Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Blackmore: Jericho Priory

Many visitors to the church are intrigued by the house behind the wall known as Jericho Priory. Whilst some know that this was the birthplace of Henry Fitzroy (1519 – 1536), King Henry VIII’s bastard son, others are then disappointed to learn that the building subsequently was reconstructed.

Revd. Philip Morant, one of Essex’s earliest historians in print (1768) suggested that, “This is reported to have been one of K. Henry the Eighths Houses of Pleasure; and disguised by the name of Jericho. So that when this lascivious Prince had a mind to be lost in the embraces of his courtesans, the cant word among his courtiers, was, that He was gone to Jericho. Here was born his natural son, by Elizabeth Tailbois, daughter of Sir John Blount” [Morant. p57].

It is highly unlikely that Henry Fitzroy was conceived in Blackmore, as some locals would like to claim. What is more probable was that Elizabeth Blount, later married to Gilbert Tailbois, was sent for a period of confinement to Blackmore Priory when clearly seen in Court she was with child. Blackmore Priory in 1518 was a small, quiet, Augustinian Priory which nine years later was suppressed by Wolsey having only four Canons in residence.

The Nave of the former Priory still exists as the Nave of the Church. The remainder was pulled down by the Smyth family around 1540 – 1543 after acquisition of the site. The footprint of the Priory foundations is now in the garden of the private house, referred to as ‘Jerico’ in the will of John Smith, dated 1543. The family built Smyth Hall, to the south of Wenlocks Lane, and were present in Blackmore for five generations until 1721. Smyth Hall was also known as Blackmore Manor.

Morant says that the site of the Priory was sold by Thomas Smyth about 1714 to a ship builder, Jacob Acworth.

William Holman (1719), from whose manuscript work Morant drew material, wrote, “The manor of the priory of Blackmore lyes by the Church and be called Jericho most of it is pulled down & new built under the foundations … they dug up bones & found a coffin of lead about a yard away full of … bones. Jacob Ackworth of London Kgt a Shipwright bought the Estate of Mr Smith about 7 years ago” [ERO T/P 195/9 #20 f10]. Holman adds that Ackworth was “knighted at Portsmouth August 30 1722 by Kg George [IV]”.

Down the years the house has had various names: Manor of the Priory of Blackmore (or Blakemore), Jericho Priory, Jericho and, Blackmore House.

Architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner in the first edition of ‘Buildings of England – Essex’ (1954) referred to the building as Blackmore House. In the latest edition, updated by James Bettley (2007), it is referred to as Jericho Priory, giving it a date of c1715-20, perhaps a little later, and adding to Pevsner’s commentary, “On the garden front deep plaster coving fills the recess between the tower arches” [Bettley/Pevsner. p142]. Pevsner though thought the building akin to the mid-sixteenth rather than the early eighteenth century, giving Syon House near London and Ince Castle in Cornwall as examples.

David Coller in ‘The People’s History of Essex’ (1861) adds that the house subsequently underwent “many changes, improvements and enlargements, to adapt it to modern requirements. Sir Jacob Ackworth, who purchased it, at the beginning of the last [eighteenth] century … made many additions to it; and in the course of the works a small lead coffin, about a yard in length, and filled with bones was exhumed. Other memorials of the past have occasionally been turned up on this spot; but, save for the church near, not a stone or other fragment of the Priory now remains. Even the foundations have gone. We recollect some forty years ago [c1821] observing a stone which appeared to have been taken from the old ruins, upon which an inscription was still half legible, used as a door-step for a house in the neighbourhood. The shrubberies and lawns of Blackmore House have long since extended, and flower-beds have been planted, and kitchen gardens flourish in luxuriance over the very spots where the friars feasted and monks prayed” [Coller. p221].

The stream that feeds the moat around Jericho House is nicknamed the Jordan.

