Thomas Baskerville's Tour through East Anglia in 1662
"The road from London to Colchester leads through Stepney, the greatest parish in England for multitude of people. Radcliff Highway, Wapping, and most of the houses below the Tower did in 1661 belong unto it. ’Tis something more than a mile from London unto it. Next to this, a mile and half further on the road is Bow and Stratford, both big enough to keep markets were it not within seven miles of London. A navigable river from Ware in Hertfordshire (the Lea) here, streaming in several branches, separates these towns as I suppose, and is the western bounds of Essex, but at Blackwall uniting again, there commixing with the Thame. Having cleared yourself of those towns, in your march on the left-hand you shall discover Sir William Hicks, his house in a flourishing grove of trees (Ruckholt). and then IIford, 3 miles distant from Stratford, which at spring tides is visited by the water from Thames. - Romford, a great market town for corn and cattle two days in a week, that for cattle one day. and corn another, to which the butchers and mealmen of London do resort. It hath one church handsomely beautified within.Ingatestone, a sweet town on rising ground, hath a handsome church, where the family of the Peters have an aisle for the burial of their dead, and in it some fair momiments. The Lady Petre now living is a widow, having a good report among her neighbours for charitable works. Adjoining to the churchyard they have a fair bowling-green, frequented by tho gentry hereabouts. In the next five miles' march you shall pass through Margaretts End (Margaretting) to Wilford (Widford), where upon the road I found growing camomile, organy, and orpines. Chansford (Chelmsford), the shire town of Essex, is about the bigness of Reading, watered with a fine river and adorned with a large church in which do lie entombed the Lord Thomas Mildmay and his Lady, who had issue seven sons and eight daughters, as is to be seen by their effigies on a fair monument.
About this town, as in many parts of Essex, they have large hopyards, in which at the time of gathering they employ many women for 6d. a day to pick and separate them. Those that are got in green, when they are ripe, they say are the best, the brown they sort by themselves, being lower prized, but I have found by experience to gather them in too green is not so good, for unless they be glutinous and stick to tho gatherer's fingers they are not come to their full virtue and ripeness. As soon as they have cleansed them from leaves and stems -they set them to dry on kilns, for if they neglect them three or four days 'twill discolour them; in 12 hours' time may be dried two kilns, but great care must be taken lest they burn. When they are dried it is good to lot them lie a week or more in the heap to air, for if they are put in bags to soon thev are apt to grow mouldy.
“Essex for the generality is a level and enclosed country, not so well planted with fruit trees as Kent, but in other respects as neatly husbanded. Out of this country and Suffolk they drive, like flocks of sheep, to London great legget (?) of turkeys.
“In Essex is a market town called Halstead, built on the declivity of a hill, and in the bottom of a river here Sir Samuel Trayn hath a fair house, ann. 1662. Five miles further in the road to London is another large market town called Braintree, on the top of a low hill, having adjoining to it another handsome town called Bockhen (Bocking), and by that a river. Between this town and Chelmsford, in the road formerly described, is accounted 10 miles.
“But let us pass forward to Springfield, by which in the road you shall have a view of that stately mansion, New Hall, which owned the Duke of Buckingham for lord in ’62. From the highway it hath a stately walk or riding to the house, set on both sides in exact order double rows of lime and ' hornbin ’ trees at such distance that at the end of this flourishing walk you may discover the front of the Duke’s magnificent palace, which with desires to have further satiated my greedy gazing eyes I left behind, and came to Boorham, where one Mr. Cammock hath a neat house and garden finely planted with outlandish trees, whose ever verdant tops overlook the vale, adding delight to travellers that pass that way.
