A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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There was a church in Moreton before the end of the 11th century. William de Scohies, lord of the manor of Moreton by 1086, (fn. 1) gave the church with its land and tithe to the abbey of St. Stephen, Caen. (fn. 2) Between 1174 and 1182 a charter of confirmation described the gift as the church of Moreton and the tithe of the demesne of William d'Avranches from his mill, pannage, poults, apples, nuts, and other tithes belonging to that church, according to William's charter; also the messuage of John the chaplain, near the churchyard, with the adjacent flax-ground of William's gift. (fn. 3) A vicarage was ordained to which the prior of Panfield, a cell of the abbey of St. Stephen, usually presented until 1335. (fn. 4) After this Edward III, having seized the priory on account of the war with France, presented to the living several times during the remainder of his reign. (fn. 5) The advowson continued in the Crown during the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. (fn. 6) In 1414 Panfield priory and its possessions came to the king under the act suppressing non-conventual alien priories. (fn. 7) In 1441 Henry VI granted to Eton College from Moreton church an annual pension equal to the value of the church on the assessment of 1291 (see below). (fn. 8) The living remained, however, in the gift of the Crown, which presented to the church as a vicarage until at least 1484. (fn. 9) In 1532 Henry VIII presented to it as a rectory and it afterwards continued as a rectory. (fn. 10) In 1538 the king granted the advowson first to Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, and then, in December, to Charles, Duke of Suffolk (d. 1545), who immediately alienated it to Sir Richard Rich, later 1st Baron Rich. (fn. 11) On the death of Lord Rich in 1567 the advowson passed to his son Robert, the 2nd baron, and afterwards in 1581 to Robert, the 3rd baron, later Earl of Warwick (d. 1619). (fn. 12) Jacob Morris and John Morrice presented pro hac vice in 1591. (fn. 13) Between 1595 and 1632 the advowson was the subject of various conveyances but it remained in the hands of the Earl of Warwick and his heirs. (fn. 14) In 1626 Robert, Earl of Warwick (d. 1658), presented his chaplain Samuel Hoard (see below) to the rectory. (fn. 15) In 1658 Edward, Earl of Manchester (d. 1671), and others, trustees of the earl, presented Edmund Calamy the younger (see below) to the living. (fn. 16) Charles, Earl of Warwick (d. 1673), presented in 1662. (fn. 17) After his death his nieces Anne, Mary, and Essex, daughters of his brother Robert, Earl of Warwick (d. 1659), all secured rights in the advowson as also did Frances, sister of Robert and Charles and wife of Nicholas, Earl of Scarsdale (d. 1681). (fn. 18) By 1687 Daniel, Earl of Nottingham (d. 1730), and husband of Essex, had apparently secured sole rights of patronage. (fn. 19) Soon afterwards the advowson was acquired from Nottingham by Ralph Smith of Islip (Oxf.). (fn. 20) In 1693 it was purchased from Smith for £420 by St. John's College, Cambridge, who retained it until 1933. (fn. 21) Since 1933 the living has been united with that of Little Laver in the gift of St. John's College, who have first and third turns, and the Bishop of Chelmsford, who has second turn. (fn. 22)
In 1254 the church was assessed at 18 marks and the vicarage at 5 marks. (fn. 23) In 1291 the church was assessed at £12 and the vicarage at £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 24) In 1324 it was recorded that Panfield priory received £12 a year from Moreton church. (fn. 25) In 1428 the church was still taxed on the valuation of 1291. (fn. 26)
In 1441 Henry VI granted to the Provost of Eton College and to his successors an annual pension of 18 marks from Moreton church. (fn. 27) In 1535 the rectory was valued at £18 3s. 4d. (fn. 28) In 1661 the living was valued at £160. (fn. 29) Previous estimates in the 17th century had been £50 in 1604 and £120 in 1650. (fn. 30) The tithes were commuted in 1840 for £390 5s. (fn. 31) There were then 68 acres of glebe. (fn. 32)
A terrier of 1610 refers to 'a dwelling house newly built by the incumbent'. (fn. 33) The present rectory is an L-shaped building, originally timber-framed and plastered but now partly faced with brick. The base of the massive chimney at the south end and some of the timbers may be part of the early-17th-century rectory. The house was evidently remodelled early in the 18th century and the staircase and panelling are of this date. The north wing probably dates from the incumbency of W. Wilson (1796-1822) when the house was extended. (fn. 34) The Georgian front, facing east, has six sash windows on the first floor. The doorcase has a Doric entablature, fluted pilasters, and a pediment.
Samuel Hoard, rector 1626-58, was a theological writer. (fn. 35) The puritan Edmund Calamy the younger was rector from 1658 until ejected in 1662. (fn. 36) Richard Vaughan, rector from 1591-2 until 1596, was bishop successively of Bangor, Chester, and London. (fn. 37)
The parish church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of nave, chancel, west tower, south porch, and north vestry. The nave and chancel, which are structurally undivided, are of flint rubble. The dressings of clunch have now mostly been replaced with more durable stone. The tower and vestry are of red brick. The south porch is of wood.
