a town with historic architecture of interest
Thaxted, in Essex, has, fortunately for us, weathered the architectural cleansings of the past two centuries and retains its character and charm. One of the best things about the town, besides its historic architecture, is its lack of tourist tack. The town’s recorded history dates back to before the Domesday Book. Its current name relates to the thatchers who lived in the town.
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The white timber framed guildhall in the center of the main street (Town St) is more than 600 years old as are many of the timber framed houses along the street. Construction was begun in 1390 by the Guild of Cutlers who used it for over a hundred years. Its plan is a square with the upper floors jettied out on three sides. The four supporting beams radiate from a central post. On the first and second floor dragon beams support the corner posts.
In 1556 the cutlery industry was in decline and the guildhall became the administrative centre of the town which was raised to borough status. Its charter was rescinded in 1686, and the building fell into disrepair. It was taken over by a charity and used as a school until 1878. The building has undergone several restorations since and is in use today by various community groups. In the cellar is a small museum and exhibition space.
Look for the original door and iron barred grill on the right side of the ground floor—this was a town lockup at one time. The open area below the building served as a market place for many years. In the 14th and 15th centuries stalls and small wooden shops sold goods. The cast iron village pump served the village as well as the stall holders.
Another historic building on Town St is the 15th century three storey ‘Recorders House, a jettied building with two bay windows. Look for the arms of Edward IV carved on the building window coves. Fishmarket Street—its name says it all, off Town St, suffered a tragic fire in 1881 that destroyed most of the historic buildings.
The Grade II listed windmill (follow the path from the church up beside the almshouses) was built of local red brick in 1804 to grind grain for flour. It has been restored several times and now houses a small rural museum.
The thatched building on the path to the mill was once a priest’s house, then an almshouse, then later a dwelling belonging to the church. It is now a private dwelling. A brick almshouse was built next to it in the early 1700s. It still provides housing for the elderly.
The Anglican church stands high on a hill on the site of a previous church. It was built over many years, from 1340 to 1509. It can’t be missed because of its 181 foot high spire. The architecture ranges from late Decorated to Perpendicular with the Perpendicular arches a notable feature. The church is supported by flying buttresses. It is 183 feet long and 87 feet wide.
There are two porches, both decorated and both with rooms above. The north porch room is dedicated to John Ball who was a priest and martyr because of his organization of the 1381 peasants’ revolt. Edward IV’s crest of arms is on the north porch. Gargoyles abound on the church exterior. The 15th century 80 foot high west tower has a ring of eight bells.
Inside the church are many medieval stone carvings. Angels are another feature with a large number in the north transept. The aisles of the nave are wider than the nave itself, while the transepts are short. There are two side chapels off the chancel and one off the north transept and also the south transept. The roof of the church is of Tudor oak carved with angels. The pulpit dates from 1680. Stained glass in the church dates back as far as 1341.
Off the main area of the town on Watling Lane are a number of historic weatherboarded barns and a thatched cottage. On Newbiggen St are timber framed houses behind Georgian fronts. The library is housed in a Queen Anne building of 1715. On Orange St is an area called ‘Mill Inn’ where a row of 16th and 17th century cottages can be seen.
The town has an annual music festival over four summer weekends. There is an active Morris Men group. There are several pleasant places for meals and refreshments in the town.
Thaxted is on the B1051/B184 north of the A120.
The guildhall museum is open summers only, weekends, 11am-5pm.
The windmill is open Easter-end Sep, Sat, Sun and BH, from 2-6pm.
Services are held daily in the church.
Thaxted Festival website: Thaxted Festival
Thaxted Morris Men website: Thaxted Morris Men
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard