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Stage 11  -  Epping Station  to  Chipping Ongar  (7.7 miles)                     

Start: Grid Reference TL4621601593  Post Code CM16 4HW  StreetMap

If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 11 of this walk, without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a Word Docx by clicking on the link.

ROUTE DESCRIPTION

From Epping Station, we follow the Essex Way for our whole route. Thru' fields and an ancient track to Coopersale Street, then across fields to Gernon Bushes Nature Reserve. Cross over the M11 and go in a straight line towards Toot Hill - this bit can be very muddy. Thru' Toot Hill village and fields to Greensted and onto Chipping Ongar. Two videos at YouTube, one by John Rogers and a second by voxley19, both cover this whole walk.

Start at the entrance to Epping Station. Turn right and after 50 yards turn right again to climb and cross a footbridge over the railway.

At Epping Station we join the Essex Way at its start, and follow it for 8.6 miles to just after the town of Chipping Ongar. It is marked with Essex Way discs with a logo of two red poppies.

On the front wall of Epping Station is a plaque which commemorates the opening of the Essex Way in 1972. This is a long-distance path which stretches for 82 miles across the county and finishes by the coast at Harwich. Each year in early September a 10 stage relay race "The Essex Way Relay" is held along the length of the path. It starts at Epping Station and finishes at the Old Lighthouse at Harwich. The Tim Bertuchi website has an informative and pictorial guide to the Essex Way and is well worth a visit.

Epping as a town has been important for many centuries. It is 17 miles north of Central London and sits over 300 feet above sea level on a ridge. The name Epping is derived from Saxon origins, meaning "up" or "upland settlement". There is history back to before Romans Times. The Saxons are thought to have used it as a look-out area to watch for Danish invaders. In 1253 King Henry III granted the town a royal charter to hold a weekly market.

Through the years Epping was a place where important roads ran through. It became a staging point on the way to East Anglia and in the early 17th Century, when horse racing became popular in Newmarket, it also proved to be a stopping off point for Londoners on their way to the races. By the late 18th Century there were up to 16 coaching inns in the town. This may explain why the routes to and from Epping were popular with the notorious highwaymen who held up the coaches and robbed their wealthy inhabitants.

The railway reached Epping in 1865 when the Eastern Counties Railway Company extended the London to Loughton line as far as Ongar. The line converted from steam to electric in 1949, but in 1994 London Transport closed the line from Epping to Ongar. Today Epping station sits at the north east end of the London Underground Central Line. In 2004 the Epping Ongar Railway Volunteer Society reopened a six mile stretch of the closed line from Ongar which now stops a mile from Epping Station. At present the volunteers are working on extending the line for this extra mile to Epping, but they have lots of obstacles to overcome.

As you cross over the footbridge, look down to your left to see the now closed railway line which used to take the London Underground on towards Ongar. A video at YouTube, entitled "Epping Ongar Railway, 1994. Last Train from Ongar", shows the last journey on 30 September 1994.

A wonderful old video from 1980, and filmed by the driver of the train, shows the journey from Epping to Chipping Ongar. The video last for 41 minutes. The first 15 minutes show the line to Ongar. The rest is the return journey back to Epping and onto Loughton.

The footbridge leads to a residential road (Hillcrest Way). Follow Hillcrest Way to a T-junction with Bower Hill. Turn right and go downhill for just 35 yards to a sign for Bower Court on the opposite side. Cross over onto an enclosed footpath, signed "Essex Way". 

This for a short distance follows an enclosed path and soon comes out into and across an open field. Follow the path as it goes through a gap in the hedgerow into another field and turns left. Continue gently downhill along the edge of the field and eventually to a road (Stewards Green Road). Turn left along the road for just a few yards and past two red brick houses. Then turn left between houses and onto a lane which soon turns into a wide enclosed track. 

These few isolated houses form a tiny hamlet called Stewards Green. A few hundred yards further along the road is one of my favourite place names, Fiddlers Hamlet. It's basically a crossroads with a few houses and a 19th Century pub called "The Merry Fiddlers" (official website). Apparently, it has connections with Morris Dancers and people playing music on violins (or fiddles) whilst enjoying a few beers - hence the name. There is also a small campsite next to the pub. 

