An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 4, South east. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1923.
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80. SOUTH BENFLEET. (D.d.)
(O.S. 6 in. (a)lxxvii. N.W. (b)lxxvii. S.W.)
South Benfleet is a small parish on the N. bank of the Thames, opposite Canvey Island, 6 m. W. of Southend-on-Sea. The church is the principal monument.
a(l). Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin stands in the centre of the village at the S. end of the parish. The walls are of ashlar, rubble, Roman brick and flint; the roofs are covered with tiles and lead. The walls of the nave and. aisles contain a considerable quantity of squared ragstone and septaria, possibly re-used Roman material. The W. end of the Nave is of mid 12th-century date. About the middle of the 13th century the chancel-arch was re-built. C. 1300 a S. aisle was added, and the West Tower was built probably shortly after. In the middle of the 15th century the Chancel was re-built with the chancel-arch, and the S. arcade and aisle re-built. Late in the same century the South Porch was added. C. 1500 the North Aisle was added, and the clearstorey is of the same date. In the 17th century minor repairs were carried out, and in recent years the church has been restored and the floor of the nave lowered by about two feet.
The church is of considerable architectural interest, the S. porch being an unusually good piece of timber work.
Architectural Description—The Chancel (35½ ft. by 22 ft.) has a modern E. window, but a segmental relieving-arch to a pre-existing one shows externally and internally. In the N. wall are two 15th-century windows restored in cement, and each of two cinque-foiled lights with vertical tracery in a two-centred head. In the S. wall are two similar windows; between them is a 15th-century doorway with chamfered jambs and two centred head restored in cement. The early 15th-century chancel-arch is two-centred and of two hollow-chamfered orders; the mid 13th-century responds are semi-circular, with three attached shafts with continuous moulded capitals and bases; the responds were perhaps re-set and the former arch widened early in the 15th century. Above the arch, showing externally, are three small blocked windows of 16th-century date with rounded heads.
The Nave (44½ ft. by 22½ ft.) has N. and S. arcades, each of three bays. The N. arcade is of c. 1500, with two-centred arches of two chamfered orders; the columns have each four attached shafts with moulded capitals and bases; the responds have attached half-columns. A setback in the walling at the level of the respond caps indicates the cutting away and rebuilding of the earlier work. The S. arcade was re-built in the 15th century, and has two-centred arches of two chamfered orders resting on octagonal piers and semi-octagonal responds, all with moulded capitals and bases; the capitals of the responds and of the second pier are re-used work of c. 1300 from a former arcade. Some of the stones have masons' marks. In the W. wall is a 12th-century doorway with a semi-circular head and jambs of two chamfered orders with mutilated impost-mouldings. Higher up are two blocked 12th-century windows, each of a narrow round-headed light with wide splays. The clearstorey has on each side three late 15th-century windows, each of two cinque-foiled lights in a square head with a moulded label; below the level of the sills on each side are four carved stone corbels, two being grotesque heads, and the others the symbols of the evangelists.
The North Aisle (43½ ft. by 10¼ ft.) is of c. 1500, and has an embattled parapet. In the E. wall is a window of two cinque-foiled lights with a quatrefoil in a four-centred head. In the N. wall are two windows; the eastern is of three cinque-foiled lights in a four-centred head; the western is similar to the window in the E. wall; between the windows is the blocked N. doorway, with moulded jambs and two-centred head. E. of this is the rood-loft staircase, with square-headed upper and lower doorways. In the W. wall is a window of two lights similar to those in the N. and S. walls of the chancel. All the windows and the doorway have moulded labels.
The South Aisle (10 ft. wide) had an embattled parapet with a grotesque head at the S.E. angle. The four windows are all of mid to late 15th-century date and uniform with that in the W. wall of the N. aisle; between the two windows in the S. wall is a 15th-century doorway (Plate, p. 140) with moulded jambs and two-centred head.
The West Tower (16¼ ft. by 14½ ft.) is probably of early 14th-century date, and is of three stages undivided externally, with an internal spiral staircase of timber having an octagonal newel. The ground-stage has in each external wall a window of one trefoiled light with a square head. The second stage has in the S. and W. walls a similar window. The bell-chamber has an opening in the E. wall communicating with the roof but now blocked. The N., S. and W. walls have each a square-headed window of two trefoiled lights with a square defaced label.
The South Porch (12 ft. by 10 ft.) is of timber and of 15th-century date (Plate, p. 137). The E. and W. sides are each divided into two bays by slightly projecting buttresses. The upper part of each bay has modern mullions and tracery. The outer archway is two-centred with traceried spandrels; above the moulded beam at the base of the gable are three panels divided by buttresses and each having a traceried head and partly restored; above the panels is a moulded and embattled cross-beam, and one moulded barge-board is old. The roof (Plate, p. 140) is of two bays with curved principals, a middle hammer-beam truss and a tie-beam against the N. wall. All the main timbers are moulded and embattled, and the hammer-beams, purlins, tie and collar-beams have curved braces with traceried spandrels.
