Little Chesterford

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1, North West. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1916.

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'Little Chesterford', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1, North West, (London, 1916) pp. 172-175. British History Online [accessed 22 April 2024]

In this section


(O.S. 6 in. (a)ii. S.E. (b)iii. S.W.)

Little Chesterford is a small parish on the right bank of the Cam, adjoining Saffron Walden on the N. The principal monument is the Manor House. Monuments Nos. 3, 5, 7 and 10 were destroyed by fire in 1914.


a (1). Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin stands at the W. end of the village. The walls are of flint rubble, roughly plastered and partly cemented; the roofs are covered with tiles. The earliest detail in the building is of the 13th century, but the proportions and the position of the doorways perhaps indicate an earlier date for the structure. The Chancel was possibly rebuilt towards the end of the 14th century, but owing to the internal and external plastering, the evidence is inconclusive. The North Porch was added in the 15th century. The church was restored during the 19th century, when the Vestry and Bell-cot were added.

The Church, Plan

Architectural Description—The interior (79 ft. by 20 ft. average) is without structural division.

The Chancel (22½ ft. to the screen) has a late 14th-century E. window of three trefoiled lights and net tracery in a two-centred head; the jambs, mullions and head are moulded. In the N. wall are two windows also of late 14th-century date; the eastern is of similar detail to the E. window, but of two cinquefoiled lights under a traceried three-centred head, with a moulded rear arch; the western is a low-side window with a square head and a moulded rear arch similar to that in the first window. In the S. wall is a doorway to the vestry, and a recess, both modern.

The Nave (56½ ft. by 20 ft.) has in the N. wall two early 13th-century lancet windows with external rebates; between them is a late 14th-century N. doorway of one moulded order, with a two-centred head; at the E. end of the wall is a recess, apparently the remains of the stairs to the rood-loft. In the S. wall are three windows, the eastern is of similar detail to the N.E. window in the chancel, but is entirely modern, except a small part of the head; the two western windows are modern, and between them is a late 14th-century S. doorway, now blocked, of one moulded order with an external label. The W. window is modern.

The Porch has a 15th-century entrance archway, of two moulded orders with an external label, much restored. The E. and W. walls have each a window of two lights, but only the lower part of the W. window is original.

The Roof of the chancel and nave is steep-pitched and continuous; it has plain moulded collars and ties and is of the 15th century. The roof of the porch is modern, but has a 15th-century moulded wall-plate.

Fittings—Brass: In chancel—on floor, of [George Langham, 1462, and Isabel his wife] figure of a woman in gown, cloak, head-veil, wimple and barbe, indents of man in armour, inscription plate and four shields. Font: plain, octagonal, with moulded base, 15th-century. Glass: In E. window—middle light, a shield—quarterly 1 and 4 vairy azure and or. for Peverell, 2 and 3 gules a fesse argent between six crosslets or, 14th-century; in the heads of all lights, fragments of border with fleurs de lis and eagles displayed, 14th-century; in middle light, quarries bearing—a crowned Tudor rose with "H 8" above it and a knot with the initials, H.R.; a shield, argent two bars and a quarter sable, with a cinquefoil or in the quarter; rebus of Islip, Abbot of Westminster, consisting of an eye, a hand holding a branch and the letters "slip"; other fragments, early 16th-century. In N. wall, first window, in tracery, fragment of geometric ornament and a green flower, 14th-century; in light, one quarry bearing head of angel, with diadem, early 16th-century. Niche: Over porch entrance—with cinquefoiled head, much defaced, 15th-century. Piscina: In chancel—with two-centred head, moulded, with keeled roll, shafts also keeled, with moulded capitals and bases, double drain, late 13th-century, much scraped and restored. Screen: Between chancel and nave—of three bays on each side of doorway, with small finialled buttresses between them, each bay of two cinquefoiled lights with moulded jambs and mullions, doorway with four-centred cinquefoiled head and traceried spandrels, late 15th or early 16th-century.

Condition—Good, considerably restored.


a (2). The Manor House, now a farmhouse, W. of the church, is of two storeys with attics; the walls are partly of flint rubble with stone dressings and partly timber-framed and covered with plaster; the roofs are tiled. The Kitchen wing was built at the beginning of the 13th century, and c. 1275 the timber-framed aisled Hall and the Solar wing were built or rebuilt, possibly with a porch on the N. side. Towards the end of the 16th century the house was much altered, the Hall was divided, a central chimney-stack and a floor were inserted, and the N. aisle and porch were removed; at the same time the Kitchen wing was altered and decorated. In the 19th century all the doors and windows of the Hall and Solar wing were altered, the whole building was renovated, and a small one-storeyed outhouse was added on the S.E. side of the Kitchen wing.

The house, with its aisled Hall, is a remarkable example of domestic architecture of an unusually early date.

The building is of modified half-H plan, facing N.W., with the wings projecting in that direction. The plan is substantially that of the 13th century, except for the loss of one aisle of the hall.

Little Chesterford. the Manor Farm.

All the Elevations are heavily plastered; the wings are gabled at each end and, except in the Kitchen wing, all the doors and windows are modern. On the N.W. elevation, owing to the destruction of the aisle, the eaves are all on one level, but on the S.E. elevation where the aisle survives, the eaves of the Hall block are lower than those of the wings. In the N.W. wall of the Kitchen wing. at the ground floor level are two small original windows with semi-circular rear arches and 16th-century plastered brick jambs and square heads; above them is a large four-light transomed window of the 16th century, and of two orders, chamfered and hollow-chamfered. In the gable is a small three-light window of the same date, much defaced. In the N.E. wall there are three defaced windows also of the 16th century, one is blocked and the rest are without mullions; the original chimney-stack is plastered and lined to resemble ashlar. In the S.E. wall are two blocked windows of c. 1275, altered in the 16th century: that on the ground floor has traces of a moulded jamb of the earlier period, and that on the first floor has been replaced by a 16th-century window of four lights with a transom.

