Horndon-on-the-Hill is in the southernmost part of Essex, just a few miles north of the Thames. Its name derives from its position on a hill that, in flat Essex, would have provided a commanding view over the surrounding region, including the land along the north bank of that river. The full name emerged, certainly by the fifteenth century and possibly in the thirteenth, perhaps to distinguish it from East and West Horndon, though it was most commonly referred to as simply Horndon. Its church, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, stands at the highest point on the hill; this was likely the church identified in one of the Domesday entries for Horndon, though its oldest surviving fabric is thirteenth century. Horndon lay on a north-south through-road between the Essex interior and the Thames crossing at East Tilbury the stretch surmounting Horndon's hill now known as High Road at a point where it was joined by a road from Orsett (to the south-west) that in turn connected to Tilbury and to a more important east-west route. This location was somewhat distant from any large urban centres, other than London to its east to which Horndon had no direct road connection. Nor were there many rival markets in that part of Essex: Brentwood and Billericay were some six miles to the north, while Rainham (licensed 1270) and Romford interposed themselves between Horndon and the city, but the closest competition may have been the market provisionally licensed in 1221 at Grays Thurrock, four miles south-west of Horndon and closer to Tilbury.
No castle or monastery was established at Horndon to act as catalyst of economic development. Yet Horndon, first mentioned in 1042, evidently had some importance shortly before the Conquest, for it is suspected of having been the location of one of the very few mints known to have operated in Saxon Essex; however, this suspicion rests on the find of only a single coin, of the Confessor's reign, casting doubt on the trustworthiness of this evidence. Saxon kings had a policy of decentralizing minting, partly for reasons of security, so it is credible that Horndon could have been a mint site, though the single penny suggests its mint may not have been in operation for long. Mints tended to be established in protected locations, and there are topographic features, immediately east of the High Road, that could be interpreted as a possible defensive enclosure, perhaps even a burh, though this remains speculative. Mints were also normally in urban centres, though not universally so. If Late Saxon Horndon had urban status, it too must have been brief; yet Coller [The People's History of Essex, Chelmsford, 1861, p.512] could report a tradition that Horndon had anciently been of such importance, though he knew of no evidence in support of this.
Archaeology has as yet presented little evidence of a significant Saxon community at Horndon; late Saxon pottery finds, for example, are unimpressive. Domesday does not treat Horndon-on-the-Hill, or Horningdon as then known, as a borough, or even as a single territorial entity; rather, it is seen through accounts of several manorial estates on or around the site, some held by major figures: Count Eustace of Boulogne, Suein of Essex, and the Bishop of London. Perhaps more significantly, the king also seems to have been a land-holder at Horndon. These names may exemplify the inclination of the nobility to hold, within their economic portfolios, investment in rents in urban or proto-urban centres. Similarly, the number of smallholders at Horndon 39 in 1066 and 47 by 1086 could suggest either a large village or a settlement that was proto-urban, while the reference to two mansiones held of the king are very probably houses [J. Horace Round, Victoria County History of Essex, vol.1 (1903), pp. 416, 566], and might be interpreted as landless messuages, a very few examples of which are later found among the Feet of Fines.
