This part of Essex is often overlooked – luckily if you enjoy the preservation of country life and tranquil pretty villages, we have been by-passed by major motorways heading to the north or to larger metropolis’. However, a best kept secret is here…………..we are only an hour by train to the city of London, half an hour drive to the dreaming spires of Cambridge and the same to London’s short haul hub, Stansted airport.
Our pretty and large the largest by area in Essex at 16 square miles) village of Wimbish (anglo-saxon for beautiful wood) is just 5 miles from the historic and stunningly beautiful market town of Saffron Walden and 4 miles from the head quarters of the Morris men, Thaxted, stepped in pagan history.
Wimbish merged with a neighbouring village called Thurderly in 1485, hence its size and incorporates today, Carver barracks currently the home of the British Army 33 Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal unit (although you would never know they were there). This former RAF station (called Debden and Wimbish could easily get confused with Wisbeach in Cambridgeshire) was home to the US’s Eagle Squadron in WWII.
Just two villages away is Hemspstead where infamous highwayman, Dick Turpin grew up, and soon after serving his apprenticeship as a butcher Thatxed he went on to become one of the most feared villains of his time – in fact in Wimbish you can walk The Chase which is a large cut away grassed route to the old centre of the village, built to allow “the toffs” to have a safe journey home from the more dangerous main road above. Also in Hempstead, opposite the Blue Bell pub is the still surviving cock-fighting ring.
Wimbish captures a special time in Britain’s history…………..with its village centre perfectly placed within a valley, with access to a small river and where the church was built, Wimbish fell like many similar villages under the ravages of the bubonic plaque which destroyed over a third of Britain’s population – hence most of the village’s principle houses (including my parent’s Yoeman’s home, across our yard, circa 1350) and manors are built far away from what was the centre of the village out of superstition.
Much has happened around this beautiful corner of Essex – Saffron Walden originally being a centre for wool (the called Chipping Walden) found fame again for the growing of the Crocus flower producing the exotic spice of Saffron – sadly for many centuries no longer produced here, until very recently when experimental growing has begun again. Aside from its striking architecture from Tudor, Georgian to Victorian, all marvellously persevered and melding together, the layout of the original market plan can still be seen, with Butcher’s and Mercer’s Rows, Cross Street, Market Hill, Market Street and of course the Market Square. I remember as a small boy visiting the pig, cattle and poultry markets on a Tuesday and Saturday, now sadly a thing of the past, but there is still a general produce market on both days with an especially vibrant and interesting market on the Saturday.
Of course aside from the castle, the two mazes, the lovely Jubilee Gardens, the Common and all the individual shops, pubs and restaurants; it is Oliver Cromwell’s stay in the town during the English Civil War (1642 to 1651) where it is believed his headquarters were located in the historic Old Sun Inn (nowadays a second-hand bookshop). Having been responsible for parliament and the mother of democracy, it is not by accident that another great parliamentarian, RA (or “RAB”) Butler should be the town’s MP and who was widely believed to have been thought of as “the best Prime Minister we never had” – sadly despite being responsible for huge reforms in education and holding every political office upto Deputy Prime Minister, the top job was never his.
The town suffered huge heartache at the burning down on Boxing day in 1969 of The Rose & Crown coaching in which was a focal point of Walden and surrounding village life. Thirteen people perished in the fire and all that sadly remains today is the bunch of grapes which hangs from the unfortunate replacement building of Boots the Chemist.
But the town of course continues to grow with much building, some good, some bad – a new concert hall at the country high school gets great acclaim as does the community cinema also located at the school (despite when I was a small boy we had 2 cinemas in the town!).
On the fringe of the town is the magnificent grade 1 listed Jacobean mansion, Audley End – well worth a visit with working Victorian kitchens and a miniature railway winding its way through Lord Neville’s estate.
On the other side of our village, is Thaxted, just as blessed as Saffron Walden with fabulous architecture, but on a small scale. Home to Gustav Holst who composed much of The Planets here and a meeting point between Wat Tyler and John Ball before their march to London in the Peasants Revolt in 1381 against King Richard II’s Royal Court. Housing a magnificent Church where each year from June to July the Thaxted music festival is held. Also famous for its Morris Ring, the Morris weekend at spring Bank holiday weekend is a sight to see with the surrounding village pubs thronging with Morris Men all converging on Thaxted for the mesmerising “Horn Dance” with a single violinist leading the procession into the parish church close to midnight. The Webb windmill is a magnificent example of an Essex mill and the stunning Guild Hall which dominates Watling Street and just across the street is the butcher, Vincent Duckett, where the young Turpin learnt his trade! Many years later another equally infamous figure from our criminal past would make Thaxted a particular favourite of theirs, was the London East End villain brothers, the Kray twins.
Not more than half an hours drive from us are the charming Suffolk villages of Clare, Cavendish, Stoke by Clare and a little further on the well know antique haunts of Long Melford and Lavenham. In another direction and same distance is what many call the prettiest village in Essex, Finchingfield. Hidden amongst the woods in Bartlow, just over the Cambridgeshire border, are Iron age built burial mounds, rising up through the trees.
In Widdington, 5 miles from us, is English Heritage’s Priors Hall Barn, one of the finest examples of a Medieval Barn.
We could go on and on, but then there would be no reason to come and visit us! With Cambridge and all its hidden treasures just half an hour away and numerous other villages and historical sites with stories galore, this is something, we think for everyone. Alternatively you may just want to slip a pair of willies on and enjoy some fresh air and peace away from your busy lives…………….stepping across our country road opposite Piglets is a place we call “Paradise” – a simple tree on the horizon – walking there and taking in the view makes one feel away from the normal hustle and bustle of life – with a hearty walk behind you, back to Piglets for a cup of tea and a slice of cake or perhaps something a little stronger!
Chrissie and I (Max) look forward to welcoming you to our little know corner of Essex countryside.