Ramsden Bellhouse and Ramsden Heath are now two separate villages, but until the first part of the 20th Century they were one village, which stretched from Stock in the north to Nevendon in the south. The village was centred around the crossroads, where today the war memorial stands in Ramsden Heath. But confusingly it was known as Ramsden Bellhouse. Here were the Blacksmith's and the Wheelwright's shops, while not far off were the Mill, the Parish Workhouse, the Bakehouse and later the school and the shops. The name Ramsden Heath applied only to an area of heathland to the north of the village. About 1910 Homesteads Ltd bought Ramsden Bellhouse Farm and built an estate centred around St. Mary's Church about a mile from the old village. This became known as Ramsden Bellhouse, and gradually the old village became Ramsden Heath.
There are no great national events in the history of this Essex village. Pre-history, the present Ramsden Bellhouse was probably underwater, being part of the course of the River Thames, before one of the ice ages re-routed it to its present course. This accounts for its heavy London clay in the lower areas, while the Heath has a lighter, more sandy soil. The evidence of a Roman Ramsden is small, but certainly they would have known and come through the area as Roman remains have been found in nearby Wickford, Billericay and Downham. An empty Roman coffin was found in the Southern part of Ramsden, in Stoney Hills field on Woolshots Farm.
The name, Ramsden Bellhouse, is probably derived from Ravensdene meaning `Little Wooded Valley of the Ravens'. Early records tell us that it belonged to Godwin and three Freeman before 1066, but in 1086 the Domesday Book says it was in the Hundred of Barstable, and belonged to the Bishop of London and Robert Gernon. Bellhouse was added in about 1200 when the lands were given to Richard de Belhus. It is unlikely that he ever lived here, for the family owned lands in Averley and Stanway, the latter being where the main manor house was situated.
The grandson of Richard de Belhus, another Richard, gave part of his Ramsden Estate to Alice, his daughter, on her marriage to Nicholas Barrington. There were then two manors, Ramsden Belhus and Ramsden Barrington. We cannot be absolutely sure where either of the manor houses were situated. It is generally believed that the Belhus Manor was next to St. Mary's Church on the site of the present `Hall; but as the `Hall' is Elizabethan it cannot be the original. The Barringtons certainly owned a large house at the junction of modern Park Road, and the much older Park Lane. This may well have been the Manor House at one time. Sadly it disappeared about 1918. However there is considerable evidence pointing to a large stone mansion with a moat at Ramsden Heath where Short Lane joins Church Road. This area was known as Cock's or Cox Green. Mordant, in `The History of the County of Essex' 1768, states that a chapel stood at Nymph's Green, adjoining the Mansion Place of the Marquis of Northampton (Ramsden Barrington). Nymphs or Nymphs Green was an area situated where Short Lane joins Park Lane. The large stones embedded in the road in the South end of Park Lane are reputed to have come from this site where there was, until quite recently, a moat.
During the 13th Century, one of the earliest Essex Markets was held on Thursdays on the Barrington Estate, which was roughly on the Western side of the village, with the Belhus estate presumably on the Eastern side. The exact site of the market is unknown. In 1381 England was subjected to a poll tax of one shilling per head. This was three times as large as the previous tax, and gave rise to the Peasants' Revolt. Rebels marched from nearby Norsey Woods, which was a local rallying point. We do not know if anyone from Ramsden actually marched, but it was quite likely that they did. We do know however, that four men from Ramsden Bellhouse and Downham went to the Barrington Estate and destroyed the Manorial Rolls, thus destroying the records used to collect the hated tax. The next few centuries are uneventful in historical terms, but many facts are locally interesting. Parts of St. Mary's Church date back to the 14th and 15th Centuries. The Church Records now in the Essex Record Office date from 1562. The Rectory was probably sited near Pump Hill but was demolished in 1734. Thomas Cox, the Rector of Stock, was presented with the living of Ramsden Bellhouse, and from then until 1967 the two parishes shared their Rector. The Congregational Church at Ramsden Heath and the Peculiars Chapel (now gone) were built in the 19th Century.
St. John's Ramsden Heath, sometimes called the Tin, or Iron Church, dates from 1901 and Ramsden Bellhouse Baptist Church was built in 1927.
The Parish Workhouse, which was near Mill Lane, was sold about 1837 while the Post Mill, from which Mill Lane takes its name, came to a dramatic end. On 22nd November 1873, at about mid-day, while working, the mill blew down with Mr Richard Hamilton, the Miller still inside. Fortunately he escaped with only bruises, being between two beams, but it was the end of the end of the mill. A year previously in 1872, the church school was opened almost opposite the mill, and educated the local children for some fifty to sixty years. It was later converted into two houses, called somewhat wittily `Eton' and `Harrow; but has now made way for modern development. There were earlier attempts to `educate the poor'. In 1808 there were two dame schools, one of ten pupils and one of twenty pupils. Later that century a Sunday School had twelve boys and fourteen girls, who were taught by the Curate, Reverend Bailey on an annual expenditure of £6 which he paid for out of his own pocket. In 1926 Ramsden Crays Council School was built, and catered for the Bellhouse and Crays children, while the Ramsden Heath children went to Downham School.
In 1897 Squire Bacon of Ramsden Crays donated the Reading Rooms built next to the village school. This was later moved to Mill Lane behind St John's church. In 1931 this became the YMCA Red Triangle Club, and is now the Village Hall. In the Bellhouse in 1936, Homesteads Ltd gave a plot of land on which was built the Ramsden Bellhouse Village Hall - the money being raised by the villagers. The Railway divides the village now into `up the Heath' to the North and `down the Bellhouse' to the South. The first passenger Great Eastern train went through on January 1st 1889. A station was promised, but never happened. It is interesting to note that in the census of 1841, Ramsden Bellhouse with 462 residents, had more people than Wickford with 445 residents. I can only think that the coming of the railway station to Wickford turned it into today's little town. I think we are glad the station wasn't built in Ramsden, for in spite of extensive building in both villages, we proudly believe that we still live in the country.
Isabel C Johnson