Sybilla Hart takes us on a tour around Ongar and discovers its fascinating past and exciting future

History of Ongar

Chipping Ongar, a market town located in the parish of Ongar, sits nestled in picturesque countryside between Epping Forest and North Weald to the West, Ingatestone to the East, Abbess Roding to the North and Kelvedon Hatch to the South. The parish of Ongar also includes Greensted, Greensted Green, Marden Ash and Shelley. The word Ongar means ‘grass land’ and this description is still apt to this day. Despite being only 21 miles from London, there are still large swathes of open farmland surrounding the area.

Great British Life: Chipping OngarChipping Ongar (Image: Visit Essex)

Ongar was an important town in the Medieval period; St Martin’s church dates from the 11th century and is an architectural nod to the Norman era. There was once a castle located at Ongar but sadly nothing remains of it. It was, until quite recently, one of the only sites of a Medieval castle accessible from the London tube until the far end of the Central Line was closed, according to Andrew J Muller and Roy Barton, authors of the Ultimate Book of English Castles. The site is now in private hands (its grounds are owned by a neighbouring house) but it is visible from a public footpath accessed from the road by the library at Chipping Ongar. On this note, the Epping Ongar Railway once formed part of the (above ground) London Underground, but nowadays it holds children’s events amongst others. You may even bump into Marshall or Chase from Paw Patrol on the platform!

Great British Life: Epping Ongar Railway once formed part of the London UndergroundEpping Ongar Railway once formed part of the London Underground (Image: Visit Essex)

Two miles away sits Greensted Church, allegedly the oldest wooden church in the world. Also known as St. Andrew’s Church, the planks here date back to 1066 and some even further, to the sixth or seventh century around the time that St Cedd evangelised the Saxons in Essex. Said to be the most ancient wooden church in the world, it represents around 1,300 years of history and combines Saxon, Norman, Tudor and Victorian architecture.

In Chipping Ongar town itself, there are more than 100 listed buildings, which led the council to list it as a Conservation Area. Dr David Livingstone, the missionary and explorer, lived in Ongar in the mid-19th century and there is a blue plaque visible at Livingstone Cottages, where he lived for just over a year. It is said that Livingstone enjoyed popping into his local pub, the Royal Oak, and enjoying beautiful countryside walks around Chipping Ongar. With the backdrop of a motte and bailey castle as well as Greensted Church peppering the landscape, it is easy to see why. Jane Taylor, who famously penned Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, is buried in Ongar with her parents in the United Reform churchyard. Jane wrote the famous nursery rhyme in Lavenham or Colchester before finally settling in Chipping Ongar.

Where to eat in Ongar

Great British Life: The Cock Pub & KitchenThe Cock Pub & Kitchen (Image: The Cock Pub & Kitchen)

As far as eateries go, there is a wide selection in Ongar. Krazy Kidz Cafe on the High Street caters for children and their parties, as well as offering a soft play area, and it has rave reviews. The Stag pub is really popular and hosts wedding parties and is located just outside Chipping Ongar on the Brentwood Road.

Back in town, The Cheesemonger located on the High Street that stocks more than 140 cheeses and The Cock Pub & Kitchen, also located on the High Street, has excellent reviews. The menu is fine dining and you can expect to find panko tiger prawns with chilli and ginger sauce and cucumber salad on the lunch menu with rare roast sirloin of Great Leigh beef with Yorkshire pudding for Sunday lunch.

Smith’s of Ongar, located on the Fyfield Road, is famous for fish, while High Ongar’s Cucina Italiana would appear to be the best Italian restaurant in the area, serving classics such as melanzane alla parmigiana and formaggio al forno.

Accommodation in Ongar

Great British Life: The idyllic 18th-century Mulberry HouseThe idyllic 18th-century Mulberry House (Image: Mulberry House)

If you want to make a weekend of it, check out Mulberry House, a lovely 18th-century manor house located just outside Ongar and set in 22 acres of grounds. It is easy to see why it’s a wedding venue with its graceful lake and pretty Monet-style bridge.

If you want to be closer to town, there is a lovely cottage to rent just off the High Street called Molly’s cottage, which can be booked via Airbnb. The three-bedroom annexe has rave reviews and is the perfect base for exploring in and around Chipping Ongar.

Property for sale in Ongar

With the Ongar area providing tranquillity, roaming countryside, excellent restaurants, an abundance of history and all so close to the capital, you might just want to move here. These are our top property picks...

Great British Life: Little JerichoLittle Jericho (Image: Period Homes)

In the Blackmore Conservation Area is Little Jericho, a former 16th-century coaching inn where local legend tells that Henry VIII fathered his illegitimate son. The refurbished four-bedroom house boasts a plethora of period features including a priest’s hole. Originally it is thought to have been built as a vicarage for neighbouring Jericho Priory, the birthplace of Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI.

Guide price £1.2 million, marketed by Beresfords and Period Homes.

Great British Life: Black HallBlack Hall (Image: Fine and Country Chelmsford)

In Moreton, Black Hall is another corker of a property. The three-bedroom house dates back to the 15th century and comes with the added benefit of an annexe. Steeped in history, Bridge House served as the meeting place for the Guild of All Saints, a religious guild. Today it comes with a kidney-shaped swimming pool, ample parking and views of farmland to the rear of the property.

Guide price £1.45 million, marketed by Fine and Country Chelmsford.

Great British Life: GlasshouseGlasshouse (Image: Beresfords)

We also love the Glasshouse, a beautiful character cottage for sale within the estate of the Grade II-listed Elmbridge Hall, just outside Fyfield. The freehold property boasts three bedrooms, a dining area with a vaulted and atrium roof, a private landscaped garden and parking.

Guide price £550,000, marketed by Beresfords.