The origin of the name of this ancient street is undoubtedly bound up with the origin of the name Bradford. Morant the Essex historian (1768) suggests that Bradfords Farm (Little Bradfords) takes its name from the family of Bradford who lived there in the reign of King John (1199-1216). Mr. Alfred Hills, a local historian who lived at No. 11, The Old House, wrote that the origin of the name of this ancient street was a corruption of Broad Ford over the River Pant; the origin of the name Bradford is from the Saxon for a broad ford.
The street follows the old Roman road that ran from Chelmsford to Long Melford, built to allow the rapid movement of troops to quell any unruly Celts. In the great age of Pilgrimage, it was on the pilgrim route between Canterbury and London to Bury St. Edmunds and Walsingham. Special inns were built in Braintree to accommodate the pilgrims and there was a Pilgrims' Hostel, St Jame’s, believed to be near the former Six Bells.
The origins of the Bradford Street mill date back to 1303. About the year 1520, Bocking was a center of extensive trade in woollen cloth. Most early houses were made of timber and wattle and daub construction, since there was no suitable building stone within easy reach and roads were bad or impassable for heavy materials. There was still plenty of good oak, as some forest land remained uncleared. The height of the wool trade in Bocking was the early 18th century when the name of Bocking described a distinct type of cloth, and large fortunes were made by famous Essex families. The Ruggles of Bradford House bought an estate in Finchingfield. The Nottages, five generations of whom lived at Fulling Mill House (Convent), became bankers. Robert Maysent made "The first Long Bay" whilst another branch of the Maysent family lived at Maysent House.
Bradford Street also had a number of Wool Halls, where weekly sales of yarn and cloth took place. It is interesting to note the frequency with which the names of wool traders were linked with the management of pubs, and the great number of inns which from time to time existed in the street. In 1725 Cox wrote "Bocking is famous for its Bay Trade and many rich clothiers live there in fine spacious houses"
Roman Origins (43 AD – 410 AD)
There is some evidence for settlement of the Bocking area in the prehistoric and Roman period concentrated in the Bradford Street area.
Long before any recorded history Neolithic man roamed Britain, including the area that was to become Bradford Street. Millennia later we find their traces. Flint tools and flakes have been found in and around the Bocking area. Look carefully at all those flint stones in the garden and there is a chance you will find examples of flint that have been knapped.
Bradford Street forms part of the old Roman road from Chelmsford to Long Melford and is said to have been built to allow rapid troupe movements to defend their capital at Colchester and quell any trouble from the Celtic Trinovantes tribe that lived in East Anglia should there be another uprising like that of Boudicca in AD 60 or 61. The only evidence to date of Roman occupation in the street is the discovery of a Roman Cremation vessel which was found in a deep soakaway pit in the grounds of the former Kings Head Public House in Bradford Street.
The Romans tended to build straight roads so why does the road deviate from the otherwise straight line of the route? Two possible theories present themselves, the first being that they simply wanted avoid a stretch of marshy ground on the flood plain coloured blue on the map below. The second tenuous theory is that they would circumvent existing Celtic religious sites. Celtic religions were often centred on water; lakes and springs often featured and there is no shortage of springs in the Bradford Street area. Geologically glacial deposits overly London Clay and whilst the glacial deposits are sandy the London clay is what it says on the tin, clay. Springs occur along the line where the glacial deposits give way to the London Clay at the surface.
The above map is taken from the Historic Towns Assessment Report Bocking by the Essex County Council Planning Department (2006). Note how the curve of Bradford Street follows the sweeping curve of the river Blackwater and the number of small streams feeding the river on the south side. There as a well-documented spring in the cellar of No. 37 and a small intermittent spring in the cellar of No. 25.
The Dark Ages (410 AD – 1066 AD)
Following the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 410 AD the Saxons colonised East Anglia, Essex being the East Saxon Kingdom. They tended to avoid the Roman settlements and roads when establishing their own farmsteads and villages. The name Bocking, originally Boccinge, derives from the Saxon Bocca, waste ground, and ing meadow. Bocking Church and manor house are late Saxon and lie to the west of the old Roman road. There are no detailed written records from the Saxon era (The Saxon Chronicles are on a national level) but Aethelric the thane who owned the Bocking and Braintree area left a will dated 998A AD. In it he gave the area to the north of the old Roman road linking Colchester and St Albans (Coggeshall Road / Rayne Road) to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the area to the south to the Bishop of London. Thus the manor of Bocking came into the possession of Christchurch Cathedral Priory Canterbury at the start of the 11th century. The original wooden Saxon church was destroyed by fire in the early 11th century and rebuilt in stone after the Norman Conquest. Christchurch Canterbury held Bocking until the Reformation, which resulted in the parish of Bocking being a “Peculiar” with its own Deanery court. Christchurch still has the right to nominate the Dean of Bocking. The original focus of the Saxon settlement is presumed to have been around the church and manor house in Bocking Church Street, with Bradford Street developing later although there are so far no reported finds of Saxon artefacts.