“The founder of Colchester was Coellas or Coile earl of Colchester and king of Britain, who began his reign in the year of our Lord 262, ruling it for a certain time to the content of his subjects, till Constantius appointed by the Romans, passed over into this isle with an army, which prut Coyle in such dread that he immediately sent an embassage and concluded a peace, covenanting to pay the accustomed tribute and give to Constantius liis daughter in marriage, called Helena, a noble lady and learned, who was the mother of Constantine the Great. Shortly after Coyle died, after he had reigned as some write 27 years, or as others have it but 13 years. But to this day the townsmen of Colchester, in remembrance of King Coyle there found or keep in reparation a well railed about, in the chiefest street of the town, and on the top of the pump the effigies of King Coyle, and on each corner of this enclosure the town arms. Conduits they can have none, because the situation is on ground as high or higher than any hereabouts, I mean that which is walled. Sixteen churches and a ruinous castle for public buildings are reckoned within this town and her precincts. The castle (now a prison) for the county was the palace of King Coyle, of late years made famous for the suffering of those two worthy knights, Sir George Lisle and Sir Charles Lucas, who were here shot to death. In that place where they fell the grass at this day doth not grow or hide the earth, although it grows thick and plentiful round about. Seven thousand came into the town with my Lord Goring and these two knights being hotly pursued by the army under Sir Thomas Fairfax, so that they had no time to make provision, and yet for all that they held out eleven weeks with a great deal of gallantry against the enemy, being driven by extremity of hunger before they did yield it up to eat their horses. In this siege the suburbs of the town were much ‘ endamnified,’ but since for the most part repaired; but St. Buttall’s (Botolph’s) one of the fairest churches of the town is yet a ruinous spectacle by means of the siege. They after surrendering paid £1,000 for composition to the Parliament-"The chief manufacture of this town does consist in making of rugs and baize, which doth employ so many hands that they are able to make 10,000 able men. They have likewise enrichments from the sea by a river navigable for hoys to St. Leonards (Hythe), a part of the town. At the mouth of the river lies Cole, their port town.
" Five miles from Colchester in the road to Ipswich lies Nayland, a little market town in Suffolk, surrounded with rich meadows mellowed by a river running through the town, and half a mile from it lies Stoke, on the top of the hill, a town as big as Nayland; and between this and Sudbury on the River Stour, which runs to Colchester, lies Buash (Bures), Lamarsh, and Hene (Henny) Magna, where my worthy friend, Mr. Charles Forbinch, formerly parson of Sandford, in Oxfordshire by Oxon, doth live, and is now rector of this place, 1662, at which 1 io1.iso I had a hearty welcome for some weeks.
“ About five miles from this gentleman’s house, on the edge of Suffolk, lies Sudbury, a fair market town situate upon the River Stour, a part of it called Ballington (Balingdon) being in Essex. ’Tis beautiful with three fair churches, whose towers and steeples at some distance as you come out of Essex through Ballington, seem to stand in the form of an equilateral triangle. The churches’ names are St. Gregory’s, St. Peter’s, and All Hallows’. In the last the family of the Edens, who live now at Ballington, hath a fair monument. By this church there was a priory, now the house of Mr. How’s. (Robert How purchased Sudbury Priory in 1621.)
Here was likewise an abbey, some time the residence—or else the town was his birth-place— of the learned man Simon, of Sudbury, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury.
"From Sudbury to Cambridge is. accounted twenty miles, but I found them long ones, the nearest way leads through Bulmer, next Water Belching (Belchamp Walter), which is about four miles from Sudbury. There is one parish more called Assington (Ashen) I went through before. I got out of this by way of Stoke (by Clare), which hath two inns in the road from Sudbury to Cambridge, here one Sir Jarvis Alloway hath an ancient house, formerly some monastery (Stoke College). Here is to be noted that this place is in the county of Suffolk, which is divided from Essex by the river Stour, that about Haverel (Haverhill) hath its fountain, which is a thoroughfare town on the road, 4 miles nearer Cambridge, and about 10 from Sudbury, The making of fustian and dimity is here a great trade, also about these parts saffron is much planted, but as to the discourse of the husbandry and planting of it, they gave me this account, viz.:— About midsummer when they design to new plant a ground, for they usually let the roots stand three or four years, they dig them up and dung the ground, and then set them again as thick as they can plant them, and 5 inches deep, that so they may hoe off the weeds for three or four years without spoiling the roots, for they let the weeds grow all the summer for cattle to feed on, and hoe them off about the middle of September a little before the saffron flowers begin to rise. In the first year’s planting the roots do yield but few flowers, the second and third years they bear flowers plentifully, and in the fourth year are dug up again to be dunged and planted as above said. When the flowers come up the people are dilligent to gather them in baskets and to take out the chives in the middle of them of a reddish colour, - and that is that which they call saffron. Then these chives are dried in an iron pan over the fire till they are so well dried that they are not apt to be mouldy.