Interior:—The Great Hall (originally 37 ft. by 17 ft., with aisles 5 ft. wide), was of three bays, that on the N.E. being a narrow 'Screens' bay. It had an open timber roof with two trusses, and most of it remains in situ; the S.W. truss rests on a pair of oak columns or posts, both now built into the walls: they consist of four filleted rolls, quatrefoil on plan and separated by square fillets, with moulded capitals of c. 1275; from the posts spring moulded and curved braces to the cambered tie-beam, forming a two-centred arch, and other similar braces to the roof-plates at the same level; the plates are scroll-moulded. Opposite the S.W. truss are curved and moulded braces, which cross the aisle, and form a pointed arch springing from a column and a wall-post. The truss over the Screens has been much cut away, but the mortices of the curved braces are visible and above the tie-beam is a king-post with curved struts to the collar, which is above the present first floor ceiling; the timbers are blackened with soot; the truss rests on two posts, the remains of the screen; that on the N.W. is much cut away and the other is double-chamfered towards the middle of the Hall and slotted towards the aisle, apparently indicating a solid screen about 6 ft. high. The original pavement of small oblong slabs of Purbeck marble remains at various points. The massive central chimney-stack is of the 16th century.

In the Solar Wing the first floor is carried on heavy chamfered beams and wall-posts with anglebrackets. In a cupboard on the S.E. side is part of the chamfered jamb and head of the original oak doorway from the aisle of the Hall.

The Kitchen Wing is entered from the Screens by two early 13th-century doorways of stone, with two-centred heads of two moulded orders and defaced shafted jambs with angle-shafts and plain moulded capitals (see Plate, p. 174). The first floor is carried on small joists framed into a large longitudinal beam, supported on two posts; in the original kitchen, one of them is octagonal and has a rough bolster with gallows-bracing; it now forms part of a 16th-century partition in which is a doorway with a rough four-centred head. Against the N.E. wall is a projecting breast containing a small pointed recess or niche apparently connected with the flue of the chimney.

The Main Staircase is enclosed and has moulded handrails, with turned half-balusters planted against the walls; it extends only to the first floor and is of the 16th century. On the first floor the room over the kitchen has an elaborate frieze and cornice, and moulded plaster ceiling-beams; the frieze is decorated with arabesque and strap-ornament and is considerably decayed and defaced; the 16th-century fireplace has a three-centred moulded head and stop-moulded jambs of stone, and is flanked by shallow pilasters of plaster, carried up to the cornice, much damaged In the S. wall of the S.E. room are the remains of the moulded splays of a window of early 13th-century date, and in the E. angle are two straight joints in ashlar, possibly indicating the former existence of a garderobe or external staircase at that point.

Condition—Fairly good.

Monuments (3–12).

The following monuments are all timber-framed and covered with plaster; the roofs are tiled or thatched. They are nearly all of two storeys and of the 17th century, and several of them have open timber ceilings, and wide fireplaces with chimney-stacks of thin bricks.

Condition—Good or fairly good, unless noted.

Main Street, N. side

a (3). Cottage, now three tenements, about 150 yards N. of the church, is probably of late 16th-century date and is built on a rectangular plan with low modern additions at each end. On the W. front the upper storey projects and the timberframing is exposed in both the W. and E. walls.

Condition—Destroyed by fire in 1914, since investigation.

a (4). Cottage, about 200 yards N.E. of the church, with a lean-to addition at the back. On the S. front is an ornamental plaster wreath enclosing a half-obliterated monogram S.T.M.

a (5). Cottage, now two tenements, 50 yards E. of (4), is L-shaped on plan with the wings extending towards the S. and W. The upper storey of the S. wing projects.

Condition—Destroyed by fire in 1914, since investigation.

a (6). Farmhouse, E. of (5), is of modified T-shaped plan with a short wing or projection on the N. The S. front has an overhanging gable at the E. end, and there is a gable at the E. end of the N. front.

b (7). The Crown Inn, about 65 yards E. of (6), is of one storey with attics. The house has been entirely re-faced, and only the timber-framing is original.

Condition—Destroyed by fire in 1914, since investigation.

S. side

a (8). House, about 280 yards E.N.E. of the church. is of late 16th-century date, with modern additions; it is of half-H-shaped plan with the wings extending towards the S. The N. front has two gables, and the western gable projects. The main door is of oak and nail-studded. The chimney-stack of grouped brick shafts is original.

a (9). Cottage, now two tenements, about 80 yards W. of (8), has two gabled dormers on the N. front, each painted with the date 1690.

a (10). Cottage, now three tenements, about 120 yards W. of (9), with two original chimney-stacks.

Condition—Destroyed by fire in 1914, since investigation.

Springwell, W. side of road

b (11). Cottage, about ½ m. S.E. of the church. The large original chimney-stack has diagonal shafts with pilasters and a dentilled capping.

b (12). Cottage, S. of (11), is L-shaped on plan with the wings extending towards the E. and S.


a (13). Enclosure, S.E. of the church, on the E. bank of the river. Traces of a ditch which apparently enclosed a rectangular area about 104 yards long and 100 yards wide; date doubtful.