Heritage: The curious stories behind the eight Roding villages

The River Roding in Woodford Green.

The River Roding in Woodford Green. - Credit: Archant

The term Roding as a place name is a unique phenomenon, Prof Ged Martin explains why.

The eight Roding communities are deep in Essex – but within 20 miles of Romford.

The largest group of villages in England to share a name, they probably recall an early Saxon sub-tribe, the people of Hroda (or Hrotha – their older name was “The Roothings”).

Leaden Roding and White Roding take their names from the roof and walls of their churches. Margaret Roding comes from the dedication of the church. Aythorpe, Beauchamp (“beecham”), and Berners Roding recall former landowners.

Abbess Roding once belonged to the nuns of Barking Abbey.

High Roding (it’s hardly mountainous) is an attractive village. Stretching half a mile along a straight street – a former Roman road – it’s a charming mix of old buildings – a 500-year-old half-timbered pub, thatched cottages, and weatherboard, a local building style of overlapping planking designed to keep out wind and rain.

Few people know that High Roding is symbolically part of County Tipperary in Ireland.

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In 1771, Irish politician Robert Jocelyn was created Earl of Roden.

Irish peerages had to be linked with some place in Ireland, but Jocelyn wanted to honour his family’s Essex origins.

Officials created a legal fiction, making him Earl of Roden “of High Roding, in the County of Tipperary.”

Of course, it’s a long way to Tipperary.

Abbess Roding and White Roding have pleasant village centres too.

White Roding has a disused windmill, on private land (it once belonged to the actor Michael Redgrave). Built in 1877, it’s a tower mill – the sails revolved on a moveable cap to face the wind. Unfortunately, the cap has gone.

Aythorpe Roding’s windmill is one of England’s finest post mills. The entire timber building turned on a central post to catch the breeze.

Its handsome sails were removed in 2016 for renovation, giving the mill a short-back-and-sides look. Let’s hope they come back soon. Currently it’s not open to the public.

Aythorpe Roding has a forgotten niche in history. Life was tough in postwar Britain: even meat was rationed until 1954.

The official documents to end meat rationing were drawn up for the signature of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, R.A. Butler, who decided to deal with them at his Essex country mansion.

But he was so excited that he stopped his car at Aythorpe Roding, and signed the papers by the roadside. Meat rationing ended at Aythorpe Roding!

Taking its name from the villages, the River Roding trickles through the Rodings. Strangely, you rarely see it.

But there’s a picture-postcard view at nearby Great Canfield, where the church and a castle mound make a backdrop to the river.

The Earls of Oxford built Great Canfield Castle in the 12th century, possibly during the anarchic reign of King Stephen. It was such a disaster that we’ve never had a Stephen II. Only the mound survives.

Great Canfield church has a fine medieval wall painting, although the colours have faded a little.

Margaret Roding’s small church has a Norman doorway, with its trademark round-headed arch.

It’s worth bumping across the fields to Beauchamp Roding’s isolated church. It’s built alongside glacial boulders, dumped here in the Ice Age.

This was probably a pagan holy site that the Church needed to take over. It’s hard to see any other reason to build a church in such a remote spot.

The Rodings are criss-crossed by public footpaths: it’s easy to stroll into the fields. There’s a seven-mile circular walk from Leaden Roding on the essexwalks website, with great maps, but parking can be a problem.

There are shorter walks on the Great Canfield village website, greatcanfield.org.uk.

You’ll have frequent overhead reminders that Stansted Airport is nearby, but – even so – the Rodings remain a hidden haven of Essex tranquillity.

There are pubs and teashops – and take care on those narrow back roads.