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 Fyfield was never appropriated although for a long period in the 12th century the Cluniac priory of Bermondsey (Surr.) had the right to receive the greater part of the tithes of the parish as well as the advowson of the rectory.
In 1094 Roger, lord of the manor of Fyfield, with the consent of his overlord John son of Waleran, gave 'the tithes of Fyfield' to Bermondsey priory. (fn. 1) In 1107 or later Maud wife of Hasculf de Tany and her son Graeland confirmed this gift and also granted to the priory the advowson of Fyfield church. (fn. 2) In 1183 the priory released the advowson to the then lord of the manor, Hasculf son of Graeland de Tany. After this the advowson was held by the lords of the manor of Fyfield until 1890-1 when it was granted by William, Earl Cowley, to George Mayor. (fn. 3) The advowson was held by Mayor until 1897 or 1898 after which it was held by Mrs. A. Hewitt until 1914 or 1915. (fn. 4) Mrs. J. Worthington Atkin then held it until 1929 or 1930 after which it was held by Canford School (Dors.). (fn. 5) The living is now (1955) in the gift of the Church Pastoral Aid Society which controls the Martyrs' Memorial Trust, of which the Canford School Trust forms part. (fn. 6)
In return for the release of the advowson in 1183 Hasculf de Tany confirmed to the priory 2/3; of the tithes from his demesne, together with those from his demesne assarts made or to be made, and undertook to give them I acre of land on which to erect a tithe barn, and also to secure to them a perpetual annuity of 40s. payable by the parson of Fyfield. (fn. 7) In about 1254 it was reported that the rectory of Fyfield was worth 24 marks and that the monks of Bermondsey received 2/3; of the tithes from the demesne of 'two lords of that vill' as well as 40s. from the parson. (fn. 8) In 1291 the church of Fyfield was valued at £12; (fn. 9) the prior of Bermondsey had there a portion worth £3 6s. 8d. and a pension of £2. (fn. 10) In 1342 the prior of Bermondsey brought an action against the parson of Fyfield for payment of the annuity of 40s. due to his house. (fn. 11) In 1427 the church was still taxed on the valuation of 1291. (fn. 12) In 1535 the abbey of Bermondsey still held in Fyfield a pension and a portion which were then valued together at £4. (fn. 13) At that time the rectory of Fyfield was valued at £25 7s. 2½d. (fn. 14) The abbey was surrendered on 1 January 1538. (fn. 15) In 1650 the 'improved' value of the tithes was £120 and the value of the glebe lands and buildings £35. (fn. 16) The tithes were commuted in 1842 for £741; there were then 64 acres of glebe. (fn. 17)
Anthony Walker D.D., Rector of Fyfield from 1650 until 1692, helped in the publication of Eikon Basilike and published various books and sermons. (fn. 18)
The rectory stands on a large moated site about 400 yds. to the north-east of the church. It is irregularly shaped and has been altered and extended at different periods. Running from front to back in the centre of the house is a medieval timber roof, probably representing part of a two-storied cross-wing of the 15th century. The north end of the roof has curved wind-braces and in the south bay is an arch-braced collar beam with the king-post missing. East of this roof and at right angles to it is another timber-framed wing which may be of medieval origin. There are additional wings of later date at the west end of the house. In the 18th century the whole front was faced with red brick and there are some interior details of the same period. In about 1770 the house was described as 'a large stately brick building almost surrounded with a moat which, with the house, encloses a pleasant garden'. (fn. 19) In 1944 blast from a flying bomb caused considerable damage and in 1952 the front was rebuilt in yellow brick and parts of the roof were renewed. The porch and the original sash windows were replaced.
Although this building is certainly of medieval origin, in the middle of the 16th century at least the rector lived in another house, which was then known as 'the parson's house' and was situated on the south side of the church. In October 1546 Robert Nooke, then rector, let to Humphrey Nycolls, servant to Sir Richard Rich, afterwards 1st Baron Rich, for 51 years, at £25 7s. 2½ d. a year, the rectory, church, and parsonage of Fyfield, reserving, however, for his own residence his house south of the churchyard called 'the parsonnes house'. (fn. 20) By 1610, however, the house to the south of the church was not regarded as the parsonage-house for a terrier of 1610 described the rectory as including 'a ParsonageHouse, with two barns, and other edifices within the yard, and a house abutting upon the churchyard, then in dispute at law'. (fn. 21) In 1650 the rectory was said to include 'a parsonage house, glebe lands and a small tenement'. (fn. 22) Whatever the source or the outcome of the dispute of 1610, a property at the south-west corner of the churchyard was part of the glebe in 1842 and remained so until 1948, when it was sold. (fn. 23) In the late 19th century it was known as the Vicarage. (fn. 24) The back part of the building is timber-framed and weatherboarded with a tiled mansard roof and dates from the 18th century, if not earlier. The front was added in the 19th century and the building now comprises two attached cottages.
