Friday, 26 November 2010

Willingale, Essex

Willingale is another of those extraordinary villages that has two churches just yards from each other, one St Andrew and All Saints, under the auspices of the CCT, is open while the other, St Christopher, is firmly locked.

Long before the Normans arrived in Essex, Willingale (the ‘nook of Willa's people’) was an Anglo-Saxon estate in the Roding valley at the southern extremity of the Dunmow hundred. The advent of the Normans caused it to be parcelled out to several manorial lords. Later, two parishes were formed; the larger became Willingale Doe and comprised the manors of Wantons (now Wardens Hall) and Torrells Hall, and the smaller became Willingale Spain and comprised the manors of Spains Hall and Mynchyns (later Minsons)

Both parishes took their names from early manorial proprietors, the de Ou and de lspania families respectively and it is probably due to their patronage that the churches of St Christopher, Willingale Doe, and St Andrew, Willingale Spain, were built. lt is not known why they were placed so that their churchyards adjoined to form a single area, with St Christophers at the north end, St Andrews at the south and the parish boundary bisecting the ground between them, but it is said to have been the result of rivalry between two thegns or of family pride. Alternatively it may have been that, at an early date, land holdings in both parishes became fragmented, or parish boundaries so convoluted, that convenience or common sense dictated that the parish churches should be sited side by side. This position certainly provides a superb setting for them, with fine views from the churchyard across the Roding Valley. Until the benefices were united in 1929, each of the churches had its own parish priest and congregation.

St Andrew and All Saints, Willingale Spain, to give the church its full title, has, like its sister church survived a long and cyclic history of building, decay repair and restoration; in the late 1950s, however, it had become almost ruinous and was only saved by the supporting action of the Friends of Friendless Churches. Subsequently, grants from the Friends of Essex Churches and funds raised by the Friends of St Andrew kept the church in good repair. In November 1992 it was vested in what is now The Churches Conservation Trust, to be maintained and conserved by and for the Church and the Nation. Extensive repairs were carried out between 1993 and 1995 under the supervision of Mr Simon Marks, the Trusts appointed architect for this church.

The joint dedication to St Andrew and All Saints is somewhat unusual. It is possible that the church was originally dedicated to St Andrew and that a second altar, used by a chantry priest, was dedicated to All Saints.

UPDATE 25.10.12: On my way home I passed through Willingale and stopped on the off chance that St Christopher might be open. To my delight it was and I got to record the interior of this ancestral church; I'm delighted that they appear to have reversed their locked church policy of 2010 although the chancel has a very unfriendly chain across the arch.

WILLINGALE DOE and WILLINGALE SPAIN are two adjoining parishes. Their churches are so placed as to adjoin also. They share the same churchyard, St Christopher Willingale Doe lying on its N, St Andrew Willingale Spain on its S side. St Christopher is the larger church. It has a W tower (with diagonal buttresses and battlements), whereas St Andrew has only a belfry.

ST ANDREW is the older church. The nave has in the N wall two Norman windows and a plain Norman doorway, in the S wall one window and a doorway. These and the quoins make much use of Roman bricks. The chancel is C15, as is the belfry resting on a tiebeam carried by two posts with arched braces. - FONT. Octagonal, C14, with traceried stem and quatrefoils carrying, roses and heads. -- DOOR in N doorway, with uncommonly extensive C12 ironwork, divers long stems with leaves besides the usual scrolled strap-hinges. - PLATE. Cup, Paten, and Flagon of 1766.

ST CHRISTOPHER is terribly restored. The exterior has no untouched features, and the whole N aisle with its arcade also belong to the restoration of 1853. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with traceried stem and quatrefoils carrying shields. - HELM (chancel, N wall) C16. - MONUMENTS. Brass to Thomas Torrell d. 1442, Knight in armour, the figure 3 ft long. - Two Brasses of 1582 and 1613 in the N aisle and nave. - Robert Wiseman d. 1641 and Richard Wiseman d. 1618 and his wife d. 1635. Large monument with semi-reclining figure flanked by two and behind a third column. Above the entablature carried by these, two kneeling figures facing each other. They kneel under two arches. Achievement on a third arch standing on the other two.

St Andrew and All Saints
St Andrew and All Saints

St Christopher
St Christopher

WILLINGALE. It is Willingale Spain and Willingale Doe, probably the villages of rival Norman knights whose friendliness is all forgotten but whose rivalry remains, for still their two churches are in one churchyard, a curious sight.

Willingale Doe has one thing left from its Norman builders, the capital of a pillar piscina set in the 14th century wall of the nave; Willingale Spain’s walls stand much as the Norman knight built them, with a rugged simplicity and patches of red Roman tiles at one of the corners and in two doorways.

Willingale Doe, if we count its 15th century tower, is bigger by 20 feet. It has an ancient curly head on the gable outside, and, inside, the medieval font at which would be baptised the children of Thomas Torrell, whose portrait is in brass in the chancel; his little dog is at his feet. On a wall-monument of Charles Stuart’s time rests Richard Wiseman and his wife, he bearded and in plate armour minutely carved in alabaster ; the sculpture is framed in marble columns, resting on lions with a quaint sea-horse between them. We noticed also a comic sea-horse on a 16th century helmet hanging on the chancel wall. The pulpit has linenfold panels, a worthy rostrum for old John Swain, a rector of our own time who died at 91, lying here with his wife who died at 94.

Willingale Spain has always been proud of the work of its smiths on two of its church doors. The grotesque heads of serpents on one door in the nave have survived the timbers on which the Normans fastened them, and the strap-hinges on the priest’s door are fine examples of medieval forge work. The posts for the timber turret piercing the high-pitched roof are 15th century, and one of the bells is older still. The chancel, made new 500 years ago, has a curious home-made monument of wood and parchment, more appealing than much of the pretentious alabaster of its day. It is a simple wooden frame with folding doors on which are crudely painted two shields-of-arms with the record of the six sons of Edward Bewsy. They lived in the days of Charles Stuart, and here their father set their names, the dates of their deaths, eagles on their coats-of-arms,and a rhyme which ends:

Six lie here shaken from the tree,
Where eagles frequent are, dead bodies be


  1. Great series of churches and lovely photographs. For more on Willingale visit