TitleThe Hyde, Great Wigborough

The Hyde in the 1930s

Owners of historic houses almost invariably have a fascination with the history of their homes and over the years their notes, drawings, photographs and research are faithfully passed on to new owners along with tales of resident ghosts, tunnels, secret passages and smuggling. So too in every county history these ancient houses and their architecture are singled out by the historian, as is the case with the fifteenth century house, The Hyde, Great Wigborough, which nestles in its beautiful grounds overlooking the estuary of the Blackwater.

Hyde Farm, was begun 500 years ago. Some of its original timbers support the tiled roof, while from a chimney peers forth a gargoyle which came from Little Wigborough*. A lane leads up the hill to the church, set in a ring of ancient elms. Arthur Mee Essex 1942

* This gargoyle, built into the west chimney stack was from Little Wigborough Church

The elms have long since gone but the lane still leads up to St Stephen's Church. When a tennis court was being levelled in the grounds of The Hyde, close by the church, at the start of the twentieth century, pieces of stone that were unearthed were dated to the 12th century and it was believed to have been the site of a previous Norman church.

The current owner of The Hyde believes the West wing of The Hyde could possibly have been an earlier Priest's house (c 1420) and the Great Hall and the East wing were added between 1450 and 1470. This was a pre-chimney house and the wings bear many of its earliest wall and roof timbers, together with contemporaneous wattle and daub. There are various footings around the house suggesting it was a larger house than at present. It has a red plain tile roof and modern extensions at the rear and east end.

Inside the building, the hall has been divided into two storeys in the XVIth century, and in the east wing of the hall is a doorway with chamfered jambs and four-centres head. There are remains of the original roof construction in the east wing. Extract from The Historical Monuments of Essex (1916)

The hall measured 25' 6" x 21' 6", an unusual width in proportion to the length. The chimneys were added about the end of the sixteenth century; this necessitated cutting away portions of the hall king post roof truss and also the braces of the east wing. Prior to having the chimneys built there would have been one large central fire in the hall set on a base of clay or brick. Smoke would have billowed around the inside space before escaping through gaps in the roof or walls.

The Hyde: inside the hall in the 1930s

The spelling of the name has altered through the years. Now the spelling has 'settled' as 'The Hyde' but in the past it was spelt 'The Hide'. The word 'hide' was used to indicate an area of land, traditionally 120 acres and is used throughout the Domesday survey in 1086.

The name of the village 'Wigborough' was Saxon and means 'burial ground of soldiers'. There is believed to be the remains of a tumulus in the meadow near Moulshams, the 14th century Manor, but over the years the mound has flattened out.

After a life-time of collecting information about the house, the current owner has a set of notes and photographs from a previous owner in 1936 and a list of former owners and tenants has been put together. The house and land would have been 'copyhold' belonging to the Lords of the Manor (Abbots Hall Manor) but bought and sold, or inherited in the usual way upon 'admission' by the Manorial Court.

The first recorded owner was a John Bajon in 1480. Stephenson tells us

Symonds [mid seventeenth century antiquarian] in his collections mentions monuments or tablets in the chancel to John Bajon (he died 10th September 1480) and Margaret his wife ... P.A.F Stephenson The Parish registers of Great and Little Wigborough.

From both Salmon's History of Essex (1740) and Holman's history of Essex it would seem that the memorial to John Bajon and his wife was in fact in Salcott Wigborough's church which was an appendant chapel-of-ease to St Stephen's.

Upon a flat stone inlaid with brass the picture of a man and woman in brass. At their feet a plate of brass in old letters with this inscription


Here lies John Bajon and Margaret his wife which same John died 10th September 1480. On whose souls God have mercy.

Wealthy men such as John Bajon would often endow a chantry where, after their deaths, a chantry priest would say Mass for their souls. John Bajon clearly left land and property, the profits of which were to be used for paying a chantry priest at St Mary's, Salcott.

It seems the spelling of the name Bajon changed to Baron and in the unpublished notes from the late Tom Millatt he traces descendants of John Bajon to Layer Breton and Layer Marney where they were wealthy landowners (one marrying into the Tuke family of Layer Marney Tower).

