Pissingford: an embarrassing Essex place-name

Pissingford was a notable place-name on the Essex highway system for at least six hundred years. Excised from the collective memory for the past two centuries, it is now known by the tactfully laundered form of Passingford Bridge.

The locality, fourteen miles north-east of central London, is a crossing of the River Roding, a middle-ranking stream which hereabouts flows from east to west, before turning south towards the Thames. Three secondary routes meet on the south bank, nowadays at a nondescript roundabout. To the west, a highway (the modern A113) leads to Abridge and on to London, via Stratford. It continues, across the bridge, towards Chipping Ongar, five miles to the north-east. Joining it from the south is the road from Havering-atte-Bower, site of a medieval royal palace, about two miles to the south, and Romford, a major market centre, six miles away. This is now the B175.

This introduction is followed by three sections. The first outlines the history of the location, which may serve to demonstrate the prevalence of its curious name: there are too many examples to entertain the possibility of mistranscription or other casual error. The second, an attempt to interpret the name, is necessarily more speculative. The third traces the process by which it was replaced by the more respectable title of Passingford Bridge.

For reading online, it seem simpler to make a sketch map, identifying some of the places mentioned, available through a separate screen. It can be found at:


I: The story of a river crossing

The river crossing at Passingford Bridge is the sole link between the parishes of Stapleford Abbotts, to the south, and Stapleford Tawney, to the north. This seems to indicate that Stapleford was the original name here, which P.H. Reaney, in The Place-Names of Essex, traces to the Anglo-Saxon word "stapol", meaning "marker post".[1] However, Reaney discovered that the cartulary of Waltham Abbey referred in 1224 to "Pyssingford". Perhaps fortunately, he also located thirteenth-century references to "Passeford" (1235) and "Passingeford", from the reign of Henry III (1216-77). These variants will be discussed in Section II, but it should be stressed that, throughout the centuries that follow, forms using the letter A are rare, and possibly contestable.

In assessing the information discussed in this essay, it may be helpful to note one apparently mysterious point: no appreciable settlement ever formed at this river crossing (although a cluster of buildings did emerge a few hundred yards to the north, which in the later nineteenth-century also became known as Passingford Bridge.). The failure to attract population contrasts with Abridge, the next crossing point two miles downstream, which has functioned as a substantial hamlet at least since the seventeenth century, and probably earlier. This lack of inhabitants naturally tends to reduce the frequency of references to the location: the name was recorded primarily in descriptions of the structural condition of the bridge itself.

Records of the Forest of Essex mention "pont. de Passieford" in 1297 (the third of a handful of deviant references), while the Waltham cartulary for the same year gives "pont. de Pissingford". The abbreviation represents the Latin "pons" (accusative, "pontem", the origin of the French "pont""), telling us that a bridge existed by the late thirteenth century.[2] On the face of it, this would suggest that the first bridge was erected between 1224 and 1297. It is tempting to associate the latter date with an unusually long visit, of ten days, by Edward I to Havering-atte-Bower in the year 1290. Monarchs came to Havering from time to time, but usually only for a few days. Its attraction as a royal residence was the proximity of generally wooded countryside well supplied with deer, which made it an ideal base for hunting. This pastime involved covering a good deal of ground, and Edward might well have become aware of the problems caused by the lack of a bridge at Pissingford.[3] However, this association of dates may be entirely coincidental. A bridge might have been constructed much earlier, for instance to improve access to Romford, where the market chartered in 1247 seems to have rapidly become important. Throughout the thirteenth century, the castle at Chipping Ongar remained the centre of an "honor", a network of manors belonging to influential landowners,[4] although the de Rivers family who owned it would have had equally effective access to and from London along the north side of the Roding and through Abridge, or more simply by way of Epping.

In interpreting documentary evidence for medieval place-names, it is important to bear in mind that the number of documents that survive from after 1200 considerably exceeds those from earlier periods. Thus the first mention of a bridge in 1203 (in the case of Abridge), or of the name of a ford in 1224, may indicate novelty, but could equally represent merely the earliest recorded example. The second half of the thirteenth century may seem late for the construction of a bridge on a reasonably important county route. Along the Great Essex Road, bridges were built over the Lea (at Bow and Channelsea) between 1100 and 1118, traditionally attributed to Queen Maud, consort of Henry I.[5] Maurice, Bishop of London, is credited with having built the first bridge over the Chelmer at about the same time, and it seems clear that "the bridge at Chelmaresford" had existed for some time before it was first mentioned in 1200.[6] "Affebrigg", modern Abridge, is first mentioned in 1203, but there is reason to believe that it owes its name to a Saxon landowner called Aeffa, mentioned in a Loughton charter of 1062.[7] In that year, Earl Harold endowed the re-founded Waltham Abbey, gifting it with estates which included Upminster and South Weald. Abridge is about midway between the Abbey and these two properties, and the bridge was perhaps constructed as early as the eleventh century to facilitate delivery of agricultural produce to the monks. (Against this, it must be noted that Abridge did not evolve as a separate parish, even though, as the Victoria County History puts it, the settlement was "in Lambourne, but not of it."[8]) Of course, if Abridge originated so early, a second bridge at a location so close by as Pissingford may not have been necessary. However, the 1224 mention of "Pyssingford" does not necessarily have to rule out the presence of a bridge at that time. There are other Essex examples of a bridge, usually initially for foot passengers or horse–riders only, simply supplementing a ford that served bulkier traffic such as cattle and waggons.[9]

A possible candidate as a bridge builder from the earlier period was Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds, one of the most dynamic of medieval churchmen.[10] Samson rebuilt part of the Abbey church, developed the town of Bury St Edmunds, notably by constructing an aqueduct, all of which he made possible by efficient financial management. On his election as abbot in 1182, he took direct control of the Abbey's estates, for instance at Stapleford waiving considerable arrears of rent, in effect buying out the existing tenant. As somebody involved in national politics, Samson often visited London, and Stapleford provided him with a convenient stop-off point. By 1207, he had constructed a "lodging", perhaps close to the parish church, which was large enough to accommodate a visiting German monarch, Otto IV, who came to negotiate an alliance with King John.[11] It is easy to imagine Samson building a bridge large enough for him to ride a horse or be carried in a litter across the Roding, while leaving his entourage to tackle the ford alongside.

A further intriguing piece of evidence relating to Pissingford Bridge in medieval times comes from the ceremony of the Wardstaff. This was a structured annual ritual which in effect served as a militia muster, with men from a succession of villages in Ongar Hundred spending a night at specified locations, each group handing on a strip of willow to their neighbours as a symbol of authority. The account published in 1768 by the Essex historian Philip Morant derived from a manuscript compiled in 1543. Its origins are Middle English, but more contemporary language had been incorporated, no doubt to make it intelligible in Tudor times: hence it is difficult to date allusions internally. Adding a further complication is the fact that, while Ongar Hundred comprised 26 parishes, the Wardstaff stopped at only ten locations. Several of the omitted communities seem to have achieved parochial status only after the Norman Conquest, which further points to Anglo-Saxon origins for the Wardstaff  ritual. The 1543 document identified "Pissingford-Bridge" as one of the meeting points, but the evidence is not especially helpful. The stapol-ford place-name indicates that the location was a local landmark from early times, while the presumed revisions in the 1543 account do not provide any clues for the date of construction of the bridge.[12]

County administrative records survive in some abundance from the middle of the sixteenth century, and are usefully calendared by the Essex Record Office, frequently seasoned with illustrative quotation.[13] In the autumn of 1569, the Grand Jury  of Ongar Hundred reported ("presented") to the Quarter Sessions "a brige in the parishe of Stapleford called Pissingford bridge that is broken & unmend[ed] the which is noison [noisome, i.e. dirty and dangerous] to pass over who ought to make yt we do not know." The bridge at High Ongar was also "much out of reparations", which suggests flood damage along the Roding. Maybe the structure was patched up, but three years later, the jurors complained that "Pissingford bridge lying between Stapleford Abbots and Stapleford Tawney is in great decay". They added that "the Queen is lord of the one side and Mr. Skote lord of the other side" but they did not know "who ought to repair it". The Crown had recovered the lordship of Stapleford Abbotts after briefly parting with it at the Dissolution: in 1572 it was probably being run as an annex to the royal manor of Havering to the south. The Scott family owned the manor of Stapleford Tawney.[14] A few months later, in January 1573, a delegation from the two Staplefords and the nearby hamlet of Abridge turned up in Chelmsford to insist that they "were not accustomed to repair Pissingford Bridge". They carried their point, for in 1581 it was ordered that bridges at Chipping Ongar and High Ongar, as well as "Pissingford bridge" should be maintained by "the country".[15] 

In his 1598 Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, John Strype included an alphabetical list of "the Towns and Places appointed for the receiving of Letters, and Parcels, and Money" for transmission to six central post offices. "Pissingford Bridge" is among several dozen of the specified pick-up points. In only a handful of instances did Strype feel it necessary to clarify locations, such as "Ham by Richmond in Surrey" and "Hare-street by Rumford", but it seems safe to identify his Pissingford with the location under discussion. Strype's reference is noteworthy in two other respects. It appears to be the first occasion in which the name appeared in print, indicating that it was recognised as something more than a local nickname. It is also the sole instance prior to the nineteenth century in which it is used to indicate a locality and not simply a structure. The local posting office probably operated in one of the buildings a few hundred yards to the north, the scattering that became known as Passingford Bridge in the nineteenth century. It may have been located in the substantial homestead which later became the Talbot Inn.[16]

Problems were next reported in 1613, when "Pissingford Bridge" was said to be in poor condition and ""had neede speedily to be repaired." There were further difficulties along the Roding between 1627 and 1630, with repair work required at Chipping Ongar, High Ongar and "Pissingford Bridg", and again in 1646. There was by now no doubt that this river crossing was a county responsibility, a burden that drew a protest in 1649 from Isaac Aleyn, a gentleman of Hazeleigh, a village about twenty miles to the east. Aleyn complained that his parish had not only been obliged to repair its own bridge, but had been fined for allowing it to deteriorate. To add further insult, Hazeleigh had been obliged to contribute to repairs to "remote bridges" at places such as Baythorne, on the Suffolk border, and other distant locations such as Fingringhoe near Colchester and (of course) "Pissingford bridge".

