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History of Boreham

Boreham is probably a Saxon word meaning “Market Town” and developed as a result of its location between London and Colchester and supplies of fresh spring water.

Many Roman bricks were used in the construction of St Andrew’s Church in Church Road, Boreham.  It also contains evidence of an earlier Saxon church.

Archaeology has revealed traces of Bronze Age, Iron Age and much Roman occupation of Boreham.  The earliest written information about Boreham is in the Domesday Book which mentions Danish inhabitants and also shows that Boreham was a multi-manored parish.  The largest manor (consisting of 8 hides and 23 acres) was held by fourteen freemen and probably included the church.  The next in size was then known as Walkfares, and is now New Hall.  It had been given by Earl Harold to the Canons of Waltham Abbey in 1062.  New Hall was owned by Henry VIII from 1517 to 1547 and later in its life it became the convent and school as we know it today.

No doubt there was little change in the life of the peasants after the Norman Conquest.  Agriculture and animal husbandry continued as the chief occupation for the majority until well into the 20th century.  Feudalism began to break down after the Black Death in 1348.

In Tudor times a house was not allowed to be built unless there was four acres to go with it.  This might include a plot on the meads for making hay.  There may also have been butts there for archery practice which was compulsory on Sundays. Football, tennis and bowls were illegal as was the felling of trees without a license.  Richard Tweedy of Old Hall, who provided the alms houses, found this out to his cost when he felled three hundred oaks to rebuild his house.

The Cock, Six Bells and Lion Inn (formerly Red Lion) public houses have been important stopping off points for travellers on the main road for many centuries which in turn has created prosperity for the village.

Prosperous agriculture, bringing an influx of farm workers, as well as its situation on a main road caused Boreham’s population to grow in the 18th century.  In 1723, there were 58 families which had increased to 165 by 1801 (or as recorded in the census, 813 people).  The numbers remained fairly stable throughout the 19th century peaking in 1841 to include the extra labour needed for haymaking, pea picking and for building the Eastern Counties Railway, for which there was much opposition.

At that time, there were people living near the church and along the main road but there were even more living north of the railway line.  Care had been taken when building it to cater for all the footpaths.  Towards the end of the century, farming was in difficulties being unable to compete with the grain and meat imported from America.  Fortunately William Seabrook saw there was a future in intensive fruit growing and providing young trees for others to set up orchards.  A member of a family who had been yeoman farmers for generations, he pioneered this thriving business.  Demand soon exceeded supply.  Seabrooks was able to expand on land both sides of the main road towards Hatfield Peverel.  It was a labour intensive industry needing seasonal casual workers as well as full-timers.  They were mostly local people who were taught the necessary skills on the job.  A flourishing sports club was provided for them in the old army huts in Damases Lane, and a sports ground in Waltham Road.  Seabrooks survived the hiatuses of both World Wars and continued to grow and prosper.  In the 1950s, they had 1150 acres of orchard and nursery and a work force of more than 200 as well as the part-timers (which doubled during the picking season).  Then inflation and membership of the EEC upset the apple-cart and sadly it was decided to revert to corn as the major crop.

Farming was again in the doldrums in 1930.  This time the pioneer who came to the rescue was an outsider.  Henry Ford was returning from Oberammergau when the train was held up briefly at the Generals Lane level crossing and he noticed that Boreham House and its 2200 acres of farm land was for sale.  He seized the opportunity to realise one of his dreams and bought it.  He set up Fordson Estates Ltd, a joint-stock company in which the 150 farm workers shared the profits and the land, with the addition of a few adjoining farms, was prepared for field-scale vegetable production.  A land survey published in 1942, having praised Boreham’s outstanding orchard fruit, goes on to say: “No village in Essex shows greater intensity of cultivation than Boreham”.  It mentions the peas, potatoes, brussel sprouts, green beans and cauliflowers which were driven to Covent Garden daily when in season and stresses the value, richness and fertility of Boreham’s brick earth soil combined with boulder clay.  But similar to the demise of Seabrook’s orchards, this market gardening came to an end and now the land is worked with the minimum of labour, using larger and larger machines.  Until well into the 20th century, farming was the chief occupation of the majority of Boreham’s inhabitants, most of whom worked locally.  It was a close-knit interdependent and largely self-sufficient community before the advent of the internal combustion engine.

In 1943, during the Second World War Boreham Airfield was developed for the US Air Force.  After the War, the airfield was used for international motor car and motor cycle racing and taken over in more recent years by the Ford Motor Co who used the airfield for car testing and proving – click here for more about the airfield.