Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Cressing, Essex

All Saints is locked but with a keyholder listed, the earliest written reference to All Saints is from the Evereux Charter of 1136 in which a land grant to the vicars of Witham allowed for maintenance of a capella (probably a chapel of ease) together with a demesne of twenty acres at Cressing.

It appears, however, that the the 1136 capella was not the first church on the site. Archaeological excavations in the 1970s, during the re-flooring of the nave, revealed a number of post-holes dating to the early ninth century. The foundations of a Saxon or early Norman apsidal building were also visible. It is of interest that the church is located in the same area as the earlier Roman burials, suggesting that it was built on an area which already had a particular significance to the local community.

The lower walls of the church are early twelfth century and Norman in style. They are built of flint and rubble bonded with fragments of Roman brick and tile and the building is capped with a shingled spire on a wooden turret. The interior holds a monument to Henry Smyth (later Neville) and his wife, Anne, dated 1607, and a fine brass to Dorcas Musgrave, who died in childbirth, along with her child, in 1610.

Cressing is perhaps better known for the Templar Barns but the church is definitely worth including if visiting.


ALL SAINTS. Nave, short chancel and stunted belfry. The nave must be Norman or replace a Norman nave - see one re-set bit of zigzag-work visible on the N wall above the N doorway. The chancel is of the early C13 and has two lancet windows in the N wall. In addition some C14 and C15 windows. Those of the C14 have a characteristic Essex motif of tracery. - HELM. Early C17, crested. - MONUMENT. Anne Smith d. 1607, with the usual two kneeling ļ¬gures. In the ‘predella’ kneeling daughter and baby in a cradle. 
 


CRESSING. It is in delightful countryside not far from Braintree, and its history begins with the Knights Templars, the manor having been given to them 800 years ago. They lived at Cressing Temple until they were suppressed. The place was sacked during the Peasants Revolt in 1381, and in 1540 came the end with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

While Elizabeth was still on the throne a great house was built on the site, and something of this Tudor manor remains in the Cressing Temple of today. There are two vast barns, one of brick and timber 40 feet high and 160 feet long, with a porch and five bays. This was for the wheat, and the smaller barn, 110 feet long, was for the barley. The church lies a mile away and has a Norman doorway with a stone above it carved by a medieval craftsman. The little gate into the churchyard is a memorial to a boy who gave his life in trying to save his sister from drowning; he was Clive Reginald Moss, aged 14.

An avenue of limes brings us to the church, which has a neat shingled spire on a wooden turret 400 years old. About us as we come in is a group of gravestones bearing a name famous in our history, one of them belonging to a General born in the delightful vicarage near by, Sir Evelyn Wood. He went from this vicarage to join the navy at 14, fought in the Crimea when he was 15, won the VC in India when he was 20, and altogether saw 50 years of fighting, during which he signed peace with the Boers after the defeat at Majuba Hill. Here with him lies his father Sir John Page Wood, who was chaplain to Queen Caroline, whose cause his own father gallantly defended. On a granite stone we read of one of these Woods those words of Browning that would do for all of them, "One who never turned his back, but marched breastforward," and inside the church hangs Sir Evelyn Wood's banner of the Order of St Michael and St George.

The 14th century church is small with no aisles. It has the original doorways and the original tracery in the windows. The nave has a fine roof, built in 1440, and huge timbers set up 80 years later support the bell-turret. There are a few fragments of medieval glass in the windows, and on a windowsill we found three heads carved in stone. A sad little tale lies behind the brass of Dorcas Musgrave, who sits pointing to her baby, which died with her at its birth in 1610. Both child and mother have huge ruffs round their necks, and the mother's hand rests on an hourglass; her sands had run out, though she was but 23. In a recess in the wall is a splendid monument to Henry Smith and his wife, who kneel at a prayer desk, he in Jacobean armour; their little girl is at prayer and their infant is in swaddling clothes. There are helmets on each side of the wall probably be­longing to the Smiths, who lived in the magnificent Elizabethan house which succeeded that of the Knights Templars.

Flickr.

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