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Sible Hedingham, with a main street approximately one mile long, in terms of area is the second largest village in Essex covering over five thousand acres. It is situated in the north of the county on the west bank of the river Colne opposite to the historic smaller village of Castle Hedingham. In past times the convergence of roads made the Hedinghams into a minor market town processing the products of local farms and acting as a shopping and social centre for the area.
Sible Hedingham's parish boundaries encompass a number of outlying Greens including High Street Green, Morris Green, Forrey and Southey Green and also Hamlets such as Cobbs Fenn, Cut Maple, Delvin End, Harrow Cross and New England. The village had several manors, the Lords of the main ones being owners of Hedingham Castle.
Sible Hedingham has evidence of occupation as far back as the Bronze Age, Bronze Age artifacts were found near Tower house in 1929. The Romans also occupied the village as Roman pottery has also been found and Roman brick tiles are incorporated in the construction of St.Peters Church. A Roman kiln and a Saxon Icon were also unearthed at Hole farm on the Braintree road and Mediaeval kilns at Braintree corner and Potter Street. There are several sites in the village that given the time and money, amongst other things, could well reveal a Roman Temple and Villa!
There has been much development over the years but the early village is still evident in the clusters of cottages and larger houses around the 14th Century church and the three small streams that feed into the river Colne. These houses are mostly of timber construction, an indication that this part of Essex was once heavily forested, thus plenty of building material was available. Pockets of woodland which still survive on the Parish boundaries are mostly on private farmland and not easily accessible. However at Cut Maple the Forestry Commission is responsible for Broakes Wood, which has public access.
For many years agriculture was the main employer. In May 1816 Sible Hedingham was the scene of a riot when labourers, with various weapons, destroyed threshing machines and farming implements. Five young men were committed by magistrates to the house of correction in Halstead. On their arrival with constables four of them were rescued by a number of Halstead residents and were at large. The Gosfield troop of Volunteer cavalry were called into the village until further directions came from the government.
Sible Hedingham was the last place in Essex where hops were grown and they were considered to be superior to any others in the county. Hops can still be found growing wild in some hedgerows. To process the various crops of the local farmers there were once three windmills, two watermills, eight maltings and a tannery in Alderford Street. At least two public houses had their own hopfields and breweries. Once there were twelve public houses, six were in the main street, of which only the Sugar Loaves survives. Two, the Lion and the White Horse are still in Church Street and of the remainder, which were in the outlying area, only one, Bottle Hall, remains. This was also one of at least three Blacksmiths that took care of the horses and farming equipment. There was a local rhyme about all the hostelries....
The Windmill's sails went round and round,
The Half Moon shone on the ground.
The Blackhorse kicked the Lamb,
Which made the Bell to ring.
The Swan went swimming down "the street",
The Bird in Hand did sing.
The Sugar Loaves they were so sweet,
It made The Lion roar.
Which frightened The White Horse
Into The Carpenter's Arms,
And did not shut the door!
The village's most famous son was Sir John Hawkwood who was born at Hawkwood Manor in Potter Street in 1320. His father Gilbert Hawkwood was a tanner. A soldier, he fought under the Black Prince and Edward III and received his knighthood for outstanding services at the battle of Poitiers. After the war he formed a company of mercenaries known as the White Company and was hired by various independent Italian states, fighting for and against Popes who often ordered much slaughter and pillaging. He was finally put in charge of the Florentine army and on retirement received a pension. He had hoped to return to England after settling his estates and his family but he died in1394. He was given a state funeral and his memorial can still be seen in Florence Cathedral. Tradition says his family brought his body back to Sible Hedingham and Richard II wanted his remains to be placed in Westminster Abbey although this is doubtful. However there was a memorial in St. Peter's church of which only the canopy remains.
In the 1860's a belief in witchcraft was so strong in the area that an elderly man, a tramp known as Dummy, who for years had roamed the local villages but now lived in a mud hut nearby, was ducked in the stream by the Swan Inn. Along with a Samuel Stammers a local carpenter, Emma Smith from Ridgewell, who had previously accused Dummy of putting a spell on her and wanted him to remove it, caused a scene of riot and confusion at the Inn. Dummy was beaten and dragged into the brook, he was taken back to his hut and later found to be in such a state that he was taken to Halstead workhouse. Here he died from causes the post mortem said were brought on by immersion in water and sleeping in wet clothes. Smith and Stammers were charged with causing his death and were tried at Chelmsford Assizes where they were found guilty and received six months hard labour. This was one of the last witchcraft trials ever held.
Over the years almost every trade and occupation can be accounted for making this a very self-sufficient village. The cloth trade was a principal employer until the end of the eighteenth century and on its demise workers turned to straw plaiting. Women played a large part in this and in 1871 about 380 people, mostly farm labourers wives and daughters were involved and some of the plait was sold to merchants and taken to Luton for making straw hats. Straw plaiting schools were set up to teach not only the craft but also some basic education. Education has always been important and once many small schools existed. St.Peter's church school being one of the earliest has stood the test of time and is now the centre of Primary education along with Hedingham School which is a centre for Secondary education with a catchment area of many other local villages.
As time passed two industries became the mainstay of the economy, brickmaking and woodworking. Although the earliest recorded brickworks were in existence in the 1700's the arrival of the railway in 1861 opened up new markets at home and abroad. So many bricks were transported that the railway could barely cope and plans were made for other branch lines to connect to other centres but this did not materialise. One owner even had the brow of a hill in Wethersfield road reduced making it easier for the traction engines that transported the bricks to reach the station more quickly. In 1900 the industry employed about 500 men who made some seven to eight million bricks a year. This industry flourished until the Second World War with the last yard closing in 1954. Local houses of distinctive red bricks, some built to house the workers are still a feature of the village.
The joinery works of Ripper's Ltd. Established itself alongside the railway yards in 1899 having started life in 1890 in a disused cowshed in Castle Hedingham where three brothers were jobbing builders. This company eventually became a major employer for the surrounding villages as well. "All roads lead to Rippers" was an often used expression. When the First World War depleted the work force women were employed for the first time and production changed from house building materials to things such as aeroplane propellers and instrument panels. During the Second World War Pontoons, bomber parts, army huts and anything wood came from the factory. After the war production returned to more building materials, window and door frames, staircases and handrails and included the woodworking in the Royal Festival Hall in London. Television cabinets were made in the 1960's followed by kitchen units. Working conditions were always considered to be good and Rippers was one of the pioneers in giving paid holidays to it's workers. However by the 1970's the industrial climate was becoming difficult and the company was sold to an international company and work gradually declined until only a small operation existed and this will shortly be closed. Rippers was also responsible for a considerable amount of building in the village, providing their workers with affordable accommodation. Other housing estates have been built, some by the Gibson family (who gave the Recreation ground to the parish) and council housing first built in the 1920's with more built in the 1950's.
The railway was made redundant by Dr. Beeching in the 1950's and the rail and wood yards have now been used for housing and some small industrial units. The railway station was dismantled and moved over the border to Castle Hedingham on the Yeldham road where the Colne Valley Steam Railway is now a major tourist attraction.
Today most people are employed away from the village but a selection of shops exist, farming continues in the outlying areas and more houses have been built expanding the village to the village we know today.
(Written by Pauline Day & Peter Day with reference from: A Pictorial History of Sible Hedingham by Adrian Corder-Birch, Sible Hedingham The Official Guide by SHPC, The Hedinghams Through Three Centuries by WEA and local knowledge!)
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