As people sit in the café near the fishing lodge and look out across the reservoir the majority of them will be unaware that they are looking out over the former site of Gifford’s Farm.
Those visitors to the café would have travelled along Gifford’s Lane to get there. The 1898 Ordnance Survey map shows that the original track can still be seen as it goes in to the reservoir and slopes out of view.
Richard Pusey’s research for a magazine report on the area discovered that the farm is shown on an estate map, which Richard Honeywood had drawn up in 1736.
Another estate map, dated 1799, tells us that the farm was owned by Filmer Honeywood.
When John Chapman and Peter André surveyed Essex in 1777, they recorded ‘Gifords’ as well as ‘Frimnells’.
The Sun (London) ran an advertisement on 19 July 1828, which was reproduced by The St. James Chronicle a week later, to share the details of an auction to be held at the Black Boy Inn, Chelmsford at 1pm on Friday 1 August 1828 for the sale of Gifford’s Farm.
The farm was reported to cover 210 acres, of which ‘157 acres are in the occupation of Mr Joseph Watt, tenant at will, at a rental of £200 per annum.’
The farm was described as a ‘valuable freehold property’ that was ‘abounding with game.’ It also has an ‘uncommonly thriving woodland’ making up 57 acres of the farm land. This appears to have been Pandan Wood.
It appears that the farm was bought by Sir Thomas Tyrrell, but Gifford’s was one of four farms, all around Runwell, being advertised for let in the 6th September 1833 edition of the Chelmsford Chronicle due to the death of the owner.
The paper advised that the farm was made up of 89 acres, 39 of which were pasture. The land was described as ‘being of very good quality and in a high standard of cultivation.’ The buildings were in a good state of repair.
The farms were auctioned on 19th November 1833.
Samuel Cooper was recorded on the 1851 census as a bailiff, living at Gifford’s Farm. He was 49 at the time and had been born in nearby Rettendon. His 44-year-old wife, Maria, from Downham and their daughter, Mary, lived together. They also had two lodgers that were working as Agricultural Labourers.
White’s ‘The History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Essex’ records that a Mrs M.A. Jourdon was the occupant of Gifford’s, South Hanningfield in 1863.
Two years later and a lot of the live and dead stock on the farm was put up for auction.
The 8 September 1865 edition of the Chelmsford Chronicle had details of the auction, which was set to take place on Saturday 16th September 1865.
The items listed were:
- 11 very useful cart horses,
- 2 bay harness Mares,
- 3 Cart Colts
- 1 Nag Colt
- Chestnut Pony
- 7 shorthorn Heifers and Steers
Also mentioned were 100 half-breed sheep ‘fit for the butcher’, as well as wagons, carts, harrows, ploughs, rolls and ‘the usual assortment implements adapted for the cultivation of 200 acres of land.’
William May was listed as the head of a household on Gifford’s Farm when the census was taken in 1871. He was a 60-year-old farm labourer born in West Hanningfield. He lived with his wife and their three children.
Another farm labourer listed as the head of his household and living on the Gifford’s Farm land was William Everett. He had been born in Runwell 45 years earlier. His wife Hannah, from Dunton, lived with William, their three daughters and her 75-year-old father, Joseph Woolman. Joseph’s occupation was also recorded as ‘farm labourer’.
Stephen Searles was working as an agricultural labourer and living on land at Gifford’s Farm with his wife, Mary and two children. The family had two lodgers with them in 1871. Thomas Doe was also recorded as an agricultural labourer whilst Isaac Doe was working as a shepherd.
At that time Gifford’s Cottage was occupied by Mary A Chapman, a 62-year-old assistant from Woodham Mortimer.
Only two families were living on the farmland when the census was taken in 1881.
Stephen and Mary Searle were still living and working on the farm. By this time, they had 6 children living with them.
Charles Doe, an agricultural labourer, had moved in with his wife, Sarah, and their four children.
Gifford’s Farm was still in the possession of Thomas Blyth when the Essex Herald reported a ‘very bad case of glanders’ on the 16th January 1894.
Glanders, a glandular disease which mainly infects horses, mules and donkeys has been known to transfer to humans.
The case was reported by Inspector Amos and veterinary inspector, Mr Norman, said the case was several weeks old.
The last case in the United Kingdom was reported in 1928.
The 1901 census recorded Gifford’s Farm as being in the parish of West Hanningfield.
Stephen Searle was still living on the farm, but is now employed as a horseman. Stephen and his wife are living with their son, William, who is working as a farm labourer.
The Searles left the farm before the 1911 census, and Stephen died in 1912, aged 74.
William Harvey, 26, from Buttsbury and his 21-year-old wife, Ellen, from South Hanningfield, are also recorded on the census as living at Gifford’s Farm.
Gifford’s was recorded in South Hanningfield on the 1911 census. Thomas Blyth, from Downham, was the farmer there at the time. He and his wife Ethel lived with two of their three children, the eldest of which is recorded as Susie Grace Blyth, 19, ‘farmers daughter’.
Emma Kate Jordan, 35, from Chelmsford is described as a ‘maternity nurse’ and appears to have been living in the farmhouse. The Blyth’s employed a 17-year-old domestic servant called May Keeling.
There were two census pages completed with the address of Gifford’s Cottage. William and Ellen Harvey were still living on the farmland. William is now employed as a ‘stockman on farm’, and the couple have a 6-year-old daughter called Amelia Ellen. Also in the cottage is James Sewell, Ellen’s 74-year -old father. James is working as a farm labourer.
Arthur Martin is also living at the Gifford’s Cottage address. Arthur, then 38, was employed as a horseman on the farm, as is his 16-year-old son Harold. Arthur’s wife Louisa is also recorded.
The Essex Newsman printed the story on the 17th June 1939 of Mr W. Jefferies, an employee on Gifford’s Farm, explaining that he had one of his thighs broken when he was kicked by a cow.
Dr. Frew was summoned from Wickford prior to Mr Jefferies being taken to hospital.