Nothing remains of the pre-13th-century church except the font (see below). The present nave and chancel date from the first half of the 13th century, the nave having been built first. The nave has two restored lancet windows in the north wall and one in the south. The position of the north and south doorways is probably original. The east wall of the chancel has three lancets, a central one in the gable and two below. The north wall of the chancel has two lancets, one of them being behind the organ.
In the 15th century the chancel and nave were probably reroofed. The chancel retains one moulded tie-beam of this date. The nave has two 15th-century roof trusses near the west end. These have long struts from the tie-beams to the heads of the octagonal kingposts as well as one short strut each to the central purlin. In both chancel and nave the rafters are ceiled in. The roof of the south porch retains some 15th-century timbers. The two-light window near the east end of the north wall of the nave was inserted in the late 15th century. The single-light window on the south side of the chancel is also of this date. The perishable nature of the clunch of which the windows were constructed accounts for their replacement at different dates and for the extremely varied character of the windows on the south side of the church. The westernmost window in the nave, recently replaced, was probably originally of the 15th century. Two other windows, one of the 18th and one of the 19th century, may also have replaced windows of the 15th century or earlier.
The tower may originally have been of the 16th or early 17th century. Morant (1768) described the tower as 'of brick, plaistered over, with a spire shingled'. (fn. 38) Parts of the nave and chancel roofs date from the 17th century.
The south doorway with its six-panelled door is of 18th-century date. The weather-boarded south porch, incorporating earlier timbers, may have been reconstructed at the same time. In 1727 twisted communion rails, chancel wainscoting, box pews, and a west gallery were given by Mrs. Judith Elford. (fn. 39)
In 1786 part of the tower fell in a gale. (fn. 40) It was rebuilt by James Marrable in 1787 'upon the model of the old'. (fn. 41) It is of red brick, in three stages, and has a castellated parapet and a short shingled spire. The doorway into the nave was built at the same time. The two-light window near the east end of the nave on the south side is like the wooden west window of the tower and is probably of about the same period.
In 1868-9 there was a thorough restoration of the interior of the church. (fn. 42) Many of the fittings, including the box pews, the chancel wainscoting, the lists of benefactions to the poor, texts and hatchments, were removed. New pine seating was installed. (fn. 43) The pulpit was reconstructed and the sounding-board removed. The vestry may have been built at the same time.
Between 1877 and 1891 the north wall of the chancel was rebuilt, the lancet windows being restored and reset at the expense of the rector, the Revd. A. Calvert. (fn. 44) The easternmost window on the south side of the chancel appears also to be of late-19th-century date, probably replacing a 15th-century two-light window.
In 1953 the two lower lancets at the east end and the quoins at the west end of the church were restored in Clipsham stone. The westernmost window on the south side of the nave was replaced by a copy of a square-headed two-light late-15th-century window in the same material. (fn. 47) The tower was restored and the spire reshingled.
There are six bells. Two were recast in 1928 when the wooden framework supporting the bells was replaced by steel. (fn. 48) The inscription on one of these, 'Miles Graye and William Harbert me fecit 1627', has been cut out and mounted on a pedestal in the church. Of the remainder one is inscribed 'Miles Graye 1632', one 'Thomas Gardiner Sudbury 1712', and one 'Thomas Lester 1751'. The sixth bell (No. 1) was presented by the ringers themselves in 1933. (fn. 49)
The Purbeck marble font is of the late 12th century. It consists of a square bowl standing on a circular base, which has four detached shafts. Two sides of the bowl are ornamented with fleur-de-lis, one has roundheaded arcading, and the fourth a crescent, disk, and spiral. The surface is much decayed and the carving incomplete.
