A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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The early history of the church of High Ongar is closely bound up with that of Stanford Rivers and Little Laver (q.v.). In 1086 Eustace, Count of Boulogne, was lord of the manors of Stanford Rivers and Little Laver. Early in the 12th century he apparently granted the advowsons of Stanford Rivers, Little Laver, and High Ongar to the priory of Rumilly-le-Comte, a Cluniac house in the Pas-de-Calais. (fn. 1) That he had possessed the advowsons of the first two churches is not surprising. Most parish churches in Essex originated as manorial churches and the church is usually close to the site of an ancient manor house whose lord possessed the advowson. At Stanford Rivers and Little Laver there is no doubt that the manors with which the churches are associated were those which belonged to Count Eustace. But the manor with which one would naturally associate High Ongar church for topographical reasons is Nash Hall (see above) and there is no evidence that Eustace had any rights in that manor, or on the other hand that the lords of Nash Hall ever had the patronage of the church. If the church had ever belonged to Nash Hall it had probably passed by 1086 to Count Eustace. It is possible that the church was originally a chapel dependent on the church of Chipping Ongar, which belonged to Eustace as lord of Chipping Ongar. In that case the advowson of High Ongar could have belonged to Eustace and his successors when its church acquired full parochial status. There was certainly a parish church at High Ongar in 1181, when its parson had cure of souls in Norton (Mandeville) (q.v.) and received all the tithes from that manor, paying to the church of Fyfield a sack of corn and a sack of oats because Norton was so near to that church. (fn. 2)
At some date between 1216 and 1227 Robert de Cern', Rector of High Ongar, obtained licence to hold a fair at his church each year until the king's majority. (fn. 3) In 1229 the then rector, Sylvester de Everdon, secured the renewal of the grant. (fn. 4) In the following year Sylvester was granted oaks from the king's forest in auxilium hospitandi se ad ecclesiam de Angre. (fn. 5) He resigned from the rectory before 1237 (fn. 6) but in 1246, when he was Archdeacon of Chester, he was granted the advowsons of High Ongar, Stanford Rivers, and Little Laver for fifteen years by the Prior of Rumilly. (fn. 7) An official return of about 1254 stated that the patron of High Ongar and Stanford Rivers was Sir Philip Basset, by reason of his wardship of the heirs to Chipping Ongar and Stanford Rivers, and that the patronage of Little Laver belonged to the monks of Rumilly. 'Charges' issuing from High Ongar and Little Laver were payable to Rumilly. The value of the rectory of High Ongar was 60 marks and that of Stanford Rivers 20 marks. (fn. 8)
Rumilly had not in fact surrendered its claim to High Ongar and Stanford Rivers. In 1264 the king presented to the rectory of High Ongar during the voidance of the priory (fn. 9) and in the following year it was expressly stated that this should not prejudice the future rights of the priory to the advowson. (fn. 10) In 1277-80 there were several conveyances by which Arnulph, Prior of Rumilly, and John de Rivers, lord of Stanford Rivers, both surrendered their rights in the churches of Stanford Rivers, High Ongar, and Little Laver to Edward I and Queen Eleanor. Pensions from all three churches were reserved to the priory. (fn. 11) In 1285 it was stated that the church of Stanford Rivers was in the gift of John, de Rivers and was worth 50 marks, that the church of High Ongar was in the gift of the king and queen and was worth 50 marks, and that the church of Little Laver (worth 30 marks) was also in the gift of the king and queen. (fn. 12) In 1291 the churches of Stanford Rivers and High Ongar were both valued at 40 marks. (fn. 13) In and after the 14th century the king always presented to Stanford Rivers as well as to High Ongar and Little Laver. (fn. 14)
The foregoing details are of great interest for they may explain how there came to be a detached part of High Ongar to the north of Stanford Rivers, some 2 miles from the main body of High Ongar parish. It is clear that there was a dispute between Rumilly and the lords of Stanford Rivers concerning the advowsons of Stanford Rivers and High Ongar and that about 1280 this was resolved by both parties surrendering their claims to the king and queen. It also appears that between about 1254 and 1291 the value of the rectory of High Ongar decreased from 60 marks to 40 marks while that of Stanford Rivers increased from 20 marks to 40 marks. It therefore seems likely that during the dispute or after its settlement the parish of Stanford Rivers was enlarged at the expense of High Ongar. The evidence of 1285 shows that John de Rivers retained some interest in the advowson of Stanford Rivers after 1280, and it is possible that the enlargement of the parish was the consideration for which he surrendered his claim to the patronage of High Ongar and Little Laver. If the parish of High Ongar did in fact lose a substantial part to Stanford Rivers it seems most likely that this was the belt of land which now forms the north of Stanford Rivers, running from Marden Ash in the east to Ongar Park Hall in the north-west, and is bounded on the south by the stream which joins the Roding at Wash Bridge. If this area was previously part of High Ongar it was the link between the main body of the parish and the AshlynsOngar Park section. The area involved fits in well with the reasonable deductions that can be made from the valuation figures of about 1254 and 1291. If we take the figures to mean that the total area of Stanford Rivers was doubled by the acquisition from High Ongar, this implies (in terms of the present acreage of Stanford Rivers) that some 2,200 acres were added between 1254 and 1291. The belt of land described above is approximately of that area. A final piece of evidence is that in the 17th century the Rector of High Ongar enjoyed part of the tithes from 16 acres of land near Colliers Hatch in Stanford Rivers (see below). Colliers Hatch is in the belt that may have been transferred from High Ongar to Stanford Rivers.
