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Featured Church - Great Maplestead, St Giles

St Giles church stands on a projecting spur of land bounded by two streams which eventually join and run into the river Colne. Great Maplestead is a picturesque but scattered village 1½ miles SE of Sible Hedingham and 3 miles N of Halstead. Many of the houses around are 16th & 17th Century but this ancient church was built c.1100. It probably stands on the site of a pagan temple which was used for services after the arrival of Christianity.
The present Norman stone building is of exceptional interest, not only because so much early Norman work has survived but also because of its comparatively rare ground plan.

Many alterations and additions have St Giles Churchbeen made through the ages. Only the font remains from the 15th Century and many treasures were lost during the reformation.  In 1612 the tower was struck by lightning and the necessary rebuilding done in the then fashionable red brick. 18th Century neglect was followed by thorough Victorian restoration, and care of this special building continues to the present day.

The unusual ground plan originally consisted of an apsidal sanctuary, quire and nave all built c.1100, to which a massive western tower was added a few years later. Early in 13th Century the Quire (chancel) was rebuilt, and by mid 14th Century the south transept was added, followed by the south aisle... Any 15th & 16th Century additions have mostly disappeared apart form the font.

planThe nave shows little signs of Norman work but retains its 12th Century plan which is a parallelogram, the side walls not being at right angles to the east and west walls. In 1612 the tower was struck by lightning and seriously damaged. The partial rebuilding was done in the fashionable red brick, as was the building of the Deane Chapel in 1626.

This chapel was built as a mortuary chapel for Sir John Deane who had died a year earlier, and for his wife Lady Anne Deane who died in 1633. There is a marble and alabaster full size figure of Sir John reclining and clad in plate armour, above him are small kneeling figures of his widow, 2 sons and 4 daughters. The figure of Lady Anne is standing. The delicately carved monument was erected by her son, Sir Dru Deane whose recumbent effigy is at her feet.

The following long, unusual and touching epitaph is on the stone at the back of her monument

“Her Shape was rare, Her Beauty exquisit. Her entertainment hearty, Her Conversation lovely, Her Courses modest, Her Discourses wise, Her Practise holy, Her religion pure, Her Faith unfaygnd, Her Hope stable, Her Wytt accurate, Her Judgment singular. Her Harte merciful, Her Hand helpful. Her Charity heavenly, Her Amity constant. Her Vowes Lawful, Her Meditations divine. Her Prayers devout, Her Devotions diurnail. Her Dayes short, Her Life everlasting”

The north aisle and transept were added in 1861 to balance the south transept and aisle added in 14th Century. The windows have a curious tracery and on the sill of one is a fragment of stone carved with pre-conquest interlacing ornament, possibly from a cross.

The Chancel was entirely rebuilt c.1220. The north wall had 2 Lancet windows but most of the eastern one was destroyed when the Vestry was added in 1850 at Mrs Gee’s expense.
The 2 south chancel windows were inserted in c.1330, and part of a 13th Century coffin lid forms the sill of the eastern window.

The small, semi-circular Apse is 12the Century, much restored. It has 3 narrow, round-headed windows but only the eastern one is original, the side ones being modern insertions. 19th Century stencilling is faintly visible beneath the modern coating of lime-wash.
The plain semi-circular arch is of Roman brick under plaster. There are 5 painted roundels, the remains of the 1866 stencilling, and depict a cross and the four apostles. A skylight in a small gable throws light on the altar.

The Font is c.1400 and is in remarkable condition. The 8 panels around the bowl are carved quatre foil circles which enclose shields which bore painted emblems of the Passion, four of which paintings are still visible.  The panels of the shaft of the Font were once blue with a lattice of yellow lines still visible in places.

The churchyard is exceptionally spacious having been enlarged on several occasions. The oldest memorial stones are on the south side with the tomb of John Bourchier d.1690. On the external gable of the  south transept is a square stone sundial with an iron gnomon, dated 1660.

The following is an extract from White’s Directory of Essex 1848

The Church (St. Giles) is a small ancient building, with a tower and three bells. The chancel has a semicircular east end, and on the south side is a chapel belonging to Dynes Hall, and containing two costly monuments in memory of Sir John Dean, Kt., and his lady.

On the first, beneath an arch, supported by pillars of black marble, is the effigy of the knight, in armour, reclining on his left arm; and above are figures of his eight children, in devotional attitudes
 Lady Dean's monument has her figure beautifully executed, as well as that of her son, in armour, at her feet. The vicarage, valued in K.B. at £8.3s.4d., and in 1831 at £161, is in the patronage of R. Myall, Esq., and incumbency of the Rev. James Sperling. M.A., who is also impropriator of the rectory, formerly held by Stratford Abbey.

Mrs. Gee, of Earl's Colne, has an estate in the parish, and has built and supports a school here for poor children, whom she also partly clothes.

For a sermon on Ash Wednesday, the vicar has 20s. a year out of Park-Fen meadow, purchased with £20 left by Lady Mary Saunders, in 1668. The poor have 40s. a year out of Hoppoles farm, left by William May, in 1741; but a yearly rent-charge of 6s.8d., left to them by William Bendlowe, in the 16th of Elizabeth, out of a tenement and 16 acres of land, at Bocking, has not been paid since 1824. An old double tenement is occupied by paupers, and was long the parish workhouse.”