THE burning of a Protestant martyr, hauntings in the Old House, sheep stealing and Peculiar People – Rochford has a wealth of history. Now that history is set to get a re-boot thanks to a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Grant.

The Rochford Town Team has been awarded the funds to develop a Heritage Trail to promote and celebrate the town’s history. The project will include a mobile app, trail brochure, guided tours and a website dedicated to helping people enrich themselves with Rochford’s colourful past.

Geoff Durham, chair of Rochford Town Team, said: “It’s great news that we have been awarded this grant and we can’t wait to get started. There are so many interesting aspects to Rochford and we are all really excited about developing different ways in which people can discover and share our heritage and history.”

Rochford is a medieval market town recorded in the Domesday Book. Fortunately it has retained many of its original features and listed buildings, including Medieval and Georgian architecture. But there’s a lot more to the town than perhaps first meets the eye.

The walking trail begins in the town’s Market Square, where markets have been held since 1247 when Henry III was on the throne. Cattle markets were once held weekly here. The village water pump was also located in the square and supplied the population’s water needs for one farthing per pail-full. Today the original horse trough has been reinstated along with a reproduction pump.

The trail then moves onto the Kings Head pub - which used to be one of the main coach stops to London.

From here you can take a stroll through the short alleyway between the newsagents which now houses the post office, and Greggs the bakers you’ll find a plaque commemorating a rather macabre event – the execution of farm labourer John Simpson. Simson, who worked in Great Wigborough in north Essex, was burnt at the stake at this site in 1555. He was one of hundreds of unfortunates executed for their beliefs under the reign of Bloody Mary, (Mary I) for not confirming to the Catholic Church.

A jewel in the town’s crown and a popular stop on the trail is the Old House . It is confirmed as one of the oldest buildings in Essex. Over the years the building has housed large families with servants, a haberdashery, cobblers, chandlers and solicitors, but in the late 1900s, it started to fall into disrepair. In the 1980s, it was fully restored by Rochford District Council, which still owns the Grade I building.

Roger Hill, part of the Rochford Town Team and local history expert, used to work in the Old House for many years: “There are so many fantastic places on the trail but my favourite is probably the Old House because of its rich history,” he said.

“We know the middle part, the timber framed main building was built first, then the section to the left was added about two decades later in 1290, then the third section later.”

The house is renowned for being haunted by no less than six ghosts including a medieval man, a maid and a young Victorian child. Is there any truth to this?

“I can honestly say I spent many hours - day and night working there and I never had a time when I saw anything or felt uncomfortable. However, some of my colleagues did feel differently!” admitted Roger.

“I remember hearing of one woman who was starting a job at the Old House walking in and walking straight out again saying she felt too uncomfortable to stay even for a minute.

“Another time I was showing a few visitors around and I was telling them about the history of the house and how it was supposedly haunted. A woman on the tour suddenly looked at me and said: ‘was it the little girl?’

“I replied how yes, it was supposed to be haunted by a young girl. It wasn’t until afterwards that I found out the woman had claimed she had actually seen the girl and was looking at her while I was chatting away!”

Turning into North Street and the convenience store that stands today was built in 1846 as Rochford’s first police station. The old cells still exist in the basement.

Meanwhile the first Masonic Lodge in the town once hosted meetings at the Old Ship Inn, which is now the Antica Roma restaurant, another trail stop. In 1820, Thomas Fairhead, who ran a butchers shop in the yard behind the former pub and his friend Henry Gilliott, were the last men in England to be hanged for sheep stealing.

A small cottage in Back Lane will also interest history enthusiasts. It was built in 1800 and is where James Banyard local founder of the Christian movement, the Peculiar People was born. He died in 1863 and is buried in St Andrews churchyard.

The church is also on the trail. The main body of the church dates back to fourteenth century but the tower was built a century later by Thomas Boteler, Earl of Ormond - the great grandfather of Anne Boleyn.

Other trail highlights include an old boarding school and bakery, sixteenth century Almshouses, the town’s first Magistrates court and the workhouse where up to 400 people lived in grim conditions.