The parish church of ST. NICHOLAS consists of nave, north and south aisles, chancel, central tower, north porch, and organ chamber. The nave and the first stage of the tower are mostly of flint rubble with some Roman brick. The second stage of the tower is largely of red brick. There is a timber belfry. The exterior of the church is mostly covered with cement, now in poor repair, and numerous buttresses of the 18th and 19th centuries show where weaknesses have developed in the structure. The building differs in several respects from the type of parish church found in the district. The 12th-century plan with the tower standing 'cathedralwise' (fn. 25) is unusual, and it is evident that large sums were spent on improvements during the 13th and 14th centuries. The chancel in particular has some good interior features.
The nave was built in the 12th century. The walling at each end of the two arcades is 3 ft. thick and is evidently the original 12th-century work. The lower part of the tower is of the same date, including the large stair turret on the north side reaching to the second stage. The stair has a circular newel of Roman brick and there are arches of Roman brick to the round-headed windows in the south and west walls of the second stage of the tower. The former window has been blocked by brickwork and the latter opens into the roof space above the nave. There is one very small rectangular opening in the north wall of the stair turret, and there are two in the east wall.
In about 1220 a north aisle of three bays was added to the nave. The pointed arches are of two chamfered orders and rest on circular columns with moulded capitals and bases. Attached half-columns form the responds against the ends of the 12th-century walls. In the middle of the 13th century the south aisle was added. This is similar in general arrangement to the north aisle but the arches are moulded and the supporting columns are octagonal. The single-light window in the west wall is probably of the 13th century but its four-centred head was added later. There are traces of colour decoration of uncertain date on both arcades.
The chancel was built about 1330-40. The date can be fixed approximately by the detail of the interior. All the windows are of the 14th century and have moulded labels and head stops. The tracery of the east window has been replaced, but the fine carving of the jambs and rear arch survives. On the north side the arch has beasts of the chase and on the south a series of cowled heads. The jambs are carved with flowers and leaves in high relief. In both north and south walls are two windows, the easternmost being two-light with shafts to the internal splays. The other windows are single light, the sill of that on the south side being taken down to form a 'low side' window. Between the windows in the south wall are stepped sedilia of three bays. The arches are cinquefoiled and between them are octagonal shafts of Purbeck marble. The moulded label has four carved head stops, one head wearing a mitre. (fn. 26) and another a curious pointed head-dress terminating in a flower. In the spandrel above a third head are three balls carved in relief; it has been suggested that these are the emblems of St. Nicholas. (fn. 27) East of the sedilia is a piscina of similar detail and farther east there is a credence with one jamb cut off by the east wall of the chancel. (fn. 28) Below the chancel is a vault which has a wide arched opening externally under the east window. This opening was sealed during the restoration of 1893, but one account of the church suggests that it was formerly pierced with quatrefoil openings, (fn. 29) possibly for the viewing of relics. Another account, given in 1898 by the then rector, the Revd. L. Elwyn Lewis, referred to the existence of arcading internally below the east window. (fn. 30) The fact that part of the credence is now cut off suggests that the lower part of the east wall has been widened, perhaps obliterating the arcade.
Some windows were inserted elsewhere in the church in the 14th century. These include one in the south wall of the tower and the westernmost windows in the north and south aisles. The other aisle windows may have been of the same date, but if so they were replaced in the 19th century. The south doorway has 14th-century splays and the stoup on the north side has a 14thcentury trefoiled head, probably taken from a window. The arch between the tower and the nave is of the 14th century, much restored. The responds have three attached shafts. The north porch retains moulded timbers of the late 14th century and a pointed timber arch of which the spandrels were probably once filled with tracery.
