Heritage: Village of Blackmore almost gave us King Henry IX

The Church of St Laurence, Blackmore. Picture: Acabashi/WikiCommons

The Church of St Laurence, Blackmore. Picture: Acabashi/WikiCommons - Credit: Archant

If you’re looking for somewhere to visit during the Easter break, Prof Ged Martin suggests Blackmore

Ten miles north of Romford, Blackmore is well worth a visit.

The village grew up around a medieval priory, founded about 1160. The original settlement was probably at Fingrith Hall, a mile to the north, which is mentioned in Domesday Book. The name means “black swamp”.

Local tradition claims a road skirting the village to the north, Redrose Lane, was built by the priory as a bypass to keep the plague away from the village.

In fact, it probably marks one side of their monastic enclosure.

But the records of the manor of Fingrith do give us a chilling glimpse of the impact of the Black Death, the first great outbreak of bubonic plague, in 1348-9.

When the manor court met in December 1348, just one tenant had died. But in March 1349, twelve deaths were reported. By June of that year, 55 tenants had died – plus, no doubt, many of their families.

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The prior, John de Bumpstede, had died since March. The brethren had elected Geoffrey Withoutethegate as his successor, but he too had fallen victim.

It must have been a terrifying time.

But some looked to the future. Agnes Serie claimed the forty acres farmed by her late husband – and paid two shillings (10p) for permission “to marry where she wishes”.

The priory bore the Biblical name, Jericho. The nearby stretch of the tiny river Wid was known as the Jordan.

Blackmore’s Jericho Priory was used in 1519 by Henry VIII when he needed to hush up an embarrassing problem.

His mistress, Elizabeth Blount, was pregnant. She was packed off to Blackmore to give birth.

Legend claims Henry turned the sacred premises into a love nest. When the king was in a bad mood, resentful courtiers would mutter that they wished Henry would Go To – Jericho! However, it’s unlikely that Henry VIII ever visited Blackmore.

Elizabeth gave birth to a boy, Henry Fitzroy (the French “fils du roi”, son of the king).

Although the parents weren’t married, Henry VIII considered making young Henry the next king of England, skipping his daughters Mary and Elizabeth.

But, as so often in Tudor times, the boy died young. Blackmore never gave England Henry IX.

The priory was closed in 1525, not for religious reasons but as an exercise in rationalisation: it housed only three brethren plus the prior.

Today, Jericho is a private 18th-century mansion next to the churchyard.

From the village green (and pond), stroll down narrow Church Street, a mixture of ancient and modern houses, to St Laurence’s church. A blocked doorway in its south aisle once led to the cloisters, but the priory hasn’t survived.

Architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner reckoned Blackmore’s medieval timber church tower the finest in England.

Six central posts support the spire. Four outer posts carry a wide lower stage, like a half-timbered crinoline.

Dating from about 1400, the tower contains impressive carpentry.

St Peter’s Way, the long-distance Essex footpath, passes through Blackmore. A stroll a mile and a half east across the fields brings you to tarmac at the gates of Stoney Lodge. Here a mysterious straight track will take you north-east into the secret muddy world of the High Woods.

There’s a map on the essexhighways.org website.

Search for “Blackmore footpaths” on the brentwood.gov website for details of two circular walks north and west of the village, one about three miles through the fields, and the other six miles by way of end-of-nowhere Norton Mandeville.

There’s an hourly bus service, six days a week, from Brentwood to Blackmore. It departs from the High Street on weekdays, switching to Brentwood Station on Saturdays.

Check the eoslondon.com website for times.

Do your internet homework, wear stout shoes and enjoy a healthy historical visit to Blackmore.