THE COUNTY OF ESSEX is immediately east of Greater London. Parts of it are heavily built-up and not particularly attractive. The rest of the county is both varied and delightful to explore. So near to London, many parts of it retain rural characteristics, which one might not believe existed so near to the huge city of London. Recently, we visited Goldhanger, a small village close to the River Blackwater’s estuary.
The village near Maldon (famous for its salt) has been known as ‘Goldanger’, ‘Goldangra’, and ‘Goldangre’. According to Maura Benham (1913-1994) in her history of Goldhanger, the place’s name has always had ‘gold’ as its first part. The gold probably referred to a yellow flower. The second part might either originate in the word ‘hanger’ meaning hill, or ‘anger’ meaning grassland. It is not known exactly when the settlement, which is at the head of a small creek, was first established but there is archaeological evidence suggesting it was already inhabited in the Iron Age around 500BC. One reason for the village’s existence might have been for making salt from seawater. The local saltworks came to an end in the early 19th century.
The heart of the small village is The Square, where Church, Fish, and Head Streets meet. We ate a hearty, tasty lunch in the Chequers Inn. This was listed as the only alehouse in the village in a document dated 1769. It might have been used by smugglers long ago. The building housing it has been used as a pub for at least 250 years. Prior to that it was built about 250 years earlier as a residence. Constructed in stages, the earliest part was probably built in 1500 (http://past.goldhanger.org.uk/Chequers.htm#:~:text=The%20Chequers%20has%20been%20an,landowner%20as%20his%20private%20ressidence.) Inside, the pub, built on several different levels, with an abundance of ageing timber beams, has an authentic ‘olde worlde’ atmosphere and appearance.
The pub is the southern neighbour of the attractive St Peter’s parish church. According to the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, the church originated in the 11th century and some evidence of this can still be observed. The south aisle was built in the 14th century and the west tower in the 15th. Pevsner makes special mention of a tomb chest with a black stone cover plate which has indentations where several brasses used to be. This stands in the South Chapel, which was built by the local Higham family, whose farm was in Goldhanger, in the early 1500s. The chest tomb contains the remains of Thomas Heigham who died in 1531,
Although the church has many other interesting features to enjoy, I will mention only one of them. Located close to the Higham tomb, I noticed a curious wooden carving, a sculpture depicting two forearms with hands clutching or gripping something I could not identify. This was sculpted by Crawshay Frost. According to a short history of the church, this artwork was dated “1960s”. Whether that means it was placed in the church then, or created then, is not stated. I had not encountered the name Crawshay Frost before visiting Goldhanger. A fascinating web page (http://past.goldhanger.org.uk/Frost.htm) described a notable inhabitant of the village, Horace Crawshay Frost (1897-1964), who lived in Fish Street between 1926 and 1964.
Horace graduated in History at the University of Oxford. During WW1, in which he suffered injuries (both physical and psychological), he took many photographs, some of which are now kept in London’s Imperial War Museum. After leaving the army in the early 1920s, he taught at a school in Brentwood (Essex). Soon after that, he moved to Goldhanger, where he gave private tuition to the children of the curate. In Goldhanger:
“… he involved himself in local history, archaeology, art, sculpture, music, ornithology, horticulture, photography and writing, and also established a reputation as a local philanthropist of extreme intelligent. Whether it was because he was sufficiently wealthy, or because he was too ill, or both, it appears that for most of the time he lived in the village he did not engaged in any kind of full time employment, but rather he spent his time enthusiastically pursuing various hobbies and pastimes, and paid others to help him with them.”
On the basis of this information provided on the webpage, I feel that it was Horace, who produced the sculpture I saw in the church. Further evidence of his interest in wood carving comes from a book, “Celebration”, the autobiography of Graham David Smith. He recalled visiting Horace in Goldhanger in 1955, during the time of the so-called Mau-Mau Uprising in Kenya. Smith wrote:
“We had come to work and earn money. Mr Frost had a perfect job for us. Laid out in front of the open kitchen door were several mahogany beams ordered through local woodyards and a large satchel of finely honed steel chisels from Harrod’s. Mr Frost, deeply disturbed by any stories about war, had come by what he thought would be a perfect solution of that awful Mau-Mau business in Kenya: art to soothe the savage breast. To get the Africans started, he had sketched out the wood scenes and motifs he thought conducive to a peaceful and pastoral life.”
On our way from the church back to the car, I noticed three pumps on Head Street, near to the Chequers pub. Two of them, standing side by side, were old-fashioned petrol pups bearing the ‘Pratts’ logo. These well cared for objects were installed in about the 1930s, but maybe originally in Church Street. Opposite these and next to the village car park, there is another pump. This was installed to supply water.
The water pump is above a water well that was dug in the hot summer of 1921. According to a notice affixed to the hand operated pumping mechanism, the well is 70 feet deep “with a further 100 feet of artesian bore, making 170 feet in all.” In 2012, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, Goldhanger Parish Council restored both pump and well to working condition.
Once again, a brief outing to rural Essex, albeit a small part of it, has proved to be most interesting.