, except brass, pewter and


SPare a sympathetic thought for Ralph Josselin’s congregation.

In November 1645 he explains:

     It was wet in the morning, so we went not to church

        until eleven and I continued preaching until sun was


Small wonder, then, that more and more villagers deserted him for the new Quaker meetings.

The Quaker Meeting House, built in 1674, still stands in Burrows Road

Photograph by J.Watt  © Earls Colne Heritage Museum

Other notable Earls Colne residents of the past


Thomas, Lord Audley of Walden was born at Hay House Farm in 1488.  He rose to become Lord Chancellor  to Henry VIII  and built Audley End mansion near Saffron Walden.


The Reverend Thomas Sheppard came to Earls Colne in 1627 as assistant master at the Grammar School.

He later fled to New England to avoid persecution for his Puritan beliefs and was one of the founders of Harvard University.


The Buxton family’s home in Earls Colne was Colne Place.

As a boy, Thomas was badly behaved, but was converted by the influence of the family’s gamekeeper Abraham Plaistow (see further down the page).

He married Hannah Gurney, whose sister was Elizabeth Fry, the prison reform campaigner.

Entering Parliament in 1818, he joined the campaign to abolish slavery and took over the campaign when William Wilberforce retired. In 1833, after many set-backs, he succeeded in getting an Act passed which abolished slavery in all British Colonies


The person who had such a transforming influence on the young Thomas Buxton was the family’s gamekeeper, Abraham Plaistow.

In his memoirs, Sir Thomas, pays Abraham this tribute:

My guide, philosopher and friend was .... a man for whom I have ever felt, and still feel, very great affection. Although he could neither read nor write, his memory was stored with .... more of natural good sense and what is called mother-wit, than almost any person I have met since. He always held up the highest standard of integrity and filled our youthful minds with sentiments as pure and generous as could be found in the writings of Seneca or Cicero’

When Abraham died in 1836, a public collection paid for his memorial on the outside of the church tower, with the epitaph composed by the Lord of the Manor, Henry Carwardine.

click on the picture

 for a larger version

Photograph by J.Watt  © Earls Colne Heritage Museum

The Victorian Era

The growth of Earls Colne in the nineteenth century owed much to the Hunt family’s expansion of the Atlas Works,  but other changes had an influence as well.

MANN’S TIMBER YARD   The firm of Thomas & Arthur John Mann began to SPecialise in growing high quality willow on local plantations, eSPecially suitable for cricket bats.


The firm, with its main workshops in Halstead and Braintree, had a weaving mill in Foundry Lane which specialised in producing black crape material so essential for Victorian funeral dress.


Reuben Hunt provided Earls Colne Grammar School, founded in 1520, with its first permanent buildings in York Road, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The Revd Robert Watkinson, the Vicar, paid for the first Primary School building in Park Lane .


Two major schemes, completed in 1864, enlarged St Andrew’s parish church by a third, adding a north aisle and two side chapels.

The Baptist church on the Green also required two phases of enlargement to cope with increased congregations.

The Atlas Works and the Hunt Family

Robert Hunt, a travelling millwright, settled in Earls Colne in 1824. His first workshop was on the Green, next to the Baptist Church. His son, Reuben, took over the business in 1855 and developed it into a major exporting company with customers all over the world.

The Atlas Works expanded as Reuben Hunt took advantage of the demand for reliable farm machinery - rollers, harrows and hay rakes - and the hand operated grinding and cutting mills which had been the firm’s original stock-in-trade.

With the expansion of the business came a need for housing to accommodate the growing work-force. The first terrace of cottages opposite the Atlas Works premises was built in 1872, soon to be followed by others in Hay House Road, Queens Road, Burrows Road and High Street. By 1915, the firm had provided 120 new houses and seen its work force grow to almost 300.

After the Second World War, during which the firm SPecialised in the production of munitions, attempts were made to diversify its products by partnerships with other firms.

However, with the demand for traditional farm machinery decreasing, more drastic changes were required. After 1985, a series of mergers with other companies led finally to the closure of the Earls Colne premises.

Since the closure of the Atlas Works, the business park on the former Airfield, together with its hotel, golf course and flying club, has become the largest source of employment in the village.

 Photograph by J.Watt © Earls Colne Heritage Museum

The Second World War

Earls Colne aerodrome played a significant part in the air campaign during the Second World War. Construction of the runways started in 1941 and the Royal Air Force was using the aerodrome within 18 months. It later became the base for a succession of American units, including the 323rd Bomb Group with its B-26 Marauders.

Unknown to most people (at the time) was the airfield’s other use as a base for secret SPecial Operations projects, supporting resistance groups in occupied parts of Europe. A small village in Norway, whose local resistance group was supplied by parachute drops organised from here, has a photograph of Earls Colne in its local Heritage Museum.

In September 1939, children from the Alexandra School in Wood Green were evacuated to Earls Colne to be safer from the bombs which fell on London. They were looked after by local families and had lessons at the Primary School, taught by two teachers who had come with them. Most of the children returned to their homes in London when the danger had passed, but two of them and one of the teachers decided to settle in Earls Colne.

Page 10

Photograph by J. Watt.  © Earls Colne Heritage Museum



Lodge Farm

Page 11

Hunt’s houses in Foundry Lane









Photograph by J.Watt

© Earls Colne Heritage Museum














The Old Water Tower  

Earls Colne CO6 2SZ

HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne HistoryOfEarlsColne #txt_1321

HistoryOfEarlsColne #WWII