Little Hormead

Great Hormead

The Great and Little Hormeads

by W. B. Gerrish

Home Counties Magazine

Volume II, pages 110-113, 1901



THE Hormeads, both Magna and Parva, are villages which contain features of considerable interest to the antiquary. Both are entirely unspoilt by modern so-called "improvements," and from their situation, several miles distant from the railway (which in this instance is but a small single line with few trains daily), the inhabitants are not affected by the feverish haste and unrest of the present age; in fact, existence in the Hormeads partakes more of the eighteenth than the beginning of the twentieth century.

Ancient Church door and Norman Doorway, Little Hormead

The church of Hormead Parva is a very small building (nave and chancel together are but fifty-three feet in length), happily "unrestored," and dating from early Norman or, possibly, late Saxon times. The walls are nearly three feet thick. Successive generations have been most liberal in applying coats of plaster and colour-wash to the interior, until nearly all trace of the mason's work has been hidden; it is to be hoped, however, that before long this may be flaked and scraped off. The windows - four in number, one north and two south of the nave, and one in the chancel - are, with the exception of the last, the original very narrow, circular headed lancets, deeply splayed on the interior. A special feature of interest is the fine example of seventeenth century iron scroll­work upon the north door (now blocked up), the doorway itself being plain Late Norman. The wood requires the application of three or four coats of linseed oil to preserve it, while the rust­eaten ironwork should be carefully cleaned, painted, or varnished. It is a matter for regret that the church is used but occasionally, by reason of the proximity of that of Hormead Magna, and is, perhaps, partly in consequence, very damp and cold.

Other vestiges of antiquity in the village are what is said to be a Roman milestone, much worn, but with some faint traces of having been shaped; and a building which, according to a recent writer, is an original Saxon dwelling. The details given in the article referred to certainly seem to indicate that the portion of the building described dates back to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and possibly earlier. If a careful examination of the structure reveals sufficient features of interest in support of the theory, it is hoped that a detailed account thereof may be contributed to this Magazine.

Great Hormead Church is a fourteenth century edifice, except the chancel, which is quite modern, and the tower, which is said to be all that remains of an earlier structure, and contains few ancient features of interest. At the end of the north and south aisles were formerly chapels. The inequality of the nave arches is very curious, as they do not equalise with the clerestory windows or with those of the opposite side. The situation of the building, on a well­wooded hill-crest, is very picturesque, and both church and church­ yard are well kept.

To the south of the church, on the hillside which slopes towards the main road, are very distinct remains of early terrace-cultivation. Both Mr. Seebohm and Mr. Gomme deem such to be of Celtic origin, but I think it is possible they may be of later date. All traces, of course, of the early settlers have long disappeared, and the church probably stands upon what was then a stockaded enclosure at the summit of the hill.

The principal building of interest in this village is "The Brick House," and is the subject of the illustration. Another structure, coeval probably with it, stood, until recently, within half a mile of it, but this has now been destroyed, only the fine twisted Tudor-chimney remaining. It was, I was told locally, at one time the old vicarage, and, prior to that, a residence of Thomas, Lord Dacre.

The Brick House probably was erected in the sixteenth century, but it possesses a wealth of legendary and traditional lore. One .account ascribes its erection to Alfred the Great, who made it a palace, (?) while another states that Edgar Atheling, great grandson of Alfred, erected it as a residence after his resignation of the kingship in favour of William the Conqueror; while a third story relates that the said Edgar Atheling built it for a religious house, 'prior to the Conquest, in atonement for the murder of Ethelwald (a Saxon version of "David and Uriah", and to which, later in life, he retired.

The only confirmation of these various traditions, which certainly seem to connect the place with the Saxon dynasty, is that it is certain that Edgar Atheling held the manor of Hormead (later .divided into Great and Little Hormead and Hormeadbury) at the time of the Conquest, and, it being William's policy to affirm previous grants in those cases where the grantee peacefully accepted him as sovereign, we are told the manor was confirmed to him. History is silent with reference to Edgar's after life, and it is possible that he may have retired to this spot and there ended his days. The present building may stand upon the site of the ancient house. It is a crowstepped structure of curious shape. Originally it is said to have been quadrangular, enclosing a court­ yard, but portions of the building, having decayed from disuse and age, have been destroyed at different times, a portion as recently as the early part of the last century. At that date almost all traces of the moat which once surrounded it were obliterated, and the extensive underground passages and rooms filled with debris and the approaches bricked up and hidden. The stone windows are much worn by the weather, and in many cases the original mullions have disappeared, and some are bricked up. There are, in addition to the windows, a number of small slits or openings, evidently intended for ventilation and light, but these are all blocked at the present time, the internal arrangements having evidently been considerably altered since they were made. A statement, which aroused considerable controversy, that the date 969 appeared upon the now-destroyed portion, certainly lacks confirmatory evidence. The interior has some rather unusual features. The chimney and hearth in the kitchen may at one period have been, in the centre of a room which occupied the major portion of the ground floor. The upper floor consists of three rooms at different levels, and a large attic, access to the latter being gained from the present kitchen by a rather steep ladder.

The walls are in some places nearly four feet thick, and, from what appears to have been the original arrangement of the interior, inclines one to agree that it was built on the original foundations of the ancient dwelling.

The title of "The Brick House," by which it has been known as far back as memory carries, would indicate that at the period of its erection houses of brick were rare. It is usually stated that the art of brickmaking became lost after the departure of the Romans for several hundred years, not being revived until the reign of Henry III. Antiquaries are divided upon the question, but it is stated that the earliest brick-built building now extant is Little Wenham Hall, which was erected about 1280.

The Brick House is in very good hands, as both the owner and occupier take a considerable interest therein, and this was perhaps quickened by the visit of the East Herts Archaeological Society during the past summer.

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