The presence of a mint also favours the likelihood of the existence of a market (which helped distribute coinage) in Late Saxon Horndon; this would explain the absence of a market licence. We first hear of the market in a royal record of 1281 confirming an agreement reached in 1280 between the king and the Giffards (father William and son Robert) concerning the hundred of Barstable, or Berdstaple, of which Horndon was a part; the junior Giffard surrendered the ballivalty of the hundred in return for royal confirmation of the manor of Bowers, quit of fee farm, and other privileges related to the hundred, including profits from Horndon's market. It had been in 1277 that Robert had obtained a licence for a four-day fair at his manor at Horndon, to be held around the festival of SS. Peter and Paul (29 June), then in 1280 just a few weeks after his agreement with the king he licensed a second, longer fair in mid-September; it would seem that Horndon's commercial potential was being developed, or mined. The agreement of 1280 had Robert surrendering his jurisdictional rights in Barstable Hundred to Edward I and his queen, with certain specified exclusions. One was that the Giffards' own property Bures (see below) and Wydefeld, probably their Horndon holding be exempted from suit at the hundred court. The exception of more interest here was the June fair, a share of the Horndon market, and Robert's tenants at Horndon. It seems that Robert negotiated to retain revenues from a commercial settlement that he had fostered within Horndon, building on an existing market. The Barstable bailiwick was in fact, according to the agreement, not owned by Robert Giffard but held from the king under a fee-farm arrangement with Robert's parents, William Giffard and wife Gundreda who were present to consent to the verbal agreement of 1280 but that they had transferred their rights to their son. This farming arrangement stretched back to maternal ancestors of Gundreda living in the time of Henry I and in a final concord of 1243 was described as an appurtenance of the manor of Bowers Giffard. Henry I had given Barstable to Barking Abbey, which seems also to have held the advowson of Horndon's church but no significant lands at Horndon or closer than at Mucking and Bulphan; however it held a Withfield near Barking (situated a dozen miles west of Horndon), which may suggest an alternate rendering for the Giffards' Wydefeld. On the other hand, the fair was solely owned by Robert Giffard, the licence having been a 'perpetual' one (i.e. granted to him and his heirs).
The market was a more complicated matter, because of the several Horndon manors that had interests therein; though whether this was so originally, or only later became so, perhaps following an early division of ownership between the king and the Giffards or their predecessors, is yet unclear. The inquisition post mortem on one-time royal justice John de Lovetot in 1294 shows him as owner of a quarter-share of the marketplace, along with several hundred acres of land in Horndon, held of Thomas de Ardern. The post mortem on John Malegreve (1321) reveals him as owner of the same or another share specified as a quarter of the revenues from market tolls, stallage, and portmoot perquisites and tenant of an enlarged Ardern Hall estate, described as part of the Honour of Boulogne. In 1337 an inquisition held at Horndon found that Matilda de Haudlo of Wydefeld, who was niece of an Earl of Arundel, held a moiety of Horndon's market and fair from Queen Philippa, for the latter's lifetime, as of the Honour of Rayleigh; this points to the Domesday holding of Suein and probably the Giffard holding of Wydefeld. Lovetot's share may have come to him as a royal reward to a faithful servant in 1313 his widow was apparently suing for dower rights in the manor against then-tenant William Touchet, also a royal servant, and not an Essex man. But the Malgrave family are evidenced at Horndon by the early thirteenth century, with a John Malegreve as lord of one of the Horndon manors later named after the family by 1254, and Hugh Malegreffe inheriting in 1233 the core of the estate from his mother, who held of the king of the Honour of Boulogne; a sixteenth-century house named for the family, perhaps successor to their manor-house, stood about a mile north of the church. It appears that the Malegreves came to own two of the Horndon manors and market shares, for John Malegreve's son Thomas died (1343) possessed of a moiety (normally meaning half) of the market, as did a Richard Malgrave at his death in 1445. It is on the latter occasion that we learn the market was held on Saturdays and was valued at 26s. 8d, with the fair assessed at half that amount. Yet by 1338 the manor of Ardern (or Arden) Hall, along with its quarter-share of market and fair, was held by Thomas Fabel (d.1350) of Hatfield Peverel, perhaps by right of his wife Mary, he not long before his death leasing it to London clothier Giles de Westmelne; it descended to Thomas' son, but in the 1360s Robert de Marney acquired the Fabel estates by methods of dubious legality and passed them on to his son William (d. 1414).
By the mid-fifteenth century a unified jurisdiction had been restored over the local manors then known as Ardern Hall (which lay a half-mile northeast of the village), Horndon House, and Brismers. Horndon House is first heard of in 1414, in the hands of a group headed by Joan, widow of the last Bohun Earl of Essex, and including the recently deceased William de Marney; William had been in the service of the countess, to whom his wife was kin, and she had assisted him in his property dealings, as co-feoffee of Ardern Hall and probably Horndon House. William bequeathed his Horndon property to his younger son John. In the next century the court records of this jurisdiction added the proceedings of the Horndon Market court the market being treated as a manor in its own right; the amalgamated court roll points to the various shares of the market having been united under a single lordship, though whether this was under the Marneys or the Shaas (see below) is not clear.