The king exercised the patronage of High Ongar until 1538 when Henry VIII granted it to Sir Richard Rich, later 1st Baron Rich. (fn. 15) It descended with Paslow Hall (see above) to the 4th Earl of Manchester, who presented to the rectory in 1701. (fn. 16) John Turvin presented in 1733, no doubt by grant pro hac vice, for in about 1755 the Duke of Manchester was returned as patron. (fn. 17) About this time, however, the advowson passed out of Manchester's hands. In 1770 Joseph Henshaw was rector and patron. (fn. 18) From this time the advowson changed hands with each new rector, being held either by the rector himself or by a close relation. (fn. 19) About 1942 it was acquired by the Church Association Trust, who are the present patrons. (fn. 20)
In 1535 the rectory of High Ongar was valued at £39 10s. 4d. (fn. 21) In 1610 the glebe was about 80 acres. (fn. 22) In 1637 the rectory was stated to be a manor 'consisting of demeans and copyholds, viz. nine tenements in High Ongar street, one in Shelley parish, 16 acres of ground near Colliers Hatch'. These lands paid 'tithes in kind for corn, after two ridges to Stanford Rivers, and one ridge to High Ongar, which is taken standing'. Pasture and hay ground paid tithes in kind rateably to both parishes. Well Field, about 12 acres, paid 'the third tenth sheaf' to High Ongar. (fn. 23) The tithes were commuted in 1849 for £1,382. (fn. 24)
In 1610 the Rectory house contained fourteen rooms and had extensive outbuildings. (fn. 25) It is possible that this was the building which still stands, to the east of the church, and which is described above (see p. 173), for that house originally contained fourteen rooms and dates from the late 16th or early 17th century. The present rectory is a fine red-brick three-story house with five windows across the front and a pedimented porch. It is said to contain 22 rooms and was built in the late 18th century.
The parish church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of nave, chancel, south tower, and north vestry. The nave dates from the middle of the 12th century and is of flint rubble with dressings of clunch partly replaced by limestone. The 12th-century south door is of special interest. The chancel was built or rebuilt in the middle of the 13th century and is also of flint rubble. The tower, which incorporates a south porch, dates from 1858 and is of brown brick with limestone dressings. The vestry was added in 1885 and is of flint rubble.
The nave retains three single-light round-headed windows of 12th-century date, two on the north side and one on the south. The western-most windows in the nave, although probably of the 13th century, have semicircular heads internally and may originally have been of the 12th century. Both north and south doorways are original, the north door having a semicircular head and moulded imposts. Externally the south door is of two orders, the outer having a round arch with chevron ornament supported on attached shafts with moulded bases and scalloped capitals. The inner also has shafts with scalloped capitals supporting a segmental arch with chevron ornament. Between the arches is a tympanum of which the stones are enriched with axe-cut ornament. There is similar ornament and a billet mould to the label above the doorway (see plate facing p. 184).
Externally the flint coursing of the mid-13th-century chancel is a little more pronounced than in the nave. An unusual feature is a string-course of clunch at silllevel in both north and south walls. There is a shallow projection at the junction of nave and chancel on the north side, possibly in connexion with a rood-loft stair. The east end has three graduated lancets. Internally they are grouped under chamfered rear arches springing from attached shafts with moulded bases and capitals. There are two lancets in the north wall and one in the south. The piscina is of the 13th century. In the nave the western-most windows in both north and south walls are 13th-century lancets. There are two lancets at the west end which may date from the 13th century but have probably been rebuilt.
In the 14th century windows were inserted on both north and south sides near the east end of the nave. These have three lights with sharply pointed cinquefoiled heads. That on the south side retains a label mould externally with corbel heads roughly restored in cement.
In the 15th century the church was reroofed, the chancel roof having heavily moulded wall-plates. The nave roof has five king-post trusses, the posts being octagonal with moulded bases and capitals and having four-way struts. Probably at the same time a square timber bell tower was inserted near the west end of the nave. This had a tall spire and survived until 1858. (fn. 26) The timbers of the western-most truss are not original and this may have been inserted when the tower was removed. The eastern-most truss is also new. The rafters of both roofs are ceiled in. During the 15th century also a two-light window with a square head was inserted in the north wall of the chancel at the east end, and another uniform with it in the corresponding position in the south wall. A three-light window of similar design in the west end of the south wall of the chancel dates from the 19th century but may have replaced an original 15th-century window.
