COGGESHALL, AND THE COGGESHALLS, IN ENGLAND

by Peter Collin Coggeshall V


(At the Reunion, this talk was illustrated with over one hundred slides, mostly taken by myself, and included some slides of maps and of illustrations from books. At the request of the Reunion Committee, the talk has been re-edited to eliminate specific references to the slides, and has thereby lost some of it continuity and coherence.)

In the spring of 1976, my father organized a tour of England that included my brother John, my wife Sandy, and myself. We rented a Ford station wagon in London, drove up Trunk Road A-12 through Chelmsford to Kelvedon, and then turned left to Coggeshall. It's about 45 miles and takes under an hour. Some local people commute daily from Coggeshall to London.

Coggeshall Hamlet is a settlement along the Kelvedon Road south of the River Blackwater. It used to be called Little Coggeshall or Parva Coggeshall, to distinguish it from the town itself, then called Great Coggeshall or Much Coggeshall. Both are now a single parish with a combined population of around 4000; somewhat less than in 1861 when the population was 4109.

The Kelvedon Road enters Coggeshall across Long Bridge, which, according to legend, was built around 1140 by King Stephen. (The house on the north of the bridge is called Rood House, and Dr. John Gardner, founder of the Royal College of Chemistry, was born there in 1804.) Until the bridge was widened in 1912, it was single-tracked, and the larger carts and wagons used the ford alongside.

After crossing the bridge, Kelvedon becomes Bridge Street; and a short distance from the bridge is Bridge House, the home of Colonel and Mrs. Sebastian. Mrs. Sebastian was one of the early woman graduates of Cambridge University, and her first husband was a member of the Garnder family which owned the largest Coggeshall brewery, between Rood House and Bridge House, and was one of the town's main industries in the 19th century. Mrs. Sebastian has a book-shop behind her house, and worked a minor miracle by locating for us a copy of Dale's Annals of Coggeshall, a very rare book. She was also most helpful with introductions and the history of the town, the Abbey, the Gardner Brewery, and the 1940 Nazi bomb.

Another half block down Bridge Street we turned into the parking lot behind the White Hart Hotel, which, the hotel says, used to be the town's duelling ground. The White Hart was our base of operations for five days. It was rebuilt in the early 1970s from the town's Guild Hall, a much older White Hart Hotel, and inns called the True Blue and the Green Dragon. Before the railroads came in the mid-1800s, Coggeshall was on the main road from Colchester [KOLT-chest-a] to Braintree and London. They say that the town fought bitterly against the railroad, which was then built through Kelvedon, 3 miles south, and thereafter most of the inns closed. A ghost inhabits one corner of the present hotel's Guild Room; and, the hotel says, another is frequently see--wringing her hands--in the west corridor, just outside our bedroom.

Mr. Raymond Pluck, the owner, planned and carried out the recent renovation. The food and service at the White Hart were the finest we found during our month in England, and spoiled us for the rest of the trip, which also included the Lower Midlands and the West Country. If you plan a trip to Coggeshall and want to stay at the White Hart--it isn't cheap--, I recommend that you personally arrange reservations with Mr. Pluck well in advance, because the hotel is used for conventions and company conclaves from all over England.

A few steps from the front door of the White Hart is Market Hill, which we would call the "town square," with a clock tower, which Beaumont says was built "for the better ordering of apprentices." Stoneham Street goes north to Halstead [HAL-sted], and also to Tilkey Town, a "suburb" of Coggeshall, where tiles and pottery were formerly made. Tilkey comes from tile kiln, and all the residents at one time were surnamed Potter.

But we turned right off Market Hill and went up Church Street, which has several interesting half-timbered houses; one, now called Coggeshall House, used to be the home of George Frederick Beaumont, author of the History of Coggeshall, at which time it was known as The Lawn (the actual lawn is behind the house--it can be seen from East Street, and is quite large).

At the upper end of Church Street is the Woolpack, which has been an inn since the 1600s, and is now a tavern, or pub, with a double-gabled front, and carved oakwork outside and inside, particularly in the old King-Post Room on the first floor.

Just beyond the Woolpack is the Church of St Peter ad Vincula, or St Peter in Chains, built in the early 1400s in the Perpendicular Style. The churchyard is entered through the Lych Gate, where the pall-bearers, who might have carried the coffin a very considerable distance--maybe in the rain--, rested the coffin while waiting for the vicar to lead the funeral procession into the church.