The track past the houses from Stewards Green is pleasant and enclosed on both sides with banks and trees and on maps is called Stewards Green Lane. The lane acts as a bridleway and is part of an ancient road from London to Newmarket. It is narrow and sometimes overgrown. A few years ago, it was used by the Epping Forest District Council in a team-building exercise where they cleared the lane of bramble, scrub and overgrown trees. I enjoy seeing local councils out doing hands-on work like this - they most probably enjoyed it too.

After 0.6 miles the track leads to the tiny village of Coopersale Street. At the junction turn right along Stonards Hill, signed Fiddlers Hamlet and Toot Hill and past the Theydon Oak Pub.

To the left just before the pub, is the entrance to Houblons Hill. This road climbs up to the village of Coopersale; on the way it passes Coopersale House (17th Century) to its LHS, which has some interesting history. The name of the road has connections to Sir John Houblon, Lord Mayor of London in 1695 and first Governor of the Bank of England from 1694 to 1697. He appeared on the 50 pound note, issued in 1994 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the bank. He stayed on the note until 2014, when a new one was issued.

Coopersale Street is a small hamlet and conservation area consists of several old houses, the oldest being Coopersale Lodge which dates from the mid-15th Century. There are a few from the 16th Century and the inviting Theydon Oak Pub is 18th Century. As you can see from photos on the pub website one of the locals is singer, Rod Stewart. The website also suggests the pub maybe haunted by a quiet and non-interrupting ghost. Directly opposite the pub is "The Old Barn", 16th Century and now completely restored and converted to a private dwelling. Coopersale Lodge is the last house, on the right and just before where the road turns right. It is hidden behind trees but visible from the entrance to its drive. The house has a very interesting tree growth forming its front porch.

Coopersale Street (see entry at Wikipedia) Coopersale and Fiddlers Hamlet do seem to have lots of history to them, but there are only a few references on the Internet. One of the best I have found is a book written by Fred Brown (1918 - 2005) which is available at the Hudgell Family website.

180 yards after the Theydon Oak Pub, and immediately before the road turns right, turn left onto a footpath, by a wooden fence and just before a drive, signed Essex Way (at 1.4 miles).

The house to the right of our path at this point was a former lodge of Gaynes Park. The drive leads over the M11 to Gaynes Park mansion. Gaynes Park is a large 19th Century gothic building and once a stately home. It sits on the site of the ancient manor house of Gaynes Park Hall. The mansion has recently been converted to flats and some of the outhouses are now used for functions.

Follow this path for 90 yards, eventually to and through a gap into a large field. Veer left and follow the path along the LHS of the field and for 300 yards into an even larger field. On entering the second field, bear left cutting off the corner of the field. On reaching the field edge, turn right to follow the path along the LHS of the field. Follow the path straight on through a wide gap and into a third large field. Stay straight on keeping along the LHS of the field and at the far corner and enter a wood.

The path along the edge of the above fields is elevated and gradually climbing with the fields dropping away gently to the right. However, because of their size there are good views to the right across the M11 motorway and into the distance.

Just before entering the wood is a carved wooden bench. This is a great spot to sit for a while after your long climb and enjoy the views. The wood is also a nature reserve and classified as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

Go through gap in the fence, then over footbridge and turn left, by way-marker. Continue straight on with ditch on LHS and woods on RHS (at 2 miles). Then over two footbridges and bear left up steps and along track.

At way-marker, next to noticeboard and with a kissing gate to the left, turn sharp right to follow track.

The woods form part of the Gernon Bushes Nature Reserve. It takes its name from Robert Gernon, Duke of Boulogne, who came over with Norman the Conqueror in 1066, and is all that remains of the old Coopersale Common which linked Epping Forest to Ongar Park. The nature reserve is managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust and a nearby notice board shows a map of the reserve and gives more information on the area.

