History of Hawkwell

By Margaret Chambers, Local History Recorder for Hawkwell. Copyright © 2001

For an illustrated History of Hawkwell – click here

Hawkwell is in the District of Rochford, Essex. ROCHFORD, a town in the south-eastern parliamentary division of Essex, England, 39 m. E. by N. from London by the Southend branch of the Great Eastern railway. Pop. (1901) 1829. It lies on the small river Roach, near the head of a long estuary.’ The town has a Perpendicular church (St Andrew), a corn exchange and some agricultural trade. Rochford Hall, a picturesque gabled mansion of various dates, belonged Once to the Boleyns, and it has been stated that Anne Boleyn, the unfortunate queen of Henry VIII., was born here, but this is in no way proved. Near Rochford the Lawless or Whispering Court, a remarkable survival of unknown origin, is held by a manorial tenure on the Wednesday following Michaelmas Day, beginning at midnight. No light is permitted, nor may voices be raised above a whisper. Nearly 3 m. N.W. from Rochford is Ashingdon. This is generally accepted as the scene of the fight of Assandun in 1o16 between Canute and Edmund Ironside, in which the English were defeated through treachery in their ranks. Earthworks, of this or an earlier date, remain.

First of all there is the name itself – Hawkwell – to be considered – and here is the first mystery. The Rev, Philip Morant writing in the 1760’s suggests that the name is derived from Hawk and well, or spring, which seems simple enough, although another historian (Philip Benton) in 1867 thought it derived from the German Hochwell or the High Well. There were indeed two wells in the Parish – one on the ridge of the upper common near the White Hart Inn, which was the High Well, and one in Ironwell Lane. The latter was known as the Iron Well because of the hardness of its water compared to the soft water of the High Well. Why we should have the name originally in German and then translated into English doesn’t seem to be explained. A further explanation is that the name in fact derives from the Saxon words for ‘bend in the stream’. The Domesday Book of 1086 mentions our Parish as Hacuuella or Hechuuella, and the Saxon for bend or hook was ‘haca’. Haca-wiella was probably the name of the stream and Hawk probably came later due to confusion with the bird name. Through the ages the name was variously written as Hakewell, Hawkeswelle and Hawkewell.

The present Parish was divided in the 13th century into the Manors of Clements Hall and Hawkwell Hall. The Manor of Clements took its name from a family to whom it belonged. Philip Clement owned it in 1440. Eventually after changes over many years the house came into the possession of Thomas White, F.R.S. He contributed materially to his brother the Rev.Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne – a very well known book. His grandson, Algernon Holt White gave land for the Hawkwell National School to be built in 1846. The total cost of this building was Three hundred pounds, including a parliamentary grant. It was a mixed school under a mistress. In 1851 there were 74 children at school from the ages of 3 – 14. Total population in that year was 349. The jurisdiction of the Manor of Hawkwell Hall became extinct and Hawkwell Hall is now a farm and is situated across the road from St. Mary’s Church.

The early history of St. Mary-the-Virgin Parish Church is obscure. Philip Benton estimates that the date of the building is about 1400 but others think it much older, probably about 1300. The first name on the List of Rectors is William de Bayeuse but it is undated, the first date on the list is 1323 against the name of Alexander de Bayeuse. If William was the first Rector, the Church has had fifty two Rectors to date. The little wooden belfry (as it is called in ancient records) had three bells, as recorded in 1757, but in 1768 there were two and in 1849 can be read ‘ther remanythe at thys p’sent tyme in the churche of Hawkwell … one bell in the stepyll’. In an inventory of church goods taken in the reign of Edward VI it is recorded that Sir William Stafford forcibly carried off the bells of Rochford, Ashingdon, South Shoebury, Hawkwell and Foulness, and sold them for his own benefit. In 1884 the Rev. James Montagu recorded that swarms of bees had taken up residence on either side of the Church Porch for many years and had frequently stung several of the congregation. Several of the weather boards were taken out and the bees destroyed and it was decided to rebuild the porch. A concert was given at Rochford and the proceeds amounted to Nine Guineas, contributions were Twenty six pounds and the balance of Thirty six pounds was paid by the Rector. This same Rector left the Church a carved Pulpit, Prayer Desk and Font Cover, all his own work. An event still remembered by many Hawkwell people was a bombing incident in the early hours of Sunday, 15th September, 1940, when considerable damage was done to the roof, windows and ceiling and also the tower. It was at the time of the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival and the services had to be carried on in the churchyard. In the 1990’s the church was extended to twice its original size, the work has been carried out very professionally and looks most attractive inside and out and has been much admired. It was re-opened in July, 1996.

The White Hart was the only Public House in the Parish but, sadly, owing to parish boundary changes, it is now officially in Hockley Parish. Certain Deeds show that Thomas Holt White, followed by his son Algernon Holt White, who were Lords of the Manor in the 19th Century held Court Baron and Customary Court Meetings in the White Hart. In trying to discover the actual age of the White Hart I came across the Annual Register of Recognizances which gave names and dates of the Innholders. The oldest date was 1792 when James Benton was the Innholder. I haven’t been able so far to find out anything further back. The White Hart was on the coach route which ran from Southend to London so would probably have put up travellers in some of the upstairs rooms shown on the photograph.

Census details show how the population totals changed from 1801 to 1901. In 1801 the total was 220 and this figure increased to 366 in 1841 and then gradually dropped until 1891 when it was 264. This was partly due to farm mechanisation when less staff were needed so people moved away. Then in 1889 the Railway was extended right through to Southend and numbers have risen ever since.