Although Weever, writing in 1631, said there used to be several old Coggeshall family brasses in this church, the only Coggeshall grave we found was that of Nell Osborn Coggeshall, who died at age 49 in London in 1921, and was buried behind the church. She was the wife of Dr. Henry Tisdale Coggeshall [No. 1522 in C. in A.], who graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1883 and was an ear-nose-and-throat specialist in New York City.

On the night of September 16, 1940, during the Nazi blitz of England, a single delayed-action bomb was dropped on Coggeshall--they think by a returning plane unloading an unused bomb. It hit just north-west of the church tower and went down at an angle more than 25 feet under the tower before exploding. Mrs. Sebastian told us: [happily] "It BLEW out all the dismal old 19th-century stained-glass,...including [solemnly] a great gloomy memorial window to my uncle-in-law....[Portentously] He saw visions....He heard voices....[Brightening] and why shouldn't he?...He'd been drunk on beer since he was five years old!" The church was rebuilt from its original materials, and rededicated in 1956, and is now quite bright inside. The tower was rebuilt in a somewhat simpler design, omitting the pinnacle on its south-east corner.

Back across the River Blackwater (which we would probably call a creek; and, 5 miles up, above Braintree, is called the River Pant) is Coggeshall Abbey. The only remaining whole building of the abbey complex is the Gate-House, or St. Nicholas' Chapel. When the abbey was suppressed in 1538, Thomas Cromwell's agents auctioned off the lead roof of the largest abbey building, St. Mary's Church,--the lead or copper in their roofs was then the most valuable part of the abbey buildings--, and the church was probably pulled down; if it hadn't been, its flint rubble would have melted away, because the roof was gone--which is what happened to most of the abbeys. All you can now see of St. Mary's Church is faint outlines of its walls on the ground. But St. Nicholas' Chapel was converted to a horse-barn, with a pig-sty attached. In 1860 the chapel was sold to the Vicar of Coggeshall, and, after restoration, is still used for Anglican services.

On down Abbey Lane, past the chapel, is Abbey Farm, owned by the Brew family. Miss Charlotte Brew, the first female to ride in the Grand National, generously showed us around the buildings that contain parts of the old abbey. The front of the main dwelling-house is more modern--of late Tudor design. But the rear has several walls of the old abbey buildings, with pointed Gothic arches, and doorways leading into the long ambulatory where the monks warmed themselves with hot-air carried by flues; an inheritance from Roman times.

Above the ambulatory, which is now used for the storage of farm tools, were the monks' dormitories. The domestic water-supply was piped from springs across on the other side of the River Blackwater. (Beaumont said that he had two of the 4-inch clay pipes--with 1½-inch center bore--used for transporting this water.) The so-called Monk House at Abbey Farm is almost as complete as the chapel, and was probably the Abbot's own dwelling.

The Abbey Mill is just below the Abbey Farm on the River Blackwater, and when we were there, Mr. Ward the owner was restoring the mill's internal machinery. (To get a working-head of water, the monks, quite early, rechanneled the river; and the old river-channel, between the rechanneled river and the town, is now known as the Back Ditch.)

The Grange Barn, across the Kelvedon Road from the Abbey, is one of the most ancient wooden buildings surviving in England. It was used by the monks as a tithe-barn to store the produce contributed by their tenants. When we were there, a project was underway for its restoration [which has since been completed]; to be used as a museum and community center.

Back to Coggeshall-Town, and its most famous tourist attraction Paycocke's House, just down the street from the White Hart. Thomas Paycocke had been a butcher in Clare, near Hundon, county Suffolk. (We'll get to Clare and Hundon later.) He came to Coggeshall as a butcher, and died there in 1461. But, says Eileen Power, in her book The Paycockes of Coggeshall, "it is hard not to conjecture that this early Thomas was one of those wealthy grazing butchers who were beginning to own large sheep farms." In addition to mutton, sheep produce wool; and wool, cloth. So, the Paycockes became clothiers, or clothers; got very, very rich; and took over the town of Much Coggeshall.