Horndon-on-the-Hill may thus represent another of the Essex examples of market settlements established on property of multiple manorial lords, an arrangement that might date back to the time of the posited burh; Horndon's church and a fishery were similarly shared between local land-holders, though where the fishery was located is an unanswered question. The reference to the market court as a portmoot adds further fuel to the arguments in favour of Horndon having been an urban or proto-urban market centre, or perhaps a hundredal market.
The Giffard family established itself in England through the person of the lord of Longueville, one of the companions of the Conqueror, and it produced luminaries that included earls of Buckingham, bishops, and chancellors of Henry I and Henry III. If William and Robert were part of that family, it was a cadet branch, whose base seems to have been the manor of Bures: not the Bures on the Suffolk/Essex border (whose market was licensed 1271 by Robert Aguillon), but what is now known as Bowers Gifford, some seven miles north-east of Horndon-on-the-Hill. Nor was William Giffard the man of that name who acquired, ca. 1291, the manor of Barrow (Suff.) from his widowed mother-in-law, along with the market and fair she had licensed there in 1267. He may, however, have been the William Giffard who was sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk 1270-72. Our William was tenant of Bures/Bowers by 1243, having come into possession through his marriage. He may have acquired the ballivalty of Barstable Hundred at the same time, although by 1245 he was already in such serious arrears of the 20 marks annual farm that special payment arrangements had to be put in place; when, in the following year, the king granted William temporary custody of forfeited lands in Barstable and of Hadleigh castle (just east of Bowers Gifford), built by the powerful Hubert de Burgh who also (1231) licensed the existing market at the nearby village of Hadleigh, it may have been not simply to enhance his holdings in that part of Essex, but also to provide William with improved means to repay his debt the decaying castle being of less value to William than the rents and other property associated with it. The agreement of 1280 made it clear that Bures held of the Bigod Earls of Norfolk by an almost nominal service, being the inheritance of Gundreda as daughter and heiress of William Bigod, younger son of Earl Roger II was exempt from the surrender of Barstable Hundred, even though it lay within that hundred; this manorial independence was apparently what Robert gained from the surrender of Barstable. The need for a settlement might possibly have stemmed from the hundredal investigations of a few years earlier, in which jurors accused William Giffard of using free warren and having built a gallows at Bures without any apparent right for such innovations. But even earlier, in 1267, we hear that Barstable had been taken into the king's hand while William was in prison, awaiting trial (probably for adherence to the Montfortian party), and that he was having a hard time recovering it from the sheriff. Having, through the settlement with the king, protected the family hold on Bowers Gifford, Robert Giffard acquired in 1292 a licence for Friday market and a July fair there (associated with the dedication of the local church); he did not come into his full inheritance until the death of his mother (ca.1300), when we learn that he held of the king, as of the Honour of Rayleigh. However, when Robert died in 1323, he left only one son, John (d. ca.1348), who proved the last of the male line of that branch of the family; in 1329, when securing his hold on the manor of Bowers Gifford, John's designation of heirs, in the event of failure of his progeny, named two men whose family names do not thereafter appear connected with Horndon.
Some continued importance, through the later Middle Ages, of Horndon within Barstable Hundred is seen in that it was the location for the judicial hearings at the opening of Edward I's reign, investigating administration in Barstable; the testimony of the jurors suggests that Horndon was also the location of a gaol. Whether Horndon had become the regular site of the hundred moot is unknown, however. Horndon was perhaps of interest to Robert Giffard mainly as a commercial centre close enough to service the family's home base, both in helping provision it and in distributing surplus manorial produce, especially wool. Domesday records a sizable number of sheep being raised at Horndon, and sheep-farming was a major economic activity on the marshy areas of Essex beside the Thames, other rivers, and the coast, albeit initially more for milk and cheese than for wool; William and Gundreda Giffard, for instance, owed Southwark Priory a rent of one wey of cheese annually for a sheep marsh they held in Bowers Gifford, though by 1286 the prior had to sue them for 33 weys in arrears of rent. Even Hadleigh Castle which overlooked the Thames estuary had, according to a survey in 1250, enough marshland to pasture 160 sheep. The proximity of its market to the Tilbury ferry across to Gravesend encouraged the use of Horndon as a gathering point for Essex wool destined for shipment abroad from Gravesend's own wharves or from ports of the south-east coast. Some competition may have been felt from the market licensed at the manor of West Tilbury in 1257, though the residents of Gravesend a growing community with a large number of fishermen, watermen, and innkeepers did not obtain a licence for theirs until 1366.
