A Pilgrim Father, a startled goblin and a Nazi landmine
PUBLISHED: 15:00 20 August 2017
Billericay is half an hour by train from Romford, usually with a change at Shenfield.
The railway only arrived in 1889. Lacking modern transport links, Billericay had stagnated during the 19th century. In 1874, it was called “a small decayed market town”.
That’s why the station is so close to the town centre.
A stroll along the High Street reveals many pleasant buildings from earlier centuries, but little from Victorian times.
Since 1935, a local group, the Billericay Society, has campaigned against unsuitable development.
The 15th century red-brick church tower marks the town centre. Until 1844, Billericay formed part of the parish of nearby Great Burstead.
Hence the side road here is called Chapel Street. It’s a pleasant old-world corner.
Billericay has links with the New World too.
Opposite the church, the 16th-century timbered Chantry House, now a shop, is associated with the town’s most famous resident.
Christopher Martin (“from Billirike in Essex”) was a Puritan, who was prosecuted in 1612 for refusing to kneel during church services. In 1620, he emigrated to New England with the Pilgrim Fathers.
Although a bully, he was put in charge of the Mayflower, probably because the passengers needed firm leadership. He also controlled the finances, and lost his temper if anybody questioned his spending.
Sickness ravaged their new colony in America. Christopher Martin and his family died in 1621.
Some say the Pilgrim Fathers met at the Chantry House before they sailed. The town has a Mayflower High School.
There’s a Billerica in Massachusetts, said to have been named by later emigrants from Essex in 1655. It preserves one of Billericay’s variant spellings.
Billericay’s most handsome house is Burghstead Lodge, now the local library, at the south end of the High Street. Dating from 1769, it was built in warm Georgian red-brick, with an ornate front entrance.
You could imagine one of Jane Austen’s feisty heroines sweeping out of the house in her crinoline, and bossing people about.
One mystery about Billericay is its name. Most Essex place names are of Anglo-Saxon origin, but “Billericay” makes no sense in old English.
Archaeology suggests that a sizeable population lived here in Roman times. People in Roman Britain spoke a Celtic language, related to modern Welsh.
My own theory (or guess!) is that the final syllable in “Billericay” is “Caer”, meaning a fortress (as in Caerleon and Caernarfon).
Alas, I can’t prove it.
A short bus ride from Billericay station brings you to Stock, a couple of miles north.
One of the most charming villages in Essex, Stock is full of friendly old houses, scattered at random, some alongside a long green, where there’s an ornate village sign.
The best feature of the ancient parish church is the 15th-century timber tower. Topped by a pointed spire, it looks like a startled goblin.
In 1940, a Nazi landmine extensively damaged the church. Every stained glass window was wrecked, but the porch, rebuilt just three years earlier, survived the full force of the blast.
The bomb crater in the churchyard is now a Garden of Remembrance.
Half a mile to the east, Stock windmill is sometimes open to visitors. (Check the internet.) Built around 1804, it has an unusual boat-shaped cap.
The upside-down rowing boat swivelled around so the sails could catch the breeze.
If you’re walking, take care along Mill Road as there isn’t much pavement.
A public footpath brings you back to the village, via Common Road and the charming village cricket ground.
The cricket club’s website says you don’t have to live in Stock to become a member.
Sadly, it’s impossible to walk the fields to Ingatestone station without risking a stretch of dangerous road.
Take the bus back to Billericay, and catch the train home there!