In October 1657, "Pissingford Bridge" was one of several in Ongar Hundred that "begin to fall in decay", with "some of them already unpassible". Magistrates accepted a standard argument for prompt attention to infrastructure: "some small matter att present will prevent great charges by longer delay until moneyes can be collected for repaire of them". They authorised the temporary transfer of funds from charitable accounts, to be "reimbursed ... out of the next monyes to be collected for Bridges". D.H. Allen, who studied seventeenth-century local government in Essex, suggested that there could hardly be a worse system for the maintenance of infrastructure. It was a "grave procedural weakness" that problems were only reported when bridges were already seriously damaged, and the absence both of earmarked funds and dedicated repair squads only added to the delays.[17] On this occasion, a rare attempt at a pre-emptive response was overwhelmed by a spell of unusually severe winter weather.  The vicar of Earls Colne, near Colchester, called "the season wonderfull cold", with 31 January being "one of the bitterest days for cold I ever felt". Two weeks later, rainfall produced a dramatic thaw.[18] It seems that the Roding had frozen, and the sudden rise in temperatures resulted in chunks of ice being tossed around in floodwater. At the April 1658 Quarter Sessions, "Pissingford Bridge" was reported as one of three in Ongar Hundred to have incurred damage to its "wharfeings" (foundations), "occasioned much by the yce and floodes in the winter past". From the amount of money committed to repairs, it seems likely that major renovation was undertaken. Raising the cash was a cumbersome process. The Quarter Sessions determined how much should be levied in each hundred of the county. High Constables for the hundreds would then apportion the amounts among the "severall parishes", whose petty constables were required to dun their neighbours. The proceeds were returned through similarly indirect stages to a Chelmsford woollen draper called Anthony Sturgeon, who acted as the unofficial county treasurer. The system was not only labour-intensive but also anomalous. The Liberty of Havering, a county within a county, was exempt from the imposition, even though some of its residents lived only two miles away and might actually use Pissingford Bridge. Also "excepted" from paying were residents of the incorporated towns of Colchester and Maldon, precisely the communities most dependent upon trade and transport. Isaac Aleyn of Hazeleigh certainly had reason for his annoyed perplexity.[19]

A decade later, in 1669, the repair of a breach in Pissingford Bridge was overseen at a more local level, by Sir Robert Abdy of Albyns in Stapleford Abbotts and Thomas Luther of Suttons in Stapleford Tawney, adjoining properties that would come to play a major part in the Pissingford saga. During the eighteenth century, most important bridges in Essex were rebuilt in brick. The Victoria County History states that this happened at Passingford Bridge (the VCH carefully ignored the older name) in 1785.[20] That date, as will be discussed later, is important in working out when a watermill was constructed below the bridge, raising the river levels.

It is of course just possible that Pissingford Bridge was no more than a derisive local nickname, which appeared in administrative records because they reflected the language used by complainants from the adjoining villages. However, its inclusion in Strype's 1598 Survey has already been mentioned, and the mapmaker John Speed listed "Pissingford bridge, Ongar [Hundred]" in his 1611 compilation, The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine. Between 1646 and 1779, at least ten county maps displayed versions of the name.[21] The first detailed atlas of Essex, published by Chapman and André in 1777, also gave a prominent place to Pissingford Bridge. Chapman and André's publication was supported by 216 subscribers, who  included two royal dukes, 25 peers, 15 baronets and most of the leading landowners of Essex, among them Sir John Abdy of Stapleford Abbotts,  Earl Waldegrave of Navestock and Richard Lockwood of Lambourne.[22] In their frank acceptance of the name, the cartographers followed the first overall history of the county, published in 1768 by the Reverend Philip Morant, who also had no problems with "Pissingford Bridge".[23] The term also appears in at least four legal documents, deeds preserved in the Essex Record Office from the years 1739, 1758, 1778 and 1786.

It will be argued that, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, respectable local opinion almost certainly wished to be rid of this by-now embarrassing place-name. Unfortunately, a new form of popular publication, the itinerary, not only entrenched Pissingford Bridge in the landscape, but gave it some degree of national prominence. Itineraries were handbooks offering advice on how to travel between towns, listing landmarks on the way and giving the distances between them. In fact, there was nothing new about itineraries: rather, they were increasingly likely to include previously secondary routes, such as the road from London to Chipping Ongar and Dunmow.  They can form a parade of abbreviated titles: Kearsley's Traveller's Entertaining Guide Through Great Britain in 1801, Daniel Paterson's New and Accurate Description of All the Direct and Principal Cross Roads, which achieved at least three editions between 1803 and 1811, David Ogilvie's General Itinerary of England and Wales, with Part of Scotland, of 1804, Cary's New Itinerary: or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, various editions from 1798 until 1817, James Dugdale's The New British Traveller: or, Modern Panorama of England and Wales, in 1819, and volume eight of G.A. Cooke's massive Topography of Great Britain, apparently published that same year.[24] Not only did they all refer to Pissingford Bridge, sometimes using emphatic capital letters for a major landmark, but they usually also noted that Charles Smith of Suttons in Stapleford Tawney and J.R. Abdy of Albyns in Stapleford Abbotts lived nearby, an address that those landowners would hardly have relished. In an England that was entering an age of stultifying politeness, Pissingford Bridge might have been better served by tactful neglect.

II: Pissingford: understanding the name

Perhaps the most telling piece of information to be considered in any attempt to explain the name of Pissingford is the fact that the scholar who was best equipped for the task, Dr P.H. Reaney, resolutely dodged the challenge.[25] This is pretty convincing evidence that the name may be taken at face value. However, some speculation about its origin seems appropriate, and here I must offer a warning. I am an enthusiast for the study of place-names, but not an expert. This is a dangerous combination. All I can do is apply (or ape) the methods of others, defending my reasoning and admitting to its shortcomings as best I may. I should also declare that I am persuaded that the name Pissingford probably originated as an allusion to urination, and that  it seems incontestable that it was so interpreted through the six centuries of written references to the place-name. However, there are two possible lines of speculation about alternative explanations, which merit discussion. The first is that the name means "the place where peas grow"; the second would point to a place-name in "-ingas", meaning "the people or followers of" a landlord or chieftain.

The starting point for considering a pea derivation is Pishiobury, at Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire. The western neighbour of Essex, Hertfordshire formed part of the East Saxon kingdom, becoming a separate shire probably in the tenth century. It is thus reasonable to assume a community of dialect, especially as Sawbridgeworth is only twelve miles from Passingford Bridge. In 1936, Ekwall identified the name as meaning the ridge (hoe) where peas grew: Pyssobur in 1294, Pissho in 1310. The suffix –bury denoted a manor house, probably fortified and certainly occupied, which explains why it received more recorded mentions in the Middle Ages than the largely uninhabited Pissingford. In 1938, The Place-Names of Hertfordshire added five further examples with a double-s spelling, dating from 1294 to 1452, although these were to some extent balanced by five single-s versions, the form which we might expect from the –z sound of "pease".

The suffix –ing can indicate a place (although, as discussed below, it can easily be confused with place-names in –ingas), and these forms are sometimes associated with vegetation. Thus Clavering, near Saffron Walden in Essex, almost certainly means "place where clover grows", while a strong case may be made that Cressing, near Braintree, denoted "place where water-cress grows". Although there is a range of medieval variations for Cressing – Kirsing, Kersing, Carsinge, Crissing – four early examples of Cressyng or Cressing between 1136 and 1346 seem to point to the original form. These are closely parallel to the earliest forms of Pissingford. In connection with three another examples, Peasemore in Berkshire (where the second syllable was originally "mere" or lake), Peasenhall in Suffolk and Peasmarsh in Sussex, Ekwall suggested that the Anglo-Saxon word "pisu" (and variants) might also refer to a wildflower with pea-like characteristics, and did not necessarily indicate cultivation. Thus there is a possibility that Pissingford originally meant "the ford at the place where peas grow". The mystery is why Reaney did not explore this possibility in his 1935 study of The Place-Names of Essex. Although based at the University of Lund in Sweden, Ekwall was closely involved with the English Place-Names Society, for instance checking the proofs of the Essex volume.[26] The intellectual toponymic community was small, its devotees shared information, and Reaney would surely have been aware of the possibility of a pea derivation.[27] His decision not to pursue the speculation presumably suggests that he did not regard it as plausible.

At first sight, the possibility of an –ingas place-name may seem to be reinforced by the existence of a nearby example. Havering has been plausibly interpreted as "the people of Haefer", suggesting a Saxon chieftain who borrowed his name from a goat: it was "Haueringas" in 1086.[28] The absence of the final –s in the early Pissingford forms is not necessarily a problem. Around 1200, in what seems to have been a process not noted by later scholars, clerks began to emend –ingas names to eliminate what must have seemed the anomaly of locations having plural-sounding names. (The one major exception to this process, Hastings, was probably a place too deeply drilled into the Norman memory to be changed.) More significant may be the absence of any trace of the second syllable of –ingas, which seems to have been emphasised in pronunciation.[29]

 Because –ingas place-names seemed to imply sub-tribes defined only by their allegiance to unknown chieftains, students of Anglo-Saxon England for long assumed that they belonged to the earliest phase of settlement. However, subsequent research, drawing upon archaeology, noted an almost total absence of correlation between pagan sites and –ingas place-names, which are now regarded as examples of secondary colonisation, in-fill settlements made after about 650 when the population had become Christianised.[30] This major revision helps to explain the relative sparsity of –ingford names, although Wallingford in Berkshire and the Hemingford villages near Huntingdon demonstrate that they could exist.[31] It seems reasonable to assume that river crossings were occupied, and named, in the first phases of Anglo-Saxon penetration,[32] and at Pissingford there is the added complication that an early name, stapol-ford, already existed. Another general problem in relation to the interpretation of –ingas place-names is that they not only refer to people we have never heard of, but call them by names that are not independently attested. Indeed, place-name scholars have had free rein in postulating conveniently appropriate names, asterisked to show that they are a learned guess. To interpret Pissingford as an –ingas name, it would be necessary to conjure up a chieftain called Pissa or Pissi. This is not entirely impossible. Ekwall thought that Purslow in Shropshire might owe its name to an asterisked Pussa, an adaptation of a recognised name Pusa. Vowel shifts were frequent in Anglo-Saxon names: Margaret Gelling notes a group of them associated with Cublington in Warwickshire and Cubley in Derbyshire, including Cubbel and Cybba. The trouble with this array of nomenclature, she comments, is that nobody has offered any evidence for the existence of any one of these personal names "except its occurrence in place-names."[33] Thus, to read Pissingford as "the ford of the people of Pissa" would involve a circular process of piling hypothesis upon guesswork, and all without much support from the place-name record. Reaney counted 25 examples of –ingas place-names in Essex. Of these, 23 were entered as Domesday manors, and 21 later became parishes.[34] On balance, it seems safe to dismiss the possibility that Pissingford was an –ingas place-name, and it is worth reiterating that Reaney did not even bother to discuss it.