Fittings—Bells: five; 1st by John Hodson, 1664; 3rd, by John Walgrave, inscribed "Nomen Magdalene Campana Gerit Melodie," 15th-century; 4th by Miles Graye, 1676; 5th by John and Henry Wilner, 1636; bell-frame, 17th-century. Bracket: In S. aisle—on E. wall, square, moulded stone bracket, 15th-century. Brass: In chancel— on S. wall, to William Card[inal], 1568, inscription only. Some fragments of a canopy and the stem of a bracket of c. 1400 from this church are now preserved in Colchester Museum. Coffin-lid: In nave—at E. end, tapering slab with double-chamfered edge, raised foliated cross and mutilated marginal inscription in French; the base is broken away, late 13th-century. Consecration-crosses: On N.W. buttress to W. tower, small stone cross with Roman-brick filling; on each of the S.W. and W. buttresses similar Roman-brick cross with flint-filling. Font: circular Purbeck-marble stem, 13th-century or earlier, rest modern. Glass: In the E. and N.W. windows of the N. aisle are some 14th and 15th-century fragments of quarries and borders. Monument and Floor-slabs. Monument: In churchyard— S.W. of the tower, table-tomb with illegible inscription and date 1695. Floor-slabs: In chancel —(1) to Sir William Appleton, Bart., 1705, and Dorothy, his wife, 1719, with achievement-of-arms. (2) to William, 1685, and John, 1689, sons of Sir William Appleton, with achievement-of-arms. Niches: In N. aisle—in N.E. corner, (1) square-headed and set diagonally in angle: in E. respond of S. arcade—(2) shallow, with pointed head, 15th-century; in S. aisle—in S. wall, (3) with moulded jambs and three-centred head, deeply projecting semi - octagonal shelf, 15th-century. Paving: In N. aisle, at W. end—large creamcoloured tile with large quatrefoil in black inlay, date uncertain. Piscinae: In chancel—with moulded jambs and cinque-foiled arch in square head, 15th-century. In N. aisle—with chamfered segmental-pointed head and round drain, 15th-century. In S. aisle—in S. wall, with moulded jambs, trefoiled ogee head and sex-foiled drain, 14th-century. Plate: includes cup of 1576 with band of engraved ornament and cover-paten of the same date. Stoup: In S. porch, E. of doorway—segmental-headed recess with broken basin, 15th-century. Sundial: On W. jamb of S. doorway to chancel, scratched dial.
Condition—The walls have some bad cracks (since repaired), particularly the W. wall of the S. aisle. The S. porch is breaking away from the S. wall of the S. aisle, and the S. arcade is giving at the first pier.
The following monuments, unless otherwise described, are of the 17th century and of two storeys, timber-framed and plastered or weather-boarded; the roofs are tiled. Some of the buildings have original chimney-stacks and exposed ceiling-beams.
Condition—Good or fairly good, unless noted.
b(2). Hoy Inn, 50 yards S. of the church, was built late in the 15th or early in the following century, with a central hall and E. and W. crosswings; in the 16th century an upper floor was inserted in the hall, and in recent years it was added to on the N. and E. At the E. end of the original hall is a late 16th-century chimney-stack, the upper part of which has been re-built. The main beams in the ceilings of the ground-floor rooms are exposed, and the middle room has moulded wall-posts with carved and moulded braces dividing it into two bays. In the room above is a moulded wall-plate and the end of a moulded tie-beam which has been cut away.
b(3). Anchor Inn, 50 yards E. of (2), was built possibly in the 16th century, but has been much altered. The upper storey projects on the S. front.
b(4). Cottage, two tenements, E. of (3).
b(5). Cottage, three tenements, 200 yards E. of (4), was built probably in the 16th century with a cross-wing at the W. end.
b(6). Cottage, 150 yards S.S.W. of the church.
b(7). House, 30 yards S. of (6), is of T-shaped plan with the cross-wing at the N. end, and is of early 17th-century date or possibly earlier; there are modern additions at the W. end of the cross-wing.
a(8). Great Tar pots, house, about 1½ m. N.N.W. of the church, is of two storeys with attics. It was built in the 17th century on an L-shaped plan with the wings projecting towards the N. and E. and has small modern additions.
a(9). Jarvis Hall, house, outbuilding and barn about 1¼ m. N.N.E. of the church. The House has been completely altered. The Outbuilding E. of the house is of brick and is now of two storeys only; it formed part of a larger building, of which foundations have been found. In the E. wall is an original window of three lights with a square head; in the W. wall is a blocked window. The Barn N.W. of the house is of the 16th century and of five bays with queen-post roof-trusses.
a(10). Danish Camp. Although no definite earthworks remain, the churchyard and adjoining land, bounded on the N. and W. by the backwater from Benfleet Creek, is probably the site of Hasten's Camp mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under A.D. 894. This is suggested by the position and formation of the ground, and the theory is strengthened by the fact that considerable remains of burnt ships and human skeletons were found when the railway bridge was built over the mouth of the backwater, c. 1855. (Essex Arch. Soc. Trans., N.S., VIII, p. 236.)