Early in the 15th century there were some alterations at the east end of the north aisle. An east window was inserted of which the tracery is now missing; the window itself was blocked by the early 19th century. (fn. 31) Also in the 15th century a niche was built across the north-east corner of the aisle. It has an elaborately carved canopy with a ribbed vault and probably once held a figure of the Virgin. (fn. 32) The nave roof has three 15th-century trusses; the square king-posts have fourway struts and two have moulded capitals and bases.
Some years before 1768 (fn. 33) part of the tower fell, perhaps after being struck by lightning. (fn. 34) Before the end of the 18th century the second stage was largely rebuilt in red brick and a window was inserted on the north side. Above the brickwork is a hipped roof, above which is a square weather-boarded belfry with ball finials at the corners. There is a small boarded spire. The west wall of the nave may have been rebuilt in the 18th century.
In the first half of the 19th century a vestry was formed by extending the north aisle eastward as far as the stair turret of the tower. (fn. 35) In 1853 the church was restored (fn. 36) and in 1875 tracery was inserted in the east window at the expense of W. S. Horner. (fn. 37) In 1893 £1,300 was spent on restoration. (fn. 38) Some blocked windows were uncovered and a new west door and window inserted. The window replaced a 'hideous wooden structure' of the 18th century. (fn. 39) Both the tower arches were largely rebuilt and the chancel roof may have been reconstructed at the same time. The oak reredos and chancel seating were installed, the oak coming from St. Paul's, Knightsbridge. (fn. 40) The seating in the nave is also of the late 19th century, incorporating some 16th-century moulded rails.
During the incumbency of the Revd. L. Elwyn Lewis (1895-1905), who held high church views, a surpliced choir was started and the old organ was moved from the west end of the church into the vestry. (fn. 41) In 1901 a new organ was installed against the north wall of the tower, (fn. 42) largely at the rector's own expense. (fn. 43) The vestry is now an organ chamber.
The square font bowl of Purbeck marble is of the late 12th century. (fn. 44) Two of the sides are decorated with recessed arcading and the other two have a central fleur-de-lis flanked by vine leaves.
The oak screen between the nave and the tower was carved by A. J. B. Challis of Clatterford Hall in 1914. (fn. 45) The pulpit is of the same date.
There are six bells, all modern or recast. One was originally of the 15th century, recast twice. The sixth, which is inscribed 'Salus et Victoria', was added as a war memorial and was dedicated in 1952. (fn. 46) Under the organ on the north side of the chancel there is said to be a slab bearing the indent of a foliated cross, flanked by square pennons or axes. (fn. 47) There is a tradition that this covers the headless body of Henry, Lord Scrope, beheaded in 1415. (fn. 48) Also in the chancel are some 18thcentury floor slabs with shields of arms to members of the Pochin family and to one of the Beverley family. There are also several 18th-century slabs to the Collins family of Lampetts and to the Brands of Herons.
The plate includes a large cup of 1699 given by Dr. Anthony Walker, one paten of 1638 and another of 1798. (fn. 49)
In 1570 Elizabeth I granted to Thomas, 2nd Lord Wentworth, in fee such 'concealed' estates as he could discover to a total annual value of £200. (fn. 50) In March 1572, in fulfilment of this grant, she conveyed many concealed estates, including one in Fyfield, to Richard Hill of Heybridge and William James of London. (fn. 51) The Fyfield estate consisted of 3 messuages or cottages, called the Church Houses, and an acre belonging, then or lately in the tenure or occupation of the inhabitants of the vill of Fyfield, appointed for the maintenance of an obit, a guild, and other similar objects. (fn. 52) Despite the grant of 1572, Fyfield church property undoubtedly included three houses in the early 17th century. In May 1659 it was agreed at a vestry meeting that the rental of the church rents, then torn and defaced, should be copied out 'and be esteemed as the former rental was'. (fn. 53) The 'Rental of the church houses of Fyfield' was then copied into the vestry minute-book. It totalled £3 3s. 4d. and included £1 from 'the church house at Widney Green', £1 from 'the house in Fyfield street', 15s. from 'the house by the church in which the Clarke dwelleth', 3s. from 'Pyckerells', 2s. 7d. from 'Long Harry's', 1s. 10d. from 'John Palmers houses', 9d. from '½ a. meadow in moor-mead', and 2d. from 'the tenement called Hatches'. (fn. 54) In 1668 the 'church field belonging to the church house on Widney Green and containing 1 a.' was let by the churchwardens to Henry Spooner