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Billericay to the Laindon Hills & back to Billericay
Edited by Percy Lindley

     Taking the road behind the church and its continuation, the Wickford and Southend Road, passed the ruined windmill to the Bell Inn at the foot of the hill, a path just beyond across two meadows, and the lane thence lead to the church of St. Mary Magdalene at Great Burstead.

     The views from these meadows and the lane are very beautiful and extensive, embracing Norsey Wood on the left, Ramsden Cray Church, the Great Wood, Rayleigh Church and mill to the right, and Laindon Hills farther south, with the Thames valley and the Kentish hills between.

     Burstead Church has many interesting relics of a more prosperous past, before Billericay eclipsed Burstead. To-day decay shows itself in the crumbling of the tower coping, the windmill mullions, and the rotting timber south porch. Very quaint in the north door, with its square label supported by crowned heads and its twin angels in the spandrels, one of them bearing on its scroll Ave Maria gratia plena, an inscription which somehow escaped the iconoclastic zeal of the Puritans. Then there are the ancient bell, one of the oldest in the county, dated 1436, and inscribed Vox Austini sonet in aure Dei; the old oak chest behind the organ, and a Norman slit in the north wall. Impending restoration will sweep away the unsightly, unpainted box-pews, but the richly carved range of oak seats in the aisle and the fragments of curious old stained glass in the windows must be spared.

     From the church two minutes' walk westward leads to the Laindon Hill road which is followed due south to the hills. Three quarters of a mile below Great Burstead the road crosses the Crouch, here a brook, only two miles from its source at Friern Hall. The road makes a slight ascent to the 'Fortune of War,' where it turns sharply to the right, then as sharply to the left, running due south to the foot of the Laindon Hills. An abrupt ascent leads to the Crown Inn.

     From the platform on top of the inn, the view extends for at least thirty miles all round. The other chief points for prospect are the field above the inn, extending over the marshes to the Nore; the field opposite the new church, and the descent along the Romford Road to the old church, a brick structure of A.D. 1621, and only notable for its broken roof lines and mellow moulded brickwork. It is now used as a mortuary chapel.

     The highest point, 378 feet, is in the plantation reached by the first gate in the Tilbury Fort Road by the cart track and along the top of the sandpits. Here the Thames is seen widening in shining stately reaches to the open sea. From the finger-post near the new church a path crosses the field into a pleasant wood, giving fine views over the river. Turning left into the lane at its end another path leads back to the Crown Inn.

     The view from the hills has often been described. 'The prospect' says Mr. Hissey, describing a summer visit, 'from the highest point of the Laindon Hills is one worth going far to see. It is astonishing that a spot of so much beauty (possessing a peculiar character all its own, and not to be repeated in England) should be so near to town and so little known. . .

     From where we stood we looked down through the sun-filled air upon a glorious expanse of waving woods, green meadows and red tilled fields, down upon miles of smiling verdure, dotted here and there with scattered farmsteads, red-roofed villages, with ever and again a peep of a distant church tower or spire. All this goodly prospect, bounded only by the circling blue of the far-away horizon where land and sky were blended together in a dim, dreamy uncertainty.

     Right through the heart of this map-like panorama wound the silvery Thames - at least it appeared silvery to us - we could trace the river's winding course from just below Purfleet in the west, to where it widened out and lost its identity in the long line of gleaming silver of the distant sea. A magnificent prospect, in truth, so space-expressing; our vision rejoiced in its unaccustomed freedom, confined as it is for so great a portion of the year to the sadly limited vista of a London street. The stately river was dotted with ships outward and inward bound, from the mighty ocean steamer (so dwarfed by distance that it was difficult to realise that the tiny moving speck with the long trail of smoke behind was actually a little world afloat) to the humble barge; several of these picturesque craft were noticeable on the water, their many sales, light in sunshine and dark in shade, added greatly to the effect of the picture by the life they gave to it, and as they glided downward with the tide we watched them

                       . . . . "pass on and on, and go

                       From less to less, and vanish into light." . . .

     This of English views is certainly unique in one respect, the prospect-which, by the way, comes suddenly upon the observer and gains greatly by the fact-is uninterrupted in all directions, and the Thames, widening to a mighty river here, gives a sense of vastness to the scene more suggestive of Western America, that land of big rivers, mighty distances, and broad effects.'

     Taking the road from the Crown Inn towards Billericay, and the first turning on the right, which runs presently by a wild plantation, a hamlet known as Lee Chapel is reached after ¾ mile. It is a cottage and a farm, with the remains of an ancient chapel now almost gone.

     Turning left near the farm a road runs 1¼ mile due north to St. Nicholas Church, Laindon, which is well in view the whole way. This road, much used no doubt in the days of the chapel, is now grass-grown.

     The church stands in solitude on a small hill (keys at the large cottage east of chancel). The ancient font, a fine brass of a robed priest in the chancel, a smaller one to west of it, much worn, and the south chapel should be noted. But its feature is the half-timber priest's house west of the belfry, formerly the residence of the chantry priest. An added interest is given to this quaint relic of old time by the fact that James Hornsby, whose headstone is just below the diamond-paned windows of this house, dwelt in its fifty years, until its restoration in 1883, as clerk and schoolmaster, taught the village children in the room which is now the vestry and lived on the first floor, whence he could clamber up his attic staircase among the ancient bells and see from these same stairs the carved oak roof and east window of the chancel.

     From the north-west corner of the churchyard, a path leads into the Billericay Road by the lane, turning left at its end to the 'Fortune of War,' and thence over the Crouch and by a gradual ascent of 2½ miles to the church at Billericay, 320 feet above sea level, and so to the station.

     This walk, including the ramble around Laindon Hills, is about 12 miles.

Title: New Holidays In Essex Edited by Percy Lindley.

Sub Title: With Rail and Walking Routes, Boating and Fishing Notes.

Year: Circa 1892.

Comments: This extract is reproduced in its entirety, unedited and unabridged.
Although undated the author notes the headstone of James Hornsby, the last schoolmaster of Puckle's charity school, housed in an annexe at the west end of St. Nicholas Church, who died in May, 1887. No reference is given to the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway, which in June 1888 opened a new section linking Upminster to Pitsea. Anyone taking this route would have had to traverse it in two places. Mention is given to a turning leading to the hamlet of Lee Chapel and a grass grown road with St. Nicholas Church at its head. These would have been Oxford Street (now renamed Lee Chapel Lane) and Green Lane (now Markhams Chase and Weymarks), before giving way to Nicholas Lane (Church Hill).

Page added: 05/08/2004
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