Just outside the kissing gate a path leads through the car park of a nursery school to the road at the village Coopersale. Across the road the Old Rectory (now private) and just left of this is St Albans Church. The church was built in 1852 with lands and funds donated by Harriet Archer-Houblon who lived nearby at Coopersale House. She also funded the vicarage and provided the village with a school.

The track leads past a school to your LHS and then to a kissing gate. Go through kissing gate and stay right along the wooden fence at the south edge of a cricket ground. At the end of the fence turn right down some steps and into the woods, then go straight on past a path to right. 

At fork bear right, then eventually over a boardwalk and to a junction of paths.

At junction turn right and follow a wide bridleway to a footbridge over the M11 motorway. Cross the bridge and continue straight on, along a wide track with fields to the left and woods to the right. After 275 yards, and as the main track turns right, continue straight on along a bridleway with fields still to the left. Within a short distance this leads into a wood (Birching Coppice) and continues straight through for 0.8 miles - do not be tempted to turn away from this onto any other path.

Note: the whole route through here is along the Essex Way and it is well marked with circular discs containing two poppies. Also, as we walk along here, after a while, the wood's name changes to High Wood and then to Ongar Park Wood.

On leaving the wood (at 3.7 miles), the bridleway continues straight on through open fields, parts of which can be very muddy at times. Part of the route through here has been artificially elevated to keep it above the mud.

After exiting the woods, the route initially runs along a line of trees between fields. 175 yards along this line we cross the route of an old Roman Road that connected London to Dunmow. It ran in a north easterly direction, is marked on some maps and visible on Google Earth. However, I don't think it's visible on the ground.

The bridleway stays straight on for 0.65 miles to reach the edge of a small wood, to your RHS. Continue for 80 yards, then turn right thru a gap in the tress, signed Essex Way (DO NOT miss this or continue uphill towards the water tower).

Thru' trees, veer left to cross to gap in hedgerow. Then stay along LHS of field for 300 yards. At field corner cross a stile and follow path across paddock to reach road after 200 yards. Turn left along road (School Road), staying on the LHS.

Toot Hill village sign, on the small green just 80 yards to the right. Just south of the village green and a short distance along School Road is Toot Hill Golf Club. The golf course covers an area much larger than the village and claims to be one of the most testing in Essex. It was built on farmland with the original farmhouse now tastefully converted to form the clubhouse.

50 yards south of where we come out onto School Road is an old red phone box and post box. The red phone box has been purchased by Stanford Rivers Parish Council and turned into a tourist information kiosk.

There are some pleasant old cottages along the main road through the village and also a few large old houses and farms. One worth a mention is Rose Cottages. We pass it after 50 yards The pink house has an old red Post Office mail box built into the front wall as its letter box. I have spoken to the owner and, yes, they do sometimes have people use it as a post box. He does understand their mistake and always transfers the mail to the correct village post box.

Next door is The Green Man pub. It was originally a large house with stables at the rear (see link). Maybe at one time it was a coaching inn, but I can't seem to find a lot of information or even why it's named Green Man. According to Pub History it has been a pub since 1845. It also burnt down in 1896 and was rebuilt in 1907. It has a restaurant named The Courtyard, provides accommodation and is also home to the Toot Hill Folk Club. The pub sign has been changed in recent years. The older one depicted the leafy head of a green man above an image of Stonehenge. There are many pubs around the country named Green Man. They are usually connected with Robin Hood, outlaws who lived in forests, religious, pagan, witchcraft and druid traditions, with Roman Gods, life and rebirth or even ghosts. The area seems to suggest forest as this would have once been part of Epping Forest and earlier part of the extensive Forest of Essex. However, the older sign seems to suggest druids or something ancient because of the image of Stonehenge. Earlier, in stage 2 of our walk around London, we passed the old Ankerwycke Yew at Runnymede. Every time I visited the old yew it had many ribbons pinned to its trunk and, on research I know it has a witches' sect named after it, has connections with druids, religion and much more. I find it an intriguing subject, you can research it if you wish or just read the Green Man entry at Wikipedia.

