A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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The church, which dates from the 11th or 12th century, had been appropriated by 1181 to St. Paul's Cathedral, which owned the manor of Navestock. (fn. 1) A vicar is mentioned in a document of about 1222-9. (fn. 2) The rectory and the advowson of the vicarage descended together along with the manor until 1555, when Sir Edward Waldegrave sold the rectory and advowson to Sir Thomas Pope to form part of the endowment of Trinity College, Oxford. (fn. 3) They have remained in the college ever since. In addition to their ownership of the rectory and advowson during the Middle Ages St. Paul's exercised peculiar jurisdiction over the parish of Navestock. The cathedral retained this after parting with the manor, rectory, and advowson in 1544 and continued to exercise the powers of ordinary until the reforming legislation of the 19th century. (fn. 4)
It was stated in 1181 that the church of Navestock paid 60s. to St. Paul's per manum firmarii and that there were 46 acres of arable glebe and 40 acres wood. The church had the tithes tocius ville and the third sheaf from the demesne. (fn. 5) In 1535 the vicarage was valued at £13 3s. 8d. (fn. 6) The grant of the rectory to Trinity College ostensibly included lands but in spite of its wording the college does not appear to have acquired any glebe. Probably, as Stubbs suggested, the 86 acres mentioned in 1181 had become lost among the lands of the manor as a result of the practice of farming out the manor and rectory together. (fn. 7) In the 18th century the vicarage 'was amply endowed by the college on these conditions: the vicar for the time being is lessee for the great tithes, paying to the college a small quit rent, and a fine certain of £60 per annum'. (fn. 8) At the tithe commutation in 1840 the college (as rector) and the vicar were each allotted a tithe rent charge of £574. There were then 21 acres of vicarial glebe. (fn. 9) Part of this glebe was probably derived from a gift about 1365 by John Barnet, Bishop of Bath and Wells (formerly a canon of St. Paul's) of 9 acres of arable, 2 acres 1 rood of meadow, and 12d. in Navestock. (fn. 10)
The former vicarage stands at the north-east corner of Navestock Heath. A 19th-century pen-and-ink sketch shows the house which previously occupied the site. (fn. 11) It was evidently a timber-framed structure dating from before the middle of the 17th century. A central block was flanked by two gabled wings and there were two old brick chimneys. The sash windows and pedimented doorcase were 18th-century insertions. The present house, which stands back from the road in a large garden, was built about 1867. (fn. 12) It is a red-brick building with decorative stripes of yellow and black. At the front is a tall gable and a porch of carved stone. It has been empty for some years and has recently been sold.
The church of ST. THOMAS THE APOSTLE consists of nave, chancel, south aisle, and western belfry with spire. The belfry is one of the notable timber towers of Essex. The rest of the church is of flint rubble and pebbles plastered externally, with dressings of limestone and clunch. The roofs are tiled and the spire shingled. The church dates from the 11th or 12th century but was largely rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1940 it was badly damaged by a German land mine and by 1954 repairs had not been completed.
The north wall of the nave is part of the 11th-century church. The north doorway has a plain tympanum under a semicircular arch. Below this a segmental arch is ornamented with rounded billets. The door itself may also be of 11th- or 12th-century date.
The church was considerably enlarged in the 13th century. A pointed arch in the north wall of the nave, now blocked, may have led to a chapel of this period. One of the jambs has an attached shaft with 'stiff-leaf' foliage to the capital. The south aisle and the chapel at its east end are also of the mid-13th century. The arcade has four bays but the easternmost arch is of wood and is probably of much later date. The original arches are of two chamfered orders and are supported on circular columns with moulded capitals. There is one lancet window in the south aisle and there are traces of two more. The mid-13th-century doorway has been much restored and the door itself, which may have been equally ancient, has been replaced. The east window in the south chapel was probably of the 13th century but it has suffered later alterations and damage. Beside it is a 13th-century piscina with a trefoiled head. It is possible that this was already in existence by 1251 and served one of the two altars mentioned in a visitation of that year. (fn. 13) A new chapel, to which there is a reference in 1297, may have been this chapel or one which has now disappeared on the north side of the nave. (fn. 14)
In the same visitation of 1297 it was ordered that the chancel 'should be better united' to the nave. (fn. 15) It was no doubt as a result of this order that the chancel was rebuilt during the first half of the 14th century. The three-light east window has net tracery and there are other early-14th-century windows in the chancel. There is also one of this date in the north wall of the nave.