The oak pulpit is hexagonal and probably dates from the restoration of 1868. It incorporates four carved panels and a cornice of about 1600. The painting above the altar is a copy of the Holy Family by Andrea del Sarto and was acquired in 1951. (fn. 50)
A Chancery decree of 1638 recognized the Church Lands Charity, the origin of which was then unknown. (fn. 51) Its property was then and afterwards stated to be 'a tenement and 6 acres of land called the Church Land', held in trust for the repair of the church. (fn. 52) The property was at the west end of North Lane. (fn. 53) In deeds from 1787 until 1832 it comprised a freehold cottage or tenement called 'the Church House', a close of pasture adjoining, 2 acres by estimation, and two other closes or crofts of arable, 4 acres by estimation, on the other side of the road leading towards Moreton windmill. (fn. 54) The estate seems always to have been let together and in the 19th century was called Church Farm. (fn. 55) In 1646 it was rented at £5 12s. a year. (fn. 56) The annual rent remained at this figure until 1811 when it rose to £12. (fn. 57) By 1879 it had risen to £20 but it fell to £18 before 1895 when it was further reduced to £12, after the farm-house had been destroyed by fire. (fn. 58) In 1947 the rent was £15. (fn. 59) After 1895 the income from rent was supplemented by the interest on £112 2s. fire-insurance, which was invested. (fn. 60) In 1869 £113 3s. 9d. stock, representing accumulations of surplus income, was sold and, supplemented by voluntary contributions, was used to erect new pews. (fn. 61) The sum of £50, invested in 1874, was also used in 1878 for large repairs. (fn. 62) In 1950 the income of £2 12s. 8d. from stock was spent in part payment of repairs, but apparently no rent was received from the lands of the charity. (fn. 63)
William Talbot, by will proved 1894, left £100 stock to the rector and churchwardens in trust for the maintenance of the churchyard. (fn. 64) In 1950 the income of £3 11s. 2d. was spent in part payment for its upkeep. (fn. 65)
The Guild of All Saints, Moreton, probably founded in 1473, was a religious guild of a type common in rural parishes in the 14th and 15th centuries. Its statutes, (fn. 66) drawn up in 1473, prescribed that it was to hold an annual general meeting on the Sunday after All Saints Day, for worship and the election of officers. Any member who failed to attend mass on this Sunday, 'in his best clothynge', or failed to attend evensong the previous evening, was to pay 1 lb. of wax 'to the amendment of the lyghtes'. The guild officers, who were to be elected at the meeting, were to be an alderman, two masters, a clerk, and a dean. At the feast after mass the allowance of ale was graduated to the status of the officers; the alderman had a gallon for himself and his guests, each master a pottle, the clerk a pottle, and the dean a quart. The clerk was to receive 16d. and the dean 8d. a year. Every new member of the guild was to pay 2s. 6d. 'to the sustynance and to the fortherance of the gylde' and 1d. each to the clerk and to the dean. When a member died the guild masters were to sing masses 'of the costys of the gylde' and all members 'wythin the towne and having knowynge thereof' were, under penalty of 1d., to attend the funeral and 'to offyre for the sawle at the mess done therfor a ¼d.' The Vicar of Moreton was to be paid 4s. 4d. every year to pray and say masses every Sunday for guildsmen. It was further laid down that if any member 'fall into old age or into great poverty nor have noth wharwyth to be founden nor to helpe hymselfe' he was to have 4d. a week of the goods of the guild as long as its chattels were worth 40s. or more. If there were several such needy members, the 4d. was to be divided between them. It was also laid down that if a member accused any of his brethren of a trespass he should not in the first instance have recourse to the common law but should submit to the arbitration of 2 to 4 guildsmen. If the arbitration failed the alderman could license the disputants to go to law but if any member refused to submit to arbitration in the first instance, he was to pay 40d. to the guild. Under a statute of 1504 (fn. 67) every brother was to have at his death five priests, and every sister two priests, each of whom was to have 4d. at the cost of the guild; on every such occasion 6d. was to be given in bread to the poor people of the parish. There is no later reference to this guild. (fn. 68)
The house known as Black Hall or Guildhall Cottage, at Moreton End, is traditionally supposed to have been the meeting place of the Guild of All Saints. The evidence of the building itself, which dates from the later 15th century, confirms this. The comparatively elaborate moulding of the timbers internally and the reports of carving externally also suggest a building of more status than a small domestic house of the period. The present house (see plate facing p. 137) is L-shaped and consists of what was originally an open hall of two bays with a two-story gabled wing at its north end. The external wall at the south end of the hall is of later construction and incorporates an arch-braced roof truss. It has been suggested (fn. 69) that the hall may originally have had an additional bay, used for service purposes, at this end. Original door-heads at the front and back of the hall, adjacent to this south truss, would be consistent with a screens passage between the service bay and the hall proper. The two remaining bays of the hall are divided by another arch-braced roof truss of a more elaborate character. This has been partially enclosed in a later partition, but the moulded wall posts and a kingpost with a moulded base can still be seen. The north cross-wing, corresponding to the 'solar wing' of a domestic building, has two rooms to the ground floor and two above. In each case these were connected by doorways of which the four-centred heads remain. On both floors the front rooms are the more elaborately finished: the room below has moulded ceiling timbers, and that above has stop-moulded wall plates and an arch-braced roof truss of which only the lower part is now visible. There are indications that the back room on the first floor was once subdivided. In many cases the original position of the windows, some now blocked, can be traced. Externally the building is covered with rough-cast which is said to conceal carved or moulded timbers, in particular a carved sill to the first floor window at the front of the cross-wing. (fn. 70) At the north-west corner, where the first floor oversails on both sides, is a moulded angle post and curved bracket. This post supports a diagonal or 'dragon' beam. Many of the alterations, including the insertion of the hall ceiling, the chimneys, and the present front door, probably date from the late 16th or early 17th century. At this date or later a small staircase wing was inserted in the angle between the hall block and the cross-wing.