Soon after the Green Man a road to the right leads to the small village hall. It looks to have potential, but on my few visits, I seen very little activity here.

Next are a few small late 20th Century housing developments, set back behind a communal green.

Soon to the left is Mill Lane. The windmill was next to T-junction. It was built in 1824, but five years later was badly damaged by lightning and the miller was seriously injured (read The Times Report from 24th June 1829). Some money was raised for him and his family, the mill was repaired and it continued to operate until 1900. It was struck by lightning again in 1910 and then was damaged by a fire in 1928. The locals eventually gave up on the mill and it was demolished in 1935. Very little sign of the mill remains today and Mill Place is built on the site. On my last visit (a few years ago) the then owner showed me some old metal weights sitting at the front of his house and as far as he knows this is all that remains of the windmill. Windmill World does have an old photo of the mill, but you need to scroll down at the link.

There are probably many famous people with connections to the village. One, Olly Murs, has become a very successful singer after finishing second in 2009 The X Factor.

Continue along the road (now Toot Hill Road) staying on the LHS as there is a grass verge. After 220 yards, and as the road turns sharp left (at 5 miles), turn right, past an entrance to a farm and onto a path, signed Public Footpath and finger-posted Essex Way.

One local resident, Olly Murs, has become a very successful singer after finishing second in 2009 The X Factor.

Across grass keeping the cottages / farm to your RHS and through a gap into a field and turn right along RHS of field for 35 yards. Turn right to cross footbridge, then immediately turn left and go east along LHS of field.

Go straight on for 160 yards with a wire fence to your RHS and hedgerow to your LHS. Cross over a footbridge, then a stile and follow the path straight on along the LH edge of another field. After 150 yards cross over stile then footbridge and stay straight on along LHS of fields for 750 yards (keep hedge on your LHS at all times).

Past farm to your RHS (Widows Farm). At fence corner stay on along path for 40 yards to way-marker. Turn left through wooden kissing-gate and go straight on along the LHS of four paddocks and metal curtain gates (lift clasp and close) there can be animals in fields - now going north.

After exiting the 4th paddock bear left downhill and after 40 yards turn left through a wooden kissing gate. Once through turn right along the RHS of a field for 170 yards to reach Greensted Road. Bear slightly left and cross road to fingerpost and cross footbridge past "Keep dogs on a lead" sign (DO NOT enter Greensted Wood Farm).

As you walk along here there is a small stream to your LHS and through the hedgerow is Greensted Wood Farm. It sits in the southwest corner of a small wood (Greensted Wood) mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Follow the path straight on along the left-hand edge of three fields, and after 1,000 yards, at the far side of the third field, cross over a small footbridge onto a part concrete lane.

Turn right along the lane for 100 yards to a converted barn. Stay straight on through a gate and past the tasteful front doors of the cottages built in the old barn. Do not be tempted to go straight use the farm track as it is private property. The public right of way is through the forecourt in front of the cottages. 

Once past the barn go straight on along the lane past a large house and then an old wooden church. Immediately after the church turn left onto drive - public footpath signed Ongar and with signed Essex Way disc (at 6.8 miles).

This tiny village, hidden well off the beating track is called Greensted, or to give its full name Greensted-juxta-Ongar. In literal terms this means a settlement in a green area (or clearing) adjoining Ongar - most likely a clearing in what was a huge forest at Epping. The large house just after and behind the barn is Greensted Hall and the small wooden church immediately past it is St Andrews. The manor here dates back to Saxon times. The earliest record I can find is during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1003 - 1066). However, the history of the place goes back long before this as you can see below. Like most other manors in England, it was held by Norman Lords after the invasion of 1066 - you can read more about the owners during this time by following the link to British History Online.