The proximity of the garden to the church appears to have been a problem. In 1817, the Archdeacon of Essex made a Visitation to inspect the church building. A catalogue of failure is recorded [ERO. D/AE/V36. Vol I. f95]:

Remove the Earth and Rubbish from the Church and Chancel where necessary as much as may. The Tiling is getting very indifferent and must from time to time be repaired and at such times new Lathed. Weather boarding and shingling wants painting. Shingling wants repair. Underpinning of Tower wants repair. West end Wall of Tower wants a whole colour. Remove the Ivy from the South wall. Grub up the Fig and other Trees on South side and stop the Eaves. Same side window frames so[uth] side want repair and paint. Fruit Trees East End of Chancel must be taken down and the Wall repaired and well secured. NE Buttress wants repair and a Pipe placed to take off the Water. Remove the Gutters from eaves on South side unless the drain is properly attended and kept clean by Mr Preston. Solution of Vitriol. Vestry must be repaired with White Brick.

Owing to the general bad state and conditions of the Church the Archdeacon did not make any Order but deferred doing so until he had considered the same more fully.
The margin note states:

The Chancel pavement of this Church as green as a Pasture Field and the Church the most cold wet and comfortless of any in the Archdeaconry there being only two loop hole windows on south.

Earlier (1766), Revd Thomas Smith described Blackmore as “a small village con[sis]ts about 50 families”, having “about 80 houses” in 1790 and “about 100 families – about 500 souls” by 1810, with “three families of note, Mr Crickett, Mr Waller of Fingrith & Mr Fearths of Jericho House” [Guildhall Manuscripts ms9558. Diocesan Book 1766 – 1811].

White’s Directory (1848) states that W.T Longbourne, gent, occupied the Priory, and Kelly’s Directory (1856) confirms the name as William Thomas Longbourne. Coller says that in 1861, “the manor of Blackmore, and that of Fingrith … belong to James Parker Esq.” [Coller p222].

About this time Jericho came under the ownership of Edgar Disney. It formed part of a more substantial estate covering Copyhold Farm, High House, Hardings Common Farm on Paslow Common and Burgess. This was a total of 255 acres in Blackmore and 207 acres in High Ongar. The assignment of the lease of the Jericho Priory Farm estate in 1872 referred to the vendor’s obligation to leave “all hay, corn, and straw in ricks, bins or on the threshing floors” [ERO D/Dw T73].

In the north aisle of the church are two memorials recalling Edgar Disney:

to the memory of
Edgar Disney
of The Hyde
Ingatestone Essex
and of
Jericho Blackmore Esquire
Born 22nd December 1810
Died 8th December 1881
He that believeth in the Son hath
everlasting life, he that believeth
not the Son shall not see life
St John chap iii, ver. xxxvi


This tablet
is erected by the Rev W Callendar Vicar of Black
more in grateful recognition of
the kindly munificence of Edgar Disney Esq of the Hyde Ingate
stone to whose generosity (independently of various donations from Parishioners
and others) the successful restoration of the Church of
St Lawrence is mainly due 1878

The churchyard was enlarged in 1885, through a gift of land by “Edgar John Disney of Jericho House … Lieutenant Colonel of the 3rd Battalion Essex Regiment” [HALS. DSA 1/15/3 f395]. Presumably this was the son of the above. E J Disney was churchwarden in 1885.

Thomas Reed Hull was certainly living at Jericho in 1885. His family resided there for some while. He gave land for a churchyard extension in 1899 [ERO D/C/C50/2]. Thomas Reed Hull, of The Priory Blackmore, was buried on 4 February 1915. The final record appears in 1927 when James Henry Hull, again, gave land for a churchyard extension but reserving exclusive right of a portion, but it was never used [ERO D/C/C78/2]. He was the Vicar’s Warden in 1926.

The Minutes of the Annual Parochial Church Meeting for 1940 record that, “Lady Reckitt also offered the gardens of Jericho Priory to augment in any way Church funds, either by way of a small charge for admission on Sunday evenings, or to hold a Sale of Work” [ERO A10631]. The house was used during the war for military purposes.

On the social side, in the 1960s the Church held an annual Garden Fete and a Flower Festival. The Rose Garden at Jericho Priory was also used “by kind permission of Mr & Mrs E B Marriage”.

The Marriage family were owners of Jericho Priory until the late 1970s.

Andrew Smith


Bettley & Pevsner. The Buildings of England. Essex (2007)
Coller. The People’s History of Essex (1861)
Morant. The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex. Volume I (1768)

Essex Record Office
Guildhall Library Manuscripts
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

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