Theydon Bois: Church

Pages 255-257

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 at Theydon Bois in the 12th century and perhaps earlier. (fn. 1) The advowson was originally held by the lord of the capital manor. William de Bosco granted the church to the priory of St. Bartholomew, Smithfield. This was confirmed by Henry II in 1187 (fn. 2) and in 1248 Hugh de Bosco quitclaimed the advowson to the prior. (fn. 3) The priory retained the advowson until its dissolution in 1539. It presented rectors until 1335 when the rectory was appropriated to the priory. (fn. 4) No vicarage was instituted and the church was thenceforth a curacy or donative. In 1540 the rectory and advowson were granted by the Crown for life to Robert Fuller, who had been the last Abbot of Waltham, and who was also granted the manor of Theydon Bois. (fn. 5) He died in the same year (fn. 6) and the rectory and advowson reverted to the Crown, which granted them in 1544 to Edward Elrington, the last lessee of the rectory under the priory. (fn. 7) He died in 1559. (fn. 8) His son and heir Edward Elrington died in 1578 and was succeeded by a son of the same name. (fn. 9) It was the third Edward Elrington who in 1616 acquired the manor of Theydon Bois, and the manor, rectory, and advowson subsequently descended together.

The rectory of Theydon Bois was valued in about 1254 at £4 13s. 4d., (fn. 10) at £5 in 1257, (fn. 11) and at £4 13s. 4d. again in 1291. (fn. 12) Before 1306 it was customary for the priory to receive 2 marks a year from the glebe lands, but a rental of that year stated that those lands had long been uncultivated and it was therefore agreed between the priory and the then rector that only 1 mark should be paid until the land had been brought into cultivation. This rent was received by the cellarer of the priory. In the same document the church was said to be taxed at £5 6s. 8d. and to be worth £10. (fn. 13) In 1526 the priory leased the rectory to Juliana Fenrother at an annual rent of £4, and in the following year she was granted leave to cut down and retain all wood on the property, except great trees, and provided that she did not damage the young springs, for the payment of £2. As security against damage she had to deposit £4. (fn. 14) She died in 1536, leaving the lease of the rectory to Edward Elderton alias Elrington, grandson of her late husband. (fn. 15) In 1538 it was leased to Elrington by the priory, still at an annual rent of £4. (fn. 16)

The tithes of Theydon Bois were commuted in 1850 for £463 19s., of which £193 15s. was payable to the owners of Theydon Bois manor (the Hall Dares), £103 15s. to Henry Elwes, owner of Theydon Hall, and £166 9s. to the curate. (fn. 17) The tithes payable to Elwes were those arising from his own estate. At the time of the commutation the curate had glebe amounting to 8 acres.

The curate's income was very small. In 1604 it was estimated at only £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 18) In 1650 the cure was said to be destitute, there being not more than £20 a year assigned for a minister, so that 'no godly able minister will accept of it'. (fn. 19) The tithe commutation figures show, however, that by 1848 there had been an endowment of the curacy with some tithes and a small amount of glebe. (fn. 20) The living was also augmented out of Queen Anne's Bounty and in 1870 the incumbent, the Revd. George Hambleton, set out to raise £300 by private subscription to increase the stipend and so qualify for further assistance. (fn. 21) Under the Incumbents Act (1868) the curacy became a titular vicarage. (fn. 22)

It seems from Chapman and Andre's map of 1777 that the present Parsonage Farm was then the residence of the curate. (fn. 23) In estate maps of 1799 and about 1800, however, it was called Theydon Manor Farm and was occupied by a tenant of John H. Dare. (fn. 24) It is a timber-framed house probably dating from the 15th century. In its original form it was a wellrecognized type of late medieval 'hall' house of which Bridge Farm, Theydon Garnon (q.v.), is another example. In 1920 its medieval origin was confirmed by the architect in charge of restoration work, who reported the existence of an open hearth on the floor of the hall. (fn. 25) This hall, in the centre of the main block, was originally open to the roof while the side wings were of two stories. All three sections were combined under a single roof, gabled at the ends. At the front of the house the side wings oversailed at first-floor level but the wall of the hall was vertical. Large curved braces, one of which can still be seen, helped to support the deeply overhanging eaves of the central section and originally stood clear of the wall. In the 16th or early 17th century the hall was divided into two stories and the upper part of the front wall was built out to incorporate the curved braces. A slight break in the moulded bressummers which cover the joist ends makes it clear that the central overhanging section is a later insertion. The large brick chimney would be contemporary with the division of the hall, but the two bay windows at the front of the house are modern. One of the projecting wings at the back was open to the roof within living memory and may have formed part of the medieval house. There have been further additions to the house in recent times and the timber-framing has been exposed both inside and out. Internally there is a doorway with moulded jambs and a four-centred head and a window with square mullions set diagonally. Parts of the entrance door also appear to be ancient.