Alexander Cleeve, a London businessman and administrator of Gambia, bought the hall and its estate in 1695. It stayed in the family until 1752, when Cleeve's nine surviving children, who all owned in part, sold to David Rebobiter, a London Merchant. In 1837 the manor was bought by the Reverend Philip Budworth, a great grandson of Cleeve. He also bought other lands in the area and thus took most of the manor back into the family line. Philip's only son, Captain Philip J Budworth inherited the hall and lands and made it his family home in 1854. He bought more property in the area and held most of the parish lands. He was an active member of local society and affairs. He died in 1885 and is commemorated at Chipping Ongar through the building of a local community hall, Budworth Hall, in his name.

Although Greensted Hall dates back to at least Norman Times, the current one is mainly red-brick and that rebuilt by Alexander Cleeve between 1695 and 1700. In later years it has connections to other well-known people.

Julia Warren Farr (1824 -1914) was born here as Julia Hutchinson. In 1846 she married George Henry Farr, an Anglian clergyman. Through circumstances they immigrated to Adelaide in Australia in 1854. She went on to set up a charity there for orphaned girls which still holds her name today.

Another resident of Greensted Hall was Gerard Corley Smith (1909 - 1997). He was British ambassador to Haiti in 1960, but was expelled for his criticism of Papa Doc Duvalier's oppressive regime. His next post was British ambassador to Ecuador from 1962 - 67. One of Corley Smith's hobbies was bird-watching and during his time in Ecuador he became friends with Professor Jean Dorst, a French ornithologist and also president of the then recently formed Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands. He visited the islands on a few occasions; the second was on the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1964 with Prince Philip, who later became patron for the foundation. Corley Smith realised the uniqueness of the islands and worked to establish a national park, under Ecuadorean control, to protect their environment. He organised a British financed study of how this could be done at the same time as developing tourism to help the economy of the islands. Corey Smith left Ecuador in 1967 and a year later the new National Parks Service of Ecuador was formed. In retirement Corey-Smith was active with the Charles Darwin Foundation and in 1972 became its secretary-general, a position he held twelve years. During this time most of the Foundation's administration, including the production of the bi-annual bulletin "Noticias de Galapagos", was carried at his home Greensted Hall. When Gerard Corey Smith stood down as secretary-general in 1984 he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Ecuadorean government. After his death in 1997 the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos renamed its library the CDRS Corley Smith Library in his memory.

The Church of St Andrew's dates from c1053 AD, but research suggest earlier churches on the site may date back to the 4th Century and there is evidence of Roman occupation in the parish. It is the only Anglo-Saxon log church still standing, is thought to be the oldest wooden church in the world and the oldest wooden "stave" building in Europe. Its date is difficult to pinpoint accurately as nothing else in this design still survives. The nave is constructed of oak logs split in half with the round side used for the outside and the flat side for the inside. It is held together by pegs, grooves and lap joints. In 1972, because of its uniqueness, it featured on a Royal Mail postage stamp. You can view the stamp on the Collect GB Stamps website under Village Churches. In the churchyard next to the porch a long stone marks the grave of an early crusader.

It is recorded that St Edmund's body laid here overnight in 1013 on its way from London to its final resting place at Bury St Edmunds - this was over 140 years after he died. He was born in Germany in 840 and was crowned King of East Anglia in 855. He repelled two Danish invasions in 870. They soon returned with many extra forces. To avert a fruitless massacre he disbanded his army, but was captured by the invaders. They took him to a forest at Hoxne in Suffolk on 20th November 870 and tortured him. They beat him with sticks, tied him to a tree and whipped him almost to death. When he would not give into their demands, because of his strong faith in God, still tied to the tree they filled his body with arrows and then cut off his head. He was buried at what is now Bury St Edmunds, but in 1010 his remains were moved to London for safety. They were returned to Bury three years later via Greensted.

The church and area are also connected to the Tolpuddle Martyrs. They were a group of six agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle in Dorset, who in 1833 founded the "Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers". It was basically a trade union set up to protest about the unfair lowering of agricultural worker's wages at the time. Trade unions had been made legal the previous year through the passing of the "Reform Act of 1832". However, James Frampton, a Dorset landowner complained to the Prime Minister. They were arrested on a charge, drummed up from an old sea mutiny law, of swearing an oath to each other. They were convicted and sentenced to seven years in a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia.

