The Essex Sewells - A Postscript
By Brian Sewell
This article was originally published in the August 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
I hope like me, you enjoyed the articles in the last issue of Soul Search by Adrian Corder-Birch, Glennis Sewell & Richard Smith, concerning some Essex Sewell families.
Shortly after the April edition arrived, we had a few days in the county, finding time to visit Great Henny church, referred to by Richard & Adrian, to view the four Sewell slabs, then going onto see Maplestead Hall, mentioned by Adrian & Glennis. As Adrian stated, the famous Little Maplestead Round Church is opposite Maplestead Hall. In the church, we found a book written by one of the parishioners, Patricia Fletcher, entitled, “Little Maplestead - A Millennium History”. It is a fascinating account of the history of the area from the eleventh century onwards, with several references of interest to Sole Society Sewell members.
We soon obtained a copy of the book & Patricia has subsequently kindly permitted me to quote from it. The earliest reference is a Thomas Sewale, who in 1383 was one of two lords of the manor of Byham, which had land in the parishes of Great & Little Maplestead, together with adjacent Gestingthorpe. Thomas Sewale held his part from William de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk. Several other Sewells are mentioned, including Decimus Sewell, who Adrian related, was involved in an elopement in 1834 at the age of 35. Much later in 1892, Decimus is listed in Patricia’s book as one of three purchasers of the freehold of Deans Hall & Hampers Farm in the parish.
However, the Sewell achieving the most coverage in this book is John Sewell [1756-1843], who featured in both Glennis Sewell’s & particularly, Adrian Corder-Birch’s articles. Patricia Fletcher writes about John Sewell:-
“Recorded in the court book for the manor of Little Maplestead in 1781 is an entry concerning John Sewell .... admitted tenant to a piece of land in the village, called Joyswood. He was now also the owner of Lodge Farm & Goldmillers; his father [also John] had inherited these estates from his uncle & by 1797, Maplestead Hall itself was occupied by John Sewell as a tenant on lease. John Sewell was to make a name for himself in agricultural improvements & he became quite famous in certain local circles.”
Elsewhere in this book, John Sewell’s time at Maplestead Hall is described as follows:-
“In the early 1800s, Maplestead Hall was occupied by a tenant called John Sewell, under whom the estate became a very successful & profitable enterprise. It consisted of the manor of Little Maplestead which included Hall Farm, its gardens & lands which amounted to about 315 acres & also Bricks Farm which was about 68 acres & a farm called Falshams which exists today only in name as a field. The trust was lucky to have John Sewell as a tenant; he was a dedicated & progressive farmer. He regularly reported his new techniques & experiments in the Annals of Agriculture, the leading farmer’s journal.
He was particularly interested in seed-growing & in improving agricultural implements. Apart from the usual cereal crops, two of the crops he grew were something of a speciality to the Maplesteads, [as Adrian related], these were coriander & caraway which were sent up to London to be used for drug -making & for flavouring. He also grew teazels for the cloth industry in Halstead. John Sewell supplied the land for these cropped & prepared it by ploughing, he then offered out the contract to tend & harvest the crops. .... Hops were also being grown in Maplestead Hall. The high rate of wages at the time, eight shillings a week, indicates some measure of local prosperity.”
John Sewell was described as a “desirable” tenant but he did not renew his tenancy as a survey had concluded, “all the buildings had become neglected & run down. This had also caused the state of cultivation to deteriorate. ... The proposed .... increase in rent & .... the lack of support from trustees caused Sewell to quit. ”
However, it does seem that John Sewell was a man of some substance, for although he no longer was the tenant at Maplestead Hall, he owned several properties in the area. As well as Lodge Farm & Goldmillers mentioned above, at various times, John Sewell is shown to be the owner of properties; called Woodcocks, now Plum House, Motts Cottage, Broomhill Cottage, a property now known as Tanglewood originally built to house farm workers, Bricks Farm cottages, a house called Crealie, Ash cottage & the Cock public house.
From this list it is obvious that John Sewell was a man of some substance in the locality as well as an agricultural innovator. An agricultural friend tells me the principle of the “mole plough” invented by John Sewell & mentioned by Adrian Corder-Birch, is still employed to day on land where improved drainage is required, e.g. Essex clay. It is nice to think that work by some of our ancestors is still making a useful contribution today.
Source: “Little Maplestead - A Millennium History, by Patricia Fletcher
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