Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Great Leighs, Essex

In and of itself St Mary is pretty run of the mill albeit the chancel is considerably larger than the nave and both are rather beautiful, however it is the round tower that raises it above the norm. Sadly now capped by a Chelmsford spire which spoils, to me, the clean lines of the tower.

Actually I withdraw that last statement, the chancel is wonderful as well.

Here is a fascinating church with really interesting exterior details and, frustratingly, locked but for no apparent reason. It's surrounded by houses and is on a busy road (but having said that Witham will throw up a slap in my face) and is a prime candidate either to be open or to have keyholders listed - the compromise here is to post reams of A4 sheets detailing the history within, which is rather like finding yourself outside a Hamburg whorehouse with the goods on display but the front door locked.

Moving on, the tower and south door are fine Norman examples and the site is glorious.

ST MARY. Norman round tower with small windows and spire of 1882. W doorway with zigzag ornament in the arch. Nave also Norman (two N windows, one S window). Chancel with renewed two-light windows of the early C14. The E window is of four lights and has very elongated reticulated tracery. The interior of the chancel is generously decorated. A large recess in the N wall with an arch on short shafts flanked by thin buttresses. The arch is cusped and sub-cusped and gabled. In the spandrel of the gable an extremely good spray of leaves in deeply undercut carving. The leaves are already bossy or nobbly, but much of the naturalism of c. 1300 is still preserved. No ogee forms occur yet. But the Sedilia and Piscina arches opposite have ogee heads. Yet the style is otherwise very similar. The seats are separated from each other by buttresses, not by shafts. Recess and Sedilia are much restored. - FONT. Perp, octagonal. Stem with tracery, bowl with quatrefoils carrying fleurons and one shield. - BENCHES. Eight in the nave with straight-topped, traceried ends. - STAINED GLASS. A little of the C14 in situ in the chancel N windows. - PLATE. Cup and Paten of 1560. - BRASS to Ralph Strelley d. 1414, rector of Great Leighs. Demi-figure in prayer. The head replaced from a late C14 brass. 

St Mary (6)

St Mary (3)

St Mary (4)

GREAT LEIGHS. Here, in a lovely churchyard with a valley curving round, is one of the six round towers of Essex, built by the Normans on a foundation possibly Saxon. One of its five pilasters comes down to a doorway decorated with zigzags, and higher up the wall is pierced with 13th century windows. The Normans built the nave too, and it has kept three of their windows and a doorway in which the 14th century builders made a new entrance. The opposite doorway is 15th century, and so are eight pews with traceried ends. The font is 600 years old; its panelled stem a century younger.

But it is in the 14th century chancel, with its beautifully traceried east window, that the traveller will want to linger, for here are two splendid pieces of carving by the old artists in stone. One is a canopied recess where perhaps the man who built the chancel lies, its pediment a mass of lovely vine leaves. The other is the group of three sedilia and a piscina finely and delicately wrought, with dainty pinnacles, rich buttresses and gables, and leaves in great variety.

A very unusual brass here shows the body of a 15th century priest with the head of a 14th century man joined on to it. The head of the priest was broken off and lost, and the other one comes from a stone close by. It has vivid eyes and a turned-down mouth. Another curiosity is an old barrel organ of ten pipes, with a carved frame and a neat label to tell us it is the patent of Mr William Phillips.

Near the church is Lyon’s Hall, much altered since it was built 500 years ago; and at Moulsham Hall is a living thing probably older, the Court Oak measuring 25 feet round.

Flickr set.

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