By 1836 they had become heroes to the people of England. There was public outcry that they had been unjustly convicted and with the support of the new Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, they were pardoned and freed. They came back to England and were given lands at Greensted as they were unable to return to their Dorset homes.

At Greensted they continued their trade union activities by forming a local Chartist association. This did not go down very well with the wealthy Essex landowners and even the local Greensted Vicar preached against their activities.

One of the martyrs, James Brine, was married in the church in 1839 and his name can be seen on the church register.

In 1844, due to pressure from wealthy landlords and the local vicar, five of them moved to London in Ontario, Canada to start a new life. Only James Hammett moved back and settled in Tolpuddle where he died in 1891 and is buried in the local graveyard. All five who immigrated to Canada lived well into old age and were very successful. One even became mayor of the Canadian town. Today they are remembered throughout the world as the original founders of the Trade Union Movement and are celebrated by many memorials, museums and a festival in their honour. 

The old log church is really worth diverting the few tards to visit for a walk around the grounds. Every time I have visited it has been open and never ceases to amaze me. On one particular occasion, in July 2005, I came across two men replacing the tiles on the steeple, see photo. I spoke to the older of the two, his name was Peter Harknett. He was born in the early 1930s in London and at this time was the oldest steeplejack in the UK. The tiles he was using were oak, from trees blown down during the Great Storm of 1987. On adding to this section (2018), I see he's advertising his new book, "A Steeplejack's View of Life" by Peter Harknett.

For a short video, showing the exterior and interior of the church, see YouTube.

Go straight on for 45 yards and through a wooden gate in metal railings and through gap into a field. Follow path for 170 yards to north eastern corner. Go through gap and into a second field. Veer half left (barbed wire fence to RHS) and follow LHS of field for 200 yards. Exit field via kissing-gate and cross straight over lane to cross a footbridge into a large field.

Follow the obvious track straight on, gradually downhill and directly east. After half a mile go straight on over a concrete bridge over a stream and onto a lane (Bansons Lane) follow it straight past Sainsbury's and up to a T-junction with Chipping Ongar High Street.

If you look away to your left, as you cross the large field towards Chipping Ongar, you may catch a glimpse of a steam train puffing its way along the local heritage railway. I'll come back to this later.

Turn right along the pavement for only a couple of yards, to the zebra crossing, in front of Budworth Hall, where we finish the stage.

Chipping Ongar (meaning "market & grassland") dates back to at least Saxon times and may be much older. An article in the Independent on 10th July 2004 states a substantial Roman Road had been uncovered in Leyton. Research suggests the road stretched north east from London to Chipping Ongar where it seems to change direction towards Great Dunmow - once site of a small Roman town. This indicates that Chipping Ongar may have been an important communications hub in Roman times and probably the site of a Roman town. The theory is backed up by finds of Roman brickwork in the area.

Most of the town is now designated a Conversation Area and contains over 100 listed buildings. There are many old buildings on the High Street and it's a delight to see it's not overcrowded with multi-national shops, like most high streets throughout the rest of the UK. Many of the buildings are not now used for their original purposes; however, some plaques have been erected to tell their history and previous use.

Immediately to the right at the junction of Bansons Lane and the High Street is Budworth Hall. It was built in 1886 as a public hall for the recreation of the people and as a memorial to Captain Budworth, a local Justice of the Peace. The clock on the tower was added in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria's jubilee.

Ongar was originally a Saxon settlement in the middle of a "hundred" - an area of land which supported 100 families. Ongar Great Park, to the west of the town, is the oldest recorded park in England, first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon will of 1015. It is known there was a Saxon fortification here from before the Norman Invasion of 1066. The town was protected by Crispey Brook to the west and the River Roding to the east. At the time of the Domesday Book it was recorded as being owned by Eustace, Earl of Boulogne. In the 12th Century the manor was gifted by the King Henry II to Richard de Lucy, Lord Chief Justice of England. Sometime between 1155 and 1162 he built a "motte and bailey" (mound & courtyard) castle here and for some years the town was called Castle Ongar.

