Paycocke's Tudor Coggeshall walk, near Colchester, Essex
It is the year of our lord 1512...discover what Thomas Paycocke would have smelt, seen and heard as you journey through Tudor Coggeshall. Visit medieval Grange Barn, The Chapel of St. Nicholas and St. Mary's Abbey and the monks after they have finished their prayers. Please note that at this time of year, the tracks around Coggeshall Abbey are very muddy and waterlogged. We would not advise undertaking this walk without some wellies- unless you love muddy boots!
Step back in time and get a fascinating insight into Tudor life as you walk through Coggeshall, on this route that immerses you in the local highlights of the time. Ideal for families.
Paycocke's House, grid ref: TL848225
We start our journey in Thomas Paycocke's premises. Stepping out into West Street, we understand the Paycocke family's place in society. The house frontage extends beyond other buildings in the street, emphasising their importance and middling status within the local community.
Thomas Paycocke uses its rooms to conduct important business, showing it off to fellow clothiers. Without glass in the windows or fireplaces, it's cold and draughty. Thomas wears layers of clothes and moves around to keep warm. The smell from dyeing cloth in nearby cottages blows through the open doors. We hear the clatter of pack-horses in the street, bringing more bales of wool to be worked. People await the next cart to load it with finished cloth brandishing the ermine tail, Paycocke's trademark. It will take a good few hours to reach the drapers in Colchester who will sell this cloth on the continent.
We say hello to the neighbours, who share the Paycocke family name, living at Drapers on our left. On the other side of the road, open fields stretch as far as the eye can see.
The Fleece Inn
The Fleece Inn (now a private house) was formerly known as Drapers. In summer the fields on the other side of the road are full of tenter frames; rectangular wooden frames on which cloth is stretched and dried. Did you know that this is where the term 'being on tenterhooks' comes from?
With Drapers and Paycocke's behind us, turn right and walk towards the end of West Street. Turning right at the end of West Street, we walk down The Gravel. Turn right along Bridge Street and approach the River Blackwater.
On Bridge Street, we can smell the malt wafting from the abbey malthouse across the road. A huge cross marks the entrance to the Cistercian abbey lands. There has been a crossing, known as Long Bridge, over this river since medieval times.
Walking up the steady slope of Grange Hill, the timber-framed barn dominates the skyline.
Grange Barn was built by the monks two hundred years before the Paycocke family moved to Coggeshall. At 130ft long, it's used to store corn collected from the local farmers to pay the tithe tax to the abbey. This is 10 percent of farmers' annual earnings.
On our way to attend mass, cross Grange Hill road and walk along Abbey Lane for approximately 450yd (410m) passing the small gatehouse chapel on our left.
The chapel of St Nicholas
The monks built this simple place of worship around 1220 for travellers and others who aren't allowed to enter the abbey. It's dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Fields full of sheep surround us. Local clothiers buy a lot of their wool from the monks.
After walking less than a mile from Paycocke's, we've reached the abbey complex founded by King Stephen in 1140. After crossing the River Blackwater, we take the path on our left passing through the corn fields. Further along, ignore the track on the right and continue along the path ahead which bears left slightly.
The Abbey complex
The monks chose this site for its peaceful surroundings and proximity to the river. On our left stands the abbey church of St Mary, a large, simple church built in 1167. This complex includes the cloisters, chapter house, refectory, library, frater house (great parlour), monks' dormitory and guest house. Slightly separate from the rest is the infirmary and abbot's lodgings, where we're invited to dine on feast days. The monks diverted the River Blackwater long ago to create a stew pond to keep their fish. We hear the rushing of water as the wheel of the mill turns, providing power to grind the corn.
We have now reached Gallows Street (East Street). Turn right and then left along Dead Lane (St Peters Road).
We can smell the stench of death before we see it. The gallows stand at the junction up ahead. This sight is not for the faint-hearted.
After following the road round for approximately 440yd (400m), we turn left into Church Green.
Let's stop at the church of St Peter-ad-Vincula (St Peter-in-chains). He was released from prison by an angel. Do you know there is only one other place where you can worship him? It is many a day's ride away at the Tower of London. There has been a church here for years before this one was built last century. Now it is one of the largest and finest in these parts. Thomas Paycocke had a hand in building the chapel dedicated to St Catherine, an early Christian scholar and martyr.
Having left the church, we turn right, stopping at the Woolpack to visit our friend and fellow merchant.
Built last century, this timber-framed building is very similar to Paycocke's with projecting upper floors, oak beams and carved woodwork throughout.
The church bell chimes. We had better start making our way back - it is four of the bell already. Continue along the road.
We approach the throng of people up ahead. Sadly many of the town elders did not see through the last harsh winter that befell us and we find ourselves surrounded by the young, carrying tithes of corn and going about their daily business. King Henry III gave us permission to hold a market here in 1256. As we wander through the bustling market place, we ought to be careful to mind the bumps and holes in the road. Many a cart has come unstuck on this hazardous highway. Walking past the ale house, the sound of the fiddle tries to lure us in. Perhaps we are too tired to dance tonight!
We stop where we started, at Paycocke's.
We know we are nearly back when we start to hear the low hum of the spinning-wheels. It won't be long before the sun sets. We had better light a candle or two, so we can see where we are going once we enter.
Paycocke's House, grid ref: TL848225
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