John Paycocke, the son or grandson of the original Thomas, built Paycocke's House around 1500, for his third son Thomas (there may have been other Paycocke Houses for his older sons). There are still two, and there used to be several, large Paycocke brasses in Coggeshall Church ("Prey for the sowl of Robert Paycocke of Coggeshale cloth maker, for Elizabeth and Joan his wyfs"), about which Weever, in his famous book Ancient Fvneral Monvments in 1631, said, "I haue not seene such rich monuments for so meane persons"; probably because the Paycockes, in addition to calling themselves carnifex (butcher) and cloth worker, engraved on their brasses only their "merchant's mark," not arms.

The stained-glass windows in Paycocke's House are part of the 20th century restoration work, and show, on the right, Paycocke's merchant-mark--albeit in a shield--; and, on the left, the arms of the Buxton family, who owned the house for five generations after the Paycockes died out in 1584. The beautifully carved woodwork in Paycocke's House was, some antiquarians say, bought from the abbey church when Thomas Cromwell's agents auctioned it in 1538. And, at the rear of the house, gardens extend between the house and the river. Col. and Mrs. McAuliffe, from Australia, lived in, and were the National-Trust-keepers of Paycocke's House when we were there; and they were most cordial.

On the same street with the White Hart and Paycocke's House is the office and warehouse of Kings Seeds. Many of the farms around Coggeshall are extensively engaged in seed-growing, and Kings Seeds are well known throughout the United Kingdom.

This main street follows the line of the old Roman road, built for the Emperor Claudius in the first century. When the Saxons came in--and named Coggeshall, they liked the solidity of the Roman road so well that they built their houses (which Beaumont calls "their miserable hovels") right smack on it; so that the White Hart, Paycocke's house, and all the other houses on the south side of Coggeshall's "Main Street" rest their foundations on the old Roman road. The road itself was just shifted a few yards north. East Street (east of Bridge Street) continues nine miles to Colchester, the legendary seat of Old King Cole, who called for his pipe and called for his bowl; and was also, in Julius Caesar's time, the chief city of the British Isles. West Street (west of Bridge Street) continues five miles to Braintree and another sixteen to Bishop's Stortford [STAW-fud]. The whole stretch from Colchester to Bishop's Stortford was anciently known as Stane Street.

We now come to the Coggeshalls, of whom Weever, quoted above, said, "I finde that these Coggeshalls in foregoing ages, were Gentlemen of exemplarie regard and Knightly degree, whose ancient habitation was in this Towne." However, despite Weever's statement, there is no good evidence that any Coggeshalls ever lived in the town of Coggeshall itself.

Among the earliest holdings of the senior line of Coggeshalls was the Manor of Coggeshall Hall, off the Kelvedon Road about two miles south of Coggeshall. This manor, both demesne [de-MAIN] and seignory [SEEN-nyo-ri], is now owned by the Bonner family. (Mr. Bonner remembered that the seiglnory of a manor included the right to deflower all resident prospective brides; but said that he, of course, had never chosen to exercise that traditional right.) Michael Bonner, their son, served us tea on Easter afternoon and showed us through the house and grounds. Next morning, Easter Monday, Mr. Derek Bonner and his wife Shelia told us more about the place: The original manor house had probably been behind the present dwelling; Mr. Bonner had found the remains of an earlier house between the present house and the river.

But the Coggeshalls probably didn't live at Coggeshall Hall for more than three or four generations (if they lived there at all). because Sir Ralph de Coggeshall died at Great Codham Hall in 1305. Barrett in his book on county Essex says, "Codham Hall is so called for a de Codham family who dwelt there from the time of the Conquest until 1255....When the de Codhams died out and the Coggeshalls came in is uncertain"; but, since Sir Ralph de Coggeshall held it in 1294, he probably got it by marriage to a de Codham heiress--the usual method of acquiring large properties in those days. Barrett also said, in 1893, "Codham Hall is nowadays but a fragment of what it used to be." However, it is still a very sizable estate, with out-buildings and tenant-houses.

The senior line of Coggeshalls lived at Great Codham Hall for more than 150 years (according to some visitation records, for six generations; but Barrett says for eight generations) until Sir William de Coggeshall died in 1424, leaving his estates to his four daughters.

Our cadet line (cadet means younger son) branched off from the senior line in the early 1300s, and next shows up in the court records of Clare (where the Paycockes were butchers), just across the county line in county Suffolk, around ten miles north of Codham Hall, and in the nearby villages of Chilton and Hundon. The village of Chilton is now called Chilton Street on Ordnance-Survey maps to distinguish it from Chilton Parish, some eight miles east, near Sudbury. The village of Chilton, which doesn't have a church, is about a mile from Hundon, which does. Hundon's All Saints' Church is still lit by Aladdin kerosene lamps.

