Thaxted, Essex

After our visit to Audley End, we popped into Thaxted, this is a pretty Essex village that has a Windmill and a Guildhall.  It isn't somewhere to make a special visit from Ampthill, but worth stopping by if you are in the area.

Once you have parked in the public car park, walk a little way back up Margaret Street and turn left into Bell Lane which will bring you to the main street (Watling Street). The parish church is almost opposite you and John Webb's Windmill is beyond the church (walk through the churchyard and past the Almshouses). Alternatively, the Guildhall can be found by turning left onto Watling Street after a short walk down the hill.

So her is a littel bit about the place:

Thaxted is an ancient town that was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It developed from then and became a busy town in Saxon times and continued to develop until a market was granted to the town in 1205. The town continued to develop for a number of centuries and was involved in the cutlery trade.

The earliest record of a church was in 981, this being replaced with money from cutlery in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Town Street (Watling Street today) runs down hill from the church in a south-easterly direction but has changed significantly from its original design. However, the Guildhall still survives, but certainly not the original building.In the sixteenth century it is known that weaving made an appearance, and an attempt was made to establish a Guild of Clothiers in 1583. Other street names such as Fishmarket Street and Mill Row may give indications of the town's history. Surprisingly, given the size of the town, there are still six places of worship in Thaxted, which is a legacy of its past Nonconformist history. Quakers were also known to have met in the town.


Explore Thaxted
Town Street (at the bottom of the Watling Street hill) is a good starting point for any exploration of Thaxted. The Guildhall is the first place of interest that you will see. Once the administrative centre of the town, it is thought it was built sometime between 1462 and 1475. It is believed it was not really a Guildhall as the design is more of a moote or mote hall, i.e. a civic meeting place.

There was a thriving cutlery industry in Thaxted at the time the Guildhall was built, so it is likely this contributed financially to its construction. At one time it is known that over a third of the working population were involved in the cutlery trade in some way. However, it was when the cutlery trade began to decline that Thaxted was granted a Charter and became a Borough. In 1686, the Charter was revoked and during the years that followed the Guildhall fell into disrepair. A number of attempts at restoration of the Guildhall have taken place over the centuries, including being used as the town's Grammar School at one point and samples of childrens' work can be seen in the Guildhall. The most recent restoration was carried out by Essex County Council in the 1970's and the Guildhall continues to represent the civic life of the town, and is in active daily use. Regular meetings are held there, and it is also used for exhibitions of local crafts and interests at frequently throughout the year. Thaxted Guildhall has limited opening times so check before visiting.

Seen from Town Street, the Parish Church towers behind the Guildhall and is probably the next stop on your exploration.Thaxted Church is one of the most impressive churches in Essex and is often called the “Cathedral of Essex”. The Church stands on a hill and dominates the town, so from whichever direction you approach, it can be seen many miles away. It has been described as the finest parish church in the county. The building began in 1340  and was completed in 1510. The large church is definitely worth a visit. As well as many things of architectural interest, it also has two organs, eight bells hanging in the 15th Century West Tower and lots of stained glass windows. The large bells are housed in the upper part of the tower which is 80 feet high. It is claimed if the wind is in a certain direction, the bells have been heard as far as Great Dunmow, which is 7 miles away. Particularly impressive is the stone spire, claimed to be the only mediaeval stone spire in Essex – it rises to a height of more than 55 metres. It has twice been destroyed by lightning and each time has been built up again to the original design – who said lightning doesn't strike twice?

The other main place of interest in Thaxted is the John Webb Windmill. A short walk through the churchyard, between the Almshouses and along picturesque Mill Row brings you to the Windmill which stands out above the local landscape. It has been fully restored to working order over recent decades after falling into disrepair and it is a well worth a climb up the winding steps to see the workings inside and the view outside.Unfortunately, it only has limited opening hours so check before you visit. Built in 1804, John Webb's Windmill is a tower mill and is the only remaining windmill in Thaxted. This windmill was the largest and most advanced of all the Thaxted mills and it worked for a hundred years. It was built to satisfy a growing demand for flour at a time of agricultural expansion and was constructed from local materials.  John Webb owned the farmland on which the mill was built. The gallery, which can be seen at first floor level surrounded the mill and was used for loading and unloading from carts and wagons. There is a picnic area surrounding the Windmill, along with benches to sit and look at the surrounding countryside.

Once you have visited these main sites, make sure you still wander wander around the centre of the town and see other buildings that have something of interest. For example, Clarance House, opposite the Church is an excellent example of an early eighteenth century Queen Anne building. Then there is Stoney Lane,  part of an ancient highway leading to Saffron Walden and containing a number of timber-framed houses. The houses near the Guildhall have the timber exposed, while on others it is hidden beneath the render which in many cases has “pargetting”, the traditional local decoration. If you are a fan of Gustav Holst then make sure you see the building called “The Manse”, but originally called “The Steps”, where the Holst family lived.

How to get there:  Leave Ampthill on A507 heading east towards the A1. Drive through Baldock and follow the A505 in the direction of Royston. Stay on the A505 and by-pass Royston and after about 5 miles you will need to turn right onto B1383 in the direction of Saffron Walden. Stay on the B1383 until you reach the B184 and then you head south and will shortly arrive in Thaxted. There is free public car park (with toilets) at the bottom of Margaret Street (postcode CM6 2QN). Margaret Street is a small turning on your left with a pub car park on the corner, when you drive into Thaxted from the north on the B184.  The journey from Ampthill takes about an hour and a quarter (46 miles) depending on traffic conditions.