The Essex Churches Site


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Mundon: Now and in England


    I started visiting the churches of Essex in the summer of 2010, largely as a result of needing something to do after completing Suffolk and pretty much all of Norfolk. I've been visiting the churches of East Anglia in earnest for about fifteen years now, but had always shied away from the most southerly county, despite it being nearer to my home than Norfolk is. It was really only in May 2011 that I began to realise quite what a lovely county Essex was. It was my fiftieth birthday, and we stayed in the pub at Littlebury on the far side of the county. We worked our way back across the north of Essex on a beautiful early summer's day, and the churches were lovely, and they were all open. I was hooked.

The northern half of Essex is very much like Suffolk in character - indeed, it is more like Suffolk than Suffolk is itself in some respects, for this is the land of quiet, narrow lanes, thatched cottages, half-timbered and pargetted houses and village greens that many outsiders imagine Suffolk to be. It is hillier than Suffolk, and quieter, with less traffic, and old road signs as if the bureaucrats at County Hall in Chelmsford had forgotten that the northern part of the county existed. The village names are often complex and pretty, survivors of lost manors and East Saxon tribal leaders. I had soon visited all of the 150-odd churches north of the A120 Bishops Stortford to Harwich road, and it was with delight that I found almost every single one of them open, with few exceptions.

It gets stickier as you go further south, but the middle third around Chelmsford and Maldon is also lovely, with most of the churches still open, many of them deliciously remote and secretive. South of Brentwood is heavy going, especially for a cyclist. The traffic is awful, the towns often ugly (though there are surprises) and many of the churches locked. But above all, Essex is a county of small churches, most of them little-known, and the literature for the county is not extensive: Norfolk in particular has had its churches documented in great depth, but the same is by no means true for Essex. It was most fortunate for me, therefore, that the publication of James Bettley's revision of Pevsner's Buildings of England: Essex coincided with me beginning to explore the county seriously. It is a splendid book, the biggest Buildings of England volume of all so far, and a reminder that Essex has more listed buildings than Norfolk and Suffolk put together, despite having barely half the same number of medieval churches as Suffolk, and little more than a third of Norfolk's total.

I am afraid that I have not added the text to all entries yet - I will get around to this, but all the photographs and captions are now there. If you are a flickr member (it is free) you can add your own comments to the churches for other people to read.

The revised Buildings of England no longer includes those parts of the county taken into the new Greater London in 1965, and neither do I. Although I have visited some churches in the London Borough of Havering, they will not be on this site, which means I can safely turn my back and ignore the likes of Romford, Upminster, Stratford and Dagenham, and focus my attention on places like Bardfield Saling, Helions Bumpstead, Chignal Smealy and Magdalene Laver. Such lovely names.

“The vagrant visitor erstwhile,” my colour-plate book says to me,
“Could wend by hedgerow-side and stile, from Benfleet down to Leigh-on-Sea.”

And as I turn the colour-plates, Edwardian Essex opens wide,
Mirrored in ponds and seen through gates, sweet uneventful countryside.

Like streams the little by-roads run through oats and barley round a hill
To where blue willows catch the sun by some white weather-boarded mill.

“A Summer Idyll, Matching Tye”, “At Havering-atte-Bower, the Stocks”
And cobbled pathways lead the eye to cottage doors and hollyhocks.

Far Essex, – fifty miles away, the level wastes of sucking mud
Where distant barges high with hay come sailing in upon the flood.

Near Essex of the River Lea, and anglers out with hook and worm
And Epping Forest glades where we had beanfeasts with my father’s firm.

At huge and convoluted pubs they used to set us down from brakes
In that half-land of football clubs which London near the Forest makes.

The deepest Essex few explore, where steepest thatch is sunk in flowers
And out of elm and sycamore rise flinty fifteenth-century towers.

I see the little branch line go by white farms roofed in red and brown,
The old Great Eastern winding slow to some forgotten country town.

Now yarrow chokes the railway track, brambles obliterate the stile,
No motor coach can take me back to that Edwardian “erstwhile”.

- John Betjeman, Essex, 1964



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