We are therefore left with the overwhelming likelihood that the ford with the embarrassing name was so called because it reminded those who used it of the bodily function of urination. Indeed, it should be made clear that Pissingford derives from the figurative use of a familiar if now non-respectable word. As discussed below, the level of the Roding was raised around 1800, and it would now require advanced equipment to examine the riverbed. However, it is likely that it was formed by a gravel bar, sufficiently firm to provide a short stretch of shallow water and a secure causeway capable of supporting people, animals and wheeled traffic.[35] The shortest and simplest explanation of the rise and fall of Pissingford's embarrassing name is that there were watermills above the ford in the Middle Ages, and that a watermill several hundred yards downstream was built around 1800. In the earlier period, the level of the river would usually have been low, while its flow would sometimes have been speeded by discharge of water from the mill races. In the later phase, which continues to the present day, this stretch of the Roding was dammed to become a deep and usually placid mill pond. In the Middle Ages, the river raced across the gravel bar of a shallow ford, leading unsophisticated yokels to describe its transit in vivid imagery. In more modern times, that analogy ceased to have any meaning.

Before the age of sewerage, people were acutely conscious of the ubiquity of human waste, and in earlier centuries felt no inhibition about alluding to it. In 1272, Romford had a Schyteburghlane, still there in 1366 as Schitburne Lane. With admirable detachment, Dr Reaney derived it from the Old English scite-burna, "the brook that receives the dung, sewer".[36] This particular thoroughfare vanished, but Chelmsford's sixteenth-century Shytburye Lane survives in the guise of Waterloo Lane.[37]  Such names may well have been common in other places, but have been excised from the collective memory. One exception is Skidbrook in Lincolnshire, "scitebroc" in Domesday Book, which the great place-name authority Eilert Ekwall discreetly interpreted as "dirty brook".[38] A Pissing Alley off St John Street in London's Clerkenwell was marked on maps of 1676 and 1747, and here the name is almost certainly not figurative.[39] Similarly, in the City itself, a Pissing Alley of 1666 was later renamed Little Friday Street, and is now absorbed into Cannon Street,  while a Churchyard Court near the Temple was also known as Pissing Alley in the seventeenth century.[40]

As Thomas Bowdler remarked when he cleaned up the plays of Shakespeare in 1817, there were "expressions, which, however they might be tolerated in the sixteenth century, are by no means admissible in the nineteenth."[41] However, "piss" and its derivatives remained acceptable terms until the late eighteenth century. They appear eight times in the King James Bible, the authoritative English version crafted by a commission of learned theologians for publication in 1611. Thus in the First Book of King's, Zimri, chariot commander to King Elah, decided to massacre the monarch's family and all his associates: "he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends." The phrase here appears to signify the ordinary person, in our modern equivalent "the man in the street", for that was what men did in streets.[42] A more stomach-turning allusion in Isaiah to those who "may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss" is revealing, in demonstrating that a basic term for excrement was unacceptable to Jacobean divines.[43] The same distinction still applied a century and a half later, when Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary in 1755. Although he resented the control of patrons, Johnson was well aware of the need to appeal to the subscribing public. Various blunt monosyllables referring to copulation and defecation were excluded from his compendious pages: seekers after scatalogical syntax will be disappointed to find that the entry for "shirtless" is immediately followed by a description of "shittah", a precious wood from which Moses crafted an altar. But no such embargo applied to "piss", which appeared both as noun and verb, its usage legitimised by a quotation from Dryden.[44] The absence of any hint of disapproval in the Reverend Philip Morant's 1768 chronicling of Pissingford Bridge was entirely in keeping with the times.

This frank acceptance of the vocabulary of human bodily functions was compatible with figurative extensions, for instance in reference to a river location where intermittent discharges from mill races sent water spurting and frothing across a shallow gravel bar. Warning that the terms are no longer in polite use, the Oxford English Dictionary associates all its medieval instances of "piss" and its derivatives with urination. But the earliest cited quotation dates from around 1290, almost seventy years after Pissingford was first recorded, making it (we may conclude) the oldest known example in the language. The OED reasonably argues that the prevalence of related words in other European languages suggests origins in onomatopoeia, words imitating sound. This, in turn, would point to a very early evolution of the word, creating further historical space for it to have developed parallel or derivative meanings. There is a similar, if slow-motion, example in the name of the Dorset river Piddle, which Ekwall related to continental parallels meaning "fen". It was only in the eighteenth century that the word became derisively applied to a bodily function.[45]

In the City of London's Walbrook Ward, a waterspout officially known as the Little Conduit was erected about 1500. It was described as a stone postern enclosing a cistern of lead, connected to an unknown water supply—and known as the "pissing conduit".[46] In Henry VI, Part Two, Shakespeare makes the rebel leader Jack Cade order that "the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign" after capturing the City in 1450 – probably back-projecting its origins. This was the only occasion upon which the Bard used the term, and here he was certainly underlining that Cade was uncouth. The description seems to makes clear that Londoners used the contested term to describe the flow of water out of the conduit.[47]

A more ambiguous example comes from the Essex town of Coggeshall, whose urban waterways included a Pissing Gutter, close to the high-status home of wool merchant Thomas Paycocke, now an important heritage monument. In his Will of 1518, Paycocke left money  for the maintenance of the "foulways in West Street ... to Pissing Gutter Field". "Pyssynge Gutter" appears as a field name on a map of 1639, and again in 1744. Deeds in the Essex Record Office confirm that the field name was recognised throughout the eighteenth century. Given its urban location, the name could be either lavatorial or metaphorical. Either way, it was not destined to survive the propriety of the nineteenth century. The tithe map of 1854, drawn up for clerical consumption, simply referred to "Gutter Field". In 1890, Coggeshall's first historian felt obliged to mention Paycocke's bequest, but would go no further than alluding to "a field of unmentionable name".[48] It seems permissible to suspect that pissing appeared in other place-names, generally in minor locations that were mainly of local significance, and that they have been politely excised by subsequent historians. Nor is there any reason to postulate a proto-Essex Man who revelled in vulgarity, since we are almost certainly dealing with a figurative usage, and one that may even go right back to the origins of the word.[49] The Essex Record Office is ahead of the archival pack in providing an especially effective online search facility, and other examples may lurk elsewhere in England.[50]

Domesday Book records that Stapleford Tawney had a mill, both in 1066 and 1086. Domesday mills were water-powered: windmills are thought to have first appeared in England about a century later. Only about one third of Domesday vills in Essex are recorded as possessing one: there is no mention of a mill either in Stapleford Abbotts nor in Navestock on the south side of the Roding, although both had extensive river frontages. A watermill was a substantial engineering investment for the time, and it is generally safe to assume that any later installation was on the original site.[51] By 1291, the Stapleford Tawney mill formed part of the estate of John de Sutton, which evolved into the subordinate manor of Suttons. As the Victoria County History noted in 1956, there remained "obvious mill-cuts in the River Roding, south of Suttons."[52]

Even if we dismiss the familiar slur that Essex is a flat county, it remains incontestable that there are no natural cataracts to be harnessed for hydro power. In its Passingford Bridge stretch, the Roding has a fall of between four and five feet per mile.[53] Thus to provide the head of water necessary to operate any substantial waterwheel required the excavation of artificial channels. The infrastructure of the Suttons mill was mapped for the parish tithe award in 1845, when it formed an ornamental "canal" in the grounds of Suttons, and was still detectable when the Ordnance Survey's 1:25000 series was surveyed in 1914-15.[54] The cuts were roughly boomerang shaped. The eastern section, which constituted the actual mill dam, stretched about 300 yards north of the Roding. The western section, which was probably below the actual mill, carried water a further 500 yards back to the river. Between the exit and return points, the Roding made a wide sweep of about 700 yards in length, perhaps equal to a drop of two feet. Obviously, it was the weight of water penned into the eastern section of mill pool that drove the mill wheel. The diversion created by the cut would have reduced the volume of flow through the natural riverbed. The discharge from the mill rejoined the Roding about 600 yards above the ford. Thus the distance from the assumed site of the mill to the ford was around 1100 yards, about half funnelled through what was probably a narrow artificial channel, with the remainder carried in the natural course of the river, occasionally in surges when the mill was working at full power. Pitching two feet of water a quarter of a mile would hardly create an inland tsunami, but the ripples may have been sufficient to be evident at the gravel bar. The Victoria County History observed in 1956 that the Roding was "usually no more than a narrow channel" in summer.[55] Since mills may be assumed to have been in peak operation in late summer, around harvest time, it follows that they made their most intensive demands upon river flow in the months when water levels were already at their lowest, adding to the impact of discharge from mill races. Against this, it may of course be objected that England must have been widely supplied with river crossings below watermills, and no special reason appears for the attribution Pissingford here. Only the eastern section of the cuts can now be identified, through Google Earth. The remainder, including the likely site of the mill itself, is now mostly covered by the M25 motorway.