In the 15th century the south porch and the belfry were added. The belfry is timber-framed. The walls were formerly weather-boarded but have now been plastered. Round the base is a semi-octagonal aisle which once contained vestries. The central framework consists of four heavy oak posts with attached octagonal columns at their internal angles. The bell chamber has a louvred opening in each face and is surmounted by a shingled spire.
The timber south porch was destroyed in 1940. The four-centred outer archway had sunk spandrels, each with a shield, the eastern a fesse between two chevrons, the western said to have been Waldegrave. In the gable was an 18th-century clock-face. The sides were modern except for the posts and moulded wall plates. (fn. 16)
During the 15th century also new windows were added in the south wall of the aisle and the north wall of the nave, and a 'low side' window in the north wall of the chancel is of the same period. A window of 15th-century date in the south wall of the chapel, which was reported as badly decayed in 1919 (fn. 17) has now been renewed.
In post-medieval times, probably in the early 19th century, alterations were made inside the church and the oak pier and arches put in the south arcade. This pier is roughly cut to a polygonal shape and has a moulded cap and a brick base. The wooden arches springing from it are rough and plain and the whole has been covered with plaster to resemble the rest of the arcade. There are similar wooden arches across the nave and aisle at this point springing from semicircular responds, also of plastered wood with moulded plaster caps.
Late in the 19th century the church was restored, the tower and spire being repaired in 1897 at the cost of David Sellar. (fn. 18) The west wall of the nave, which is of brick, was probably put in at this time. The roofs of nave and chancel also appear to have been renewed in the 19th century. (fn. 19)
The 18th-century three-manual organ now in the south chapel was brought from Southwood Court, Highgate (Mdx.), and installed in 1930. (fn. 20) In 1931 the south porch and the windows were restored. (fn. 21) On 21 September 1940 a landmine fell in the churchyard near the south-west corner of the church. The south porch was destroyed, the belfry badly damaged, and much of the roof stripped of tiles. There was also considerable damage to the interior. A complete restoration of the church started in 1954. The site of the bomb crater is now occupied by a garden of remembrance. (fn. 22)
There are five bells, the first being of 1862 but the others older. The third is by John Walgrave and probably dates from about 1420-50. It has the inscription 'Sancta Katerina Ora Pro Nobis'. The fourth is by John Hardyng and of about 1560 and the second and fifth by Miles Graye, 1637. (fn. 23)
The plate consists of a cup and paten of 1625, a pair of silver flagons of 1626 and 1630 given by Christian Greene in 1638 and 1639, a brass almsdish, and a small silver cup and paten given in 1847 by the Revd. James Ford, then vicar. There is also a pair of electroplated patens, undated. (fn. 24)
In the south aisle there are two 14th-century coffin lids which were at one time used as door steps. The font, also in the aisle, is modern, but beside it is the base of the 13th century one. The octagonal oak pulpit is of the 18th century but the pews are modern.
There are several brasses on the walls of the chancel, the oldest being to Richard Makyn (1603) and his wife Agnes (Colford) (1589), and to James Makyn (1616). On one of the window-jambs is a brass to John, son of Edward Moore (1624), a cursitor of the Chancery. Also in the chancel is a monument to John Greene, serjeant-at-law and Judge of the Sheriffs' Court (1653) and his wife (1641). Other monuments are to the wife and child of Charles Snelling (1625) with effigies and shield of arms, and to Rebecca (Greene) wife of Thomas Thorold (1625).
There are a number of other monuments, including some floor slabs of the 17th century. The most impressive are those to members of the Waldegrave family. They include the 1st Earl, 1741: a marble tablet on the north wall of the chancel; Hon. Edward Waldegrave, drowned off Falmouth on his return from Corunna, 1809: a symbolic relief carved by John Bacon the younger; the 7th Earl Waldegrave, 1846, with portrait bust by Behnes; (fn. 25) Viscount Chewton, son of the 8th Earl, died of wounds at Scutari, 1854; and Frances, Countess Waldegrave, 1879. There is also a monument to the Revd. James Ford, vicar, 1850.
Sir Gilbert de Breauté, in right of his wife Joan, had licence from the Dean of St. Paul's, about 1223-7, with the consent of the vicar, to found a private chapel at his court in Navestock. The founders and their kin were to maintain a chaplain at their own cost, pay all profits to the vicar, exclude the parishioners, swear to preserve the rights of the mother church, and give yearly to it two wax candles. The chaplain was to administer mass only with bread and holy water, saving that at Easter the founders and their kin, their free household and their guests but not their servants were to be admitted to the sacraments at the altar. (fn. 26)
A chapel is mentioned in 1335 as belonging to the manor house of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's. (fn. 27)