Great Bentley village sign
|Harwich and North Essex|
Great Bentley is a scattered village in northern Essex, seven miles east of Colchester. It is a sizable village, a place of 2,381 souls, and with its road, rail and bus links it attracts commuters. It has one fine boast: the largest village green in Britain, at 43 acres.
The village is at the heart of a parish of 3,188 acres of rich farmland, extending southward to the Flag Creek, a tidal creek which connects with the Colne, near Brightlingsea. The village has two pubs; The Plough Inn beside the village green and The Royal Fusilier in Aingers Green.
The village green
Great Bentley is scattered round an extensive common of 43 acres, lying on the eastern side of the vale of a rivulet, seven miles east of Colchester.
Contenders for the title of largest village green include West Auckland and Old Buckenham. Frampton on Severn has also claimed the title but at 22 acres, its own green is but half the size of Great Bentley's. Portholme in Huntingdonshire, at 257 acres, beats all comers as the largest meadow in Britain.
Great Bentley village green was the site of a steam mill which was built in 1886. The mill chimney was demolished in 1925, and what remains of the structure today has been converted into apartments.
Adjacent to the mill was a large pond which no longer exists, and a handful of willow trees mark the spot. To the north of the mill is a children's play area and a small nature reserve containing various species of grasses that can only be found in the local area. To the east of this is the old mill house where a windmill once stood within the walled gardens of the house, but this was also demolished in the late 19th century. The green has long been used for various recreational and sporting events. In Edwardian times, it was used as a golf course, and today the local cricket and football teams can often be seen playing matches.
During the last weekend of August, the green has provided the venue for Great Bentley Village Carnival and Fete every year since 1974.
In recent years, the Green has also become popular with motorcyclists from around the country. During the summer months, the Green becomes the site of a mini motorcycle rally on Wednesday evenings. This can be quite an impressive spectacle as on some occasions there have been over 1,000 motorcycles there.
The church of St Mary the Virgin dates back to the 11th century, and was built by the Normans. The tower was added some 200 years later, and has in latter years undergone a £100,000 restoration project.
The church itself is constructed from stone and flint. It still has its original door, no longer in use; it claims this as the oldest surviving church door in the country, a claim which may be disputed by the Anglo-Saxon doors in Hadstock, also in Essex, and at Sherborne in Dorset.
The village is mentioned as far back as the Domesday Book and at that time it was situated amongst large wooded areas. The clearing of these woods began in 1135. In its early days the village was named Benetlea, then Much Bentley and later still Great Bentley. The first part of the name, 'Bent', is thought to refer to a type of grass, and the later part, 'lea', is a meadown, which suggests a direct reference to the green.
Great Bentley once have a port at Flag Creek which was used to import and export goods. Queen Elizabeth I once visited Lord Darcy’s residence, St Osyth Priory. It is believed she may have arrived at Harwich accompanied by her courtiers and rode by way of Horsley Cross at Little Bentley then on to Great Bentley Green before finishing her journey to St Osyth.
Great Bentley owes much of its growth to the coming of the railway in 1866, with the railway station being named Bentley Green before being changed to its present title of Great Bentley in 1877.
Two new housing estates were built in the 1960s on either side of the Village Green. This was followed by a trading estate being developed close to the railway station, now known as the Plough Road Business Centre. At that time the village boasted five public houses, Post Office, a Garage, several small retail shops and businesses, a school and a doctor's surgery. All of these amenities remain to this day, except for three of the public houses which have since closed down.
Also in the 1960s Great Bentley Parish Council, on behalf of the village, purchased the manorial rights of the 42.5 acres of common land. Much of the purchase price was raised through voluntary donations from the residents and fund raising events. The land was then registered as village green to protect the green for the future from encroachment and erosion. The Village Green and nearby properties are a Conservation Area. The Parish Council, through the Common Land and Village Green Acts, ensures the protection of the Village Green.
Great Bentley Football Club
Great Bentley Football Club was founded between 1895 and 1896, and its original headquarters were the Victory Inn public house (now a hair salon) in Great Bentley. The club now has its own clubhouse and dressing rooms built on the site of an old Second World War Nissen hut in 1959. In 2009, new dressing room and bar facilities were completed to replace this, costing £220,000. The new facilities were officially opened by Lord John Bassam of Brighton who used to play for the club. The club has three senior teams; two of these play in the Essex and Suffolk Border Football League, and the other in the Colchester and East Essex Football League. On 8 August 2009, a friendly was played against Colchester United on the Village Green as part of the grand opening of the new dressing rooms and bar.
Until the 1980s Great Bentley had five public houses. These were the Red Lion (now used as offices), the Victory Inn (now a hair salon), Dusty's Wine Bar (now the pharmacy), The Plough Inn and The Royal Fusilier at Aingers Green. Only the The Plough Inn and The Royal Fusilier are still in business today.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
about Great Bentley)
- Great Bentley Parish Council
- Great Bentley entry in Post Office Directory of Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex, London: Kelly, 1855
- Essex & South Suffolk Community Rail Partnership