A change of fortune
PUBLISHED: 10:16 13 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:42 20 February 2013
Bernard Colbron, editor of the West Bergholt Bulletin, explains why he is convinced that residents of this charming north Essex village can no longer be called unfortunate
IT IS difficult to believe as you look around the thriving village of West Bergholt, that it was once known as, 'the most unfortunate and ignorant parish,' in north east Essex.
That was how it was described by a Colchester magistrate in the 19th century when local farmers lay awake at night fearing the next raid by the fire-raisers. There were more fires in West Bergholt caused by angry, poverty-stricken farm labourers than anywhere else in the county.
The population of the village at the end of the 19th century was just over 1,000. There was a strong community spirit then (nobody informed on the fire-raisers) and it survives today despite a population of more than 3,000. This is evident from the large number of clubs and activities in the village - more than 30 without counting the various groups run by the Anglican and Methodist churches. With so much going on, it is difficult to book a room at the Orpen Hall - the social centre of the village - even though it has recently had extra rooms built. The hall, named after an early 20th century benefactor, is also where the award-winning Orpen Players perform four shows a year, including a pantomime.
There is a strong sporting tradition in the village. Cricket is played in tranquil tree-lined surroundings on the edge of the village and the club boasts three adult teams and five juniors. The football club has two teams playing in local leagues, has just formed a ladies team and provides coaching for youngsters. There is also a junior football club fielding teams. A multi-use games area provides facilities for tennis, netball and five-a-side football.
On the edge of the village there is an attraction that brings in hundreds of visitors every spring. Hillhouse Wood is probably the finest bluebell wood in Essex and is cared for by an energetic Friends organisation in association with the Woodland Trust. The wood is rich in wild flowers, animals and insect life and is a much-loved asset to the village.
West Bergholt has a long and fascinating history.
The Old Church, now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, contains traces of an Anglo Saxon building, so there has been a church on the site for more than 1,000 years. Two manors - now defunct - were created at the time of the Norman Conquest and survived into the 20th century. The Sackville family, who played important roles in government, dominated the Lordship of the Bergholt Manor for more than 400 years. After the Sackvilles, poets, historians and even a speaker of the House of Commons have played the role of Lord of the Manor.
In 2008 the village was awarded The Whitmore Trophy for the Best Kept Village, which was presented by the Rural Community Council of Essex, and you can read more about West Bergholt at the informative village website, www.westbergholt.net.
Editor of the West Bergholt Bulletin