Theydon Mount: Churches

Pages 281-282

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

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There appears to have been a church at Theydon Mount in 1236, for in that year Robert, parson of the church at Theydon, was involved in a dispute with Robert de Briwes and his wife Beatrice over 26 acres of land. (fn. 1) In 1248 the advowson passed with the manor of Theydon Mount to John de Lessington. (fn. 2) They continued to descend together until 1925, when the advowson was sold with Hill Hall to Sir Robert Hudson. The advowson then passed with Hill Hall until the house was purchased by the Prison Commissioners, when it remained with Lady Edward Hay, now Lady Menzies. (fn. 3) Since 1755 the rectory of Theydon Mount has always been held jointly with that of Stapleford Tawney (q.v.) although not formally united with it.

In 1291 the rectory of Theydon Mount was valued at £4 6s. 8d. (fn. 4) In 1428 the value was said to be 6 marks. (fn. 5) In 1535 the valuation was £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 6) The 'improved' value was given as £30 in 1604 and as £92 in 1650. (fn. 7) The tithes were commuted in 1838 for £307 15s. (fn. 8) In 1621 the glebe consisted of five pieces of land totalling 40 acres. (fn. 9) In 1824 27 acres belonging to the rectories of Theydon Mount and Stapleford Tawney were exchanged for lands in Stapleford Tawney belonging to the Hill Hall estate. (fn. 10)

In 1777 the parsonage house of Theydon Mount was shown as lying between the church and Hill Hall. (fn. 11) By this time the union of Theydon Mount and Stapleford Tawney had rendered one of the rectory houses redundant. In the 19th century the rectors lived at Stapleford Tawney and the house at Theydon Mount was evidently demolished. (fn. 12) The rectory continued to be at Stapleford Tawney until the time of the present rector, the Revd. E. B. Rees, who arranged for the sale of the old house and built a new one at Theydon Mount in 1951. This is a red-brick building to the north of Hill Hall. (fn. 13)

In his will of 1389 John de Northampton provided for the endowment of a chantry in the parish church of Theydon Mount, out of the income from Hill Hall (see above). It is not clear how long this chantry lasted. In 1421 the feoffees of Edmund Herde conveyed to Simon Archer and two others properties in Theydon Mount for the purpose of providing a suitable priest to celebrate in the parish church for two following years for the souls of Edmund and his father Thomas. The priest was to receive an annual stipend of £10 13s. 4d. unless the trustees could drive a better bargain (nisi meliori precio poterint). (fn. 14) The chantry certificates of 1546-8 contain no reference to a chantry in Theydon Mount.

The original parish church of Theydon Mount was dedicated to ST. MICHAEL and ST. STEPHEN. In 1400 the Pope offered indulgences to those who should visit the church and contribute to its upkeep. (fn. 15) Reynold Malyns (d. 1431) left 66s. 8d. to the church and for the seats that had been made there. (fn. 16) This church was burnt down in 1611; it is said to have been struck by lightning. (fn. 17) The present church was certainly in use by 1614. (fn. 18) Unlike its predecessor it is dedicated to ST. MICHAEL only. It adjoins the park of Hill Hall. This was effected between 1777 and about 1800 by the diversion of the road south-east of Hill Hall. (fn. 19) The church consists of nave, chancel, south porch, and west tower. It is of red brick with plaster dressings. Its special interest lies in the fact that it dates from the single period 1611-14 and has had few alterations. One or two early renaissance details have been used but the main structure is of late gothic style and arrangement (see plate facing p. 270).

Externally the window and door openings are of moulded brick covered with plaster to simulate stone. The windows on the north and south sides and in the upper stages of the tower have four-centred heads. The larger east and west windows have interlacing tracery and may date from the 18th century.

The square tower is of three stages with a castellated parapet and a small shingled spire. The stair turret on the north side reaches to the belfry and has splayed angles. Near the top these are corbelled out to give a square section, a feature which is also found on a stair turret at Hill Hall. The parapet is of moulded brick and has a segmental pediment. The stair is lighted by pierced quatrefoil openings.

The south porch has a curvilinear gable with a heavily moulded brick coping. The archway is fourcentred with classical imposts from which rise flanking pilasters supporting an entablature and pediment. This entrance feature is plaster covered and is the only typically renaissance detail to be found externally.

Inside the church the chancel and tower arches are pointed and the general impression is gothic. Many of the fittings are of the original date. The marble font, which stands against the west splay of the south doorway, is of most unusual design and may be by the same hand as some of the family monuments which are described below. The stem consists of a square pillar supporting a moulded bowl of black marble. Above the bowl is a bearded mask set in a shell-headed niche.

In the west window are several pieces of heraldic glass of the 16th century and later, all of which have been moved from Hill Hall. They include a Tudor royal arms, crowned badges of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the arms of Sir Thomas Smyth, and a damaged achievement of arms that has not been identified. On the south wall of the nave the Lord's Prayer and the Creed are painted in black letter of the original date. The Ten Commandments in similar script are visible above the chancel arch. (fn. 20) The oak benches in the nave are apparently original. The reredos, which has coupled and fluted Corinthian pilasters, dates from about 1700. The black and white floor paving is of the same period.