Medieval (1066 AD – 1536 AD)
The Doomsday record for Bocking listed 19 villagers, 25 smallholders, 4 slaves, 300 pigs and 100 sheep, 1 mill, 6 cattle. Thus, wool was a major factor in the local economy from an early date.
The age of pilgrimage (1100 – 1539) saw travellers passing through Bradford Street on their way to Bury St Edmunds and Walsingham from the south or going to Canterbury from E. Anglia. In 1229 Henry III made a grant of protection for the Hospital of St James believed to have stood on the west side of Bradford Street near to the junction with Church Lane. As late as the 16th century worthy citizens of Bocking were making bequests in their wills for its restoration. The travellers were victualled in the adjoining Six Bells alehouse. Other inns and alehouses appeared to serve the travellers.
The above snapshot from the 1803 Nockold survey map – the first detailed map of Bocking – shows a building, highlighted in pink, which is thought to be the site of the Hospital of St. James and the buildings to the northeast, highlighted in blue, are the old Six Bells.
The manor house of Bocking is located adjacent to the church at the southern end of Church Street. In the 12th and 13th centuries the Manor of Bocking sold off tracts of land creating a number of smaller sub-manors. Two of these were located in or near Bradford Street; the manor of Fryers, or Friars, was located on the site of the Old Court at no. 31 and is said to be named after Alban de Frere whilst the manor of the de Bradford family, dating from the reign of King John (1166 – 1216), lay on the east side of the street and reached as far as the Coggeshall Road. Little Bradfords was the manor farmhouse. This manor gave its name to the street and the earliest known record of the street’s name can be found in a rental document in the archives of Canterbury Cathedral dating from the later part of the 14th century. Was it at this time that Bocking Park came into existence to provide the Priory with a reserved area from which they could draw an income? A document in the Canterbury Archive dated 1355 grants two persons the right to take timber from the Park for an annual payment.
In 1303 Henry de Eastry built a fulling mill on the site of the present mill at the north end of Bradford Street and in 1304 Flemish weavers arrived. This had a huge impact on the future of Bocking and Bradford Street in particular. It kick started the local woollen cloth trade that grew into one of the most important cloth manufacturing centres in the 18th century before being supplanted by centres elsewhere.
The origins of a number of properties date from the 14th century. A dendrochronological study of the timbers in the frame of 67-69 Bradford Street shows the timber being felled in the winter of 1353/4 so in all probability the frame was constructed in 1354 or within a year or two of this date before it was thoroughly seasoned. On the southern side of No. 75, at first floor level, is a two light ogee-headed tracery window. These windows were the highest fashion in court circles around 1360, so if it is that old the owner was wealthy and maybe a churchman bearing in mind the Bocking connection with Canterbury.
It is difficult to date these old buildings with any accuracy. Reliance on construction details is, at best, good to about 50 years and the timespan is often twice that. Nonetheless, working from the best estimates for the dates of earliest construction we find that there was a boom in construction in the 15th and 16th centuries. Based on the information currently available 10 buildings appear to date from the 15th century and 20 to date from the 16th century.
Post Medieval (1536 AD – 1900 AD)
The manufacture of woollen cloth was controlled by clothiers, the entrepreneurs of their day. They financed and controlled the process from buying the raw woollen fleeces through to the sale of the finished cloth. The fullers, carders, combers, spinners, weavers, dyers etc., were all self-employed piece workers whose rates of pay were controlled by the various guilds and many of the trades had to serve seven year apprenticeships before being allowed to ply their trade. The industry was at the mercy of the geopolitics of Europe and suffered periods of boom and bust resulting from wars, natural disasters and the desires of kings to raise money by taxation.
There were no banks in the 17th and early 18th century where people could save their money. They either bought real estate or lent their money to the government by way of bonds which offered interest payments. The more wealthy clothiers bought properties in Bradford Street, renovated them, built tenement cottages in their back yards and invested their spare cash buying farms and government securities. The 18th century saw seven clothier families amass, in 21st century terms, multimillion pound fortunes. They were the Englishes, Maysents, Nottidges, Rays, Ruggles, Savills and Walfords but not all were immune to bankruptcy. Thomas Ruggles the younger was bankrupt in 1743 and Joseph English in 1780 amongst others. The Nottidges and Savills owned many farms and tenanted properties in the district, were partners in Sparrow’s Bank and left monetary bequests totalling £50,000 each (equivalent to over £4 million each when adjusted for inflation in 2018).
