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HENHAM-ON-THE-HILL IN 1895
Notes by Mr W. T. Fairhall of Mitcham, Surrey in 1960
Henham-on-the-Hill is a scattered and spacious village 1½ miles N.E. from Elsenham Station, beautifully situated on high ground with wide views over the wooded countryside towards Widdington and Newport, and although it has no large green the village is given space and vista by the very wide verges that border the roads running through. The soil is sandy and the farmers had few drainage problems, the heaviest shower quickly disappearing from the roads and fields.
In 1895 it appeared to have changed little during the nineteenth century; the cottage architecture fell into three groups, a few of oak-frame construction with brick infilling g of seventeenth century date, a larger number of white-washed cottages with roofs of thatch, a few Victorian villas with slate roofs. The parish had at that time about seven hundred inhabitants, which included the neighbouring hamlets of Little Henham, Chickney, Cherry Green and Pledgdon Green. It subsisted entirely on agriculture and had five farms, Bird’s, Moat Farm, and Church Farm at the church end of the village, Wright’s Farm at the centre and Wood End Green Farm at the Debden End. The farm labourer’s wages was then thirteen shillings weekly (65 pence – RG), supplemented by extra money at hay and harvest time. In summer the women and elder children went hoeing, pea picking, and gleaning to gain a little extra money, whilst few cottages were without a pig, a few ducks or chickens, and of course garden produce.
There were few mechanical aids to farming; the two-horse plough was the rule, though some of the larger fields were steam-ploughed by contract; wheat and barley were drilled but in some of the smaller fields on heavy land, of which there were a few pockets in the parish, seed and fertiliser were distributed by hand broadcasting, or by the use of that curious implement now relegated to the museum, the fiddle. In summer the two-horse binder had become general, though some of the older men remembered reaping by sickle; horse-works were much used, either to work a stack elevator at harvest time, or more permanently on the farm with a horizontal shaft through the barn wall to work a chaff cutter or cake crusher. In autumn, steam thrashing by contract was general, though at Moat Farm I have seen the flail, or ‘frail’ as the men called it, in use; the largest barn was cleared, the floor and sides covered with stack cloth and then would commence the steady beat of the flail as the thrasher moved across the barn floor.
The village, as the local centre of the surrounding countryside, met most of the simple needs of Henham people and those of nearby hamlets; it had three grocer’s shops, one being the post office, a wheelwright’s, the blacksmith’s forge, and two inns. For water supply, the villagers relied on rain water for washing, and for drinking water on pumps, as the village well next to the forge had been out of use for years. The farms of the ...and better class houses had, of course, their own pumps, but the rest of the cottagers had to use the public pump next to the school, which was unlocked for an hour once a day. For those who were infirm or who did not wish to carry their own water, the pump-keeper would for a copper bring along a couple of pails slung from a pannier across her broad shoulders.