The collection of wool at Horndon is likely to have stimulated some local cloth manufacture. Although such is not directly evidenced until the end of the Middle Ages, deeds of the mid- to late thirteenth century show the presence of several individuals with the surname le Chaloner indicative of a dealer in that type of cloth, and thus someone on the more prosperous side of the industry; one of these, Reginald le Chaloner, expanded the property he held on the through-road by acquiring an adjacent plot that the grantor had previously let to Goscelin the weaver, and this deed [ERO D/DHt T313/2] was witnessed by a Nicholas Tinctor (dyer). In 1318 we encounter a Simon le Taillur of Horndon and in 1435 one "John Gomery called Taylor" [ERO D/DSq/T1/8] by the latter date surnames are no longer trustworthy indicators of occupation, though more so in the case of aliases. Otherwise, the surviving Horndon deeds, final concords, and other royal records throw little light on other occupational activities at Horndon-on-the-Hill, although fourteenth-century property-holders John Shepegrom and John Sherman might be thought additional indication of the importance of sheep-farming, if the numerous conveyances of marshland were not themselves sufficient evidence. Nor, except for the case of a butcher (1442), are there any Horndon men among the recipients of those royal pardons issued to defaulting debtors that can sometimes be indicative of larger-scale commercial transactions. Furthermore, although the cloth industry had some presence at Horndon, there is nothing that leads us to believe it was of any great importance; certainly Horndon does not seem to have attracted any settlers from among the cloth-workers who fled Flanders in the Late Middle Ages.
The market at Grays Thurrock another location for which Domesday evidences heavy sheep-farming may have presented a more serious competitive threat, particularly since the manor was situated on a creek of the Thames, where smaller vessels at least could take on cargoes, and from where, by 1308, manorial contractors were operating their own ferry to Gravesend. The manorial lord, Richard de Gray, whose ancestors had tenure since 1195, renewed his licence in 1239 or, more strictly, converted the provisional licence (1221) to a perpetual one and obtained at the same time grant of a fair at the festival of SS. Peter and Paul, the dedication of Thurrock's church. That Robert Giffard later instituted his Horndon fair around the same date might be postulated as a response to its competitor, while Grays market took place on Fridays, the day before Horndon's, though neither potential conflict provoked any known complaint. On the other hand, that festival corresponded to the dedication of Horndon's churchand was good timing in regard to the sheep-shearing season; it had also been chosen for other Essex fairs, at Newport and Stebbing (neither with any known religious institution dedicated to St. Peter or St. Paul). Living around a High Street linking the market square at the head of the creek with the road to Orsett, the small community of Grays Thurrock may have been, according to the VCH Essex [vol.8, p.35], acquiring an urban character in the early fourteenth century. But by 1338 John de Grey had mortgaged the manor to the Bishop of London; thereafter it grew little and proceeded no further down the urbanization path, though its market continued to function into the post-medieval period.