Only the wealthy, or those owning property in Bocking and other parishes had their wills proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). An analysis of these wills shows the two main cycles of prosperity. Despite the many fluctuations in the wool trade, going from boom to bust and back to boom in a matter of just a few years the most entrepreneurial citizens made large fortunes which they invested in property. There were two major periods of wealth generation, the first in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and the second in the 18th century. These are the very timeframes when most of the listed buildings in Bradford Street were either built or refronted.
When the wool trade in Bocking collapsed at the end of the 18th century so too did the investment in property in the street. This explains why there are so many Georgian houses in the street hardly altered since that time.
At the beginning of the 19th century the Courtauld family established a silk weaving business in Bocking to capitalise on the population of skilled weavers. With the death of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria setting the fashion for black crepe silk dresses the Courtauld enterprise flourished. Many of their key workers, the skilled engravers for example, lived in Bradford Street but they were employees and never amassed large fortunes. Some of the Courtaulds lived in the street at different times, built Bocking Place and donated huge sums of money to various projects in Braintree and Bocking.
Bradford Street saw a number of properties built in the 19th century. There is one terrace of late Victorian houses, built to house the ever growing population. May Cottages Nos. 58 – 66 (1895) were built on the site of an earlier large building which, on the basis of census entries was subdivided into a number of dwellings.
The Gosling family owned and ran the Bocking brewery, at Nos. 104a and 106, for the best part of the 19th century and, like the clothiers, bought property in the street, both public houses and residential properties. They owned the Cardinals Cap before selling it for redevelopment, they bought the King’s Head, probably in 1808, and it was included in the sale to Greene King in 1904, they bought the Rose and Crown in 1795 but it ceased trading in 1804, they bought the Woolpack in 1806 and it ceased trading in 1851. The wills are not very specific but the deeds to no. 27 show that it was owned by the Gosling family and was was among the “freehold premises in Bradford Street” another was the “premises occupied by Miss Reeve”, there were two tenements in Church Lane, and then “all other properties, farm lands and real estate” amongst which were copyhold premises in Shalford.
Modern (1900 AD – present)
The 20th Century saw the fortunes of Bradford Street fall and then rise quite as dramatically as the changes in the 17th and 18th centuries. There was some early building followed by a general decline until the late 1970’s before much building thereafter.
Nos. 47 – 53 were perhaps the first houses to be built on land that had previously been cultivated as part of a market garden business and Nos. 115 – 125 replaced an earlier block, seen in the image below, which may have been part of the Hospital of St James, but which by Victorian times was a series of shops and dwellings. The bay window on the extreme left of the picture was a tailor’s shop and then the post office. No. 22 was built in 1924. Nos. 43-49 were built by Land Courtauld and were designed to copy and blend with the style of the other houses in the street. Queen’s Meadow was built by the Courtauld family in 1930.
The prosperity of Bradford Street declined after the First World War and by the mid 1930’s many old tenanted properties were in such a poor state of repair that they were demolished before the Second World War. What had once been the Swan Inn was still shown on the 1924 map but the plot was already vacant before some of the other slum clearances in 1939 which saw the demolition of the cottages in Swan Yard, the adjacent Bowtles Yard and Oliver’s Yard. On the west side of lower Bradford Street, where the Chapel now stands a row of old cottages Nos. 153 – 159 were demolished in the 1939 clearances. Two cottages behind No. 23 were demolished in 1939 as was No. 33 and some old properties in the yard behind.
The pair of semi-detached houses on the site of the old Swan inn and Swan Yard appear to be post war. Bawn Close was developed on the site of No.33. Nos. 55 and 55A were built on what had been a brew yard in Victorian times and later a builder’s yard. The Courtyard and Nos. 24 – 32 were infill building in back yard areas. What had been a Malting in Friars Lane was used by the council as a store house for many years before being turned into a row of late 20th century houses. A site adjacent to Queen’s meadow was built on. To the north of Tudor House, the site of the old smithy had seen service as the showrooms for Eastern Tractors in the 1960s and 70s before being cleared and subject to an archaeological dig before the current houses were built. Building continued into the 21st Century with the development of Hack cottage and Ostlers Cottage in the yard between Nos. 15 and 19, the development of an old cottage behind No. 9, Garden Cottage and a development in Phillip’s Chase.
Census records tell us that Bradford Street was, like the streets of many large villages and small towns full of small independent shops supplying groceries, hardware, footwear, furniture etc., and services such as doctors, dentists, tailors, dressmakers. The advent of the supermarket saw the demise of the retail businesses and with it a loss of community cohesion.
Following the war the prosperity declined even further until, in the mid 1970’s, the council stepped in, bought some of the most run down listed buildings, renovated them and sold them on. No. 48 was saved in this way. Other buildings such as Wentworth House, Gresham House and to a lesser extent Georgian house were renovated by their owners.