Little Leighs

Pages 157-162

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 2, Central and South west. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1921.

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In this section


(O.S. 6 in. (a)xxxiii. N.E. (b)xxxiii. S.E. (c)xxxiv. S.W.)

Little Leighs is a small parish 6½ m. N. of Chelmsford. The principal monument is Little Leighs Priory, partly in Felsted parish.


b(1). Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist stands on the S. side of the parish. The walls are of flint-rubble, coursed in the 12th-century work and uncoursed in the 13th-century work; the dressings are of limestone and clunch. The roofs are covered with tiles and the modern bell-turret has a shingled spirelet. The Nave was built in the first half of the 12th century. The Chancel was re-built in the 13th century. The church was restored in the 19th century when the North Vestry and South Porch were added.

The 14th-century monument and oak effigy in the chancel are noteworthy.

The Church, Plan

Architectural Description—The Chancel (23¼ ft. by 17¼ ft.) is undivided, structurally, from the nave and has a modern E. window. In the N. wall, at the W. end, is a modern window, but in the W. splay is the entrance to the roof-loft staircase, now blocked except for the lowest steps; the tomb-recess, further E., is set in a 14th-century projection with tile quoins and tabling at the top. In the S. wall are two windows, the eastern is modern and the western is also modern except for the internal splays and chamfered rear-arch and part of the moulded external label which are of the 13th century; the sill is carried down to form a 'low-side,' now blocked; between the windows is a doorway all modern except for part of the internal jambs and rear-arch which are of the 13th century.

The Nave (40½ ft. by 17½ ft.) has in the N. wall two windows, the eastern is modern except for parts of the jambs and splays which are of the 14th century; the western window is a 12th-century, round-headed light; further W. is the 13th-century N. doorway, much restored, with a two-centred arch of one chamfered order and a chamfered, segmental-pointed rear-arch; at the E. end of the wall are indications of the former rood-loft doorway, now blocked. In the S. wall are two windows, the eastern is modern except for the 14th-century splays; the western window is a single 12th-century light similar to that in the N. wall, but having internal splays and rear-arch of bricks, possibly Roman; between the windows is the W. splay and part of the arch, also of bricks, of another 12th-century window; W. of the windows is the 13th-century S. doorway with a two-centred arch of one richly moulded order and shafted jambs with moulded capitals and bases. In the W. wall is a window all modern except the 13th-century splays and rear-arch rib.

The Roof of the chancel has one old tie-beam and there are two old tie-beams between the chancel and nave. The nave has a trussed-rafter roof, probably of the 14th century, with two tiebeams, one under the bell-turret at the W. end, with queen and subsidiary posts.

Fittings—Bell: one, said to be by Miles Graye, 1675. Chair: In chancel—with carved head, twisted rails and legs, upholstered back and seat late 17th-century. Chest: In vestry—with crossfeet, ring at each end, late 17th or early 18th-century, lid modern. Coffin-lids: In church-yard—E. of chancel, (1) defaced, 13th-century; (2) with raised cross and double omega ornament, 13th-century. Door: In S. doorway—with two iron hinges with foliated ends, early 13th-century. Font: Octagonal bowl with panelled and traceried sides, stem with eight attached shafts having moulded capitals; four alternate shafts have five carved figures of beasts as bases, above the angles of the square base which has a chamfered plinth and stands on a platform or step, 14th-century. Monument: In chancel—in N. wall, recess (Plate p. 173) with shafted jambs each with a foliated capital and diapered base, moulded ogee arch, cusped and sub-cusped with foliated spandrels and crocketed moulded label and carved finial, diagonal buttress—shafts at sides with gabled and crocketed finials; oak effigy of priest in mass vestments, two beasts at feet and two defaced angels supporting cushions at head, all mid 14th-century. Niches: In nave—E. of N.E. window, with two centred, head all plastered, 13th-century; in splay of S.E. window, with chamfered jambs and two-centred head, 13th-century. Panelling: In vestry—dado, made up of late 16th-century and late 17th-century panelling. Plate: Includes cup and paten of 1706, in stamped leather case and pewter flagon possibly late 17th-century or early 18th-century. Pulpit: Modern, made up of old panelling, including linen-fold and panels with incised designs, 16th and early 17th-century. Seating: In nave— ten pews with reeded bench-ends and moulded top and end rails, early 16th-century. Stoup: In S. porch—E. of S. doorway, with semi-circular head, date uncertain.