Of our Coggeshall line, probably more generations attended this church and were buried in this cemetery than any other--except possibly the cemetery at Newport--, because they lived in this neighborhood around 200 years until about 1500. But we didn't bother to look for Coggeshall inscriptions on the stones. The life of an outside marble gravestone inscription is usually less than 200 years (one-fourth that of a book). Later, on this trip, we saw a churchyard where the blank gravestones had been bulldozed into a corner as fill, to level the churchyard. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Another branch of our cadet line were lords of Pinhoe Hall, a manor just south of Hundon with a moated manor house. And from another branch descended the Coggeshalls of Fornham St. Martin and Fornham St. Genevieve, north of Bury St. Edmunds; and also Henry Coggeshall who invented the Coggeshall Slide Rule in 1677.

In our immediate cadet line, around 1500 a John Coggeshall moved from Hundon twelve miles south to Gosfield, just west of Halstead. His son William Coggeshall lived for a few years in the 1540s in Waltham [WALT-am], while William's son John was an apprentice in London. But, by 1553, this John Coggeshall owned a capital messuage [MES-wij], then called Munchensies, in Halstead. This is the place now known as Blue Bridge House, south of the River Colne on the road (A-604) from Halstead to Coggeshall.

St. Andrew's Church at Halstead has a clock tower; and one of its chief attractions is the Bourchier monument (locally pronounced BOW-ser or BOWT-sher, ow as in cow), with effigies of John, second Lord Bourchier, who was governor of Flanders under John of Gaunt's regency, and died in 1400; and his wife, the lady on the outside, Elizabeth de Coggeshall, sister of Sir Henry de Coggeshall. They were second cousins of our cadet line, eight times removed of President John. And, from two hundred years later, there is a small mural brass on the south-east wall of St. Andrew's Church, to another Elizabeth Coggeshall, aunt of our President John, who was the wife of John Watson, vicar of Halstead. She died in 1605, at age 33, leaving--as you can see on the brass--two sons, three daughters, and a "chrysom babe."

The last of our line in England was President John's mother, whose will, as Anne Coggeshall of Castle Hedingham [HEN-ing-am], was the first document discovered, around 1890, in tracing our line back to England. She was the daughter of Pierce Butter of Dedham--the scene of many of John Constable's most famous paintings. St. Mary's Church in Dedham, with black knapped-flint stonework, has a pew dedicated to the people of Dedham, Massachusetts, who, in 1967, contributed more than £1000 to restoration work on the church.

Hedingham Castle was built by the de Veres during the troubles of King Stephen's reign. The outer walls, and most of the castle buildings, were dismantled by later owners to prevent King Charles II quartering soldiers and prisoners there; but the castle-keep is the best preserved Norman keep in England, with a great arch in the castle's "Banqueting Hall," and "battle stations" around the inside of its upper walls.

It should be remembered that the whole of England is considerably smaller than my home state of Illinois (Illinois, 56.4 K sq. mi.; England 50.9 K sq. mi.; 90%). We tried to visit all the towns, villages, and manors recorded as residences of our Coggeshall line; butwe didn't try to find all of the manors held by the senior line--some of which were in counties Suffolk, Norfolk, and Hertford [HAR-fud]. If, on the map of East Anglia, you draw a circle with a ten-mile radius, centered on Sible Hedingham, all the residences are within that ten-mile circle--except Waltham, where William Coggeshall of Gosfield lived for a few years around 1540 while his son John, the grandfather of President John, was an apprentice in London before going to Halstead before 1553. Within the ten-mile radius circle: Coggeshall, Coggeshall Hall, Great Codham Hall, Clare, Chilton, Hundon, Pinhoe Hall, Gosfield, Halstead, Castle Hedingham. And outside: Waltham; Dedham, where Anne Butter was born; Fornham St. Genevieve, and Framlingham, where other branches of our cadet line lived until at least 1752; and, in 1970, Nancy Coggeshall Martin found two memorial brasses: one to a Sir Thomas de Coggeshall at Springfield, Chelmsford; and another to a John Coggeshall who died in 1636 at Orford on the coast of Suffolk.


  • Return To Reunion Proceedings

  • Return To The Coggeshall Genealogy