Horndon-on-the-Hill was likely always a ribbon development along the High Road, most built-up along the stretch where the church stood, set back a little west of the road. Two routes ran westwards off this through-road: just north of the churchyard was the road to Orsett, while just south of it was Mill Lane, which gave access into the churchyard before proceeding to a windmill. The site between churchyard and through-road is the likeliest candidate for the marketplace. Part of this area is still known as The Square, though the original marketplace may in fact have been of more irregular shape, and perhaps consumed part of the churchyard; such a location, just outside the posited burh, would be consistent with the spatial relationship of some other burh-market combinations. Furthermore, the stretch of the High Road around its junction with Mill Lane is wider than stretches further north and south, and both it and that end of Mill Lane were even wider in the medieval period, before later infilling, which may have begun with the erection of a market-hall. This layout of through-road, marketplace, and church is like those at Maldon, Witham, and Newport, where burhs are also evidenced. The property plots along the east side of the High Road still retain much of their medieval form, but are not highly suggestive of burgages. On the west side of the road, later redevelopment has obscured historical property boundaries, but archaeological excavation uncovered a series of ditches running westwards from the High Road frontage, north of Mill Lane, and these might indicate a layout of marketside properties, with pottery finds suggesting a twelfth or thirteenth century date; again these necessarily short properties were not characteristic of burgages, but could well have combined cottages with shops or workshops. Their ditches were gradually filled up with domestic rubbish, some of which points to grain-milling and metal-working having taken place around the market area, while a barrel-lined fulling pit shows cloth manufacture to have occurred at some point; a William le Fullere is mentioned as a Horndon land-owner in 1333. A similar series of ditches of comparable date has been identified along the Mill Lane frontage.
Considering the changes in family ownership of the several manors in Horndon-on-the-Hill, none of which seem attributable to heredity the transfer from Marney to Shaa, for example, was likely a sale necessitated by a large fine imposed on the Lancastrian John Marney (d. 1471) following the failure of the Readeption it is surprising that none of the new owners felt obliged or inclined to renew the Giffard fair licences; we may suspect that one of the fairs had been allowed to lapse. Elsewhere fair licence renewals seem to have been largely confined to alterations in duration or timing. Horndon's market and fair were still operating in 1504, when the recently deceased Sir John Shaa (Shaw) was said to have held them directly of the king; the wealthy Shaa, a former mayor of London (1501/02) though born into an Essex family, is thought to have inherited his Horndon property in 1491 from his cousin Hugh, childless son of Edmund Shaa, another former mayor, though it had earlier been held by Henry Barnes, also of an aldermannic London family. The medieval Ardern Hall which still survives (an outhouse to a later hall) was a hall-house of the fifteenth-century London-type and became the manorial base for John Shaa and his son Edmund; it may perhaps have been Edmund who reunited the manors of Ardern Hall and Horndon House (Brismers being an appendage of the latter). John, although a goldsmith and royal minter, is known to have traded in wool and cloth, and suspected of playing a role in construction at Horndon of the Woolmarket, a hall which also served particularly as the wool trade declined for commerce in other goods and, from 1525 to 1685, for sessions of the manorial court.
It is hard to gauge how important Horndon may have been as a market centre, as our information is too fragmentary and discontinuous; though it was perhaps over-reliant on the wool trade, cheese is known to have continued to be a local product. A deed of 1274 [ERO D/DSq/T1/1] has an intriguing reference to a Helena Schopestere, a surname that might mean shepherdess but, since Helena held a messuage in Horndon, seems more likely to point to a shopkeeper or huckster. In 1502 Horndon is recorded as having at least 60 shops (some perhaps workshops) and 70 stalls, when Henry Barnes and his wife released any rights they had therein, and in the Saturday market and fair, to John Shaa et al. The aforementioned market-hall, similar in appearance to that at Thaxted, would be built at some later point in that century, conceivably to house stalls of wool traders on the open ground floor (though by the end of the century it was being used for general trading) and to host the manorial court, which in 1525 was transferred from Ardern Hall to the marketplace, on the more private upper floor. However, remains of a structure of ca.1400, strategically placed between the High Road and the marketplace, are suggestive of a public building, perhaps a market-hall or gildhall; jettied on both its High Road and Mill Lane sides, its ground floor was partitioned to accommodate three shops and the upper floor (probably accessed by an exterior staircase) was one unpartitioned space, as if for group meetings. But well before then Aveley had become established as a market settlement (licensed 1248, renewed 1286) closer to the Thames and with access to a ferry used to carry commercial goods to the south bank. Orsett too had received a market licence in 1355. These additions to the markets of the vicinity must have detracted at least a modicum from Horndon's business. Horndon-on-the-Hill expanded little in the post-medieval period, settlement remaining focused around the High Road and the street layout changing little, beyond encroachment on the marketplace.