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History at Fordham Hall

In 2002 an archaeological field walking exercise carried out by the Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) on Fordham Hall Estate land found burnt and worked flints on the eastern side of the site. It is thought that they could be evidence of a prehistoric settlement. Struck flint tools were produced for a variety of uses, such as scraping animal skins and working wood. Burnt flints are likely to have been used during cooking.

The presence of both in the area between Wash Farm and Great Porter’s Farm highlights two potential prehistoric living areas close to the Colne. Another find is a polished stone axe head, which was discovered to the north of Ponders Road, while a field where two bodies were found in the 1980s is now an archaeological special area. 

Roman burials 

The two Roman burials were discovered in a field south of Hall Cottages, Fordham, in 1984. One contained a lead coffin housed in a wooden outer coffin at the bottom of a timber-lined grave.

Three pottery vessels and two glass vessels were located in the grave along with two hairpins, which were found next to the skull. It is thought that the burial may have been that of an adolescent girl. The second burial lies at the foot of the first; it contained the skeleton of a child.

A field survey was also carried out around the Roman burials and Roman pottery and tiles were collected. They included flue-tiles from a Roman underfloor heating system. 

Some areas have been fenced so livestock can graze, which controls the vegetation and stimulates new growth (Photo: WTML/Dominic Nicholls)

The masonry of Fordham parish church also contains Roman bricks and archaeologists have found evidence of Roman ditched enclosures and a ditched road, or track. The Roman finds suggest that there was a substantial Roman building, possibly a villa, somewhere close by.

Most of Fordham Hall Estate has been used for crop-growing for centuries. The Chapman and André map of 1777 shows little woodland, or other habitat, while the 1840 Tythe map shows the estate to have been mainly arable land. Most of the fields were smaller than they are today, so there would have been more hedgerow then.

The 1840 map shows some pasture land and one area of wood pasture, called the Grove. All have been lost, replaced by arable fields which in recent years have been used to grow cereals, oilseed rape, beans, potatoes, and sugar beet.

Along the northern bank of the Colne there were meadows, one of which was called Woolpit Meadow. They were divided up into strips, each having a different owner.

The meadows would have been flooded in winter, which means that they would have been very productive. What was once Woolpit Meadow is now a small area of marsh which has developed into a botanically-rich and diverse meadow since the land was taken out of production in 1997; it was designated a County Wildlife Site in 2009. 

Housing development 

The offer for sale of farmland around the village prompted fears that it would be purchased for housing development. However, the land was bought by a local person who then passed it to the Trust in 2002 so that it could become an area of natural beauty.

Since acquisition, around 120ha (300 acres) has been planted to new native woodland in a phased programme, while another 60ha (150 acres) has been converted to grassland. Wildflower seed has been sown and hay has been brought in for the seed that comes with it.

The estate was formerly known as Fordham Hall Farm.