All about High Wych

The civic parish of High Wych is made up of High Wych, Allen’s Green and Trimm’s Green. It lies immediately west of the parish of Sawbridgeworth, of which it was part until its own church was built in 1861.

Ecclesiastical independence was followed in 1901 by civil independence and since then it has been administered by its own parish council. The Parish Church of St James the Great was funded by public subscription, initiated by a generous donation from Reverend H F Johnson who became the first vicar and was later appointed Bishop of Colchester.

The church, designed by George Edward Pritchett, has received a wide variety of critical comment – architecture historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner calls it a “perversely ugly church, but as original in its handling of Gothic forms as anything in Art Nouveau of forty years later”. Others are attracted by the unusual design of its exterior of flintstone, its thin spire with clock, and its interior of white and red brickwork with painted decoration. If you would like to make your own judgement, please check first that the church will be open.

Pritchett designed the adjacent school, which continues to serve the parish, and also a small mission church at Allen’s Green, the parish’s second largest centre of population, some two miles northwest of High Wych village. This building has recently become a private residence.

High Wych is a mostly rural parish, somewhat larger in area than Sawbridgeworth but with a much smaller population. A total of 69 listed buildings are scattered throughout the parish, more than half dating from 1700 AD or earlier. Most are farm buildings - farmhouses, barns or granaries. Of particular note are the 15th-century farmhouse at Blounts Farm and two barns at Shingle Hall that date from the 14th or early 15th century. Shingle Hall was the home of the wealthy Leventhorpe family who were prominent in the area from the 1400s to the 1600s and they also owned Blounts Farm.

These properties are in the north of the parish and were, during World War II, on the perimeter of the airfield that was generally known as RAF Sawbridgeworth. The airfield had been used on a much smaller scale since World War I when it took its name from Matham’s Wood. The wood includes a medieval moat which is now protected as an Ancient Monument. The moat probably surrounded the manor house of the Matham family who lived here from the 13th to the 17th century. This woodland area provided a hiding place in 1966 for Harry Roberts, a criminal who killed three London policemen and then avoided capture for three months before being found in a barn at Blounts Farm.

High Wych has two pubs and an hotel - The Manor of Groves, which was built around a fine early 19th-century remodelling of an earlier house. The hotel stands in land that belonged to Reading Abbey until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The land has now been turned into an 18-hole golf course. The Rising Sun pub is situated in High Wych Road opposite the Memorial Hall. The Half Moon, also in High Wych Road, has recently been converted into an Indian Restaurant and renamed Chandini.

In High Wych village, opposite the little green traffic triangle, stands the listed single-storey, 17th-century thatched building. It is now used as offices but was once a terrace of tiny cottages.

Just around the corner is a focal point of village social activity - the Memorial Hall - built in 1923 to commemorate those who died in World War I and also Revd Johnson. It stands beside the church on land given by Arthur Salvin Bowlby, who also donated the village hall in nearby Gilston. For further information about activities and events at the Memorial Hall please click HERE to visit the website.

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