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Elmdon - 1700-1800

Anne (1702-1714) gave way to George I (1714-1727) - he never learnt English. George II (1727-1760) who was ambitious of military glory. George III (1760) lost us USA, but at least had 15 children! The first Prime Minster was Sir Robert Walpole with the Whig Party in 1721, and John Stuart gave us the Tory Party in 1762.


Elmdon lies among the chalky uplands of north Essex, part of a chain of villages including Strethall and Chrishall which stand on top of a ridge 400 feet above sea level. The ridge villages have remained isolated even though there are many other villages around - the main roads passed it by. This same kind of feeling persisted into the 19th century and still perhaps exists today. Elmdon is also a county border village, adjacent to the boundaries of Essex, Herts and Cambs, but the inhabitants feel they belong in Essex, looking towards Saffron Walden as their market town.


Elmdon has always been agricultural, but spinning was widespread in such villages at one time - it was one of 12 villages engaged in woolcombing and weaving worsted and fustians, but the industry disappeared by early 19th century and farming was the main occupation. Mostly this was arable.


As the census figures are linked with Duddenhoe End, it is difficult to isolate the population totals for Elmdon alone, but Elmdon was always a small to medium sized village.


Since the 16th century the village has come under large landowners. Elmdon village lies between two hills each of which formerly had a manor house, farm and church. On the southern hill was Wenden Lofts bought in 1567 by Sir Thomas Meade, who rebuilt the house and called it Lofts Hall, completed in 1579. He also bought Pigots manor which then disappeared. The Meades also bought Elmdon Bury on the northern hill and from then onwards both manors, Wenden Lofts and Elmdon Bury, had one owner with the landowner generally living at the former. The property remained with the Meades until 1717 and then, along with part of the village, it came into the hands of the Wilkes family.

The Wilkes estate grew, particularly after the 1824 Enclosure Act and by 1927, when the Lofts Hall estate was sold, there were virtually no smallholders left. In the 1960s there were just five farmers.


Elmdon is very much a border village. Some of the inhabitants will tell you that the boundaries of Essex, Hertfordshire, and Cambridge intersect at its highest point, the hill top on which the old manor house of Elmdon Bury stood, and where the farm-house which replaced it stands today. The inhabitants of Elmdon definitely consider themselves to be 'Essex people', and Saffron Walden their market town.


Elmdon is a church village lacking a Dissenting chapel, and for a long time enjoyed the paternalistic relationships of having a resident squire.


Elmdon is a linear village with its buildings along the three main roads, with many picturesque cottages. The central point is Cross Hill with a small triangular green, where the war memorial is sited, the meeting point of the three roads. Nearby is the former Kings Head pub. Kings Lane is particularly attractive and retains many lovely houses.

Cross Hill, in the centre of Elmdon
Cross Hill, in the centre of Elmdon


Extracts from pages 168-169 and 172-179 from Jean Robin, Elmdon: Continuity and Change in a North-West Essex Village, 1861-1964
© Cambridge University Press 1980, reproduced with permission


The probability that the Brands owned property and land both in Chrishall and Elmdon during the seventeenth century becomes a certainty by John (1711-1790) is reached, for John was born in Elmdom in 1711, left a will which shows that he held land in both parishes, and in Little Chesterford, five miles east of Elmdon, as well. This will provides evidence that the Brands looked on Elmdon as their home village as Chrishall as their second string, because the Elmdon land was left to the eldest son John (1735-1804) for his life, and had then to pass to his son, while the Chrishall land was left outright to John's youngest brother Thomas who, incidentally, had married as his first wife Ann Pigg, of the Chrishall farming family. The middle son, George (1739-1790), like Thomas, was a blacksmith living in Chrishall, but he did not inherit any land, possibly because he was already set up in business. He did, however, receive a legacy of £50 0s 0d, and an equal share in the proceeds of the sale of the Little Chesterford copyhold land, along with his brothers and sisters.


Having disposed of his land in his will, John Brand turned his attention to his grand-daughter, Mary Brooke (about 1750ish)who seems to have been living with him and his wife. He not only left her £20 0s 0d, but also 'the bed whereon she commonly sleeps in my now dwelling, and bedding and furniture from the same room'. On the face of it, the testator's wife Mary (1738-about 1800ish) did not do as well as one might expect, for all she got was an income of £2 0s 0d a year from the Chrishall land, a lump sum of £60 0s 0d, a her choice of household goods other than those earmarked for her grand-daughter.


If might be thought that with John Brand (1735-1804) settled in the Elmwood property, and his brother Thomas is Chrishall, this side of the family would now split into two branches, each in future keeping to its parish. This, however, was not the case. Two generations later, the Elmdons Brands were still using Chrishall as a place for the eldest son to go while waiting to inherit the Elmdon forge.


In general, the younger sons of the forge-owning Brands became blacksmith like their elder brothers, probably work at first as apprentices in the smithy. This was true of the first example we have of a son of a Brand blacksmith who did not inherit land, namely George (1739-1790) who inherited a sum of money from his father but no property. There is no reason to suppose that he not continue as a blacksmith for his working life, but the same was not true of his own son, also called George (1764-1837). Young George had to compete with his two cousins, John (1769-1849) and Thomas (1775-1812) who were the sons of the senior line, for any work going in the Elmdon forge, and his father had no property in Chrishall for him to take over. Instead, he became a farm labourer and the founder of a family of agricultural workers who lived in Chrishall throughout the nineteenth century.


William Brand (1718-1797) was the youngest of three (four?) sons, although the middle boy died when he was seven. As we have seen, John Brand (1711-1790), William eldest brother, inherited the forge, and owned land in Elmdon and Chrishall, but there is no indication that he was a shopkeeper. It is quite possible, therefore , that William as the younger son took over the Elmdon shop that had once been the property of his greatuncle Robert (1650-1721), although this is only a supposition, and if he did so, then he may have supplemented his income by farming land in Elmdon's open fields, in the same way that his great-great-grandson John (1835-1883) tenanted Hill Farm in 1861, as well as keeping the shop across the road in Elmdon High Street. Certainty, William's daughter Elizabeth (1753-1841) owned two strips of open field land at the time of Enclosure Act of 1824.


Edited extracts from "Elmdon - Continuity and change in a north-west Essex village - 1861-1964- Jean Robin"