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King's Hill (HT)

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About King's Hill (HT)

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King’s Hill is the site of the Lawless Court or Whispering Court, the origins of which date back to about 1630. The origins and mystique that surrounds it are doubtless open to interpretation as there are varying accounts.

One version says that the Earl of Warwick was woken one night by a crowing cock and overhead whispering voices below his window, plotting how they would do him mischievous harm. Another version says he returned home late and overhead this plotting. Either way, the result was the same – he called his bailiff and summoned his tenant farmers to a given place and times to declare their allegiance to the Lord of the Manor. This court first started at Rayleigh but the Second Earl of Warwick later moved it to King’s Hill in Rochford, as he had taken up residence at Rochford Hall.

It was initially called the Lawless Court, as the tenant farmers were called to attend at midnight, which was considered to be the unlawful or lawless hour. On the first Wednesday after Michaelmas, they had to parade with flaming torches to the appointed place and, once their names had been called, they had to beat out their burning brands. Their names were called out in a whisper, hence the term Whispering Post emerged. The steward was rumoured to adjourn to the King’s Head to await latecomers, who were fined double their rent for non-appearance.

By the late 1800’s, this had evolved into quite an occasion. All tenant farmers would have a hearty meal and plenty of ale in the King’s Head and when the cock crowed, they would walk by torchlight across the Square, through the alley to Old Ship Lane and assemble round the Whispering Post at King’s Hill. The bailiff would then call out the names of the farms and the tenants would answer in a whisper “Present, Sir”. A charcoal mark would be put on the post and these would be counted up at the end, with anyone missing being brought up before the Lord of the Manor to be fined. The payment would be goods or cattle.

The whispering post in the garden is a replica of the original and dated 1867. The practice ceased in about 1892.

The King’s Hill building itself is from about 14th or 15th century, with some later additions. It was initially used in medieval times as the administration buildings for the market. It is likely to have been thatched originally. It was named on the Chapman and Andre map of 1777, thereby demonstrating its importance as a building of note in the area. For some reason, it was shown as Kings Hall.

The building is therefore interesting in its own right. However, it is privately owned, so we cannot venture in for a closer inspection…unless you’re lucky enough for the owner to spot you and perhaps invite you into the grounds… but please don't go in without an invitation!

Address:17 East Street
Postcode:SS4 1DB
Categories:Historical, Point of Interest, Rochford