Stapleford Abbots: Church

Pages 228-230

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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The rectory of Stapleford Abbots was never appropriated. The advowson was held by the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, lord of the capital manor, until the Dissolution. (fn. 1) It then passed with the manor to the Crown. In 1541 it was granted with the manor to John Maynarde who immediately received licence to alienate both to Sir Brian Tuke. (fn. 2) The Crown probably regained the advowson with the manor in 1543-5. (fn. 3) Thomas Smith presented pro hac vice in 1557. (fn. 4) In 1560 a presentation was made by the Crown, which has since retained the advowson. (fn. 5)

In the time of Abbot Samson (1182-1211) the value of the church was assessed by his chronicler Jocelin of Brakelond at 3 marks. (fn. 6) In about 1254 the rectory was valued at 5 marks. (fn. 7) The Prior of Holy Trinity, Aldgate (Lond.) then received ½ mark for tithe from the demesne of the manor of Batayles. (fn. 8) In 1291 the rectory was valued at £8. (fn. 9) The portion of the Prior of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, was then valued at 13s. 4d. (fn. 10) In 1535 the rectory was valued at £16 15s. (fn. 11) Its 'improved' value was £50 in 1604, £101 in 1650, and £120 in 1661. (fn. 12) The tithes were commuted in 1845 for £536; (fn. 13) there were then 22 acres of glebe. (fn. 14)

In about 1770 the rectory was said to have been 'new built by the present . . . incumbent'. (fn. 15) It is a roughcast house of two stories. The pedimented porch is contemporary and the bay windows and veranda were probably added early in the 19th century. There is a three-story addition of yellow brick dating from later in the 19th century. A deep L-shaped pond in the garden suggests that in medieval times the site was moated.

The parish church of ST. MARY consists of nave, chancel, west tower, north chapel; vestry, and south porch. Except for the chapel, which is dated 1638, the church was rebuilt in the 19th century.

A small engraving in the church shows the building before the 19th-century reconstruction. There was evidently a porch in the centre of the south side, flanked by what were apparently 14th-century windows. There was also, high up near the west end of the nave, a single-light window which may have been of the 12th century, indicating a Norman origin for the church.

In a modern lancet window in the vestry is a stainedglass panel depicting St. Edward the Confessor holding a ring; this probably dates from the early 14th century. In the south-east corner of the chancel there is a piscina, reset, with a pointed head and foiled drain, also probably dating from the 14th century.

The north or Abdy chapel is of red brick and has semicircular headed windows, a coved cornice externally, and a hipped, tiled, roof. The chapel is separated from the chancel by a pointed arched opening of the 19th century. A small entrance lobby of the 17th century adjoins the east wall of the chapel but is not structurally part of it. The front of this has been rebuilt in modern brick but the side walls and the external door, which has a segmental head, are probably of the 17th century. Above the inner door the date '1638' appears in cut brickwork. The architectural style of the chapel, however, suggests that it was rebuilt or largely altered by the Abdy family later in the 17th century. (fn. 16)

In about 1770 the church was described as 'of one pace and of equal breadth with the chancel, tiled. At the west end is a neat gallery, behind which is a wooden tower containing three bells. The church is in good repair and the chancel has likewise been put into exceeding good repair by the present incumbent. The east window of the chancel is of a very singular construction.' (fn. 17)

The west tower is of brown brick and was rebuilt in 1815. (fn. 18) It is probable that the door and window openings were altered later when the nave and chancel were reconstructed. The parapet was formerly embattled, (fn. 19) but is now finished with a tiled coping. Internally the tower is separated from the nave by a pointed arch of chamfered orders, the whole being plastered.

The nave and chancel were rebuilt in 1861-2 at the expense of William Gellibrand and his sister. (fn. 20) The architect was T. Jekyll of Norwich (fn. 21) and the style is a 19th-century version of early 'Decorated'. The stone walls are of polygonal masonry with strongly emphasized joints. The windows have geometrical tracery and externally all the openings have small shafts with foliated capitals. The roof has exposed timber trusses.

