Coggeshall scores high on my list of favourite Essex villages, with two National Trust properties within a short stroll of each other, a clutch of historic buildings and more than it’s fair share of tall tales and legends.
Make your way first to Grange Barn. It’s one of Europe’s largest and oldest timber framed buildings housing sheaves of corn from about 1230 onwards. In those days, the village was run by the Abbots of Coggeshall, who collected tithes and owned the market place near to the Cistercian abbey which today is privately owned. Incidentally, the abbey can be visited as part of the Invitation to View initiative and opens about five times a year.
Grange Barn was reworked and rebuilt about 1380 when the large doors you can see in this picture were added. Small gates were cut out of the doors; this was to allow the through draft of air which was necessary for the process of threshing. In 1538, Henry VIII dissolved the abbey and the barn came under the ownership of Dairy House Farm next door. In the 19th century, it was attached to Grange Farm, but by the 1970s, it was disused and in a state of disrepair. After restoration, it passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1989.
Inside, you’ll find some information about the barn and its history as well as some interesting agricultural machinery and carts. If you find this interesting, then I’d recommend a visit to Cressing Temple Barns about 15 minutes up the road. Read about them in my blog here:
The second of the two National Trust properties in Coggeshall is Paycocke’s House. This early 16th century house is renowned for its elaborate wood panelling and owes its splendour to the thriving wool trade in East Anglia at the time of its construction. You can read more about Paycocke’s here:
The centre of Coggeshall is also worth more than a quick look. There are said to be over 300 listed buildings in the village, which given its population of under 5000 residents is good going. Many of them are close to the intersection of Stoneham Street and Church Street. Look out for the Clocktower, now a dog-friendly eatery, which was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. The nearby Chapel Inn also has a long history, licensed since 1554.
An interesting facet of Coggeshall’s history is its early reputation for stupidity. An old Essex proverb goes:
Braintree for the pure and Bocking for the poor; Coggeshall for the jeering town and Kelvedon for the whore.
Let’s gloss over poor Kelvedon and focus on how Coggeshall came to get this epithet. According to legend, one day Coggeshall’s clock chimed 11 times at noon. The puzzled villagers didn’t understand why, but they got wind that a clock at Lexden in Colchester had struck 12 times at 11 o’clock. Thinking they had found their missing chime, the sent a rider to Lexden to collect the missing stroke.
Sadly, that’s not all. Stories abound as to how the village’s lack of brainpower manifested itself. One tale recounts how the villagers built a church but forgot to include windows, so they set out some hampers to catch the light, wheelbarrowed them into the church and opened them up to release the light they’d caught. Other acts allegedly include winching a cow up onto the church roof to graze the grass that was growing there, knocking down one of the village’s two windmills as it was thought there wouldn’t be sufficient wind for them both and chaining up a wheelbarrow when a rabid dog bit it, just in case it went mad too.
If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “a Coggeshall job” comes from, used to describe a pointless or poor piece of work, now you know.