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All Saints' Church
|Great Chesterford shown within Essex|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||SAFFRON WALDEN|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
Great Chesterford is a medium-sized village and civil parish in the Uttlesford district of Essex, England. It is located 18 miles (29 km) north of Bishop's Stortford, 12 miles (19 km) south of Cambridge and about 41 miles (66 km) north of London.
The church, All Saints', dates from the 13th century, and has had many additions over the years. Rumour has it that silver bells which hung in the church tower, were hidden in an underground passageway which ran between the church, the Old Vicarage and the Crown House Hotel to keep them safe from government soldiers. They have never been found, although some traces of the passageway have been uncovered.
The land around Great Chesterford has been inhabited for centuries, and there have been many archaeological finds e.g. Bronze Age beakers, Belgic pottery and jewellery, and many Roman artefacts which can be found in both Saffron Walden and Cambridge museums. In the 1st century AD, a Romano-British civil settlement was established near the river, occupying an important site en route between London, Cambridge and Newmarket. They erected many buildings, including a tax office, and a temple which was excavated to the east of the town near the Belgic cemetery. In the 4th century the Romans built a wall around the town – remains have been found and its exact location is known. In fact it passed underneath what is now the Crown House Hotel.
After the Romans left, it was presumed that there was continuity of occupation through the Saxon period, probably outside the Roman town. It was probably the location of a Saxon minster church, but the only actual evidence of Saxon occupation is found in the burial sites. Medieval development was in the centre of the village. The name Chesterford is first mentioned in a document in 1004, and again in 1086 in the Domesday Book. In 1459 the Rector, Thomas Hyll, endowed a charity for the benefit of needy parishioners. This still exists today.
In 1514 a school was licensed, and in 1540 Great Chesterford was described as being a purely agricultural community. By medieval times Great Chesterford was a town of some importance with a weekly market (confirmed later by a charter from Charles I in 1634), and a fair held on St John the Baptist’s Day.
By 1635 it grew in importance as a staging post for the Newmarket Races, often used by Charles I, who drew quite a crowd of onlookers. Complaints about gambling and noisy revelry at the Crown House (then a coaching inn) and its environs on Easter Sunday by travellers to the races eventually led to a ban on Sunday racing. Newmarket Races adhered to the ban until recently.
In 1801 it had a population of 600, and in 1804 the Inclosure Act had a profound effect on villagers due to the division of land. By 1841, the population had grown to 917, despite the terrible infant mortality rate.
1848 saw the opening of the short-lived Newmarket and Chesterford Railway for the benefit of racegoers coming from London; a direct connection from Cambridge saw its closure in 1851. The main-line station in the village today still provides access for commuters to London and Cambridge.
The Icknield Way Path passes through the village on its 110 mile route between Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire and Knettishall Heath in Suffolk. The Icknield Way Trail, a route for walkers, horse riders and cyclists also passes through.
- "Civil Parish population 2011". Retrieved 27 September 2015.
- Uttlesford District Council website
- Rippon, Stephen, Essex c. 760 – 1066 (in Bedwin, O, The Archaeology of Essex: Proceedings of the Writtle Conference, Essex County Council, 1996)
- "The Chesterfords ward population 2011". Retrieved 27 September 2015.
- Wilson, Jamie (April 27, 2000). "Student, 19, charged with assault and taking Germaine Greer captive". The Guardian. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
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