February 2007 – THE BROOK

by Pat Marsden 

Also note Pat’s additional research contained in a pdf file – see panel at the end of this text. 

While looking into the problems with flooding in the dip on Queens Road we became fascinated with the story of the Brook, which runs under Queens Road and the railway line, down towards Brook Street and eventually the marshes.  At one time the Brook ran from its source down the whole east side of Wivenhoe but it has now virtually disappeared beneath housing development. The first known reference to it is in the unpublished Court Rolls of 1509 held in the hand of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and other private hands. Here there is a reference to the conveyance of a cottage and garden called Honyngtons situated on ‘Brokestrete’ recorded at the Court held on 9 January.

Peter Kay helped us to trace out the whole course of the Brook, in the Chapman and André map of 1777, and on the 1873-4 Ordnance Survey map of Wivenhoe.  On the older map it appears to run for most of its course, through a sharp-sided valley.  Nick Butler, in ‘The Story of Wivenhoe’, suggested that the Brook might once have formed part of a wider water course, but there is not a great deal of evidence for this, other than the fact that there are early reference to mills in Wivenhoe, and in particular the water ‘mill on the Brook’ (Victoria County History of Essex), which was replaced in 1772 by a large post windmill commonly called Wivenhoe Mill.  This is a quite different mill to the one once situated on the corner of Rectory Road and Belle Vue Road.  Essex Record Office also refers to an old mill house commonly called Bobbit’s Hole which stood on the Brook. 

There is a great deal of anecdotal reference to the Brook:  how it once formed an essential part of the town’s water supply, with water being fetched in buckets for personal use, or residents buying water from the tank on the water cart, which had been filled up from the Brook.  At one point the Brook must have provide good clear water as there are several references to this both in ‘The Story of Wivenhoe’ and Paul Thompson’s ‘Sea-Change: Wivenhoe Remembered’.  The water was still drunk after it became less fit, until people got onto the mains in the early twentieth century.  The Brook was also a popular recreation site and there are some happy memories recorded in ‘Sea-Change’ of local residents playing by Bobbit’s Hole where there was a garden with apple trees and the Brook was described as ‘lovely’.

However it wasn’t always so idyllic and at times the Brook became polluted.  In Olive Whaley’s book ‘The Day Before Yesterday’, there is a graphic description by a committee, who were appointed to examine the state of the Brook in 1866, ‘from Mr Went’s Brickfield to the place where the water carriers get their supply’.  There are references to the habit of the workmen at the Brickfield relieving themselves by the edge of a small stream, which formed one of the Brook’s tributaries, and the privy at Bobbit’s Hole.  Lower down, beyond Queens Road and the back of the ‘brewery’, the report describes the water flowing over ‘deep mud full of noxious inflammable gas, and through decaying vegetable matter’.

Nowadays, most of the Brook is lost to view under housing development, although glimpses of what it might once have looked like for the whole of its course, can be seen where it runs alongside the Pump House in the dip of Queens Road.  Various residents have let us know that the Brook is running under their gardens or driveways.  If any other residents have any further information about the course or history of the Brook we would be glad to hear it so that we can pull together as much information as possible about what was once an important feature of the town.

Pat Marsden


Note: Pat Marsden has continued her researches into The Brook. Her findings are contained in the attached pdf (2,250kb)- click here to download. March 2008