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The Sampfords' History

Until the archaeological project "Heritage Sampford", undertaken by the Sampfords Society in 2002-2006, very little was known about the prehistoric origins of the parish. That project established a credible background for the prehistoric and Roman periods in the Sampfords. What much later became the site of the parish church in Great Sampford, on the rising ground above the River Pant, is now seen to have been occupied from at least the mesolithic period (10,000 - 4001 BC). Fieldwork has also shown that there was widespread occupation in the Sampfords, including settled farming, from the late Iron Age (700 BC - 43 AD) and Roman (43 AD - 410 AD) eras. The now fragmented remains of two Roman villas have been located, and two other probable villa sites have been found. The prehistoric and Roman road systems in the area have also been established. It was from the Roman period that a stable and viable rural community ultimately developed.

Although there was certainly Saxon settlement here, the lack of material evidence for that early medieval period is, for various reasons, a common experience in Essex archaeology - apart from a few major exceptions. From that period onwards, the seasonal agricultural practices and field systems were consolidated. The evidence of strip-farming and in the constructions of handsome timber-framed building confirms this.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 indicates a population of between 275 and 325 in what is now the combined parish. In common with the feudal system in England at the time, life in the Sampfords was dominated by a few wealthy land-owning families - themselves ultimately beholden to their landlords and the Crown. A high proportion of local place and field names originate from this period. the reality of life for the general population of the villages in the Middle Ages is of precarious and humble existence, frequently rescued from penury by ecclesiastical  charity and private benevolence. Life among the cornfields then bore little resemblance to modern standards of living in the parish.

An interesting facet of life here was the association with the Knights Hospitaliers and their local activities. We normally associate the order with the Crusades, but they were much involved with the urban and rural communities in England as well. The local evidence for that is deficient but still sufficiently robust to show that they were active here; especially at Tindon End.

It was not until the 18th century that life for the people of the Sampfords began to change for the better. To some extent, this was reflected in the rising population which by the early 19th century reached around 800 in Great Sampford and 400 in Little Sampford. The population later declined as a result of agricultural depression and consequent emigration to the towns as well as changes in social and family trends.

Despite considerable social and economic changes in the 20th century the dominant characteristic of life and the environment in the Sampfords is still that of agriculture. The farmlands tat surround the villages are mainly devoted to arable but there is also pasturage and some recreational areas. Among the houses of architectural or historic interest in the area are Tewes and Friars in Little Sampford and River Green House, Giffords and Free Roberts in Great Sampford. Once there were several shops of various kinds: grocers, butchers, a fishmonger and general stores. Additionally, crafts were represented by a blacksmith, carpenter, wheelwright, straw plaiters and tailors. All these have gone, as have most of the inns. Only the Red Lion is left - and a garage business. Fortunately there is still an excellent school for the younger children. In earlier times there was a school of sorts held in the church. The present school was opened in 1870.

In common with communities throughout Britain the Sampford parishes have, although not much directly affected by the world wars, made their sacrifice of young men; memorials of those who gave their lives are in the churches. As well as the established church, non-conformist congregations have long been prevalent in this part of Essex. A Baptist chapel was build in Great Sampford in 1802 and the present chapel in 1875.

The general historical background in the Sampfords is then, not much different from that of similar rural communities throughout Britain. In brief, working the land and sustaining family life in a pleasant and welcoming environment.

Ken Neale 2011

For more detailed information, consult: The Story Of The Sampfords - G Curtis 1981


Useful Historical Links

Dead Pubs - This historical pubs site links the history of the pubs to the many street name changes in the south-east over a century of change

History House - This site offering detailed information on each town and village in Essex is available through the A-Z directory

World War Two Memories - An archive of World War Two memories written by the public and gathered by the BBC

Essex Records Office - This link takes you to the historical information of the Sampfords

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