The probable location of the mill is marked F on the accompanying sketch map, with the mill dam and mill race indicated by G and H:


A second mill seems to have been constructed, at some unknown date, on the south side of the Roding, in the north-west corner of the parish of Navestock. Its site can be identified by a short artificial channel, cutting off a small bend of the river, confirmed by Mill Mead, marked on the Navestock tithe map of 1840. There is no way of knowing whether both watermills functioned at the same time, although it would have been difficult for two installations to operate on the same stretch of water. The Navestock mill is presumably recalled in the nearby place-name, Curtismill Green, earlier Curlingmill. Powered by a relatively short artificial cut and located  around three-quarters of a mile upstream from Passingford Bridge, it probably had little impact upon water levels at the ford.[56]

III: The passing of Pissingford

The statement in the Victoria County History that the Suttons mill was "replaced" by one downstream from Passingford Bridge is loosely worded.[57] Most watermills on smaller rivers went out of use once windmills became established: there is no documentary evidence suggesting that the Suttons mill remained in operation after the end of the Middle Ages.[58] It is thus highly unlikely that there was any continuity of water-milling on this stretch of the Roding, and the construction of the installation downstream from Passingford Bridge around 1800 was an entirely new initiative. Precisely why it was constructed, and when, are questions that are difficult to answer, yet it seems likely that they bear crucially on the eclipse of the Pissingford place-name.

The new watermill is marked as K on the sketch map:


The Victoria County History recorded in 1956 that the mill house contained a list of millers, dating back to Zach[araiah] Tuck in 1760. However, no watermill is shows in Chapman and André's Essex atlas, published in 1777, but surveyed between 1772 and 1774. Rather, it indicates a windmill on the north bank of the river, which the Ordnance Survey (published in 1805, but largely surveyed in 1798-99) locates some distance to the north. Problems in dating various versions of Ordnance Survey maps are discussed later, but it should be noted here that the 1805 map does not specifically indicate a watermill, although it does plot two buildings immediately to the south, which were subsequently associated with it. As already suggested, the raising of the river level involved in building the downstream mill would point to a construction date after 1785, when the bridge is reported to have been rebuilt in brick: such a major project would have been very difficult in deeper water. Construction of the mill was certainly complete by 1818, and probably well before that date, when John Hassell, an early travel writer, praised the "very imposing" scenery at "Pissingford Bridge": "the little rivulet, the Roding, from an excellent taste, and judicious management, assumes the appearance of a lake.... The combination of objects at this spot, is very picturesque; the rural scenery on the left, with the mill and its accompaniments, are a very pretty contrast to the opposite side."[59] Hassell assumed that J.R. Abdy, the squire of Albyns in Stapleford Abbotts, was responsible for the landscaping. However, the grounds of Albyns did not approach the river, and it is more likely that the work was undertaken by Charles Smith of Suttons.

Smith, a wealthy merchant from the London suburb of Mile End, purchased Suttons in 1787 for £15,725, the equivalent in 2018 of around £1.2 million. He added an estate at nearby Stanford Rivers in 1796, at a cost of £7,650.[60] Smith was successively MP for Saltash in Cornwall and Westbury in Wiltshire, both pocket boroughs under the control of patrons: a seat at Westbury was priced at 10,000 guineas (£10,500) in 1806 (a price he was presumably unwilling to pay).[61] He served as Sheriff of Essex in 1797 and, from 1804, was in line for an even more glittering distinction. His wife's relative, the otherwise unrelated Drummond Smith, was created a baronet that year. Having no heirs, the newly minted Sir Drummond managed to secure a special remainder that would see his honorific pass to Charles Smith, and his descendants. In the event, Sir Drummond Smith outlived him by two years, but the 1804 conferral made it clear that, in due course, Suttons would become the home of a titled landowner.

Given the social culture of the time, it is hardly surprising that Smith aspired to a residence that would reflect his wealth and status. Suttons was much smaller than Albyns, the ornate and mainly seventeenth-century mansion to the south of the river.[62] Its new owner set out to improve his country house. As early as 1791, Smith had secured the diversion of the road to Chipping Ongar, which ran inconveniently close to his front door. Major changes were made to the house, which was enlarged and encased in brick to create a uniform Georgian appearance. Apparently on the basis of a statement in the Victoria County History, this work has been assigned to c. 1815, but as Charles Smith died in 1814, leaving a widow and a son who was a minor, it is more likely that the refurbishment was begun earlier.[63] The property's surroundings also received appropriate attention. An Orangery or summerhouse designed by the Italian architect, Joseph (Guiseppi) Bonomi was built, reportedly in 1796.[64] This probably formed part of a landscaping exercise. Chapman and André's Essex atlas of 1777 did not show any parkland attached; by 1805, the Ordnance Survey recorded grounds stretching to the western arm of the mill race. Later nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey maps show the park further extended, south to the Roding and south-west to the bridge.

All this tends to suggest that, sometime around 1800, Charles Smith built a new watermill downstream from Pissingford Bridge. Perhaps he aimed to cash in on the boom which transformed Essex farming when domestic wheat production flourished during the wars against France. Although the Suttons watermill had almost certainly long since ceased to function, perhaps its remnants obstructed his planned parkland vistas, but seemed worth re-assembling on a new site. Maybe he was primarily interested in landscaping, raising the level of the Roding to form the decorative lake that so delighted John Hassell, converting this stretch of the Roding into the "placid, flowing stream" that would be hailed by a later poet.[65] There was some attempt at the picturesque creation of an instant venerable landmark, for instance by laying claim to the previous occupants of the nearby windmill. In 1956, there survived a sundial bearing the date 1635 on the south wall of the mill house, with a Latin inscription which suggested that it had been traded down from a building of higher status.[66] But while the exact date of the mill remains obscure, one result of its construction is indisputable. Whatever trace may have remained of the original ford was literally drowned in the deep water backed up behind the new mill race. We may fast-forward here to a winter night in 1948, when local people heard a car stop on the bridge (post-war traffic was still light), followed by a loud splash. Naval divers from Chatham later recovered a stolen (and unfortunately empty) safe – in twenty feet of water.[67]

The project required one further piece of landscape engineering. A small stream from the north joined the Roding right by Pissingford Bridge. With the raising of the water level, it would become a flood risk to the adjacent road, so it was diverted through field ditches to flow into the river below the mill, and its original lower stretch was filled in. This, in turn, probably created a problem for a building about 200 yards north of the bridge. A seventeenth-century house, its outbuildings included a sluice through which the stream ran, which suggests that it had been used for some industrial purpose. As part of the overall regeneration of the Suttons estate, it was given the same treatment as the mansion itself, a new brick frontage and a new function, as the Talbot Inn. This was definitely an upmarket project, and an advertisement in The Times in September 1815 firmly located it at "Passingford Bridge".[68] This was one of the first indications that Pissingford had met its Waterloo.

It can only have been irksome for the nouveau riche Charles Smith, as he entertained County Society and welcomed visitors from fashionable London, to know that they navigated their way across Essex with the aid of travellers' handbooks that advised them to steer course for Pissingford Bridge. However, mores were changing. The Reverend Philip Morant, who displayed no problems at all with the name in 1768, had graduated from Oxford as far back as 1721. He belonged to the robust, ribald, roast-beef world of early Georgian England. Twenty years later, England's elites were challenged by a revolution of politeness, which frequently homed in on absurdly minor targets. The term "respectability" was coined in 1785. In 1791, the fashionable and wide-circulation Gentleman's Magazine exulted that "only the lowest class" now used the term "sweat". "We are every day growing more delicate, and, without doubt, at the same time, more virtuous." The British were destined to "become the most refined and polite people in the world."[69] Thus there was no place even for perspiration in the new regime of gentility. "Terms such as 'stink' and 'sick' began to offend polite ears." "Piss" became a vulgarism.[70] The Society for the Suppression of Vice was founded by the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce in 1802. It took aim at the poor, targeting most of their pleasures, including the use of bad language. A new mannered world was emerging: the historian Arthur Bryant memorably termed the decade from 1812 to 1822, "The Age of Elegance".  It flourished even in small towns and remote manor houses, captured in the novels of Jane Austen: the first of them, Sense and Sensibility, appeared in 1811.[71] That year saw the arrival at nearby Chipping Ongar of the high-minded Taylor family. Isaac, the father, was "called" to take charge of the town's Congregational church; his son, another Isaac, settled at Stanford Rivers, the next parish to Stapleford Tawney. Especially formidable for the fluency of their pens were the sisters Ann and Jane Taylor. Jane specialised in simple verse that urged the poor to be contented and the young obedient. "My books I must not tear or lose. / But always keep them smooth and sweet," she advised children. "And wicked words I must not use, / Such as I hear about the street."[72] The Taylors were not typical, but they were a harbinger of the Victorian age that was just around the corner.

Richard Horwood's atlas of London, published between 1792 and 1799, was a cartographic straw in the wind. The most recent detailed map of Clerkenwell, by Roque in 1747, was uncomplicated in its identification of Pissing Alley. Now, half a century later, the perhaps aromatic byway was transmuted into Passing Alley.[73] Pissingford Bridge cried out for similar upgrade. "Passingford" possessed two considerable advantages. First, it fitted with the process known as "popular etymology", by which a place-name that had become incomprehensible was altered to something that implied an easily understood narrative. Essex examples included Bulphan, where a name originally referring to a fortification (burh) in marshland was adapted to something that conveyed a more conventional image of a bull grazing in a fen ("fan" in the Essex dialect). A more complex example flowed from "Sevekyngges", a district at the Ilford end of the large parish of Barking, recorded in 1285. By then, its most likely derivation – the "ingas" or followers of somebody called Seofeca – ceased to have any meaning, since neither the word nor the personal name remained in use. Accordingly, it evolved (by 1456) to "Sevyn Kynges", complete with a tale in local tradition of a summit meeting of the rulers of the Heptarchy.[74] A ford that provided for passing was perhaps a statement of the obvious, but it could be made to fit.  Of course, popular etymology might have kicked in decades or centuries earlier, but the second advantage of the waiting-in-the-wings name lay in a recent sound shift in the way southern English was pronounced – the substitution of a long A for a short vowel in words such as "bath" – and "pass" (a development, some might say an affectation, that has never occurred in the standard speech of  northern England). The process could be seen in the parish of Hornchurch, where a small hamlet was called Hadley Green in at least nine legal documents between 1534 and the eighteenth century, with specific references as late as1756 and 1781. The transition occurred soon after: maps made in connection with enclosure of common land in 1812 and 1814 referred to the place as Hardley Green.[75] "Passingford", with the first syllable pronounced to rhyme with "lass" or "mass" would have lacked impact. "Passingford", with the long-A sound of "farce", stood some chance of ousting its inconvenient predecessor.