In 1832 the Dares as lord and lady of Theydon Bois manor and patrons successfully applied to the Treasury for 5 acres of the manorial waste in the forest as the site of a house, with glebe, for the incumbent of Theydon Bois. (fn. 26) Failure to build within the stipulated period of one year vacated the grant, but a fresh grant was made in 1838 to trustees on the application of Elizabeth Dare, now a widow. (fn. 27) The house was duly built in 1839 at the south end of Piercing Hill opposite the entrance to the churchyard. It is a square house of gault brick with the date inscribed on a stone near the front door.

John Strype (1643-1737), ecclesiastical historian and biographer, was curate of Theydon Bois in 1669-70. (fn. 28)

In 1349 St. Bartholomew's Priory acquired from Edmund de Grymesby, king's clerk, 30 acres of land and 3 acres of wood in Theydon Bois, with certain lands in Middlesex, to find a chaplain to celebrate in the conventual church every year on Edmund's anniversary for his soul, and to feed five poor persons on the same day for ever. (fn. 29) The lands in Theydon were held of Waltham Abbey and were worth only 2½ d. an acre because they were sterile and rocky. The woodland was worth only 3d. an acre because it was devastated. (fn. 30) In 1359 the priory further acquired from Master Richard de Shamelesford a messuage, a toft, and 91 acres of land, a lane called Pakeswey, and 2s. 6d. rent in Theydon Bois and Theydon Garnon, in satisfaction of £6 out of £20 a year of land and rent which it had royal licence to acquire. (fn. 31) These lands, lying partly within the forest, were worth only 27s. a year. (fn. 32)

The old parish church of ST. MARY, which may earlier have been dedicated to ST. BOTOLPH, (fn. 33) stood next to Theydon Hall, about ¾ mile north of Abridge Bridge. An engraving of 1814 shows a view of the church from the south. (fn. 34) It was a small building with nave, chancel, south porch, and wooden bellturret at the west end of the nave. In the chancel was a single-light window and door. In the nave were two single-light windows and two blocked openings. The building may well have been of the 12th century, though the drawing is too crude to prove it. (fn. 35) In about 1770 there was said to be neither monument nor inscription in the church, (fn. 36) and in 1819 'neither monument nor inscription of note', (fn. 37) but two monuments from the old church are in fact preserved in the present building.

In 1843 the parish vestry resolved to build a new church in a more central situation, and a faculty was accordingly obtained. The old church was pulled down, the materials being sold for £78 and the barrel organ for £20. (fn. 38) The site is now marked only by a few tombstones overgrown with grass and young trees.

The new church was erected at Theydon Green at a total cost of £2,231. Among the subscribers was Queen Adelaide, who gave £20. (fn. 39) The curate, George Hambleton, published a poem of 418 lines 'to seek agreeably to delineate to those who have kindly helped forward the cause of Theydon Bois new church, the extreme desirableness of this erection'. A further £120 then (1843) remained to be raised. To the poem was prefixed a view and plan of the new building, by Abbott and Habersham, architects, St. Neots. The church consisted of chancel, nave and west tower.

The accommodation was for 360 and the value of the contract £1,458. (fn. 40) The church was consecrated in 1844, but owing to faulty construction it had to be taken down in 1850 and the present church was then built in its place.

The present church of St. Mary, the third to bear this dedication and the second on the present site, was designed by Sydney Smirke and consecrated in 1851. (fn. 41) The cost was about £2,000; the curate paid half this amount and the other half was provided by the architects of the previous church. (fn. 42) The church consists of a nave, chancel, north vestry, and large western tower with spire. The belfry stage of the tower and the tall spire are octagonal. The building is of red brick with stone dressings. Internal repairs were carried out in 1887, 1901, and 1906. The spire was covered with copper in 1920. (fn. 43)

There are three bells, two of which came from the medieval church. The first was recast in 1843 by Thomas Mears. The second was cast about 1460 by John Danyell and is inscribed Sancta Margareta Ora Pro Nobis. The third, dated 1567, was probably by Robert Dodds. There were three bells in the church in 1552. The bell frame is dated 1727. (fn. 44) Owing to its condition the bells have not been rung for about 100 years, but are only chimed. (fn. 45)

No plate survives from the earliest church. The oldest existing piece is a paten of 1804, given in 1844 by Sir Edward Bowyer-Smijth. (fn. 46)

The pulpit, which is of walnut, was given in 1900 as a memorial to the Revd. C. E. Campbell, formerly vicar. It was designed by Paul Waterhouse. (fn. 47) New oak benches for the choir and other furnishings have been installed within the past five years.

