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Chipping Ongar ideal for a day trip from Romford

PUBLISHED: 15:00 13 August 2017

Ongar - as in High Ongar and Chipping Ongar - means grazing land. Picture: PA

Ongar - as in High Ongar and Chipping Ongar - means grazing land. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Those looking for a destination for a summer day are recommended by Prof Ged Martin to visit Chipping Ongar and Greensted, both of which have plenty of historical interest just a stone’s throw from Havering

Twelve miles north of Romford, Chipping Ongar is a real Essex town. It’s worth strolling along its High Street to view the interesting old houses.

“Chipping” (it means “market”, as in our word “cheap”) distinguishes it from nearby High Ongar, where the church has a superb Norman doorway. “Ongar” means “grazing land”.

The Saxons founded this little town, but the Normans shaped it. Start your tour up a short side street, visiting St Martin’s Church.

St Martin was a military saint, who took over from Mars, the Roman god of war.

Chipping Ongar was a garrison town. Next to the church, the Normans built a 50-foot high “motte” (mound), which was topped by a castle.

The castle has long since gone, but a “permissive path” beyond the church circles private land to provide glimpses of the mound.

The path can be muddy. You can also approach through the car park in the High Street, where there’s a display board telling the story of the castle.

South along the High Street, hidden behind houses, is the United Reformed Church. Back in 1838, the congregation welcomed an awkward young Scotsman called David Livingstone who was training for the ministry.

Livingstone disliked Essex, and went to Africa as a missionary instead.

For many years, he vanished in Africa’s unknown interior. Eventually, the explorer H.M. Stanley tracked down Livingstone’s camp.

But the two Victorian gentlemen had never been formally introduced, so how could they start a conversation?

Stanley broke the ice with the famously daft greeting, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

The church is also associated with a pious lady called Jane Taylor, who wrote “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.

Opposite, also tucked away, is St Helen’s, the tiny Catholic church. A memorial window commemorates a former parish priest, Father Thomas Byles, who was drowned when the Titanic sank in 1912.

Father Byles was sailing to New York to officiate at his brother’s wedding. Although he knew there weren’t enough lifeboats for all the passengers, he calmly helped women and children to escape. There’s now a campaign to recognise him as a saint.

Dominating the High Street is the extravagant Budworth Hall, built in 1886 as a club house for young men. No alcohol was allowed, only coffee.

The clock commemorates Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

The side street here leads to the Essex Way, a footpath to Greensted, a mile to the west.

Greensted’s famous church is built of logs, split in half and originally just rammed into the ground. Most churches probably began like this, but were later rebuilt in stone or brick.

Legend says Greensted church was hastily constructed in 1013, to shelter the body of St Edmund, king of East Anglia, martyred by the Danes.

However, tree-ring dating proves that the logs were felled soon after 1063. This means the Normans built the timber church, but never upgraded it. There’s also a 16th century brick chancel and a charming 18th century spire.

It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of Greensted church. Some experts think it’s the oldest surviving timber building in Europe.

And it’s a pleasant stroll across glorious fields to this unique historical monument.

The railway reached Chipping Ongar in 1865, a branch line from Stratford through Epping. Plans to extend it to Chelmsford never came about.

In 1949, the line was incorporated into the Underground. It was odd to see Central line trains gliding through the fields – with few passengers.

The Chipping Ongar section closed in 1994. There are some heritage steam services in summer.

Chipping Ongar is hard to reach from Havering by public transport.

There’s a useful Millennium Walk guide on the internet, linked to marker slabs throughout the town. Be warned when surfing: Dublin has a suburb called “Ongar”. The two places are sometimes confused!

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