for twelve years at a rent of £7 for the whole term 'which money was advanced and employed towards the now [or new] building of the church house aforesaid'. (fn. 55) In 1687 Dr. Anthony Walker devised a house called Bruetts, in Fyfield Street, for the church clerk to dwell in free. (fn. 56) By 1710 the church house 'by the church' seems to have been occupied by a poor man whose rent of £1 10s. was paid for him by the parish. (fn. 57) The total of the church rents was then £4 10s. 5d., the increase since 1659 being due partly to the higher rent for the house by the church and partly to a new item of 16s. for 'the hoppit by the churchyard'. (fn. 58) The annuities amounted to 6s. 5d., being 2s. 6d. from John Bull for Long Harris field, 11d. from 'Thomas Palmer', and 3s. 'out of Pickrills'. (fn. 59) By March 1719 the rents totalled £5, there being another fresh item of 13s. for 'the hoppett by Berrys Green', later known as Cannon's Green. (fn. 60) In February 1720 a vestry meeting agreed with John Pochin of Witney Green that he should demolish a cottage upon the green belonging to the church on condition that he erected another cottage of equivalent value. (fn. 61)
In 1786 it was stated that unknown donors had given to the parish for purposes also unknown 'a rent-charge of 6s. 5d'., tenements of the then annual value of £2 4s. 7d. and land of the then annual value of £1 9s. (fn. 62) The value of the land was evidently the same in 1786 as it had been in 1719 but the value of the houses was apparently reduced. (fn. 63)
In 1835 rents totalling £12 9s. from the church houses and lands as well as annuities totalling 6s. 5d went into the churchwardens' general account. (fn. 64) The hoppets by the church and on Cannon's Green were both let to the rector for 16s. and 13s. a year respectively, the sums at which they had been let early in the 18th century. (fn. 65) The church houses which the overseers rented from the churchwardens at £11 a year for the use of the poor were described in 1835 as 'Street House', a 'house by the church', and 'a house on Cannons Green' which was said to have been 'built by the parish upon the site of an old house, of which the rent used to go to the churchwarden's account'. (fn. 66) The church cottage on Witney Green, whose demolition had been ordered in 1720, had apparently been replaced by a house on Cannon's Green which, it would seem, was rebuilt before 1835. By 1842, however, the church owned only two cottages. (fn. 67) One of them was on the east side of the church, fronting upon Church Lane, and was undoubtedly the house which had appeared as 'by the church' in the rentals drawn up before and after 1659. (fn. 68) The other cottage, situated immediately north of the Black Bull Inn (fn. 69) on what is now known as Dunmow Road, is probably to be identified with 'Street House'. The church still owned some land at Cannon's Green in 1842, but by that time it had apparently disposed of its house there. (fn. 70) The hoppet south of the churchyard still belonged to the church. (fn. 71)
In 1903 part (c. 29 p.) of the meadow called Church Hoppet, situated south of the churchyard, was sold for £14 to the parish council for use as a burial ground. (fn. 72) When the sale was made it was established in the face of some doubt that the trustees of the church estate were the churchwardens: in fact then and in 1922 the 'parish warden'-presumably the people's warden -acted as trustee, though later the rector and parochial church council took some share in the administration of the estate. (fn. 73) In 1922 a further part (1 r., 12 p.) of Church Hoppet was sold for £20 to the parish council also for use as a burial ground. (fn. 74)
From the latter part of the 19th century until shortly after 1930 a small outbuilding at the back of the cottage near the Black Bull Inn was let as a separate dwelling. (fn. 75) In about 1930 the three dwellings were let for a total of about £19. (fn. 76)
In 1947 the cottage, then known as Walker Cottage, (fn. 77) on the east side of the church, was sold for £190, most of which went to repay Dr. Walker's School Foundation and the parochial church council for money spent on it in the past. (fn. 78) The residue was invested. (fn. 79)
In 1951 the charity was divided into two: one part, the Church Estate, had an endowment of £50 14s., presumably arising from the sales of church land, of which the income was used for general church purposes. (fn. 80) The other is known as the Charity for the Poor, and has an endowment of £61 4s. 3d., which was provided by the sale of the 'Walker Cottage'. (fn. 81) Its income was to be devoted to the poor of the parish, since the cottages of the charity were in 1834 used for the benefit of the poor. (fn. 82)
The cottage north of the Black Bull Inn still belongs to the church but is at present up for sale. (fn. 83)