In the 16th year of the reign of King Richard II (22 June 1392 – 21 June 1393) John de Scarle, clerk, and John Bette of Buttsbury (north west of Billericay) granted land in Ramsden Bellhouse and Downham to the master and brethren of the hospital of Bartholomew, Smithfields, London. Friern Farm, which was historically within the Downham parish, may have been a part of this package for it too was owned by Bartholomew Hospital. Bartholomew Hospital, however, owned land in Downham from at least the third decade of the fourteenth century, so Friern Farm may have been in their possession before the 1390s.
In 1872 the Governors of Bartholomew put up for auction at Friern Farm a quantity of timber which consisted of 120 oak trees with 225 ash and elm trees. At the time of the timber auction the farm was worked by Isaac John Clark, a local man, who was born in Downham, probably at the farm. His father, Isaac Frederick Clark, born in Runwell, lived at Dunton where he died on 4th March 1865. Isaac John’s mother, Elizabeth, died four months later on 13 July, also at Dunton. Isaac inherited the lease of Friern Farm on the death of his parents. He was married to Sarah Barrett.
In 1875 Isaac quit the profession of farmer and became a Commercial Traveller. At the time of his departure from Downham, 100 heads of poultry, 7 cart horse, 8 sheep and an Oxford Ram were auctioned, as well as a number of farming implements. In later years he lived with Sarah in Hammersmith where he worked as a seedsman. After Sarah died he married Jane Julia Collis (1905). Isaac died on 4 December 1915 while living at Belsize Road, Hammersmith.
A later worker of the farm was another Isaac, Isaac Cocks. He was the son of Charles Cocks, a farmer of 167 acres. In 1851 Isaac was a resident of New House, West Mersea, where he was born. He married Charlotte Mott at St John’s Church, Notting Hill, in 1884. Charlotte was the daughter of a grocer. In 1893 the Friern Farm lease expired and Isaac sold his agricultural implements and 5 cart horses at auction. He and Charlotte were apparently kind to the poor of Downham parish and were missed by the villagers when they moved to Cambridgeshire. He was a chairman of the Billericay Board of Guardians.
In 1919 the governors of Bartholomew Hospital auctioned a part of their estate portfolio. Twelve farms were auctioned including Friern. The Friern estate, which included a farmhouse and a pair of cottages, was bought by William Calderbank who was the tenant of the farm at the time of the auction. The farm was sold again in 1921, Mr Maygood being the successful buyer. In 1933, however, on the death of Mary Ann Elizabeth Maria Goodspeed (Fletcher)* at Southend Hospital, her husband, Edwin Sugden Goodspeed, is noted as being the farmer and dairyman. The Goodspeeds had been at Friern Farm since at least 1926. Edwin was previously a fishmonger, as was his father before him. It is likely a large portion of the farm was sold soon after Elizabeth’s death as Louvaine Avenue, which stands on what was part of the farm, was built in the mid-1930s. A clearance sale of bulbs, trees, shrubs and plants were held at the farm in 1935 and these were itemized in the Daily Mirror newspaper. Edwin Goodspeed later lived at Southend and he died at the hospital there in 1937.
In 1938 Reginald Eaton of Friern Farm was fined £20 for failing to notify the authorities of the slaughtering of a cow and having on his farm a diseased carcase. By this time the farm was probably only just over 7 acres in area as it was in 1945.
Friern Farm was later occupied by the horse dealer, William George Thomas Robert Foyle and his wife Elizabeth May (Morris). Billy Foyle, as he was known locally, was a colourful character and on occasions could be seen riding his horse, a palomino, along Wickford streets, especially at carnival time when he would dress up as a cowboy. He paid £100 for a lioness cub in 1961 and kept it in a cage on the farm. Neighbours in Louvaine Avenue and Friern Gardens (which gets its name from the gardens which once existed at Friern Farm) complained about the noise created by Remma when she gave out a series of loud roars. Elizabeth appears to have been unhappy about the situation as she filed for divorce, although additional reasons were also reportedly cited. A Decree Nisi was granted to Elizabeth in 1962, thus ending the marriage to Billy which began in 1944. After the divorce, in 1963, Billy bought a lion to accompany the lioness and he had planned to breed from the two. Fred could also be heard roaring as he walked up and down his cage, entertaining those pedestrians who walked along the north side of the London Road when journeying to and from the town.
Billy Foyle later moved to Whitesbridge Farm, Crays Hill, Billericay. His move to Whitesbridge allowed the housing estate centred around Kingsley Drive and opposite Friern Gardens to be built. Billy Foyle died at Whitesbridge Farm on 14 December 1983.
N.B. *Mary Ann Elizabeth Maria Goodspeed was usually known as Elizabeth Godspeed.