The brick doorway on the south side of the chancel is probably of the 17th century. It has chamfered jambs and a segmental head and was restored in 1883. (fn. 27) In the early 19th century there still existed a timber porch dated 1640 outside the south doorway of the nave. (fn. 28)
The south side of the church was repaired in 1730-1. It is unlikely that the work involved was extensive, for it appears to have cost not more than £20 in addition to the normal church rate. (fn. 29)
About 1800 it was reported that 'the church of High Ongar is shored up and threatens downfall'. (fn. 30) Repairs to the west end and external rendering in Roman cement may have taken place about 1830, when the west door was made and the shallow porch added. This has a segmental arch and a castellated parapet.
In 1858 the present tower was added on the south side of the church, incorporating a south porch. (fn. 31) The idea may have come from Bobbingworth, where a somewhat similar tower was built in 1840. The tower is in a late 13th-century style; it cost £800. (fn. 32) There is evidence that a spire was planned, (fn. 33) but this was never built. The timber bell tower was removed at this time, and presumably also the 17th-century timber porch. The west gallery also appears to have been built at this time.
The chancel was thoroughly restored in 1883, the plaster being stripped from the walls externally and a vestry of uncertain date on the south side being cleared away. The three-light window on the south side of the chancel was inserted or renewed at the same time. (fn. 34) In 1885 the north vestry was built to designs by Frederic Chancellor. This work and that of 1883 was carried out by Noble of Ongar. (fn. 35)
There are six bells. The two oldest are by William Carter, 1610, and John Waylett, 1728. (fn. 36) In 1746 the fourth bell in the peal was recast by Thomas Lester: an entry in the vestry book records his contract with the churchwardens. (fn. 37) Other bells are by Pack and Chapman of London, 1775, and T. Mears, 1822 (a recasting). (fn. 38) In 1933 a sixth bell was added and all were rehung on a steel frame, the cost being met by the Barron Bell Trust. (fn. 39)
The pulpit and reading-desk, mostly of 1883, incorporate enriched panels of the late 16th or early 17th century. (fn. 40) The communion rails have turned posts of the mid-17th century. The stone font is of mid-or late-19th-century date. On the north side of the chancel are two bench-ends, with shaped finials, one having the date 1680 and the other the initials r.s. (probably Richard Stane). West of this and below the wall monument to Richard Stane is an imposing early 18th-century square pew with foliated carving to the mouldings and panels. The panelling on the north side of the chancel is of similar date.
The coloured glass in the east windows is mostly of the 19th century, but in each of the flanking lancets is a shield of arms surmounted by a crown and encircled by a wreath. The arms are those of Jane Seymour with the initials i.r. and those of Henry VIII with the initials h.i. (Henry and Jane). The date may be assumed to be about 1536.
Ceiling paintings which were not obliterated until after 1855 may have been of 17th-century origin. In 1768 and 1855 the roof was described as 'lofty, arched and painted with clouds and a sun rising in a glorious manner'. (fn. 41)
The church plate consists of three silver cups dated 1683, 1702, and 1891, three silver patens of 1683, 1702, and 1749, and a silver flagon of 1883 and almsdish of 1747. The cup and paten of 1702 were given by Mrs. Joanna Abdy and the paten of 1749 by William Denn.
On a floor slab in the chancel is the indent of a missing 14th-century brass. This appears to have consisted of a foliated cross with a figure in the head and an Agnus Dei at the foot. A slab in the nave has a brass showing the standing figure of a man in early-16th-century dress. A brass in the chancel dated 1610 has initials m.t. and a text from 1 Corinthians xv, 36. A companion brass with initials e.t. and a text is now lost, but a rubbing was taken about 1810. (fn. 42) Also in the chancel is a floor slab and brass to William Tabor (1611) Rector of High Ongar and founder of Tabor's Almshouses (see Charities, below). Floor slabs of other former rectors include William Alchorne (1701), Josiah Tomlinson (1651), John Lavender (1670). There is also a floor slab to Richard Cartar (1659) with an inscription indicating that he was the victim of persecution. Above the Stane pew is a handsome marble monument with Corinthian pilasters and a shield of arms to Richard Stane of Forest Hall (1714). There are a number of other later memorials.
John de Welde of Ongar, whose will was proved in 1337, bequeathed a cow called 'turtel' with its calf to maintain a candle on every double festival of the year before the great altar in High Ongar church. (fn. 43) The will of Sir Peter Siggiswyk (proved 1503) provided 13s. 4d. for keeping his obit in the church of High Ongar, and 8d. for the priest singing there. (fn. 44)
ST. JAMES'S Church, Marden Ash, was built in 1884 as a chapel of ease to the parish church. It was destroyed by a German rocket in 1945. It consisted of a nave of flint and stone, and it had one bell. (fn. 45)
Paslow Wood Common Mission Church is a rectangular roughcast building with a low-pitched hipped slate roof. A small porch at the south end is dated 1865. Until 1895 it was a church school. (fn. 46)