Thus cured, a pound is valued at 25 shillings in these days, but formerly it was double the price of the weight of silver for saffron. These saffron heads or roots are grown so cheap that you may now in these parts buy a bushel of them for one shilling and sixpence, and sometimes a shilling, as the man at the "Dog” at Melsome, in the road between Royston and Cambridge told me. A little beyond Havrel (Haverhill) is Cambridgeshire. From Havrel to the University of Cambridge they have two ways, the one leads through a market town, if I am not mistaken, called Linton, which is the farthest, and the nearer through Ratton (Wratting), a rotten place in which is a poor inn where I was glad of a bed as hard as a board, and the country hereabouts is a very rotten soil, for the men as well as the women are forced to go in high iron pattens. Four miles forward and not far from my Lord Allington’s house I went by Balsom (Balsham) over Newmarket Heath, where there is a deep ditch thwarting the plains or heath commonly called Devil’s ditch, cast up as I suppose for a boundary between the East Angles and the Mercians. The way leads along the side of this ditch or trench from whence you have five or six miles distance a goodly prospect of the famous University of Cambridge, seated, in a spacious level.'
By an easy descent from these hills you shall come to Fulbourn, a country town, but remarkable because it hath two churches in one churchyard, built by two maids, and covered with moor reed, and are two distinct parish churches, as people then told me in ’62. From whence I went to Chesterton, for the description of which town and Cambridge I shall refer you to another journey, and speak but a little of it here.
“Cambridge, situate on the east side of the liver Cam, might have its name from thence, although some historians derive it from Can-t.aber, who 375 years before the Incarnation had there settled the muses’ seat, and albeit in many ages this city like many others hath tasted many woful fortunes, yet now it is beautified and fairly adorned with sixteen colleges and halls full stored with painful students. The most magnificent for building are Trinity and King’s College, joining to which is that famous structure built by Henry the Sixth, but finished by Henry the Seventh, called King’s College Chapel, for elegant workmanship equal if not superior to any church wrork elsewhere in England, having in it on the right side a fair library. This chapel runs in length without any pillars in the body to support the roof or aisles, thwarting from north to south as in most cathedrals, having curiously carved in stonework upon the inside of the walls, the arms of the then present kings, being divided in the midst to distinguish the choir from the body by a rare partition of joinery work, on which is erected a beautiful organ At the West end of the chapel on the right side is a staircase, by which I ascended the leads, where besides the view of Cam’s meanders courting fair Cambridge with embraces, I discovered a spacious plain of the largest extent that I have seen any in England, so that in this she doth outstrip her sister Oxford. But for sweet air, situation, and magnificient buildings, much beneath her, excepting the fabrick on which I stand, which yields to none in England. Upon the chapel at each corner mounting above the leads are four spires or tall pinnacles, and between these on the sides and ends lesser pinnacles.
“The schools of Cambridge are not to be compared to the durable monument of Bodley’s in Oxford, yet they have a fair market place, which Oxford wants, and at the upper end a conduit. (This was erected in 1624 at the expense of the famous carrier Hobson.) St. Mary’s Church here is well nigh as fair a building as ours at Oxford, but the black dirty streets do eclipse the splendour of their buildings.”