Coggeshall

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Coggeshall is a small market town of 3,919 residents (in 2001) in Essex, England, situated between Colchester and Braintree on the Roman road of Stane Street (the drainage aqueducts of which are still visible in the cellar of the Chapel Inn today), and intersected by the River Blackwater. It is known for its almost 300 listed buildings and formerly extensive antique trade. Many local businesses, such as the White Hart Hotel and the Chapel Inn (The Chapel Inn became a legally licensed premises in 1554) have been established for hundreds of years. A market has been run every week on Market Hill since 1256, when a charter to do so was granted by Henry III.

Coggeshall won the Essex Best Kept Village award in its category in 1998 and 2001–03; it was named the Eastern England & Home Counties Village of the Year in 2003.

The meaning of the name Coggeshall is much debated. Different pronunciations and spellings have been used throughout its history and many theories as to the name’s origin have arisen. The earliest mention of the name is in a grant from around 1040 where it is called Coggashael. The Domesday Book from 1086 addresses the town as Cogheshal and it is mentioned elsewhere as Cogshall, Coxal and Gogshall. Beaumont brought together several theories in his 1890, A History of Coggeshall, in Essex.

  1. Weever 1631 wrote about a monument found on ‘Coccillway’ (pronounced Cocksill way), thought that Coccill was a lord of the area in Roman days and a corruption of the name lead to Coggeshall
  2. Dunkin thought that it was a concatenation of two Celtic words – Cor or Cau with Gafael, enclosure hold; or Coed and Caer or Gaer, camp in a wood, ‘Cogger’, the person owning this camp may have had a hall, therefore Coggershall. Beaumont largely rejects this.
  3. Philip Morant opined that the name was a corruption of Cocks-hall, with the seal of the Abbey featuring three cockerels. This may also be supported by Beaumonts suggestion that the first parish church, like the current one, was dedicated to Saint Peter, and the Cockerel was used as a sign of this dedication.
  4. Beaumont also reasons that the name may have come from the red coloured shrub, the Coccus, whose colour is pronounced Coch and many Ancient Britains had names related to colours.

Post Beaumont, Margaret Gelling associated the name with the landscape in which the town is situated, claiming that hall comes from Anglo-Saxon halh, meaning a nook or hollow, thus rendering the name as ‘Cogg’s nook’, corresponding to Coggeshall’s sunken position in the 150-foot contour line. There are several towns throughout Britain with similar names: Uggeshall, Cockfield, Cogshull, Cogges, Coxhall Knoll. Part of the Parish was known as Crowland, the Parish of Crowland in Lincolnshire has an area within it called Gogguslands. Coggeshall has been called Sunnydon, referenced in 1224 as an alias for the town.

Coggeshall dates back at least to an early Saxon settlement. There is evidence of a Roman villa or settlement before then and the town lies on Stane Street, which may have been built on a much earlier track. Roman coins dating from 31 BC to AD 395 have been found in the area and Coggeshall has been considered the site of a Roman station mentioned in the Itineraries of Antoninus. Coggeshall is situated at a ford of the River Blackwater, part of another path running from the Blackwater Valley to the Colne Valley. Where these paths crossed a settlement started. The area around Coggeshall has been settled since the Mesolithic period.

Coggeshall is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Cogheshal. The Manor of Coggeshall was owned by a Saxon freeman named Cogga, and at the time of its entry there was “a mill; about 60 men with ploughs and horses, oxen and sheep; woodland with swine and a swineherd, four stocks of bees and one priest“. William the Conqueror gave the Manor to Eustace, the Count of Boulogne.

The modern history of Coggeshall begins around 1140 when King Stephen and his queen Matilda, founded a large Savigniac abbey with 12 monks from Savigny in France,[7] the last to be established before the order was absorbed by the Cistercians in 1147. Matilda visited the Abbey for the last time in 1151 and asked for the Abbot’s blessing, “If thou should never see my face again, pray for my Soul. More things are wrought by prayer than this World dreams of.

