Coggeshall ( or ) is a small market town of 3,919 residents (in 2001) in Essex, England, between Colchester and Braintree on the Roman road of Stane Street, and intersected by the River Blackwater. It is known for its almost 300 listed buildings and formerly extensive antique trade. Many local businesses, such as the White Hart Hotel and the Chapel Inn, been established for hundreds of years (the Chapel Inn became a legally licensed premises in 1554). A market has been run every week on Market Hill since 1256, when a charter to do so was granted by Henry III.
Coggeshall won the Essex Best Kept Village award in its category in 1998 and 2001–03; it was named the Eastern England & Home Counties Village of the Year in 2003. Official brown coloured sightseeing/tourist road signs on the entry to the town from the A120 road still show Coggeshall as "Village of the Year".
Coggeshall dates back at least to an early Saxon settlement, though the area has been settled since the Mesolithic period. There is evidence of a Roman villa or settlement before then and the town lies on Stane Street, which may have been built on a much earlier track. The drainage aqueducts of Stane Street are still visible in the cellar of the Chapel Inn today. Roman coins dating from 31 BC to AD 395 have been found in the area and Coggeshall has been considered the site of a Roman station mentioned in the Itineraries of Antoninus. Coggeshall is situated at a ford of the River Blackwater, part of another path running from the Blackwater Valley to the Colne Valley. Where these paths crossed a settlement started.
The modern history of Coggeshall begins around 1140 when King Stephen and his queen Matilda, founded a large Savigniac abbey with 12 monks from Savigny in France, the last to be established before the order was absorbed by the Cistercians in 1147. Matilda visited the Abbey for the last time in 1151 and asked for the Abbot's blessing, "If thou should never see my face again, pray for my Soul. More things are wrought by prayer than this World dreams of."
Flint and rubble were the main materials used in the construction of the monastery, and the buildings were faced with stone punted up the Blackwater, and locally produced brick. Brick making had died out in Britain since the Romans left and the monks may have been instrumental in its re-establishment around this time. They built a kiln in the north of the town at a place called Tile Kiln, an area now known as Tilkey. The bricks from Coggeshall are some of the earliest-known bricks in post-Roman Britain. Long Bridge, in the south of the town, was probably built in the 13th century using these bricks and the kiln in Tilkey continued to produce bricks until 1845. The Church was sufficiently complete to be dedicated by the Bishop of London in 1167.
The estate commanded by the monastery was extensive. The monks farmed sheep, and their skilled husbandry developed a high-quality wool that formed the foundation of the town's prosperous cloth trade during the 15th to mid-18th centuries, when it was particularly renowned for its fine Coggeshall White cloth. The monastery also had fishponds with strict fishing rights — a Vicar of Coggeshall was imprisoned in Colchester for stealing fish. However, the monastery could not produce all that it required and sold produce at an annual fair to buy the things they did not have. In 1250 the Abbot of Coggeshall was allowed by Royal Charter to hold an eight-day fair commencing on 31 July — the feast of St. Peter-ad-Vincula, to whom the Parish Church was dedicated. In 1256, a Saturday market was granted as long as it didn't interfere with its neighbours. Colchester complained in 1318 that Coggeshall was a hindrance, and their complaint, being upheld, resulted in the market being moved to Thursday, where it remains to this day.
The Black Death hit the Abbey hard, with the number of monks and conversi much reduced. Revenues across Essex fell to between one third to one half of pre-plague rates; the abbey suffered financially with tenanted and cultivated lands heavily decreased. During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 the Abbey was broken into and pillaged. The sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, John Sewall, was targeted by rioters at his Coggeshall house, now the Chapel Inn. By the early 15th century a new church was begun at the Abbey called St. Mary's; it was completed by the start of the 16th century but the Dissolution of the Monasteries brought an end to the prosperity of monks. In 153] Abbot Love was demoted with a list of complaints raised against him; though some of them may have been fabricated, it appears that standards at the monastery were dropping. It was common practice at the time that Abbots unsympathetic to the will of the King were replaced with more favourable ones; in this case Abbot More was implanted by Dr. T. Leigh. Coggeshall survived the Act of Suppression in 1536 and the Abbot of St. Mary Grace's, London, invested in its future. However, the political situation was opposed to the monasteries and Coggeshall succumbed in 1538, handed over by Abbot More. The monks were sent back to their families or into the community, many becoming priests. Abbot Love became vicar of Witham where he stayed until his death in 1559. The monastery's possessions and lands, totalling nearly 50,000 acres (200 km²), were seized; King Henry VIII granted them to Sir Thomas Seymour. They remained into his possession until 1541 when they were split up.
Economy and industry
After the decline of the wool trade, Coggeshall's economy centred around cloth, silk and velvet, with over half of the population employed in its production. The cloth trade is first linked with the town in 1557 as a well-established industry but the onslaught of various trade laws brought about the decline of the trade. The last book order entry for cloth production is listed as 14 November 1800.
The 1851 census showed Coggeshall to be one of the most industrialised places in Essex. However, the English silk industry was being artificially supported by a ban on imported silk goods; Continental silk was cheaper and of a higher quality. When Parliament repealed the ban in 1826 and later reduced and finally removed duties on French silk, English weavers were unable to compete and Coggeshall's economy was devastated.
The town again found fame in Tambour lace, a form of lace-making introduced to Coggeshall around 1812 by a Monsieur Drago and his daughters. The production of this lace continued through the 19th century before dying out after the Second World War. Examples of Coggeshall lace have been worn by Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II.
Coggeshall was noted for the quality of its brewing, in the late 19th century having four well-established institutions. In 1888 Gardner and Son were awarded the Diploma of Honour at the National Brewer's Exhibition. The brewery buildings have undergone alternative use in recent years, with several now used a residential buildings and another used as the Coggeshall Village Hall. In 2008 the Red Fox Brewery was opened near Coggeshall.
In the mid-19th century John Kemp King established seed growing in the area where it continues to this day.
The first independent place of worship in Coggeshall was a converted barn on East Street, put to use in 1672. In 1710 a permanent chapel was built on Stoneham Street for "Protestant Dissenters from the Church of England, commonly called Independents". By 1716 there were 700 hearers including some of the wealthiest and most influential people from the local area. In 1834 the chapel was enlarged and again in 1865. Today the building continues to be part of the United Reformed Church in continuous succession from its Congregational and Independent past. The modern Christ Church which meets in the building is now a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP); a new single congregation coming together from a union of the three village chapels in 1989 and uniting members from the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church.
The Quakers were active in Coggeshall as early as 1655, with Fox stating "I came to Cogshall, and there was a meeting of about 2,000 people." That same year James Parnell, a local Quaker, caused a disturbance at the church and was sentenced to prison at Colchester Castle where he died whilst imprisoned in 1656. A meeting house was purchased on Stoneham Street in 1673 with a new building constructed in 1878. A graveyard was purchased on Tilkey Road in 1856 but now forms part of a private garden attached to Quaker Cottage. The meeting house is now home to Coggeshall Library.
Coggeshall has proved an important place in the local Baptist Ministry. For many years congregations met in a house just off Hare Bridge, and in 1797 the first annual meeting of the Essex Baptist Association was held in the Independent Meeting House. A permanent meeting house was constructed in 1825 along Church Street. This building is now used as business offices.
The Methodists have been present in Coggeshall since 1811, worshipping first at a house on Stoneham Street, then a chapel on East Street. A permanent chapel was constructed in 1883 on Stoneham Street to seat 250 people and now hosts a local children's nursery.