The royal coat-of-arms of James I hangs over the west door. (fn. 48) There are six other hatchments, four of the Wild family of Theydon Hall and two of the Dares. There is also a monument to the Dare family, dated 1810, and below the chancel is their vault, containing thirteen coffins, at least seven of which must have been brought from the medieval church. (fn. 49) On the south side of the nave is a wall monument to Samuel Wild (1817) and his wife Elizabeth (1844). Below this a marble tablet and a painted inscription set out Elizabeth Wild's charitable bequests. Among the later monuments is one to George Hambleton (1874), vicar for 34 years. The stained glass in the east window was also given in his memory. Another stained window is a recent memorial to the Buxton family, patrons of the vicarage, and there is also one to Frances Mary Buss, who is buried in the churchyard.

For several years about 1885 occasional services and Sunday schools were held in a mission hut at Ivy Chimneys. In 1895 a second-hand 'iron room' was bought for £84 and erected on a site in Theydon Road at the branch road to Great Gregories and opposite Delaford Cottage. The total cost with fittings was about £165. A bell and turret and two rooms at the rear were added later. (fn. 50) In 1913 the iron room was moved to a new site on the south side of Ivy Chimneys Road about 100 yds. east of the junction with Theydon Road. At present (1954) there is a flourishing Sunday school here, and evensong is held every Sunday. The building is not consecrated. (fn. 51)


  • 1. See below.
  • 2. E. A. Webb, Recs. of St. Bartholomew's Priory, i, 481.
  • 3. Feet of F. Essex, i, 172.
  • 4. E.R. liv, 35; Newcourt, Repert. ii, 582; Cal. Pat. 1334-8, 173.
  • 5. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvi, pp. 715-16.
  • 6. Webb, Recs. of St. Bartholomew's Priory, i, 259.
  • 7. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xix (1), p. 278.
  • 8. C142/118/52.
  • 9. C 142/180/47.
  • 10. Lunt, Val. of Norwich, 336.
  • 11. Cal. Papal Letters, i, 347.
  • 12. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 21b.
  • 13. Webb, Recs. of St. Bartholomew's Priory, i, 382, 440.
  • 14. Ibid. i, 333. Her husband Robert Fenrother had died in 1524 leaving her lands in Theydon Bois: P.C.C. 19 Bodfelde.
  • 15. P.C.C. 37 Hogen.
  • 16. Webb, Recs. of St. Bartholomew's Priory, i, 333, 384.
  • 17. E.R.O., D/CT 349. For these owners see above, Manors.
  • 18. H. Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 17.
  • 19. V.C.H. Essex, ii, 64; H. Smith, Ecc. Hist. Essex, 273.
  • 20. The endowment was much better than that of the curacy of Norton Mandeville (q.v.) at the same period.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/DBx F1.
  • 22. 31 & 32 Vict. c. 117.
  • 23. Chapman and Andre, Map of Essex, 1777, sheet xvi.
  • 24. E.R.O., D/DBx P1, 2.
  • 25. E.R.O., Sale Cat. A. 821.
  • 26. The application was made under the Crown Lands Act, 10 Geo. IV, c. 50 (1829).
  • 27. E.R.O., D/DBx T2.
  • 28. D.N.B.
  • 29. Cal. Pat. 1348-50, 270.
  • 30. C 143/294/6.
  • 31. Cal. Pat. 1358-61, 185; cf. ibid. 1334-8, 542.
  • 32. Webb, Recs. of St. Bartholomew's Priory, i, 333.
  • 33. P.N. Essex (E.P.N.S.), 82-83.
  • 34. E. Ogborne, Hist. Essex, 257.
  • 35. If the earlier dedication to St. Botolph is accepted there may have been a Saxon church on the same site.
  • 36. Hist. Essex by Gent. iii, 411.
  • 37. Excursions in Essex, ii, 48.
  • 38. St. Mary's, Theydon Bois (pamphlet on sale in church); Theydon Bois Official Guide (2nd edn.), 10.
  • 39. St. Mary's, Theydon Bois.
  • 40. G. Hambleton, Picture of Theydon Bois (1843).
  • 41. St. Mary's, Theydon Bois; Pevsner, Buildings of England, Essex, 351. Smirke had designed St. John's Church, Loughton (q.v.), a few years earlier.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1937). For a recent photograph of the church see plate facing p. 270.
  • 44. Ch. Bells Essex, 410-11.
  • 45. St. Mary's, Theydon Bois.
  • 46. Ibid.; Ch. Plate Essex, 104.
  • 47. Kelly's Dir. Essex. (1937).
  • 48. St. Mary's, Theydon Bois, mentions other James I royal arms, which are rare, at Blisland in Cornwall, Winsford in Somerset, and Marham in Norfolk.
  • 49. Inf. from Mr. A. E. B. Williams.
  • 50. A. A. West, MS. Hist Theydon Bois (per Mr. A. E. B. Williams).
  • 51. Inf. from Mr. A. E. B. Williams.