A brief history of Foxearth and Liston

What a privilege it is introduce this website. Foxearth and Liston are dear to me as parishes of visual delight, typical of the villages along the Essex- Suffolk border. Intriguing contrasts with each other abound.

Liston (or Lyston) is one of the smallest parishes in Essex, consisting of just 643 acres, and is bordered by Foxearth on three sides. On its fourth side however Liston’s parish boundary follows the River Stour, beside the meadows, that further downstream Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable were to know so well. Happily the river bank is still resplendent with summer time Damsel Flies and the continuing sound of Nightingales.

Foxearth with 1683 acres, (roughly 2 ½ square miles), also runs along the River Stour for two lengths of its boundary. Here—as at Liston— the river is approximately thirty meters above sea level, (and in earlier times drove water mills in both parishes.) From the river however, a variety of gentle inclines and steep banked lanes lead to points in Foxearth—that are nearly thirty five meters higher—with sweeping, stretching views of exquisitely undulating countryside.

The parish churches provide obvious contrasts. At Liston a warm and mellow red brick tower dates from Tudor times; by comparison Foxearth’s tower of striking black flint was knapped and erected during Queen Victoria’s reign. Inside the latter are wall paintings dating to the same century; inside Liston Church is a memorial to the Indian mutiny of 1857. Yet both exude tranquillity. Foxearth Church being endearingly screened by yews and tall lime trees, Liston Church standing more prominently beside the road junction.

Both parishes have names bequeathed in Saxon times. Foxearth’s deriving from East Saxon immigrants who gave directions by the ‘fox’s earth’ they saw; Liston, being the homestead, (or enclosure) of a Saxon named Lissa. Several hundred years later on June 12th 1381, Liston’s manor house was ransacked by the rioting mob during the Peasant’s Revolt. Today, Foxearth and District History Society have a website which is weekly visited by hundreds from around the globe.

In both parishes there were late nineteenth and twentieth century industries. Foxearth being the home of Ward’s Brewery and Mineral Water plant; Liston, (from 1899), the location of Bush Boake Allen’s perfume and flavouring factory. Close by stretched the fields and meadows that have been the farming backbone of these parishes for millennia past.

Adjoining them are the aesthetically pleasing vernacular dwellings. A walk along Foxearth Street provides a rich diversity of building materials. One sees walls of flint, diapered Victorian brickwork, and lath and plaster cottages. There are roofs of thatch, slate and local tile, together with the decorative mouldings beside the brick archway to the former brewery.

Venturing away from the heart of the village are a network of footpaths and byways where Cowslips, Comfrey and Meadow Sweet line the verges in due season, and that offer epic, panoramic views of rolling fields and valleys; of spinneys and isolated cottages, and of distant hedges, with ageing pollard Oaks silhouetted upon the skyline. Then, a moment later, one can turn into a deep and narrow lane where the branches form leafy arches above one’s head—like a veritable time-tunnel—and where every corner brings a new surprise.

Of these two lovely parishes one may say this; only Foxearth’s name is self evident. The rest is to savour, cherish and enjoy.

Ashley Cooper, 2011

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The Brewery was known locally as ‘Wards’. In 1878 it traded as ‘Charlotte Ward & Son’; in 1898 as ‘Ward & Sons’, and from 1960 as ‘Wards (Foxearth) Ltd’. (From Foxearth Brew by Richard Morris)