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Our excursion to Coggeshall on 28th June was well attended. Seventeen members went in all, travelling in a minibus and a car. The day was packed with so much to see and study that we came home feeling quite inebriated – without touching a drop of Coggeshall wine!

What a happy bunch! A group photo taken by Shirley Ratcliffe

Coggeshall’s Museum is a truly rich resource; nearly everything on display has been donated by local residents, and as you look round this becomes so apparent, as there is a strong sense that every object has been cherished in its lifetime. It was like being shown round a beautiful garden by its gardener.

One couple in our group with Coggeshall roots had a good natter to some locals, and even discovered a framed photo of an ancestral home displayed in the museum. (We also met someone in town with roots from our corner of the county.)

Magical Mystery Tour

Shirley Ratcliffe, the Museum Curator, then gave us a potted guided tour of the centre of town. There are over 200 listed buildings here, including many 16th century timber-framed wool-merchants' homes. There was so much for her to explain to us that time seemed to cease to be, and then she said that she’d only scratched the surface! Like the Pied Piper, she led us all over town, but not out of it, for we found ourselves at the door of Paycocke’s House next – and what a marvel it is.

We spent a delicious hour at Paycocke’s, a merchants' home that is now run by the National Trust. its resident guide Orlando giving a very spirited talk on its history before sending us off to explore the rooms and find our way to its beautiful garden.

Enjoying Paycocke's garden

Again, the ambience almost made us feel like we had stepped back in time to the 16th century. Or was it Orlando’s colourful Shakespeare-esque outfit, which someone dryly described as “pyjamas”?

Paycocke's House, with the Fleece to the right.

Lunch at the Fleece, next door to Paycocke’s and in a building of the same age, served us admirably, and next we found ourselves at Coggeshall Grange Barn, a 12th century monastic barn that has parallels with Cressing Temple. Yes, it may look like any old barn in the photos, but up close its timbers and beams are exquisite, and our allotted 30 minutes swiftly became more like an hour!

Windy Miller

It was fascinating to learn that the dimensions of the main uprights exactly measured a standard Medieval unit (based on the Rod) in width, and also to appreciate just how carefully such barns were built as wind-tunnels, designed so that a constant breeze flowed through each set of main doors to blow the chaff from the wheat, even when it wasn’t particularly windy outside. Even the location of the barn, until very recently on an open gentle hillock, had been chosen for this purpose. And there we were thinking that they just built them as storage sheds!

St. Nicholas’ Chapel came next, and again when you get inside what you expect to be a fairly unsurprising and modest little building, its features are so overwhelming that we lost all track of time once again. (After all, what else would you expect from a historical society group on a day out?) To stand inside a chapel that was once attached to the abbey's gatehouse, and that is still lit by candle and parrafin, brings you perhaps more in touch with what our ancestors’ lives were like throughout history, from the dawn of civilisation up to even as recent as perhaps a hundred years ago.

But it was our tour of Coggeshall Abbey Farm that was the grandest finale that we could have hoped for. Our more than magnanimous hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Hadlee, treated us more like close family than strange visitors; their hospitality must surely have lived up to anything that the Cistercians would have provided on that site in their day. They even went beyond it too - after all, tea and home-made flapjack hadn’t been invented in Medieval times! And of course the tour itself was a dream, the abbey remains, now farm buildings, and the farmhouse itself, are truly fascinating places to explore.

Elysian Field-trip

What made the day special, is that on every stage, someone was on hand and more than eager to tell us all about the sites. But what made the day was to be able to enjoy all these delicious experiences as a group, sharing each other’s pleasure and learning from each other about little facts and snippets of understanding that one or other of us might have. If any group of students could be so enthused on a field-trip, then it must surely be the best of all reflections on their guides for the day, tutoring them with such care and tenderness, and evident love for their respective subjects.

True hospitality

Perhaps we’ll go back another year, and catch up on some of the other features of the town that we couldn’t squeeze in this time.

Some Links:

Coggeshall Museum

Paycocke's House

Coggeshall Grange Barn

The Fleece

St. Nicholas' Chapel (contact the Parish Church for opening times)

Coggeshall Abbey Farm (Historic Houses Association)

Coggeshall Parish Council website (lots more info on Coggeshall)

Coggeshall History website

For More Information please Contact WAHS





Copyright Waltham Abbey Historical Society, 2007.