In retrospect, the transition may seem so obvious that there are two mysteries about it: why did it not occur earlier, and why was it apparently not immediately accepted? The obvious answer to the timing of the challenge has already been outlined: the late eighteenth-century mind developed a squeamishness towards bodily functions that earlier generations had accepted as facts of daily life. But had the alternative name been available as an alternative in earlier times? Dr Reaney had detected two instances of "Passeford" / "Passieford", and one of "Passingforde", all from the thirteenth century. With what may seem a certain desperation, he also cited a fourth alleged example, of "Passingford-bridge", dating from 1542. But his source for this was Thomas Wright's 1835 blockbuster, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, which quietly doctored the account of the Wardstaff ceremony, more brutally but no doubt more faithfully rendered by Morant seventy years earlier.[76] The Essex Record Office Seax website adds a couple of eighteenth-century examples from documents mentioning Passingford Bridge, but these may represent an archivist's interpretation of their general purport. Only one direct quotation is provided on Seax, referring to problems about "the repayring of a cartbridge called Passingford bridge" in 1629 and, in isolation, this does not appear to be convincing evidence of an alternative form. Against this, we must put the relentless attachment shown by mapmakers and compilers of travel handbooks throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to Pissingford. It is more likely that the laundered name was invented, not dredged up from the distant past.

The second mystery about the rebranding concerns the role of the Ordnance Survey's mighty mapping project. Survey work in Essex by military teams in fact began in 1787, to determine the precise location of the Greenwich Meridian, but instability created by the French Revolution is generally assumed to have given the project an eventual national remit.  Detailed triangulation was carried out in 1798-99 across Kent and Essex, which were accorded priority as possible invasion areas. Several years were then spent checking, modifying and engraving the work, leading to the publication of Sheet Number One, covering Essex, in 1805. An important part of the process was the reference of proof sheets to local worthies, who were asked to confirm the spelling of place-names in their districts.[77] It is likely that Charles Smith, landowner, member of parliament, former Sheriff of Essex, would have been one of those consulted, and it would not be difficult to imagine him mobilising his considerable status to insist that there should be no more Pissingford on his doorstep. The 1805 map, helpfully digitised by the National Library of Australia,[78] does indeed show the location as "Passingford Br[idge]", which seems conclusive. But is it? Between 1805 and 1825, the Essex map went through several revisions, mainly to take account of urban growth in the south-west corner, where metropolitan London was constantly expanding. The changes were made on a running basis, making dating a problem: by 1820, the engraved plates needed major repair, and there were plans for a complete new edition. Then, in 1824, the project was sub-contracted to an agent, James Gardner, who is thought to have continued the process of incorporating minor changes until 1840. The Canberra version, precious though it is, was issued by Gardner, and is undated.[79] One possible clue pointing to an early date for the new name is that it is rendered with a long S, leading the modern reader instinctively to interpret it as "Pafsingford". This is a usage that did not endure long into the nineteenth century, and may suggest that the change was indeed made in 1805. More knowledge of engraving technique might perhaps clarify the possibilities. Re-engraving a section of the map to add streets or docks in previously open ground may have been straightforward. Inserting or amending a name that already existed, especially a long one, was less simple.

One major difficulty in relation to the Ordnance Survey map is that it seems to have made no immediate impact – assuming that it was the original 1805 version that named Passingford Bridge. As already outlined, at least four travel handbooks published in the next fourteen years continued to use "Pissingford". In an era that took a relaxed attitude to plagiarism, their texts were probably copied in large measure from earlier publications, but it still seems strange that their editors did not check distances against newly produced and highly authoritative government cartography. Yet there were clear signs that the old name now generated embarrassment: in 1817, Langley's single-sheet New Map of Essex refrained  from naming the bridge altogether.[80] It was a lengthy name to squeeze into a small-scale map, but previous cartographers had managed. In 1817, travel writer John Hassell seemed both embarrassed at the name, and unsure about a substitute. "Pissingford Bridge", he asserted, was "in the opinion of some authors ... a corruption of Parsonford Bridge." Elsewhere in his guide to attractive explorations around London, he firmly adopted the Parsonford alternative, but his previous authorities have not been identified and his substitution did not take root.[81] Perhaps it made no appeal to popular etymology. The two Staplefords each had their own incumbent. The notion of a clergyman who was so busy working two pulpits that he had to wade across a river to meet his commitments was implausible. Rather more surprising is that Hassell, whose landscape descriptions suggest that he had actually visited the scene, seemed unaware that a respectable alternative name was already on offer: the Talbot Inn, as noted above, had been advertised in The Times in 1815 as situated at Passingford Bridge.

No formal resolution, for instance by county magistrates, local juries or the Ordnance Survey, has been traced, but it would appear that a concerted attempt was made at about this time to eradicate the old name. In January 1818, the Essex Quarter Sessions received a report from the county surveyor on the condition of several bridges, and the Seax website indicates that the document referred to Passingford Bridge. The recycling of material in travel handbooks carried its own momentum, but the allusions to "Pissingford Bridge" in James Dugdale's The New British Traveller of 1819 and Cooke's Topography of Great Britain seem to be the point at which the embarrassing name bowed out, just five years short of the six-hundredth anniversary of its first recording. Cary's New Itinerary was by now under the editorship of Thomas Hasker, Superintendent of Mail Coaches. In successive editions, Hasker appealed to "the intelligent Traveller" and to "Gentlemen of local information" for help in eliminating "those errors to which a publication of this description must always be liable". In the eighth edition of 1819, readers were told that "several alterations have been made in the Roads". One of these was the substitution of Passingford Bridge for its now-discredited predecessor.[82]

Who were the "Gentlemen of local information" who might have leaned on Hasker to clean up his text? The Suttons estate was committed to the revised spelling, as shown by its use in connection with the Talbot Inn. But Charles Smith had died in 1814, leaving his widow Augusta to rear their teenage son. Young Charles inherited the expected baronetcy in 1816, which perhaps sharpened the family's wish for a more respectable address. Another likely lobbyist was their neighbour across the Roding, John Rutherforth Abdy, who had inherited Albyns in 1798, at the age of twenty. He appears to have had some legal training (at least, his name was enrolled at the Middle Temple), and he served as Sheriff of Essex in 1809. The Reverend Richard Smyth, son of the owner of Hill Hall at nearby Theydon Mount, also had an interest in eradicating Pissingford. The family had a particular concern with nomenclature, as they were in the process of convincing the world that their surname was really "Smijth", although they had no obvious connection with the Netherlands. They owned the advowson of Stapleford Tawney (the right to appoint its clergyman), which they merged with another piece of ecclesiastical patronage, the benefice of Theydon Mount itself. Richard Smyth / Smijth succeeded to both at the age of 24, and later added Great Warley, near Brentwood, to his job portfolio. He seems to have been an intriguing personality: after what was probably the usual aimless stint as a young gentleman at Cambridge around 1774, he returned twice to the University, and in 1801 graduated with a law degree. Intelligent, presumably articulate, and closely connected with the squires of Hill Hall, Richard Smyth / Smijth is a highly plausible candidate to have demanded the name change. The problem is that clergy in that era were notorious for non-residence. The incumbent of the conjoined parishes had a "large and handsome" rectory at Stapleford Tawney, plus 116 acres of glebe – but these could have been rented out, and there seems no evidence demonstrating that Smijth actually lived in any of his parishes.[83]

The amended name acquired a new formality in 1823, when the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust secured a private act of parliament for "repairing and improving the roads leading from Whitechapel-church, in the county of Middlesex, unto Passingford-bridge". In fact, the Trust already operated a toll road to Abridge, and indeed some distance beyond. The appearance of the new incarnation in the short title of an act of parliament was accidental. The Trust had intended to extend its operations through Chipping Ongar as far as Dunmow. Evidently, this encountered opposition: on 3 June 1823, the Journals of the House of Commons recorded an amendment to delete "Dunmow" and insert "Passingford Bridge". There was now an authoritative reference, almost certainly backed by the Ordnance Survey map, in the reasonably accessible form of published statutes, and hence available to – for instance – solicitors drawing up legal agreements.[84] All subsequent references are apparently in the modern form.[85] As noted above, Thomas Wright in his History and Topography of the County of Essex silently amended the name in his account of the Wardstaff ceremony, and included a single bare mention of "Passingford-bridge". William White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of ... Essex, a superb overview of the county in 1848, mentioned it twice, once in connection with each Stapleford parish. An 1861 publication, The People's History of Essex, by D.W. Coller, barely bothered with either, and ignored the link between them. Meanwhile, the name had become applied to the cluster of houses just to the north of the river. Passingford Bridge, commented Kelly's Directory of Essex in its 1908 entry on Stapleford Tawney, "is a place in this parish on the road from Ongar to London." There was not much more to be said.[86]

Neither of the Staplefords possessed anything like a village centre. Given their proximity to London, the population of the two parishes was astonishingly sparse. Stapleford Tawney, remarked an Essex writer in 1771, "hath but few houses in it". Wright observed of Stapleford Abbotts in 1835 that the labourers "live in pleasant cottages, generally at a considerable distance from each other".[87] Neither community had been the scene of great events, nor the birthplace of notable individuals. The scope, incentives and audience were absent that might have encouraged an amateur enthusiast to produce a local history of the Look Back in Ongar genre.  Consequently, there was nothing that might invoke the memory of an inconvenient place-name.

