My Favourite Village: James Bettley from the Friends of Essex Churches Trust picks Great Totham

PUBLISHED: 20:44 01 December 2013 | UPDATED: 20:44 01 December 2013




Which is your favourite Essex village?

In the course of rewriting the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Essex, I visited every village in Essex and there isn’t one that doesn’t have something special about it. But taking the place as a whole, Great Totham ticks most of the boxes. Discovering that a famous architect, A H Mackmurdo, lived here for 40 years until his death in 1942 increased my interest in the village. Mackmurdo is said to have chosen Great Totham because it had the lowest rainfall in England – and because of the view from Beacon Hill.

What do you like most about Great Totham?

It’s still pretty rural but only five minutes from the delights of Maldon and the River Blackwater.

Have you ever lived in the village or are you an outsider?

My wife Lucy and I moved here from London with the first of our three children in 1991. Lucy’s less of an outsider than I am – she grew up in Ingatestone.

What are your first memories of spending time in the village?

Seeing our house for the first time, with snow on the ground and snowdrops in the garden. It immediately felt like the right place to be.

Have things changed in the village much over time?

As in most Essex villages, there are quite a few more houses, mostly infill rather than spreading into the surrounding fields. Some of them are on the site of Colliers truck builders, who moved to Witham a few years ago. It felt right to have a little bit of real industry in the village, but they needed more space to expand. Otherwise not much has changed.

Who are the characters you most enjoy bumping into in the village?

The day we moved in our neighbour, Daphne Davies, was on the doorstep with a welcoming cake. She’s been helpful in hundreds of ways over the years and it’s always nice to stop and have a chat.

What do you think the future holds for Great Totham?

More housing, I suspect. At the moment not much separates Great Totham from Wickham Bishops to the west and Heybridge to the south. It can’t be long before we’re all joined together.

Does the village have a local pub?

Amazingly, we still have three: The Prince of Wales, The Bull and The Compasses. What that says about us 
I’m not sure, but it’s rare to have such 
a choice these days.

What is it that keeps the community spirit of this village alive?

St Peter’s Church, as well as the village shop and Post Office, and the garage. Without them, and the people who work so hard to keep them going, the village would be very much less of a community.

Will there be any Christmas events in Great Totham?

Father Christmas’s first official engagement in Great Totham is always at the St Nicholas Fayre in the Village Hall (this year on November 30). Otherwise there are the usual Christmas services, including Nine Lessons and Carols on Sunday, December 15, and Christingle Services and Midnight 
Mass on Christmas Eve.

How will you be spending Christmas this year?

We usually share Christmas with my wife’s sister and her family. We were away last year, so this year we’ll be 
at home.

Where do you find the best view in the village?

The view from Beacon Hill, looking 
out towards the Blackwater Estuary, is not just the best view in the village, it’s one of the best views in Essex. Beacon Hill is 270 feet above sea level, which counts for a lot in this part of the world. ‘Totham’ means ‘look-out place’.

Is there one thing you need to know about the village to be considered a ‘local’?

Visitors tend to ask why the church is so far from the rest of the village. It isn’t really: it’s bang in the centre of the parish, and Great Totham consists of a number of separate settlements in different corners of the parish (on many maps, there appear to be two Great Tothams a mile apart). Satnav is easily confused!

Is there one Essex thing that always gets you in a festive mood?

A brass band playing carols in Chelmsford High Street (or even Liverpool Street Station) always lifts the spirits. Piped Christmas music in November has the opposite effect.


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