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Featured Church

Featured Church - ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST, CHURCH LANE, LITTLE LEIGHS, CM3 1PQ

Open everyday in daylight hours

Introduction

ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST, CHURCH LANE, LITTLE LEIGHSThe bench outside our church is lovely place to rest half way along the Essex Way.  Close to the old pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Walsingham, via Bury St Edmunds, St John’s Church lies down a quiet lane which follows the line of the River Ter.  According to Norman Scarfe, in his Shell Guide to Essex, Little Leighs Church has preserved a true rustic feel and we hope you enjoy your visit, virtual or otherwise.

The simple Norman church consisted of today’s nave, which was built in the 12th century.  There was no separate chancel and the original position of the east wall is indicated by the present screen.  The altar would have been in front of the wall, with the piscina and sedilia to the right, and the credence to the left, all three of which can still be seen.   The chancel was added in the 13th century. 

In 1895 the Victorians set to work.  They extended the chancel very slightly and rebuilt the east wall with arcading and reredos, removed the box pews in the chancel, rebuilt the porch, and added the vestry. The ‘inconvenient and unfitting’ west gallery was taken away.  A brass tablet in the south wall of the sanctuary informs us that all this was paid for personally by the Reverend Henry Edward Hulton, Vicar of Great Waltham and Rural Dean of Chelmsford.   He had been curate at Sonning in Berkshire and commissioned A. Y. Nutt, the resident architect at Windsor Castle, to do the work at Little Leighs.

Entrance

The porch was rebuilt as part of the 1895 restoration.  The door is a remarkable survival of c.1300 with foliate iron-work of which William Morris would surely have approved.  There is a small graffito figure in the order just above the left capital and a holy water stoup to the right.

Wooden Effigy (chancel)

Within the early 14th century recess, with external tiled quoins, the glory of our church lies beneath a clunch canopy in the north wall.  Described as of ‘startling and moving simplicity’, the life-sized effigy (c.1300) represents a priest buried in the tomb beneath.  He wears eucharistic vestments and his head is supported by two angels, now defaced.  At his feet are a lamb, and a lion with mane.  More than 100 such wooden effigies survive, but this is the only one of a priest known in England. The original appearance of the effigy is quite unlike that of today, being once coloured with gesso.  There is some white in the creases of the robes and a small area of blue and red by the feet.   Unusually, it is made of oak.  It is wooden not because the donor could not afford stone, but because it was made to be movable to make a place for the Easter sepulchre.
The religious writer, Christopher Howse, explains that the Christian Communion service is essentially connected to Easter, for it enacts the Last Supper and the offering up of His body by Jesus. At Easter time, this central element of the Christian religion was celebrated with particular solemnity. On Good Friday, no Eucharist was said. Bread was consecrated at the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday, and then the Sacrament was reverently laid in a specially prepared sepulchre, for was it not the body of Christ?  In England the custom was for the Easter sepulchre to be built into the wall of the church chancel. 

Stained Glass Windows

East window: Christ in Majesty; the Crucifixion, with St Mary the Virgin, St Mary Magdalene and St John; the Last Supper; c.1895, possibly designed by Ion Pace, Clayton & Bell

Nave, north wall: St Peter and St Paul, 1951, by Gerald E. R. Smith, A.K. Nicholson Stained Glass Studios

West window: Virgin and Child; St John; St John as an old man; c.1895, possibly designed by Ion Pace, Clayton & Bell

Chancel Screen

Part of the 1895 restoration, simple late 19th century oak screen, which contributes much to the church’s rustic atmosphere.

 

Rood Loft Staircase

During the Victorian restoration four rubble steps with thin oak treads were discovered in the north wall of the chancel.  They once formed part of the staircase leading to the original rood (crucifix) loft, above the rood screen.  (A chancel screen becomes a rood screen when it incorporates the crucifix above it.)  Rood lofts, used by the choir and musicians, had high panelled fronts, often with the great rood flanked by carvings of St Mary the Virgin, and St John the Evangelist, which would have been appropriate for this church, built into them.  Our east window reflects the original rood presentation.  The upper doorway has been removed and walled up, but its extent can be seen in the outline above Daniel Welstead’s monument.  Many rood screens, lofts, and their carvings were removed during the reign of Edward VI when his commissioners did away with anything they regarded as ‘superstitious’ with puritan zeal.

Pulpit

In the 1895 restoration the box pews in the chancel were reused to form the pulpit, as well as for panelling the vestry.

Lectern

The oak lectern is dedicated to the memory of the Reverend Thomas Bowen, Rector from 1893-1911.  He was succeeded by his son, James, Rector from 1912-1930, whose brass wall tablet is on the south wall of the chancel.
Monuments

1.  After the death in 1673 of Charles Rich, 4th Earl of Warwick, Leez Priory passed to his eldest sister’s son, Robert Montagu, 3rd Earl of Manchester and it remained in that family until it was sold soon after 1722. Four of the monuments in the nave are to the Welstead family, agents to the Earls (later Dukes) of Manchester, whose main residence was Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire.

In 1692 James Welstead married Jean Merion in the chapel at Lees Priory and it appears that Daniel Welstead, whose monument is on the north wall, was their son.  His son, Charles, is mentioned on the same monument and there are three other family monuments, to another son, George; a daughter, Katherine; and her husband, George Richards.

Daniel’s grandson, Charles, bought the house and estate at Valentines in Ilford, and lived there until his death in 1832. For many years he worked for HM Customs in the Port of London like his father. He is commemorated with other siblings and relations on their Gothick tomb in the churchyard close to the east wall of the church. 

2.   Above the piscina is a brass wall tablet to the memory of Captain William Hughes-Hughes.  On 1st October, 1915 the Reverend Andrew Clark of Great Leighs wrote in his war diary, ‘It was known in Little Leighs, by telegram on Wedn. Evening (29 Sept.) that ‘Willie’ Hughes-Hughes, son of M. E. Hughes-Hughes, of Leez Priory, had been killed. He was a captain (in the Welch Regiment).’  He died aged 31 and is buried in the Browns Road Military Cemetery at Festubert.

3.  Herman Olmius, whose monument is in the middle of the north nave wall, lived at the Warren House. The Reverend Philip Morant tells us that Herman and his brother ‘resided in a neat little brick house in this parish’, which was probably on the site of the house now known as Lavender Leez.  Herman Olmius senior was patron of the living here.  On a tour of East Anglia started in 1722,  Daniel Defoe wrote, ‘It is observable, that in this part of the country, there are several very considerable estates purchas'd, and now enjoy'd by citizens of London, merchants and tradesmen, as … Mr. Olemus, a merchant at Braintree.’ This successful trader of German goods bought the Bishops Hall manor in Great Leighs, and Cressing Temple.

His eldest son, John, became High Sheriff of Essex in 1706, and later a JP and Deputy Lieutenant.  John Olmius died in 1731 when Deputy Governor of the Bank of England.  His only son, another John, acquired New Hall in 1738 and was created Baron Waltham in 1762, the year that he died. 

Hatchments

1. On west wall: Herman Olmius (junior) d.1726

2. On south wall: James Welstead of West Ham. He was the youngest son of George Welstead, married Louisa Porter of Great Waltham in 1814, and died in 1843.  ‘Bien étayé’is a heraldic pun for Welstead.

 

Pews

The benches in the nave are early 16th century with a reed design at the end.  Some of those at the front were repaired and replaced in the Victorian restoration, when the choir stalls were introduced.

Font

Well positioned on a stepped base with animals and foliage around it.  The 13th century bowl is octagonal with tracery on the panels added in the 14th century.