Medieval Period

The long Medieval Period began with the Dark Ages and only ended with the Tudor Royal dynasty in 1485.

The early Medieval period or Dark Ages had been dominated by the nobility and the clergy. However the middle period between around AD 1001-1300 was a new time of warm climate with good harvests when the peasant population grew. Their increased numbers and strength became challenging to Norman authority but the people were ruthlessly kept under control. The following late medieval period then saw the population decimated through plague, wars and economic stagnation to end with the Wars of the Roses and the establishment of the Tudor royal dynasty in 1485.

Normans  : 1066-1154

Following his defeat of King Harold II in 1066 the conquering Duke William of Normandy marched towards London to set up his royal court, stopping first at Barking Abbey from where he ruled England for the first six days. Although he had good claim to inherit the English throne, he owed his battle success to the Norman barons who were his equals in France. Under the Norman feudal system the King owned everything, renting out to the Barons in return for the security of their support; they in turn leased the land to the local workforce. England was soon divided between William and those to whom he owed allegiance; locally William kept the royal manor of Havering for himself and other land in Ockendon and Childerditch; his half brother Bishop Odo held land at Rainham, Upminster, Cranham, Aveley, Ingrave, Stifford and in Thurrock. It was Odo who instigated the making of the Bayeux Tapestry which some say includes a picture of the palace of Havering.

In 1078 William had began building the first stone keep in England at the Tower of London displaying Norman domination and permanence. Other keeps were later built elsewhere by the new landholders including locally at Ongar Castle. In 1086, William ordered an account of all the land, its value and who was responsible or ‘held’ it both prior to the Conquest and after so that he could impose accurate taxation. Essex was surveyed during the early stages and is recorded in great detail in the Little Domesday Book. The old Danegeld was still used as a land tax until the reign of Henry II and was last recorded in 1161-2.

Later Civil War erupted when William’s granddaughter the Empress Matilda came to the succession. Her stronghold was in the south-west but she was usurped by her charismatic but ineffectual cousin King Stephen, who controlled south-east England. Eventually it was Matilda’s son Henry who succeeded to the throne, the first of the Plantagenet royal dynasty.

The Normans looked down on the seemingly inferior Saxons who managed to retain their culture. However the Grays place name is of Norman French origin; near to the town the Deneholes of Hangman’s Wood is of medieval origin. Some 70 of these chalk and flint mines were excavated, it is the most important Denehole site in the United Kingdom and a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) bat colony. 

Plantagenet’s: 1154 – 1485 from Henry II - death of Richard III

Although still medieval Kings and descendants of the Conqueror, England’s Kings from Henry II to Richard III eventually adopted the dynastic name of Plantagenet. Under them England transformed back into an independent Kingdom and King John set in train the founding of English democracy by signing the Magna Carta to appease the old rights descending with the Norman Baronial families.

By 1159 Hornchurch Priory had been founded by Henry II for political and religious reasons, and Suttons Farm and its land (now part Hornchurch Country Park) was endowed for Priory support.

The murder of St. Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170 had a great social and economic impact on this area. From the Visitor Centre Walk no.1 leads to the two-centred historic settlement of North Ockendon, still linked across the fields by a footpath, now the North Ockendon Conservation Area. It has Saxon origins but is centred on the medieval Grade 1 listed church and a cluster of listed and other historic buildings. At this time of Beckets murder the Lord of the Manor of North Ockendon was Sir Reginald Fitzurse, the knight who smote the first blow against Becket. Although King Henry II is famously said to have undertaken great penance for the unintended murder of his Archbishop and friend, as his chief advisor Sir Richard de Lucy also felt some responsibility. De Lucy’s penance was to found Lesnes Abbey at Erith together with satellite churches including Rainham parish church. The church is marked for being a surviving Norman church built complete and at one time and of such quality. The monks from Lesnes set up a ferry across the Thames to a hamlet of Rainham Ferry to conduct church services and minister to the people at Rainham (this area can be reached via the London Loop from Walk no.5). Walk 5 will also take you via Berwick Glades to Abbey Wood in Rainham, named for its association with Barking Abbey and later its ownership by Lesnes Abbey. Nearby Berwick Manor was held by the Knights Templers and later by the Knights Hospitallers, who also held land in Rainham.

By 1349 plague had again arrived in this area and it is said that bodies were brought out by barge at night from the Abbey along the waterways to be buried on the marshes. This plague is also said to have destroyed Hacton village which had straddled the river Ingrebourne near Hacton Bridge – at that time an important entrance into Havering royal manor. Here the meandering Gaynes and Hacton Parkways lie mid-way along the Ingrebourne Valley stretching south to Rainham. (see Walk no.5). Beyond Rainham, further along the edge of the Thames marshes Wennington Church, is also of medieval date and a grade II* listed building.

During the latter 13th century the King’s master mason was Henry Yevele, who owned land at Wennington and whose name is linked with Aveley; Aveley church itself is a medieval Building. During 1377-1400 Yevele rebuilt the nave where Becket had been murdered at Canterbury Cathedral, which murder had led to Becket’s sainthood and shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. By this time pilgrim routes had grown up between Canterbury and York passing through this area, improving the local economy, and recorded at places like Pilgrims Hatch, Herongate, South Weald, St. Thomas Chapel, Brentwood; Great Warley and Hole Farm Lane to Warley Franks (Walk no.3) where local guides could take pilgrims across the marshes, then on to Stifford Bridge and Grays and the Thames ferries at places like Rainham, Purfleet and Tilbury.

Aveley Church

From the Thames Chase Visitor Centre Walks No. 2 & No. 6a link to The Chase, which is a medieval route stretching north as a metalled road to join St.Mary’s Lane, and south it continues as a footpath or bridleway (fp228) to join Ockendon Road; until the 19th century it continued directly southwards past Stubbers House until the famous landscape architect Humphrey Repton rerouted that stretch further west as Stubbers Lane today.


More information on the medieval period can be found by visiting websites for the Council for British Archaeology; The Ancient Monuments Society; English Heritage; or by visiting the Museum of London; Thurrock Museum; Havering Museum and Valence House Museum. Read Chaucer’s famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ to get a feel for the life and times of the 13th century pilgrims travelling to Canterbury. Also visit Mountfitchet Castle which is a Norman, timber Motte and Bailey Castle and Village, re-constructed on its original historic site and depicting life in Domesday England. Hedingham Castle is a Norman stone keep, built c. 1140 and with four floors to visit.

© 2014 S.J.Smith

Do you have anything to add to this page? Click below to submit your content.

Submit a word document, photograph or pdf. (Size limit 2MB)