The next owner named is John Mott. Mott was a very common name in this area and there are several John Motts in the list of Great Wigborough burials. Consulting several wills we know the house was in the ownership of the Mott family between at least 1560 and 1623 and probably much longer.

The will of John Motte of Layer Marney, yeoman, written in 1560 and proved in 1561, left his wife, Agnes, his house and lands in Great Wigborough called Hidde for her life and after her death they were bequeathed to a relation, John Mott, son of William Mott. [ERO D/ACR 5/8]

There is a will for another John Mott who died in 1587 who willed his kinsman John Mott of the Hide to be the supervisor of his will and I give him for his paynes six shillinges eight pence. Is it not likely that this 'supervisor' was the John Mott, son of William, who had been left the Hyde by his Layer Marney relative? [National Archives PROB 11/72]

John Mott of the Hyde wrote his will in 1615 and was to die in 1617. He left his wife Joan the house and customary tenement called The Hyde with the barns and stables and other out houses and also the gardens orchards and yards thereunto belonging. [ERO D/ACW 8/94]

He also listed several fields. Joan was to have the house for life before it passed to his son, also John.

Joan's will, proved in 1623, doesn't add anything to what we know; her husband's will had already made the bequest of The Hyde to his son after her death.

In 1732 the Farm was bought by Capt Kilham. It was thought he was a seafaring man involved with the smuggling trade given the close proximity to the Blackwater. The story has been passed down to the current owner that a nineteenth century occupant, Samuel Alen, had a book written about smuggling in which there are references to The Hyde. There is also a story that there was a tunnel from The Hyde to the church.

In The Essex Record Office there is a reduced photograph of An exact survey of lands called the Hide in the parish of Muche Wigborough and belonging to Captain Kilham containing 118 a[cres] 3 r[ods] 32 p[erches] ERO T/M 284/1

This survey in 1732 was done by Joseph Kendall and shows field-names, acreages, ponds, gates and stiles, the road from Tollesbury to Colchester and the lane to Much Wigborough Church.

In the same year Kendall mapped in identical style an estate in Little Bromley also for Captain Kilham [ERO D/DU 3158/1] and five years later he mapped a further estate at Messing extending into Wigborough, on that occasion identifying his client as Capt Thomas Kilham. [ERO D/DK P6]

It would appear that several estates were bought by the Kilham family because, upon renewal of tenancies, the same farms are advertised together in the newspapers.

In 1760 a Mr Kilham took over The Hyde, presumably the Captain's son

The Hyde, an estate here so called belongs to Mr Kilham [Morant's History of Essex Vol 1 page 221 1768]

The Little Bromley Farm stayed in the Kilham family until 1799 when it passed under the will of Leonard Kilham, gentleman of Westminster, to John Roberts, a cousin. Leonard was 77 when he died on 12 September 1799 so it is quite feasible he was Captain Kilham's son.

Interestingly, Stephenson writes that in 1768 (from Philip Morant's history) the Hyde was owned by Capt Kilham and Philip Roberts. The connection with the Roberts branch of the family continued when, in 1821, the sale of several of these farms including The Hyde is handled by Mr Roberts' solicitor.

In 1821 the leases for Shaws Farm of Ardleigh, Layhams and Fenns (Little Bromley) and Hyde Farm were offered for sale by Mr Roberts.

Lot 3 Hyde Farm a valuable freehold and copyhold estate in the Parish of Great Wigborough about 7 miles from Colchester, 10 from Kelvedon and 12 from Maldon adjacent the road from thence to Colchester, comprising a genteel farm-house, Land Tax Redeemed on a commanding spot, embracing extensive Views of the Country, an Excellent Garden in front, farm yard, 2 double bay Barns, Stables, Cow House, Piggery, Hen House etc and nearly ONE HUNDRED and TWENTY TWO ACRES of Meadow, Pasture and Arable Land in the occupation of Mr R Wesney whose term expires at Michaelmas 1822. Corn is shipped to the London Market at a trifling expense, within a mile distant from this farm The Star (London) 28.2.1821

The lease must have been for five years and Wesney obviously renewed his tenancy for, in 1826, Shaw's farm and The Hyde Farm were advertised again, the latter being in the occupation of Mr Robert Wesney, tenant at will. This time, along with the details of acreage and outbuildings, it was described as a commodious and substantial farmhouse pleasantly seated on a rising ground. Suffolk Chronicle 15.7.1826

Robert Wesney must have been a well-respected and trusted member of the village community for in March 1835 he was appointed as Assessor and Collector of Taxes for Great Wigborough

His family also enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle as we see from a newspaper article reporting a burglary

... in the night of Friday last the house of Robert Wesney Esq; of Great Wigborough in this county was entered by thieves, who succeeded without detection in carrying off 24 sovereigns, £4 in silver, 16 teaspoons, 2 gravy ladles, 6 gravy spoons, a cream ladle, a silver knife bent in the blade, a rosewood workbox, and 2 receipts of Messrs Round and Co, bankers, one for £30 and the other for £15. Chelmsford Chronicle August 1841

In 1846 Robert's death was announced in local newspapers at his address of the Hide Farm, Great Wigborough. The newspaper reported he was in his 80th year and died in the same house in which he was born, he and his ancestors having occupied the same upwards of 100 years Ipswich 31.10.1846

From this it would appear that the Kilham family had never occupied the farm and the Wesney family must have been tenants there pretty well from the beginning of Capt Kilham's ownership.

We find in Wigborough's baptism register a Robert Westney being baptised in 1767 (although a different spelling, this is the year of the birth of 'our' Robert Wesney) to parents Robert and Ruth.

In Robert Senior's will proved in 1796 he left

All the remaining and unexpired part of the Lease of my Farm wherein I now dwell

Tantalisingly, he didn't name the farm. He willed that his wife, Ruth, could choose her own room within the farmhouse and have the use of the cows and the poultry. In view of the newspaper report indicating the length of time the family had lived in the house it is fair to assume it is The Hyde.

Robert Wesney junior's will (proved in 1846) made his daughters, Margaret Maria Wesney and Elizabeth Page (wife of Joseph Page, farmer, of Tolleshunt D'Arcy) the principal beneficiaries.

He left Elizabeth

All my farming live and dead stock crops Implements of husbandry and outdoor Effects whatsoever which shall be in upon or about the farms called the Hyde and Hill Farms in Great and Little Wigborough which I hold and occupy under Sir William and Lady Martins and Miss Nash and the Heirs or Devisees of the late Henry Cline Esquire* To hold the same and every part thereof unto my said daughter Elizabeth Page for her own use absolutely

* Cline was an English surgeon, a president of the Royal College of Surgeons, a political radical (associating with leading supporters of the French revolution) and a farmer. It seems he acquired the Abbots Hall estate with the manorial rights after the death of Colonel John Bullock in 1810 paying £23,500. He died in 1827 and the estate was left in the hands of trustees. The Martins and Miss Nash remain elusive.

Robert Wesney's wife was Margaret Cowles and they are both buried in St Stephens Churchyard along with David Wesney Page and Elizabeth Page. (Joseph Page, farmer, of Tolleshunt D'Arcy was Robert's executor and the husband of his daughter, Elizabeth).

In the 1851 census the inhabitants of The Hyde are agricultural labourers, John Peachey and Thomas and Sarah Potter, presumably temporary tenants.

The next farmer to occupy The Hyde was Mr Samuel Alen. There is a newspaper reference to him being the occupier of The Hyde in 1859 and the London Evening Standard of 18 May 1859 reports that the freehold and copyhold farm, The Hyde, exchanged hands for £2,000. Samuel and his family appear occupying the farm in the censuses in 1861, 1871 and 1881. Samuel died in 1891 and his widow, Margaret appears as head of the household with her son Charles E Alen in the 1891 census but she was to die the following year. The family were there during the earthquake of 1884 and in the diary of Dr Salter of Tolleshunt D'Arcy he describes the Alen's house as one of those that were simply wrecked. The current owner has a framed photograph which appears to show repairs to the roof being undertaken with ladders lying across the tiles.

In September 1891, the Essex Standard advertises a live and dead stock auction by the executors of the late Mr S Alen.