a(2). Little Leighs (or Leez) Priory, foundations, house, gardens, barns, etc., about 1¾ m. N.W. of the church and partly in Felstead parish. A priory for Austin canons was founded here probably at the beginning of the 13th century. After its dissolution in 1536 the buildings appear to have been razed and a house of two quadrangles built on the site by the first Lord Rich. This house was demolished about 1753, leaving only the outer and inner gatehouses standing and part of two sides of the outer quadrangle. Recent excavations have uncovered the remains of the rest of the house and also the plan of the monastic buildings.

The Monastic Buildings consisted of a cruciform church with a cloister and the usual buildings on the N. The church was begun at the E. end early in the 13th century, the western parts being of rather later date; it consisted of Presbytery (26½ ft. by 25 ft.), North Transept (28 ft. by 24 ft.), and South Transept (32 ft. by 25 ft.), each with two eastern Chapels, Central Tower (24 ft. square) and Nave (75 ft. by 25 ft.), with North and South Aisles (8½ ft. and 9 ft. wide). The two chapels opening from the N. transept were removed c. 1300 and a large Chapel (78½ ft. by 26 ft.) substituted. There is no evidence of the date of the buildings round the cloister (76 ft. by 77 ft.), but the Chapter House appears to have been lengthened. The bases of the walls of all these (except the large chapel) are exposed (Plate p. 161) and are built of flint-rubble with dressings of limestone and can thus be distinguished from the brick walls of Lord Rich's house, of which the cloister formed the inner quadrangle.

Leighs Priory, Little Leighs. Essex.

The following detail work remains in situ:—The E. respond of the N. arcade of the Presbytery has a moulded semi-circular base on a square plinth; the W. respond is similar but has a semi-octagonal plinth, and part of the shaft remains with attached rolls towards the cardinal points. The S. arcade was similar, but only the W. respond remains. The central tower has a flat surface from which sprang the E. and W. arches, indicating that the quirestalls extended under the tower. The responds of the N. and S. arches had each a semi-octagonal attached shaft with a moulded base and plinth (Plate p. 161). The North Transept had an E. arcade of two bays, of which the bases of the pier and S. respond remain; they are similar to the W. responds of the presbytery arcades. In the N.E. angle of the transept are the chamfered jambs of a doorway set in a projection and probably of the former night staircase from the dorter. In the W. wall the base of the S. respond of the arch opening into the N. aisle remains; it is semi-octagonal with a moulded base, probably of c. 1300. The South Transept had an E. arcade of two bays, of which the bases of both responds and the pier remain; they are similar to those of the E. arcade of the N. transept. Against the S. wall are two projections, possibly the bases of former monuments. In the W. wall the arch opening into the S. aisle had a N. respond (Plate p. 161) similar to those of the E. arcade; the S. respond was plain; there are indications of the fixing of a screen across this archway. The Nave had N. and S. arcades of four bays; of the N. arcade the bases of the E. respond and the eastern pier remain; the respond has an attached semi-circular shaft and the pier is quatrefoil on plan; of the S. arcade, the bases of the E. respond, the eastermost pier and the W. respond remain; the E. respond is similar to the responds of the transept arcades; the pier is similar to that on the N. but is attached on the E. to a broken fragment of solid walling; the W. respond is similar to half a pier. There are indications of a former doorway. Nothing remains of the N. aisle except the base of the W. wall. The S. aisle had a doorway in the W. wall and adjoining the W. respond of the arcade is a semi-octagonal base probably of a former stoup. Of the buildings round the cloister only the rubble foundations remain.

