diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 05, 2021

North Ockendon is one of London's proper villages, i.e. with fields and a parish church, and is also the only place in the capital to lie outside the M25. Its administrative trajectory was set in 1935 when the parish was transferred to Hornchurch Urban District with the expectation that suburban sprawl was imminent. Instead the Green Belt preserved it, then in 1965 this outpost found itself absorbed into Greater London where it remains as a rural anomaly. The village is really two hamlets, one linear and trafficked, the other more characterfully clustered. The M25 despoils the western boundary.

St Mary Magdalene is fundamentally fourteenth century, although there's been a church here considerably longer than that. The exterior is flint and ragstone with dressings of Reigate stone, the tower has diagonal buttresses and the south doorway boasts an intricate Norman arch. Getting inside isn't an option at present, indeed all services are currently suspended, sorry. The noticeboard outside confirms that Choral Communion only takes place on the 5th Sunday of the month, i.e. no more than five times a year, which ought to give you some idea of the importance of the place.

St Mary's holds a special place in scientific history thanks to William Derham, rector of Upminster, who in 1709 made what's generally accepted to be the first successful calculation of the speed of sound. He took his 16 inch telescope up the tower of St Laurence in Upminster, observed the flash of a gunshot from the church tower in North Ockendon and timed the interval before the sound arrived using a half-second pendulum. His calculations suggested the speed of sound was 1072 Parisian feet per second, which equates to 348 metres, impressively close to the actual 343.

In one corner of the churchyard is a small gate leading down to St Cedd's Well, a genuine antiquity. Cedd was a 7th century Northumbrian monk sent to convert the East Saxon kingdom, for which read modern Essex. It's said that he baptised pilgrims in the spring here, but it's also said that the water arose in Kent and gushed forth in Essex so best not take this as gospel. The spring now feeds a well that helps fill the moat of North Ockendon's former manor house, so best step down and soak up the beauty of the spot.

Note that Visitors Who Use The Steps Do So At Their Own Risk, indeed the top couple of blocks are definitely on the wonk. Also note that Deep Water refers to the well itself, a four-foot long brick pool which would definitely be drownworthy, not the adjacent but inaccessible moat. Don't worry, the well house is securely covered by a pitched timber roof, this a bland replacement for a previous incarnation which depicted a cowled lady weeping and a bearded man with a white ruff.

In front of the well is a long cobbled channel with a central gutter leading down towards the moat, plus a pump for drawing the water should you be so inclined. At the height of summer it's a verdant spot, a lovingly-maintained mini-garden with a memorial bench where you can rest awhile and soak in the Saxon vibe. I suspect the well-heeled inhabitants of the adjacent barn conversions enjoy coming down here most often, but anyone can drop in, so it's Cedd.

The first field to the south of the village has been overtaken by a hardhat army doing preliminary work for a major road-building project. The Lower Thames Crossing is coming, a tunnel downstream of Tilbury intended to relieve pressure on the Dartford Crossing. It's been confirmed that one end of the new dual carriageway will break off from the M25 in North Ockendon and this field is directly in the line of fire. I spotted two operatives inspecting a shallow preparatory trench, several piles of earth marking previous attempts and a big yellow digger intent on scraping more. It made me go online and check the plans when I got home.

The hedgerow I stood beside while taking photos of the level crossing will be obliterated by the first sweep of the southbound sliproad. The field on the other side of the level crossing will be bisected by the northbound sliproad just before it tunnels underneath the M25 embankment. That line of blue cones scattered amid the growing crops will one day be the site of hundreds of thousands of overtaking manoeuvres and potentially a fatal accident. And footpath 252, the ill-marked undertrodden right of way I'd struggled even to locate, is to be reborn as a thin bridge above a seething chasm of railway line and speeding vehicles. It's North Ockendon's bad luck to have been selected twice for a major road-building project, narrowly skirted and irretrievably scarred.

Previous North Ockendon content
» M25 30th anniversary visit
» Fen Lane - London's easternmost extreme
» Home Farm Cottage - London's easternmost bus stop
» Route 347, London's least frequent bus

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