Next Richard Hunt Esq took over The Hyde in 1902 according to Stephenson, who, writing in 1905, clearly saw the completed renovation,

It is a picturesque old black-beamed house, purchased in 1902 by Richard Hunt Esq. He has thoroughly restored the house, preserving most carefully all the old woodwork said to be 500 years old. It is picturesquely situated on the Western slope of Wigborough Hill and is an excellent example of good restoration. In making a tennis lawn, Mr Hunt found a quantity of carved stone, which must formerly have formed part of the church. P.A.F. Stephenson The Parish Registers of Great and Little Wigborough, 1905

In the East Anglian Daily Times of 30th October 1909 there is a 'live and dead stock' auction advertised, the auctioneers being instructed by R Hunt Esq who has let the farm. From the schedule it seems the livestock was purely poultry.

Nearly five years later The Hyde comes up for sale again

For sale by auction 125 acres of sound and productive land of which about 65 acres are pasture, producing good hay crops and abundance of feed in the driest summer and the remainder arable, well-suited for corn and seed growing; a commodious modernised old-fashioned Residence full of fine oak beams, stud work and rafters; capital set of farm buildings and 3 cottages all in excellent order; 2 miles from a GER* station, 7 miles from Colchester and within a mile of good water carriage. Chelmsford Chronicle 12.6.1914

* Great Eastern Railway - the main line from London to Colchester and beyond. Another line had been also proposed from Colchester to Mersea.

According to the current owner's notes the new owner was a Mr Dickens who had the house from 1914 until 1916 when he sold to Colin Forbes. However, we do find in the electoral register for 1918 both Mark Edward Pearl, a farmer, who previously had farmed at Stow Maries and William Thomas Brown (about whom nothing is known) at Hyde Farm, possibly tenants.

We have evidence of Norah Forbes buying two cottages adjacent to the church in 1918 and it is confirmed by Kelly's Trade Directory that The Forbes are living in the Hyde in 1922, Colin is listed as a farmer. In an early guide to St Stephens Church, mention is made of Norah Forbes paying for the organ to be installed in 1919 as a thanks offering for the ending of the war.

The Forbes worked Hyde Farm as dairy and general farmers for over 30 years. It is thanks to them the current owner has notes on the house's history and a fine collection of photos and drawings from the 1930s. In the 1939 register they have a business partner living with them, friend William Welburn, also a farmer, who was living with the family in Northumberland in 1911 and came down to Essex with them.

During World War 2 it would seem that 68 acres of the Hyde's land was commandeered by the War Agricultural Committee along with land at Abbots Wick (150 acres) and Abbots Hall (680 acres). In the Chelmsford Chronicle of 12.7. 1946, the Essex War Agricultural Executive Committee advertises the letting of these farmlands with a view to occupation at Michaelmas.

Colin Forbes died in 1948 and Norah continued living at Hyde Farm until her death in 1951.

After the death of Norah Forbes, William Welburn, their business partner, stayed on in The Hyde and sold the house in 1957 but retained a life-time tenancy. He sold to the Macdonalds who had a local connection, Janice Macdonald née Page being the daughter of a pig farmer at Chestnuts, Great Wigborough.

William Welburn was very elderly and sharing the house was far from ideal with the Macdonalds' four lively boys. The family moved into the little lodge by the entrance into the farm until the Wigborough Rector, living in Brick House Cottages at the end of School Road, offered Mr Welburn a home, where he lived to the age of 92 and died in 1963.

As part of their renovations to the Hyde, the Macdonalds reduced the two staircases to one, previously the wings having two ladders to access upstairs. They ran the Hyde as a pig farm and had the big tin barn built which still stands and is in use today.

The Macdonalds clearly felt there was a resident ghost in The Hyde for they engaged a medium to exorcise the ghost from what is now an elegant sitting room in the older West wing of the house. The medium reported seeing a spirit pass through the wall where an earlier door had been situated before being blocked off during alterations.

When the current owners bought the house from the Macdonalds in 1970, fifty years ago, they tell me there was no heating and hardly any electricity. Already owning several farms in the Wigboroughs and Peldon they added the land at the Hyde to their arable acreage, now leased to another local farmer. The family kept horses for their own pleasure and five years after moving to The Hyde the owner retired from farming, bought a boat and spent his retirement sailing and riding.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History project

Read More
Chantry at Salcott-Wigborough
1905 description of Great Wigborough P.A.F. Stephenson

PublishedOctober 2020
SourceMersea Museum / Elaine Barker