The north vestry and south porch are of the same date. The porch is of timber arcading on a low stone wall. In 1909 a new organ was put into the tower at a cost of £250. (fn. 22)

In the north chapel, over the lobby doorway, is a late 16th-century helm with a winged cap of maintenance. The pulpit, which is hexagonal and panelled, is of the early 17th century. In the chancel are two late-17th-century upholstered chairs. The octagonal font is modern. Above the south door of the nave are painted boards (c. 1800) setting out the details of William Gould's charities. (fn. 23)

There are now two bells, one large, cast by T. Mears and acquired in 1818, and one small, of the same date and probably by the same maker. (fn. 24)

The plate consists of a silver cup and two patens of 1687, given by Sir John Abdy, 2nd Bt., and his wife in 1688; a silver flagon of 1687 given by George Nicholas and his wife; and a silver almsdish of 1692. (fn. 25)

The oldest monument, which is on the north wall of the tower, is to Francis Stonard (1604), his wife Lucy (1596), daughter of Sir Clement Heigham, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, 1558-9, and also of Henry Stonard (1555), brother of Francis. (fn. 26) Next to this monument is a marble plaque with shield of arms to Dormer, 2nd Baron Fortescue of Credan (1780), (fn. 27) who is buried nearby.

The north chapel contains three monuments to the Abdy family. On the west wall is a fine marble tablet commemorating Sir John Abdy, 4th Bt. (1759) and earlier members of his family. This was formerly in the chancel. (fn. 28) On the east wall are tablets to Thomas Abdy and to John Rutherforth Abdy (1840) and his wife (1838).

Tysea Hill or Pyrgo Chapel was probably built in the middle of the 19th century. It is a rectangular brick structure with a porch and a bell-cote at its entrance end. Attached to the farther end is a red brick house of three stories which was once occupied by a curate. On a map of about 1870 the building is marked as a school but it cannot be identified with any known school in the parish. (fn. 29) On a later map it was described as St. Edward's Church. By the end of the 19th century, if not before, it belonged to the Gibb family, of Pyrgo Park, who enlarged and redecorated it about 1892. (fn. 30) The Gothic windows in the chancel are probably of this date. There were further renovations in 1912. (fn. 31) Services were discontinued in about 1937. During the Second World War the building was damaged by German bombs. It was sold recently by the executors of the Gibbs. The main part of the building is used as a barn but in the summer of 1954 evangelists were holding services in the vestry.


  • 1. E.A.T. n.s. xviii, 18; Newcourt, Repert. ii, 554-5.
  • 2. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvi, p.281.
  • 3. See above, Manor of Stapleford Abbots.
  • 4. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 555.
  • 5. Ibid.; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1874 f.); Chel. Dioc. Year Bk. 1952.
  • 6. Chron. Jocelin of Brakelond, ed. Butler, 63.
  • 7. Lunt, Val. of Norwich, 336.
  • 8. Ibid. Cf. Cat. Anct. D. i, A. 736; E40/733; see Manor of Battles Hall.
  • 9. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 21b.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 437.
  • 12. E.A.T. n.s. xxi, 78,83.
  • 13. E.R.O., D/CT 330.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Hist. Essex by Gent. iv, 37. The incumbent was W. Gould who became rector in c. 1767.
  • 16. Prof. Pevsner believes that it is a very early instance of the style: Buildings of Essex, 29, 336.
  • 17. Hist. Essex by Gent. iv, 37.
  • 18. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1886).
  • 19. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890).
  • 20. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1886).
  • 21. N. Pevsner, Buildings of Essex, 335.
  • 22. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1912).
  • 23. See below, Charities.
  • 24. Ch. Bells Essex, 398.
  • 25. Ch. Plate Essex, 16.
  • 26. For the Stonards (or Stoners) see above, Knolls Hill estate.
  • 27. See above, Knolls Hill estate.
  • 28. Hist. Essex by Gent. iv, 38.
  • 29. O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheet lxvi. See below, Schools.
  • 30. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1914); and inscription on tombstone of Frances Gibb, who, like two other members of the Gibb family, is buried beside the chapel.
  • 31. 11Kelly's Dir. Essex (1914).