Pissingford Bridge might have lain entirely undisturbed had it not been for the massive project of the English Place-Names Society to produce detailed studies of the toponymy of every county. Essex was entrusted to Dr Percy H. Reaney, a formidable scholar (appropriately, his surname was pronounced to rhyme with "brainy"). One of the earliest graduates of the University of Sheffield, which granted him a DLitt in 1935, he had also earned a PhD from the University of London, and brought an impressive command of early Germanic languages to the elucidation of place-names, often improvising ingenious and persuasive interpretations from slight scraps of evidence. Not surprisingly, he was also someone shaped by, and indeed restricted by, the values of his time. With linguistic skills that extended to Latin and Greek, he was senior classics master at Sir George Monoux Grammar School in Walthamstow, and a respected citizen of what was still a largely middle-class suburb. "Kips", as his pupils nicknamed him, cultivated the spiky eccentricities of a traditional "stern, opinionated" schoolmaster. He also worked closely with the project's two general editors, F.M. Stenton, professor of History at the University of Reading and the leading authority on Anglo-Saxon England, and Allen Mawer, who held the chair of English Literature at Armstrong College, the nucleus of the future University of Newcastle – academic establishment figures, both of whom would later receive knighthoods. At its 1933 annual meeting, the English Place-Names Society had issued an appeal to public libraries to turn their back upon "shilling shockers" and buy its volumes. A great deal of post-Victorian respectability might be placed under threat by the inconvenient name of an obscure Essex river crossing.[88]

Reaney's solution was to balance the claims of intellectual integrity with the demands of decent propriety. He acknowledged that the place had been called Pyssingford in 1224, added three other examples – one of them from Morant's history, indicating that the name was still current in 1768 – and even added a variant from 1542 that elaborated an already awkward name to "Pissingforth". But there was also a definite strategy of playing up the A-word alternative, with four examples, one of them being Thomas Wright's 1835 transcription of the Wardstaff ceremony, which Reaney must surely have suspected as an exercise in laundering. Had he acknowledged the predominant version of the name, however embarrassing, he might at least have explored the slight possibility of its derivation from the growing of peas. Rather, he chose to create a confusing mishmash, enabling him baldly to pronounce: "The forms are inconsistent with one another and the first element must remain an unsolved problem."[89] Reaney had buried the issue, but he had at least – albeit briefly and slightly – resurrected the name.

The Pissingford challenge was evaded twice in the early nineteen-fifties. In 1953, Essex County Council came up with the splendid idea of commemorating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by presenting every child in the county with a souvenir volume, a slim hardback entitled Royalty in Essex, which drew upon the resources of the Essex Record Office to produce a lavishly illustrated publication. The text was contributed by the ERO's lecturer in history, A.C. "Gus" Edwards, and there was an introduction by the chairman of the county council, who offered a prayer that "our Queen's reign may be long, happy and glorious and that we may be worthy of our heritage." For the centrefold, it made sense to reproduce one of the handsome seventeenth-century county maps that glimpsed the Essex of long ago. The production team selected Ogilby and Morgan's survey of 1678, explaining in a caption that "[t]he place-names mentioned in the book may be found on this map." It is unlikely to be coincidence that this was just about the only single-sheet map from the period which omitted to name the river crossing between the Staplefords. It would certainly have been a spectacular own goal to have included, say, Kitchin's map of 1764, which would have given hundreds of Essex schoolboys (I cannot speak for the girls) the fun of tracking down a naughty name.[90]

The Victoria History of the Counties of England was an academic megaproject, launched in 1899, just in time for the great Queen graciously to permit the association of her name. Its massively ambitious aim was to produce an encyclopaedic history of England, county by county. Two large volumes were published for Essex in 1904 and 1907, each surveying themes on a county-wide basis. Then the project lapsed, until it was revived in 1950, with local authorities agreeing to subscribe for its resumption. Money was stitched together in much the same way as bridge repairs had been financed three centuries earlier. Two editorial posts were created, in association with the University of London – and this in an era when academic lectureships were scarce, and research fellowships in the Humanities virtually non-existent. Obviously, the Victoria County History, as it was now generally known – colloquially, the VCH – required tactful handling. A management committee was formed, chaired by Sir John Ruggles-Brise, landowner and baronet, who would become Lord-Lieutenant of the county in 1958. It comprised representatives of ten local societies and no fewer than 39 local authorities. The decision to begin work on Ongar Hundred was in some respects puzzling, but perhaps the fact that the district was not a centre of population gave it a degree of neutrality. Even so, there must have been some danger of a Dickensian councillor in a more remote authority, say the Borough of Harwich or the Benfleet Rural District, echoing the localism of Isaac Aleyn back in 1649, and objecting to the lavishing of ratepayers' cash on a non-essential project for the benefit of some distant community. Post-war Britain, it should be remembered, was not a wealthy country. In addition, a measure of local supervision was built in. "The galley proof of each parish article was read by at least one person, usually the incumbent, living or working in the parish".[91]

At some point, presumably early in the Ongar Hundred project, a decision must have been taken to leave Pissingford Bridge in tactful oblivion. In fact, this made sense. The VCH worked on a set pattern, exploring a matrix of themes for each parish, and these included roads and bridges. It was only necessary to outline what was known of the history of the structure known as Passingford Bridge, which was done in a single, compacted paragraph. Place-names were not part of the VCH remit, and if Reaney's study of Essex had been unable to throw light on the derivation, there was no call for the Ongar Hundred volume to reopen the subject. In the event, the volume's editor, W.R. Powell, would go on to make a massive contribution to Essex local history.[92]

If there was a problem about the Ongar Hundred volume – and, as problems go, it was a good one – it was that its quarto size and brick-red covers radiated a sense of omniscience, of the encyclopaedic coverage to which the original Victoria History project had aspired. If VCH Essex Volume iv made no mention of Pissingford Bridge, it was tantamount to conveying as truth that the proposition that Pissingford Bridge had never existed. The tide turned only slowly. D.H. Allen's 1974 edition of mid-seventeenth-century Essex Quarter Sessions Order Book took in its stride the challenges posed by Pissingford Bridge to Cromwellian infrastructure.[93] None the less, it would be the development of the Internet that revealed the full extent of the entrenchment of the forgotten name, with 36 mentions on the Essex Record Office Seax website, and a further 20 references identified through maps and travel books.

IV: Conclusion

The Anglo-Saxons encountered a river crossing on the Roding that was probably a gravel bar, providing a firm, shallow crossing point. Marked by a post, it became known as the stapol-ford, and its name was transferred to the two adjoining communities. At some stage before 1066, a watermill was constructed upstream, on the estate that came to be known as Suttons. With extensive artificial cuts to channel enough water for the propulsion of its wheel, the mill probably discharged surges of water, strong enough to create ripples at the gravel bar below. Certainly by the early thirteenth century, the river crossing was known as Pissingford. Whatever may have been the derivation of the name, there can be no doubt that for the next six hundred years it was interpreted as a figurative or metaphorical allusion to urination. Around sixty references can be traced, indubitably establishing that Pissingford was neither a byname nor an accidental rendering. It was, in fact, accepted at all levels of society, culminating between 1768 and 1777 in appearances in the first major history of Essex, written by a clergyman, and the first detailed atlas of the county, widely supported by subscriptions from the landowning elite. Yet, within a generation, the old name was not only eclipsed but would be entirely obliterated by its polite emendation to Passingford Bridge. The construction, around 1800, of a new watermill downstream inundated whatever might have been left of the original ford, converting this stretch of the Roding into a deep and placid stream. At about the same time, there arose a new age of structured politeness, which was likely to target an inappropriate place-name. It is no doubt coincidental but it may be taken as symbolic that the crucial years in the transition also formed the decade in which Jane Austen published her novels.

Some more general points may be suggested from this local study. First, if Pissingford is indeed accepted, as it surely must be, as a figurative allusion to urination, it pushes the date for the origin of terms related to "piss" back about seventy years before the earliest example in the Oxford English Dictionary. Given the assumed onomatapoeic origins of the term, this is not surprising, but it is none the less perhaps worthy of note. Second, it may be worth suggesting that historians know remarkably little about river flows in the past, since we work from written documents which mainly relate to government or the ownership of property. Thus, it is possible only to suggest, since it cannot be proved, that medieval watermills probably caused variations in water levels downstream, and we have only the faintest trace – in a single sentence from a single court record – that the Roding may have turned into a destructive glacier in January 1658. Third, one can surely only be impressed by the effective dominance of the powerful and the serious-minded in so effectively excising the old name in so short a period. There was a mobilisation of central and local authorities – a government cartographic agency, the legislative process, the reporting function of the county surveyor – to ensure the silent substitution of the new name, one with next-to-no historical pedigree, for the old. Intriguingly, this exercise in cultural control left no traces. Fourth, it would seem that the notoriously narrow propriety that was the hallmark of Victorian Britain was several decades in gestation: the last published reference to Pissingford appeared in the year the Queen herself was born. Fifth, and perhaps most striking of all, this essay will, I hope, draw attention to the fact that an area of the past should have been obscured, even deleted, from modern collective memory. There may well be much more out there waiting to be disinterred.

By the twentieth century, with the old name long forgotten, Passingford Bridge became a symbol of tranquillity. Located just fourteen miles from the centre of one of the largest cities in the world, it was a place that was both remarkably isolated and easily accessible. In 1935, the year in which Dr Reaney wrestled with its unwelcome toponymy, Passingford Bridge inspired a minor poet named Gertrude E. Pitt, to celebratory verse:

Noble avenues and hedgerows

Flank the tortuous approach;

Brooks and ditches where the sedge grows

Breathe the heat from passing coach.

Streaming, gliding, racing, crawling

All day long with one accord,

City answers, "Country calling,"

Each week-end at Passingford.[94]

It seems unlikely that such sentiments would have been voiced had the bridge continued to be known as Pissingford.

ENDNOTES contain references, supplementary material and comment.

All websites were consulted in November 2018.


[1] P.H. Reaney, The Place-Names of Essex (Cambridge, 1935), 79. The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds owned the principal estate south of the Roding by 1066, claiming that it was a gift dating from 1013. As will be noted, the manor became directly associated with the office of the Abbot from 1182. Richard de Tany inherited the principal manor north of the river around 1246. Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 234-6.  Philip Morant in 1768 had earlier identified "stapol" as the probable origin, adding "here being very probably piles or stepples at the Ford over the River, being for the conveniency of foot-passengers." P. Morant, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex, i (1768), 175. The appearance of "stapol" in the names of two Essex hundreds, Barstable ("bearded pillar") and Thurstable ("the pillar of Thunor or Thor") suggest that the word indicated a substantial marker, which would make sense in guiding travellers to a safe place to wade across a river. Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 140-1. 302. Although the word "stepples" does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, nor in E. Gepp, An Essex Dialect Dictionary (1923), Morant's meaning, a timber form of stepping stones, seems clear, if speculative.