Flint and rubble were the main materials used in the construction of the monastery, and the buildings were faced with stone punted up the Blackwater and locally produced brick. Brick making had died out in Britain since the Romans left and the monks may have been instrumental in its re-establishment around this time. They built a kiln in the North of the town at a place called Tile Kiln, an area now known as Tilkey. The bricks from Coggeshall are some of the earliest known bricks in post Roman Britain. Long Bridge, in the south of the town was probably built in the 13th century using these bricks and the kiln in Tilkey continued to produce bricks until 1845. The Church was completed to a sufficient extent to be dedicated by the Bishop of London in 1167.

The estate commanded by the monastery was extensive. The monks farmed sheep, and their skilled husbandry developed a high quality wool that formed the foundation of the town’s prosperous cloth trade during the 15th to mid-18th centuries, when it was particularly renowned for its fine Coggeshall White cloth. The monastery also had fishponds with strict fishing rights — a Vicar of Coggeshall was imprisoned in Colchester for stealing fish. However the monastery could not produce all that it required and sold produce at an annual fair to buy the things they did not have. In 1250 the Abbot of Coggeshall was allowed by Royal Charter to hold an eight day fair commencing on the thirty first of July — the feast of St. Peter-ad-Vincula, to whom the Parish Church was dedicated. In 1256, a Saturday market was granted as long as it didn’t interfere with its neighbours. Colchester complained in 1318 that Coggeshall was a hindrance, and their complaint, being upheld, resulted in the market being moved to Thursday, where it remains to this day.

The Black Death hit the Abbey hard, with the number of monks and conversi much reduced. Revenues across Essex fell to between one third to one half of pre plague rates, the abbey suffered financially with tenented and cultivated lands heavily decreased.[7] During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 the Abbey was broken into and pillaged. The sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, John Sewall was targeted by rioters at his Coggeshall house, now the Chapel Inn. By the early 15th century a new church was begun at the Abbey called St. Mary’s, it was completed by the start of the 16th century but the Dissolution of the Monasteries brought an end to the prosperity of Monks. In 153] Abbot Love was demoted with a list of complaints raised against him, though some of them may have been fabricated it appears that standards at the monastery were dropping.[7] It was common method at the time, that Abbot’s unsympathetic to the will of the King were replaced with more favourable ones, in this case Abbot More was implanted by Dr. T. Leigh. Coggeshall survived the Act of Suppression in 1536 and the Abbot of St. Mary Grace’s, London, invested in its future. However the political situation was opposed to the monasteries and Coggeshall succumbed in 1538 on the fifth of February, handed over by Abbot More. The monks were sent back to their families or into the community, with many becoming priests, Abbot Love became vicar of Witham where he stayed until his death in 1559. The monastery’s possessions and lands, totalling nearly 50,000 acres (200 km²), were seized; King Henry VIII granted them to Sir Thomas Seymour. They remained into his possession until 1541 when they were split up.

After the decline of the wool trade, Coggeshall’s economy centred around cloth, silk and velvet, with over half of the population employed in its production. The cloth trade is first linked with the town in 1557 as a well established industry but the onslaught of various trade laws brought about the decline of the trade. The last book order entry for cloth production is listed as November 14, 1800.

The 1851 census showed Coggeshall to be one of the most industrialised places in Essex. However, the English silk industry was being artificially supported by a ban on imported silk goods; Continental silk was cheaper and of a higher quality. When Parliament repealed the ban in 1826 and later reduced and finally removed duties on French silk, English weavers were unable to compete and Coggeshall’s economy was devastated.

The town again found fame in Tambour lace, a form of lace-making introduced to Coggeshall around 1812 by a Monsieur Drago and his daughters. The production of this lace continued through the 19th century before dying out after the Second World War. Examples of Coggeshall lace have been worn by Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II.

Coggeshall was noted for the quality of its Brewing, in the late 19th century having four well established institutions. In 1888 Gardner and Son were awarded the Diploma of Honour at the National Brewer’s Exhibition. The brewery buildings have undergone alternative use in recent years, with several now used a residential buildings and another used as the Coggeshall Village Hall. In 2008 the Red Fox Brewery was opened near Coggeshall.

By the end of the 19th century gelatine and isinglass production was well established at a site on West Street, production continued until ceasing in the late 1980s.

In the mid 19th century John Kemp King established seed growing in the area where it continues to this day.

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