In 1762 the spire was reshingled, the gutters releaded, the windows reglazed, and the flooring of the seats made good at a total cost of £32. (fn. 21) In 1837 the church was restored and a gallery was erected under the west tower. This was for the use of the musicians and for the servants at Hill Hall. (fn. 22) The communion rails and those of the gallery at that period were of cast iron. (fn. 23) The oak pulpit, reading-desk, and credence table were presented in 1888 by the Revd. L. N. Prance. (fn. 24) The stained glass in the east window was given as a memorial to Major Charles Hunter (d. 1917). In 1926 another restoration took place during which the rafters of the roof were exposed, the gallery removed, and the iron communion rails replaced by oak. (fn. 25) The square new belonging to Hill Hall was removed in 1953.

There is one bell cast by John Clifton in 1653. The church plate, all of silver, consists of cup and paten cover dated 1587, paten given in 1714 by Dame Jane Smyth, flagon given in 1824 by the rector, the Revd. Edward Smijth, and a salver of 1780. In 1683 there was some pewter plate (fn. 26) but none of this now remains.

There is a fine series of monuments to the Smyth family. The first of these, that of Sir Thomas Smyth (d. 1577) and 'Philip' his wife (d. 1578), was preserved from the earlier church. It was put in hand during the lifetime of Sir Thomas and there is a suggestion that it was of his own design. (fn. 27) It is of alabaster and black marble and stands against the north wall of the chancel. The reclining effigy of Sir Thomas is in armour and Garter robes and has a salamander at its feet. Below is an inscribed altar tomb and above an arched canopy under which are a long inscription and symbolic carving. There are flanking Ionic pilasters supporting an entablature. Above the cornice are two black marble obelisks and an achievement of arms.

Opposite is a monument of similar proportions to Sir William Smyth (d. 1626) and Bridget his wife. A crested helmet and part of a surcoat, said to have belonged to Sir William Smyth, (fn. 28) hang near by together with a painted cartouche shield.

Against the north wall of the chancel is the alabaster tomb of the second Sir William Smyth (d. 1632). The carving is of fine quality and the costumes are of great interest. Opposite this monument is an alabaster and black marble tomb enriched with consoles and cherubs' heads. On it is the recumbent effigy of Sir Thomas Smyth, bt. (d. 1668), in armour and with a curled wig.

On the walls of the chancel are many tablets to members of the Symth family dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, and several painted hatchments of the same family. The two black-letter inscriptions on the south wall of the nave have been adapted as memorials. One serves as a memorial for the First World War and the other is in memory of Sir Robert Hudson (d. 1927).


  • 1. Cal. Close, 1234-7, 516.
  • 2. Feet of F. Essex, i, 179.
  • 3. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1922, 1926); Chel. Dioc. Year Bk. 1937 f.
  • 4. Tax Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 21b.
  • 5. Feud. Aids, ii, 250.
  • 6. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 437.
  • 7. Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 17, 273.
  • 8. E.R.O., D/CT 351.
  • 9. J. J. Howard and H. F. Burke, Theydon Mount, 21-22.
  • 10. Hill Hall Estate Act, 5 Geo. IV, c. 18 (priv. act).
  • 11. J. Chapman and P. Andre, Map of Essex, 1777, sheet xvi. According to Howard and Burke, Theydon Mount, xi, the parsonage stood on the north side of the park on the site of the present North Farm.
  • 12. O.S. 1 in. Map (c. 1801); O.S. 6 in. Map (c. 1870), sheet lviii; E.R.O., D/CT 351; White's Dir. Essex (1848); Kelly's Dir. Essex (1859 f.).
  • 13. Inf. from Rev. E. B. Rees.
  • 14. B.M. Add. Chart. 28836; Winstone, Epping and Ongar Highway Trust, 279-80.
  • 15. Cal. Pap. Letts. v, 277.
  • 16. Reg. Chichele, ed. E. F. Jacob, ii, 453.
  • 17. Howard and Burke, Theydon Mount, xiii, 4.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. See above, p. 276.
  • 20. Hist. Mon. Com. Essex, ii, 234; inf. from the Revd. E. B. Rees.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/P 142/8/1.
  • 22. Howard and Burke, Theydon Mount, x. For repairs to the bass viol, 1796, see E.R.O., D/P 142/12/1.
  • 23. Hist. Mon. Com. Recs. (photographs).
  • 24. Howard and Burke, Theydon Mount, xi.
  • 25. E.R. xxxv, 224.
  • 26. Ch. Plate Essex, 105-6.
  • 27. John Strype, Life of Sir Tho. Smyth (ed. 1820), 154.
  • 28. Howard and Burke, Theydon Mount, vii.