I follow modern usage and refer to "Stapleford Abbotts", although other sources, such as Reaney and the Victoria County History use the undoubtedly correct form "Stapleford Abbots". Passingford Bridge is generally treated as part of Stapleford Tawney, although the bridge linked the two communities and was the responsibility of neither.

No evidence of Roman occupation seems to have been found for either of the Staplefords. It has been argued, on the basis of early forms of Ilford, that the River Roding bore a Celtic name, Hyle, but there is no way of knowing if this applied to its entire course. At Woodford, about six miles downstream, it was called Angrices burne in 1062. This appears to relate to early forms of Ongar. Its modern name is borrowed from a group of villages around its headwaters, and has been in use since the 16th century. Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 10-11, 71-2.

[2] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 80.

[3] H. Smith, A History of the Parish of Havering-atte-Bower (Colchester, 1925), 18, for the date of Edward I's visit. King John was at Havering in early November 1214, and his household visited Ongar Castle on the Thursday after Christmas. Unfortunately, the identifiable dates are too far apart to permit a confident guess that his baggage train must have crossed the Roding at this point. Smith, Havering, 6-7; Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 159-62.

[4] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 159-62.

[5] Victoria County History of Essex, vi, 57-61.

[6] H. Grieve, The Sleepers and the Shadows: Chelmsford ..., i, (Chelmsford, 1988), 4-5. The 1200 reference implies that the bridge was there during the reign of Richard I (1189-1199).

[7] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 60, 66.

[8] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 72.

[9] This was the case at Chelmsford until the 16th century, Grieve, Sleepers and the Shadows: Chelmsford, i, 115. Traces of a ford alongside Upminster Bridge, over the Ingrebourne, remained in 1881, and had "been occasionally used within recollection of the present generation." Remnants of its approaches were enclosed as late as 1911. T.L. Wilson, History and Topography of Upminster... (rev. ed, Romford, 1881), 179  The Story of Upminster, Roads, Bridges & Inns (Upminster, 1960), 7. Hallsford Bridge over the Roding, providing a route from Stondon Massey to Chipping Ongar, was only built following a petition from local residents in 1775. Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 240-2.

[10] Antonia Gransden, "Samson (1135–1211), abbot of Bury St Edmunds", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/24601.

[11] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 223-8. Samson expelled the Jews from Bury in 1290, and bears considerable responsibility for the ensuing massacre.

[12]  Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 1-8; Morant,  History and Antiquities of the County of Essex, i (1768), 126-7.

[13] Material from the Essex Record Office is easily accessed through its Seax website: (http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk). Individual references are omitted here.

[14] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 223-8, 234-6.

[15] In 1586, it was complained that Philip Smith, who had recently purchased a property called Batayles (Battles Hall, Stapleford Abbotts) , had "sette up a gaytte" on the road to Pissingford Bridge.

[16]  J. Strype, Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, Book 5, Chapter 29, consulted as


[17] D.H. Allen, Essex Quarter Sessions Order Book 1652-1661 (Chelmsford, 1974), xxxi. The problems of 1657-8 are reported at 111, 118.

[18] A. Macfarlane, The Diary of Ralph Josselin 1616-1683 (Oxford, 1991 ed.), 417-18. A Swedish army invaded Denmark across an ice-bridge during that winter.

[19] Allen, Essex Quarter Sessions Order Book 1652-1661, 118. Anthony Sturgeon had the doubtful distinction of being one of the last people in England to die of bubonic plague. London's Plague Year, 1665, was followed by outbreaks across Essex: Sturgeon died in September 1666. H. Grieve, The Sleepers and the Shadows: Chelmsford... (Chelmsford, 1994), 88.

[20] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 233. In 1858, a county surveyor expressed concern at the "very inconvenient angle" of the approach road, presumably from Abridge, but it does not appear that any construction work was undertaken. John Booker states that the 1785 bridge was reinforced by cast-iron tie plates, an early use of this device in Essex. He adds that the 1785 structure was subsequently demolished. J. Booker, Essex and the Industrial Revolution (Chelmsford, 1974), 208.

[21] The maps are by Blaeu (1646), Blome (1673), Lamb and Morgan (1678), Pask (1700), Moll (1724, who used "Pisingford"), Bland, Parker et al. (1724), Kupferdruck (1749-50), Kitchin (1764), Bowen (1767) and Zatta (1779). It will be apparent from the names that several of the cartographers may not have been aware of the possible impropriety of the name. Nine of these maps are illustrated on the very useful website, https://www.oldmapsonline.org. Kitchin is reproduced in A.S. Mason, Essex on the Map ... (Chelmsford, 1990), 2.

[22] Essex Review, xix (1910), 78-88. Chapman and André's atlas has recently been made available online in another excellent website, https://map-of-essex.uk/.

[23] Morant, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex, i (1768), 180, and see also 177.              

[24] As noted later, the 1819 edition of Cary's New Itinerary switched to "Passingford Bridge". The precise publication date of Cooke's Topography of Great Britain is open to doubt. "Pissingford Bridge" appears in volume viii, 14.

[25] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 79.

[26] E. Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (4th ed., Oxford, 1960, first ed. 1936), 367, 360; J.E.B. Gover et al, The Place-Names of Hertfordshire (Cambridge, 1938), 194-5; Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 548, 285, xv. Ekwall also identified Pishill in Oxfordshire, where the 13th-century forms were spelt "Pus-". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names generally did not go beyond parish names, and Pissingford / Passingford Bridge does not appear.

An alternative location suffix, in much wider use, was "-stead". Banstead in Surrey can be traced back to the 7th century (Benstede), and means "place where beans were grown". This might suggest that –stead names indicate cultivation, while –ing refers to flora. J.E.B. Gover, et al., The Place-Names of Surrey (Cambridge, 1934), 68-9.

[27] The point may be underlined by Gover, et al., Place-Names of Surrey, in the discussion of Peaslake , near Sheer (251). The explanation was straightforward, but the earliest examples, from the 15th-century, pointed to a polite laundering into "Pysshelake". "Words in pis- often become euphemistically pish-", the editors remarked. The fact that this had not happened at Pissingford was revealing: locals knew what the name meant and accepted it.

[28] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 111. As noted above, the river Roding derived its name from a similarly named group of villages upstream, probably "the followers of Hroda". Ibid., 490-1.

[29] The evidence for this comes from the curious evolution of the name of Jaywick, a settlement on the Essex coast. This has been traced back to Clakyngewyk (1438) and Clakenjaywykke (1441), indicating a dairy farm associated with nearby Clacton. The second syllable of –ingas was sufficiently pronounced to stand alone when the Clacton-related section of the name was dropped. Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 335. It seems that no example of "Pissingeford" has been traced. For nearby Bobbingworth, which can be reasonably interpreted as "the enclosure of the people of Bubba", at least 15 examples of a central 2-syllable "inge" or "ynge" sound are recorded between 1086 and 1428. Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 52.

[30] M. Gelling, Signposts to the Past ... (London, 1978), 106-9.

[31] Waelingford (821) is explained as "the ford of the people of Waealh". Hemmingeford (974) is interpreted as "the ford of the people of Hemma or Hemmi".  Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names,  493, 233. The Essex village of Wormingford is not an –ingas name, but derives from "the ford of Widmund", Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 403-4.

[32] On this, see J.T. Baker, Cultural Transition in the Chilterns and Essex Region 350AD to 650AD (Hatfield, Herts, 2006), 207-8.

[33] Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 375; Gelling, Signposts to the Past, 168.

[34] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 567.

[35] The name of nearby Stanford Rivers denotes a stony ford, one of two such examples in Essex. "Rivers" is a manorial name, commemorating previous owners.

[36] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 117. Dr Reaney suggested that the stream was located in what is now the Marshalls Park area of the town.

[37] Grieve, The Sleepers and the Shadows: Chelmsford, i, 130, 134. In 1560, a jakes discharged directly into the road.

[38] Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 425.

[39] Survey of London, Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell, ch. 5, consulted via

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp142-163#p3. This was presumably the Pissing Alley noted for 1673 under Finsbury in J.E.B. Gover, et al, The Place-Names of Middlesex... (Cambridge, 1942), 99.

[40] From H.A. Harben, A Dictionary of London...  (London, 1918), consulted as https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/dictionary-of-london.  Churchyard Court became Goldsmiths Buildings, in honour of Oliver Goldsmith who was buried nearby. John Dryden mentions a Pissing Alley in his poem, Mac Flecknoe, written about 1678.

[41] Preface to the 1817 edition of The Family Shakespeare..., quoted from the 9th ed., London 1849, vii.

[42] 1 King's 16:11. The phrase appears 6 times in the Old Testament.

[43] Isaiah 36:12.

[44] "Once possess'd of what with care you save, / The wanton boys would piss upon your grave." From Dryden's poem, "The Hind and the Panther "(1687).

[45] Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 365-6.

[46] From H.A. Harben, A Dictionary of London...  (London, 1918), consulted as https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/dictionary-of-london.

[47] Henry VI, part Two, Act 4, Scene 6. The conduit was removed after the Great Fire of 1666, and its location, the Stocks Market, became the site of the Mansion House in 1737.

[48] https://www.coggeshallhistory.com/coggeshall-hare-bridge; G.F. Beaumont, A History of Coggeshall, in Essex .... (London and Coggeshall, 1890), 78.

[49] However, the process by which the 1285 reference to a mill at "Bongefford" in the parish of Ulting became Bumford Bridge by 1589 (and remained so in local usage) may suggest some degree of impish delight in impropriety in the Essex soul. Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 299.

[50] The Kent Archives website (https://www.kentarchives.org.uk) discloses a 1740 document noting "Pissing Stone" on the road from Maidstone to Sutton Valence. The "Pysenebregge" in the Suffolk town of Clare is another possible candidate, although other forms (e.g. "Pesonebrigge" in 1426) may cast doubt. In the 16th century it became known as the Baybridge. G. Thornton, A History of Clare, Suffolk (Cambridge, 1930), 73, 79, 116. Under her married name, Gladys Ward, the author became the first modern scholarly historian of Brentwood. I pay tribute to her encouragement of my early interest in local history, c. 1959.

