Chipping Ongar

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Chipping Ongar
Chipping Ongar, Essex - - 78211.jpg
Chipping Ongar, High Street
Grid reference: TL555035
Location: 51°42’11"N, 0°14’38"E
Post town: Ongar
Postcode: CM5
Dialling code: 01277
Local Government
Council: Epping Forest
Brentwood and Ongar

Chipping Ongar is a small market town in Essex, five miles east of Epping, six miles southeast of Harlow and six miles northwest of Brentwood, all in Essex.

The name "Ongar" means "grass land".[1] "Chipping" is from Old English ceping, meaning a market place; the same element is found in other towns such as Chipping Norton, Chipping Sodbury and indeed Chipping in Hertfordshire.[2]


Chipping Ongar is located at the convergence of several old roads, being between Chelmsford and Epping on an east-west axis and between Dunmow and Chigwell (beyond which is the conurbation continuous from London) on a north-south axis. To the southeast lies Brentwood, on the old road to the former River Thames ferry crossing at Tilbury, though the building in the 1970s of the M11 and M25 motorways means that Ongar is no longer directly on a principal route for petrol tankers (and other less prominent vehicles) travelling from the current Dartford Crossing and the Thames Estuary oil refineries.

The central part of Ongar High Street comprises a widened main street of the type found in many older English towns whose status as market towns is believed to have originated during the Anglo-Saxon period. The widened high street is used to permit some 'no charge' short term parking that benefits the local shops. The high street does however retain a very narrow stretch, with shops and houses either side very close to the road due to pavement that is barely adequate for two people to pass each other.

Much of the surrounding countryside is occupied by large mechanised farms devoted currently, for the most part, to arable agriculture. During the 20th century the proximity of London encouraged dairy farming, but the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were characterised by the removal of hedges and an increase in average field sizes as cattle numbers diminished. The subsoil is of heavy clay, rendering the land too soggy in winter for sheep, and inviting a greater level of attention to ditching and drain maintenance than has been applied to the district's road network since 1974.

Parish church

The parish church is St Martin’s. It dates from the 11th century and shows signs of Norman work. A small window in the chancel is believed to indicate the existence of an anchorite's cell in mediæval times.[3]

The Gothic Revival architect C C Rolfe added the south aisle in 1884.[4]


Ongar was an important market town in the Middle Ages, at the centre of its hundred and presided over by a Norman castle whose remains yet stand in thr town.

Dr David Livingstone lived in Chipping Ongar, on the High Street, in 1838.

By 1990 the area's baby boom generation had grown beyond secondary education and the town's secondary school (opened in 1936 with elegant neo-Georgian buildings fronting Fyfield Road, expanded greatly when it became a comprehensive in the 1960s) was closed despite vigorous local protest. Its buildings were demolished to make way for a new residential development. Secondary school age children from the area are bussed to school in surrounding towns, notably Brentwood and Shenfield. A sports centre and swimming pool, built in the 1970s to serve the comprehensive school, continue to serve the locality. Chipping Ongar Primary School, originally located on the High Street behind Budworth Hall on the site of today's Sainsbury's, was re-located in the mid-1980s to the Greensted Road at the southern edge of the town, while Shelley Primary School remains at the northern end of town.

St Andrew's Parish Church in Greensted is two miles west of Ongar. It is believed to be the oldest wooden church in the world.[5] Several of the small private-sector businesses that operated through to the closing decades of the 20th century have closed down or relocated as the economic focus of the region has been redirected, especially since the opening of the M11 motorway in the 1970s, to larger towns in west Essex, especially Harlow and Brentwood. Local planning policies have focused increasingly on residential development, and Ongar, like very many of the smaller towns in the belt round London, can be viewed primarily as a dormitory town for commuters to London, Brentwood, Harlow and Chelmsford. However, the single track rail line that connected Ongar to Epping (and thereby to London) was closed down in 1994 (see below) and local area road development has not been a priority in recent decades. Ongar also retains a range of retail shops.

RAF Station Chipping Ongar (also known as Willingale, and not to be confused with RAF Chipping Ongar) is a former Second World War airfield approximately 2 miles northeast of Chipping Ongar. Opened in 1943, it was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force. During the war it was used primarily as a bomber airfield. After the war it was closed in 1959 after many years of being a reserve airfield.

Ongar Castle

The motte of Ongar Castle

Ongar Castle is a good example of a late 11th or early 12th century Motte and Bailey, although only the earthworks survive. The motte or mound is about 70 yards in diameter at the base and is surrounded by a wet ditch up to 15 yards wide. A kidney-shaped inner bailey is to the west of the motte and there is a second bailey to the east. The remains of a town enclosure embankment extend to the west.[6]

The castle may have been built by Eustace II, Count of Boulogne who obtained the manor of Ongar in 1086. It was visited by King Henry II in 1157, when it was held by Richard de Lucy.[7] A stone keep was built on top of the motte, but this was pulled down in the 16th century and replaced by a brick building, itself destroyed in the 18th century. The motte itself is now covered with trees and is in private ownership, but can be seen from a public footpath that starts at the north end of the High Street.


Until 1994, the London Underground Central Line came as far as Ongar, but in that year the line between Epping and Ongar closed and there is no longer a daily commuter train service in the town. The Epping Ongar Railway operates the former Central Line track, from North Weald Station on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays every hour to Ongar Station. It first operated (Sundays and Holidays only) between 2004 and 2007, and then after refurbishment again with the additional Saturday trains from May 2012.

The nearest London Underground service to the town today is Epping which is the northeastern terminus of the Central Line. The closest National Rail service is from Brentwood.


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