Witches and warriors The magic of places of worship around the county

  Posted: 29.05.21 at 09:13 by Susan Yates

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Nub News occasional columnist Susan yates, chair of Thurrock Historical Society, brings us her latest article, looking at some of the region's most remarkable churches.

I AM not a religious person but I marvel at the edifices erected to facilitate the practice of worshipping our God.

The love and passion with which they were built shows in their construction. Even on the busiest of roads they are places of quiet and peaceful reflection.

Cool in the hottest of summers welcoming at Christmas time. When I visit the north-west, where I have family, I find it odd that their churches are built of their local red stone and not flint because of this they do not look like churches to me.
Here in Essex we have many historic and interesting churches.

While Suffolk and Norfolk have hundreds of round towered churches Essex has only six. We have one of the oldest churches in England at Bradwell with St Peters on the Wall.

This chapel is very evocative and it is not hard to imagine the followers of St Cedd reusing the stone from the Roman Fort of Orthona to construct their place of worship in 654AD

All Saints Church at Stock Harvard (more commonly known as Stock) is reckoned to be the most photographed church in the county. In fact photographers joke about there being three small dips in the car park where so many cameras and their tripods have stood.

It is a very picturesque church and is Grade I listed because of its 15th century timber belfry tower. The church stands in a graveyard almost completely devoid of memorial stones but in the centre where the landmine hit on 13th December 1940 is a large memorial stone.

The mine destroyed the nave roof, damaged the tower and destroyed all of the stained glass and broke the bell hangings. A brass plaque commemorating the event is inside the church.

All Saints was originally a chapel and it was thought to be built in the 12th century. Work carried out in in the 1940s restoration of the 12th century nave uncovered earlier foundations suggesting the church was Anglo-Saxon in origin like that at nearby Buttsbury.

Another lovely old Essex Church is St Andrews at Greensted juxta Ongar which is also Grade I listed. This is the oldest wooden church in the world and the oldest ‘Stave Built’ building in Europe. The wooden planks visible today date from 1060AD. If only they could talk I wonder what tales they would tell?

Work undertaken in the Chancel in the 1960’s uncovered the existence of two earlier timber buildings on the site dating from the 6th/7th century. It is said that the body of St. Edmund King of East Anglia rested here in 1013 on its way to Bury
St. Edmunds, Suffolk.

The church also has a connection with the Tolpuddle Martyrs. After a public outcry these Dorset Farmers were returned from transportation to Australia to England.

On arriving back in the country they received tenancies in Greensted and two of
them, Jane Standfield and James Brine, married here in 1839. Just outside the church porch lies the grave of a 12th century Crusader thought to be a bowman.

Whoever he was he must have been important locally to get such a prestigious location for his grave.

Hadstock, anciently called Cadenho, has a fascinating church with a great story. Situated on the North Essex Cambridgeshire border and Grade I listed this church has Anglo-Saxon origins. The north porch is 15th century but the doorway is Saxon. Legend has it that a Dane who was found guilty of sacrilege was punished by being flayed alive. His skin was nailed to this door. When the door was repaired a piece of human skin was found underneath one of the hinges.

I should also mention Little Maplestead Church of St John the Baptist. This Grade II* listed building is the only round church in Essex and one of only five in England.
Originally a chapel of The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem – Knights Hospitallers built circa 1340 with much rebuilding in the mid19th century. This church is of great interest because of its circular nave.

St. Nicholas at Canewdon has a fascinating story as it is associated with witchcraft and it is said that the witches gather at midnight and dance round the church. This church is listed and has a Grade II listed headstone.

The stone dated 1691 has a three arched top the centre one being the tallest with a carved skull and crossbones. It reads “Here lieth the body of John Allen died 2 October 1691”. Interestingly the village lock up and stocks are just behind the churchyard and I think I am right when I say the village sign is the only one in England to include a witch.

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