In the course of recent excavations the following fittings from the former church were discovered and are now preserved in the house. Brasses: (1) a shield of the arms of Gernon, pily wavy argent and gules in enamel, probably late 13th-century; (2) shield probably of the arms of Grene, a crowned lion parted fessewise, but damaged, c. 1460. Tiles: numerous slip-tiles with conventional designs and the following arms: Gernon; Vere; Fitzwalter; checky; checky impaling a bend; a double-headed eagle; a cross and a border engrailed; three bars wavy; a chief checky; lozengy; quarterly fessewise indented.

The House is of two storeys and is built of red brick with some stone dressings and some sham dressings of plaster; the roofs are covered with tiles and lead. The original house consisted of two adjacent quadrangles, the inner towards the E. and occupying the site of the monastic cloister and the outer towards the W. Of the inner quadrangle only the inner gatehouse in the middle of the W. side and a small conduit head in the centre of the court remain standing. The foundations, now uncovered, indicate that the great Hall stood on the S. of the court on the side of the Monastic nave and had a porch and 'oriel' projecting into the court. The eastern range stood on the site of the former transepts, central tower and E. range of cloister of the former priory. The chapter-house was probably used as the domestic chapel; this range had octagonal turrets at the outer angles and probably also in the inner angles of the court; on the E. side a dry area was provided to keep out the damp. The other features of this and of the N. range are sufficiently indicated on the plan. The monastic presbytery and the eastern chapels were not included in the design of the house.

The Inner Gatehouse (Plate, p. 159) is of three storeys with an octagonal turret at each angle, carried up above the parapet and embattled. On the inner or E. face these turrets are only ornamented with diapering, but on the outer face each side is recessed in three tiers, each tier finished with trefoiled corbelling at the top. The outer archway is of stone with moulded jambs and four-centred arch in a square label; the spandrels are carved with a fleur-de-lis and rose with foliage; above the label is a sunk panel with an achievement of arms, Rich impaling Newport. The first floor has a large window of four transomed lights in a square head with a moulded label, all partly restored; the second floor has a similar window but of three lights, and above it is a low gable finished with stone pinnacle at the apex. The inner archway is similar to the outer, but of brick, and with blank shields in the spandrels; the windows and gable are similar to those on the outer face but the second floor window has four lights. The turrets are lit by numerous single light windows, some with square and some with four-centred heads. The N. and S. walls of the gatehouse have embattled parapets and the rough abutments of the adjoining buildings, now destroyed. On the S. side are four octagonal chimney-shafts with oversailing tops and moulded bases; three of the shafts (Plate, p. 160) are enriched with spiral or diapered ornaments, the fourth is plain. Inside the gatehouse the N. wall on the ground floor has a doorway and a hatch both with four-centred heads. The eastern pair of turrets only contained staircases, the western pair being probably used for garde-robes. The room on the first floor has in the S. wall a wide fire-place with moulded jambs and four-centred arch in a square head, all of stone. The room on the second floor has also a fire-place with a four-centred arch of brick and two loops at the back. The staircase in the S.E. turret has solid oak treads; that in the N.E. turret is destroyed, except for the lowest steps. Adjoining the N.W. and S.W. angles of the gatehouse is a low brick wall with the original moulded plinth of the former range of buildings running N. and S.

The Conduit Head (Plate, p. 160) in the centre of the inner courtyard is hexagonal and built entirely of re-used stone from the former monastic buildings. It is of two stages; the lower stage has shafts at the angles and an opening with a four-centred head in each face and is finished with an embattled parapet and modern pinnacles; the upper stage is panelled and has an ogee capping with a modern finial; the plinth and base are restored.

The Outer Quadrangle has rather more than half the S. and W. ranges still standing, which forms the present house. The rest of the square is bounded by low walls incorporating the base of the original ranges.