[51] I have used the edition of Essex Domesday published by Phillimore (Chichester) in 1983. For Essex watermills, see H.C. Darby, The Domesday Geography of Eastern England (3rd ed., Cambridge, 1971), 248-9. It has been pointed out to me that the term "vill" may suggest a typing error. It refers to a community in Domesday Book, e.g. a group of manors sharing a place-name. Most Domesday vills subsequently evolved into ecclesiastical parishes. The term "villein" is a derivative.

[52] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 234-6. Suttons remained technically part of the manor of Stapleford Tawney: the Hall descended to become a substantial farmhouse, while Suttons in the 18th century developed into a mansion. No other mill has been noted in connection with medieval Stapleford Tawney, so the installation mentioned in 1291 may safely be equated with the one recorded in Domesday Book. The first reference to a watermill in England dates from 762. Documents referring to them become "relatively numerous" after 800, although "relatively" is a debateable term when applied to 9th-century documentation. H.C. Darby, Domesday England (Cambridge, 1977), 270.

[53] Levels can be measured precisely, thanks to the 5-metre contours on the Ordnance Survey Explorer Series, Sheets 174 and 175. The winding course of the river means that I can only estimate distances approximately. My rough calculation equates to a fall of about one metre per kilometre.

[54] Parish tithe maps and surveys are available via https://www1.essex.ac.uk/history/esah/essexplacenames/Books.asp.

The 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey sheet was TQ59.

[55] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 1. Because it was difficult to create a head of water anywhere in Essex, most of the county's watermills had undershot wheels, i.e. they were turned from below, which required mass rather than depth. Booker, Essex and the Industrial Revolution, 84-5.

[56] The likely site of the Navestock watermill is indicated by J on the accompanying map:


[57] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 233.

[58] Shonks Mill, a few miles upstream at Navestock, was in operation by 1777, and may have been rebuilt in the 17th century. It is mentioned in 1685 (Seax). It also depended on an artificial cut, around a quarter of a mile in length, cutting off a bend of the Roding. Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 139-43.

[59] John Hassell, Picturesque Rides and Walks, with Excursions by Water, Thirty Miles Round London (London, 1818), 158-9.

[60] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 210-16.

[61] http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/smith-charles-1756-1814; http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/constituencies/westbury.

[62] Albyns had been returned as having 40 fireplaces in the Hearth Taxes of 1670 and 1674. No Stapleford Tawney property had more than 14. Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 202-10.

[63] Suttons is a listed building, but https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101337560-suttons-stapleford-tawney#.W_WQAOj7TIU makes no attempt at dating. It has been converted into apartments.

[64] J. Bentley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Essex (New Haven and London, 2007), 745. Bonomi also designed a sarcophagus for the family in 1797. It is still an exotic feature of Stapleford Tawney churchyard.

[65] Gertrude E. Pitt, Essex Chronicle, 12 July 1935.

[66] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 234. The sundial is no longer visible. Watermills required major investment. Repairs to an established mill at Harlow in 1794 were estimated at around £1,000. Booker, Essex and the Industrial Revolution, 86.

[67] The Times, 31 December 1948. 20 feet is about 6 metres. But this stretch of the Roding became "dangerously low" during a severe drought in 1921, putting at risk a number of large pike. The Times, 18 June 1921.

[68] https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101169403-the-talbot-stapleford-tawney; https://pubshistory.com/EssexPubs/StaplefordTawney/talbot.shtml.; The Times, 12 September 1815. The advertisement was for an auction: the Talbot Inn at "Passingford Bridge" was one of the places where intending bidders could inspect documentation.  See also The Times, 10 August 1821, 4 October 1822, where the Talbot was the location of the actual sales. It ceases to appear in such advertisements from this point, and probably sank in status to become a country pub, which closed around 1870. It is now a private house. The Talbot Inn is marked L on the accompanying sketch map:


[69] Quoted in R. Porter, The Creation of the Modern World... (New York and London, 2000), 370.

[70] R. Porter, English Society in the Eighteenth Century (rev. ed. Harmondsworth, 1990), 303.

[71] In 1817, Thomas Bowdler published The Family Shakespeare, the culmination of a campaign by the editor and his sister to remove the saucy bits from the works of England's greatest playwright (an endeavour which incidentally added his own name to the language, in the form "bowdlerise".) Bowdler stated that he had aimed to excise "whatever is unfit to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies".  (Preface to the 1817 edition, quoted from the 9th ed., London 1849, vii-viii.)

[72] D.M. Armitage, The Taylors of Ongar (Cambridge, 1939), 231.

[73] Survey of London: Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell, ch. 5


At about the same time, Codpiece Row (indicating a haunt of prostitutes) became Coppice Row.

[74] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 144-5, 99. A similar example is Turnford, near Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, within ten miles of Passingford Bridge. Its original name, "Tunford", the river crossing by the enclosure, ceased to make sense, whereas a turn-ford might conjure some sort of narrative.  The transition also seems to have been the work of the Ordnance Survey.

[75] Information from the Essex Record Office Seax website. A Will of 1726 appears to have used "Hardley Green". The district later sacrificed its H and became Ardleigh Green.

[76] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 80; T. Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex... (2 vols, London, 1836 ed.) ii, 329. Wright's work was originally published between 1831 and 1835. "Passingford-bridge" is also mentioned, in connection with Suttons, at ii, 415. 

[77] Historical note by J.B. Harley, attached to the reprint of the "Brentwood" map by David & Charles of Newton Abbot (as Sheet 72) in 1969. The David & Charles edition was of the amended and re-engraved map of 1842.

[78] http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-231917147/view.

[79] J.B. Harley's historical note, above. More recent discussions of the early history of the Ordnance Survey have been published by the Charles Close Society. I do not have access to these publications.

[80] https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:ww72bp554.

[81] Hassell, Picturesque Rides and Walks, 158-9, 160-1. I have traced no other allusion to Parsonford.

[82] James Dugdale, The New British Traveller: Or, Modern Panorama of England and Wales ... (London, 1819), 419; G.A. Cooke, Topography of Great Britain (?1819), volume viii, 14. Cary's New Itinerary (8th ed., 1819), preface, 542.

[83] Information for Abdy and Smijth (who was still Smyth in his Cambridge days) comes from Venn's Alumni Cantabrigienses (http://venn.lib.cam.ac.uk/acad/2018/search-2018.html). There is no mention of Stapleford Tawney in the obituary of Smijth's wife Charlotte, honoured for her "exquisite beauty and symmetry of form" as well as her "high mental accomplishments". She died in 1811, partly (it was said) of grief for the death of her nephew at the Siege of Albuera. No location is given for Smijth in the notice of his death in 1837. He was not at Stapleford Tawney in the summer of 1815, when another clergyman, C.R. Landon, organised the parish collection for the wounded at the Battle of Waterloo. Landon was rector of Vange, on the Essex marshes, where clergy generally refused to reside for health reasons. But Smijth may simply have been on holiday. As late as 1848, when clerical non-residence was becoming regarded as an abuse, the rector of Stapleford Abbotts was chaplain to Queen Victoria's mother, and the rector of Stapleford Tawney was Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral. Even if technically resident in their parishes, they could hardly have been there full-time. Gentleman's Magazine, December 1811, 594; April 1837, 438; The Times, 24 August 1815; White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Essex (1848), 437-8. The Seax website indicates that the Essex Record Office holds Vestry minute books for the years of Smijth's incumbency. These may indicate if he played an active part in parish affairs.

[84] London Gazette, 21 June 1823, 1012;  Booker, Essex and the Industrial Revolution, 110; J. Raithby (compiler), The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 27 (1824), x. Maintenance of the bridge itself remained a county responsibility. There must have been a toll-bar on the road to Abridge, but I do not know its location.

[85] The Essex Record Office holds two letters written to a cousin by Miss Eliza Stokes of Passingford Bridge in 1835 and 1840. If the Seax calendar does indeed correctly render the address, it is safe to conclude that the old name was well and truly discarded, although perhaps it was not entirely forgotten among country folk.

[86] It was a recognised address by 1867. On 31 December 1882, Passingford Bridge post office held 32 savings accounts, totalling £184.16.1: its custom was small. The Times, 29 August 1867; British Parliamentary Papers, 1884, XLVII, 487.

[87] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 233; Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, ii, 409.

[88] http://www.oldmonovians.com/old-monovians/memories/om-memories.html; The Times, 12 October 1933. The Walthamstow East constituency returned Conservative MPs at 6 of the 7 interwar general elections. Reaney owed his nickname (short for "Kipperface") to an unkind allusion to the deformation of his mouth.  He claimed to despise mathematics, a subject only useful for checking one's change, and to detest the internal combustion engine, which must have restricted his field work. Reaney retired to Tunbridge Wells: you cannot get much more respectable than that.

[89] Reaney, Place-Names of Essex, 80. James Kemble's useful Essex Place-Names... (London, 2008), 128, also gives "meaning obscure".

[90] Its progenitors claimed that the 1678 map was "actually Survey'd" by William Morgan, who was Charles II's "Cosmographer" and also "M[aste]r of ye Revells in Ireland." Royalty in Essex (which I received at the age of 8) was my introduction to local history. I retain my copy.  The Essex Record Office had published a facsimile edition of the Chapman and André atlas in 1950.

[91] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, xiv-xv.

[92] Victoria County History of Essex, iv, 233. The Ongar Hundred project was treated as volume 4 because 3 was earmarked for a survey of Roman Essex, published in 1964, also under the editorship of Powell. I recall with appreciation an encouraging conversation with W.R. Powell in 1960, when, in my teens, I was an aspiring local historian.

[93] Allen, Essex Quarter Sessions Order Book 1652-1661, xxxi.

[94] Essex Chronicle, 12 July 1935. Gertrude E. Pitt had published Stories in Verse in 1932, and contributed occasional poems to the New Statesman. At about the same time, a crime writer called William Boucher invented a character called the Hon. Archie Passingford, "the Black Thumb", who used burglary and safe-breaking to fight blackmailers and fraudsters.  The name does not seem to have made any wider impact.

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