The mound was surrounded with water and had a wooden "keep" on its top. The keep was a lookout point and was the last line of defense if attacked. It was protected by an inner "bailey" on its west and a larger kidney shaped outer bailey on its east. Either the keep or inner bailey would have housed the Lord of the Manor and his family. The baileys also housed knights and servants, and would have had a kitchen, workshops, stables and possibly a church. The ditches around the motte and baileys were filled with water and they were connected by drawbridges. Outside the castle was the town with its traders, potters, blacksmiths, weavers, brewers, bakers, builders, and ordinary people (or peasants). The whole settlement was enclosed by a surrounding ditch.

For ordinary people, the small farmers, most tradesmen, and all their families, even monks and priests, times were hard. Today these are equivalent to your carpenters, electricians, plumbers, builders, small businessmen, nurses, lower ranks of the emergency forces and white-collar workers who can afford to live in nice houses. There was no going to your local supermarket to stock up on food. Meals such as breakfast and lunch (then called dinner) usually consisted of stale bread and hard cheese washed down with weak ale (water was not safe to drink). Supper in the evenings was a hot bowl of a crude vegetable and oat stew called pottage and if you were very lucky it may contain some meat. Sometimes people even went for days without eating because they could not afford it. There was no birth control and if you had more children than you could afford feed, new born babies were often left in the forests to die at the hands of wolves or foxes. Most people worked from daybreak to dusk to feed their families. The houses were basic (if you were lucky enough to have one) usually made from mud, timber and straw with a hard bed of rushes to sleep on. There were no toilets and diseases flourished and killed many, even the young and strong. Underwear was not part of the clothing, not even wonder bras, thongs or boxer shorts. Over garments were your only clothes and these didn't get washed very often. Women were not respected like they are today and children had no rights apart from those granted to them by their kin. Brothels were more common than ale houses, but condoms did not exist. It usually meant the girls and women who occupied them were well fed and could sleep in a soft bed, but their life expectancy was short. You could say the Lord of the Manor ruled the roost. He controlled the gaming writes to the forest, the rivers and lakes and if you wanted to do anything yourself you either paid taxes to make it legal or were punished severely if you were caught doing it illegally. The only charity came from monasteries where monks may let you in just before dark, give you some stale bread and weak beer, a roof over your head, a hard floor crowded with many others to sleep on and kick you out at daybreak. The common people were basically owned by the Lord and in many instances were not even allowed to leave the town without his permission. On the other hand, the "well-born" and wealthy ate to excess. Their meals were long lasting and always extravagant with various meats and fishes, fresh bread and the best vegetables washed down by good quality beers and wines. The leftovers ware usually fed to their pets or thrown in the rubbish. The servants were not allowed to finish off what was left, yet they did out of view of their masters, but were punished if caught.

Ongar was now a very important site. It levied its own taxes, administered the laws for the district and had its own market. The first recorded mention of the market was in 1287, but this is believed to be the successor of a previous market going back to Saxon times. In medieval times part of the High Street was widened to accommodate the market, a feature which it still retains today.

The castle buildings were demolished in the 16th Century and a stone mansion was built on top of the mound. This was demolished in 1744, but the "motte", "bailey" and ditches from Norman times are still well preserved and although most of the site is on private property and partly overgrown by trees, there is a path around two sides of it making it easy to view these old earthworks. An information board behind the library and next to the path has a map and aerial view of original Norman castle and town. VisitEppingForest.org has a section entitled Medieval Ongar and is well-worth a visit.

Just past Budworth Hall and on the same side of the High Street are the King's Trust Cottages. They are named after Joseph King, a local property owner. A plaque on the front states:

"JOSEPH KING (died 28th FEBRUARY, 1679) left this row of properties in Trust to provide out of the rents schooling for poor people of the Parish. The Trustees continue to use the income for educational purposes".

Shortly after King's death the cottages were used for teaching and it was not until 1846 when a purpose-built school was completed. 

To read more about Chipping Ongar see the start of the next stage.

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