The Outer Gatehouse (Plate, p. 158) is of two storeys, finished with an embattled parapet and having an octagonal turret at each angle; the outer turrets have two tiers of trefoiled corbelling similar to that on the inner gatehouse; the inner turrets are plain, that on the N.W. being carried up above the parapet. The outer archway has moulded jambs and four-centred arch under a square label with plain shields in the spandrels, all of brick. The original double doors are panelled and nail studded, and there is a wicket in one leaf. Above the arch is a carved stone achievement of the arms of Rich, Earl of Warwick. The square-headed window to the first floor has an original moulded label and a wooden frame. The inner archway has chamfered jambs and a moulded four-centred arch under a square label; it contains original double doors (Plate, p. 160), brought here from the inner gatehouse; they have moulded panels in two tiers each with cusped and traceried heads; the upper panels are now glazed; there is a wicket in one leaf of the door, and also a small dog-hole. The window to the first floor has a modern frame set in an old opening.

The rest of the South Range on each side of the gatehouse has on the S. face an embattled parapet, mostly restored, and various square-headed windows, some original and some modern; E. of the gatehouse are two projecting chimney-stacks with twin shafts set diagonally. The N. elevation of this range is much plainer than the S. elevation and has no parapet. The two-light windows are all original, except one with a wooden frame.

The West Range has a central gable cross-wing to the N. of which the range has been destroyed except for the lower storey of the inner wall. The range has been much altered but retains several original windows, some of them blocked, and on the E. side three original doorways with four-centred heads. In the E. face of the cross-wing are remains of a large archway, possibly indicating a former entrance through the cross-wing. On the W. face are traces of a square label over a wide opening with a three-light window above it. Inside the building a room W. of the outer gatehouse has some original linen-fold panelling.

The Gardens lay to the E. of the inner quadrangle and the foundations of the boundary wall are uncovered. At each of the eastern angles was an octagonal summer-house, and near the former house on the N. side was an entrance porch with buttresses at the angles; corresponding to this in the S. wall are remains of a gateway. In the middle of the enclosure is a restored circular basin. N. of the garden and on either side of the river Ter are the brick abutments of a former bridge.

The Kitchen Garden, W. of the outer quadrangle, is surrounded by its original walls, and near the N.W. angle of the house is a small building known as the "Fisherman's Hut." It is a 16th-century building of brick with a tiled roof and an original chimney-stack. S.W. of the house is an old garden wall with rusticated gate-piers, destroyed at the top.

The two Barns, to the S. of the outer gatehouse, face each other and were both of two storeys. The walls are of brick and the roofs are tiled. They were built in the 16th century and one has an original doorway with a four-centred arch, now blocked. Both have several original windows, now blocked. Inside the buildings the roofs have queenpost trusses, the eastern barn being of five and the western of six bays.

Condition—Of house, barns, etc., good.

Monuments (3–8).

The following monuments, unless otherwise described, are of the 17th century, and of two storeys, timber-framed and plastered; the roofs are tiled or thatched. Several of the buildings have original chimney-stacks and exposed ceiling beams.

Condition—Good, or fairly good, unless otherwise stated.

b(3). Leighs Hall, ¼ m. N.N.E. of the church, was built early in the 16th century on a T-shaped plan with the cross-wing at the N. end. Inside the building the S. wing has two original moulded beams, and in the cross-wing is an original window, now blocked.

b(4). House (Plate, p. 97), now two tenements, 30 yards N.N.E. of the church, was built early in the 16th century on an L-shaped plan, with the wings extending towards the S.E. and S.W. The main block was originally of one storey, but had an upper floor inserted in the 17th century. The upper storey projects at the S.W. end of the S.W. wing.

b(5). Cottage, two tenements, 200 yards N.N.E. of the church.

c(6). Cottage, 50 yards N.E. of (5).

b(7). Little Warwicks, house, ¾ m. N.N.W. of the church, was built probably late in the 16th century on a L-shaped plan with the wings extending towards the N. and W. In the 17th century it was extended towards the N. The upper storey projects at the S. end of the E. front.

a(8). Cottage, two tenements, 1¼ m. N. by E. of the church.