Greenstead: Church

Pages 60-62

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

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There seems to be no reason to doubt the established tradition that Greenstead church was built in the 11th century to mark the place where St. Edmund's body rested on its way from London to Bury St. Edmund's in 1013. A description of the event, written about 1300, says that the body was accommodated at Ongar and that 'a wooden chapel built in his name remains until today'. (fn. 1) This is the only documentary evidence for the identification. Greenstead is a mile from Chipping Ongar, but it is curious that the wooden church, which is described in detail below, is dedicated not to St. Edmund but to St. Andrew. (fn. 2)

Walter de Baskerville was patron of Greenstead in about 1254. (fn. 3) William de la Hay held the advowson in 1328-33 and it subsequently descended along with the manor until the 17th century. (fn. 4) Richard Young and Anne his wife presented Edward Young to the rectory in 1617. (fn. 5) Anne had previously been the wife of William Bourne (d. 1608), lord of the manor. Her son John Bourne made a conveyance of the manor in 1625. (fn. 6) Thomas Spencer presented in 1641 pro hac vice. (fn. 7) Presentation was made in 1646 by Katherine Young, widow, and Robert Young her son, and in 1661 by Katherine alone. (fn. 8) Nathan Lacy, rector 1661- 1700, married a second wife Mary. (fn. 9) After his death Mary Lacy, widow, presented. (fn. 10) Soon after this the advowson was bought by Benjamin Pratt, curate of St. Botolph's, Aldgate about 1708-15. By his will, dated 1714, Pratt bequeathed the advowson in trust to the Bishop of London, with the provision that at each presentation the curate of St. Botolph's was to have first refusal. (fn. 11) The patronage has subsequently remained with the bishop, subject to this provision.

The rectory was valued at 40s. in about 1254, (fn. 12) at £1 10s. in 1291, (fn. 13) and at £6 13s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 14) The tithes were commuted in 1841 for £210; there were then 30 acres of glebe. (fn. 15) The rectory house is an early19th-century building, whitewashed externally.

In 1548 the parishes of Greenstead and Chipping Ongar were united by Act of Parliament. In spite of its small size the Greenstead church became the parish church of the combined parish. This union, however, was dissolved in 1554 and the parish of Greenstead returned to its ancient size and constitution. (fn. 16)

The parish church of ST. ANDREW consists of nave, chancel, west tower with spire, and south porch. The nave is a unique survival of early timber construction, probably of the early 11th century. The chancel is partly of flint rubble and partly of brickwork. The tower is timber framed and the porch is also of timber.

The circumstances in which the church was probably built, in or soon after 1013, have been described above. The present nave was probably the original church. It is 29 ft. long by 17 ft. wide. The timber walls remain on the north and south sides. They are 5 ft. 6 in. high and consist of oak logs, varying in width from 7 to 17 in., cut in half and set vertically, the flat surfaces facing inwards. At the two western angles three-quarter logs are used with a right-angular rebate cut internally. The south doorway still exists and nearly opposite there was originally a north doorway 2 ft. 5 in. wide. The nave was thoroughly restored in 1848. Descriptions of it before and during this restoration are of particular value. In 1748 Smart Lethieullier sent an account of it to the Society of Antiquaries, (fn. 17) together with elevational drawings which were later published. (fn. 18) A hundred years later the Revd. P. W. Ray, then rector, wrote as follows: (fn. 19) the building ... is formed of split trunks of oak trees, the top part being cut to a thin edge which is let into a deep groove in the plate and pinned. The bottoms of the upright timbers were morticed into the sill. Their sides were grooved, with tongues of oak let in between them so as to make the whole firm and weathertight (fn. 20)... upon the face of the timbers within the church were a great number of triangular cuts, having a rough bur on one side such as would be produced by the angle of an adze. These cuts were the key for the plaster with which the interior of the church was covered .... The west end was carried up in the middle as high as the ridge of the roof and consisted of two layers of planks fastened together with tree nails. The planks are not long enough to reach the whole height, they are therefore so arranged as to break both the perpendicular and horizontal joints.

The external elevation of this west end, part of which disappeared in 1848, is shown in Lethieullier's drawing. The narrow opening which can be seen just south of the centre was probably made to give access to the tower after that was added.

The chancel was probably added to the original wooden church in the 12th century. Parts of the flint rubble plinth remain. The east wall of the nave was presumably removed then.

The small stoup with a pointed head to the west of the former north door probably dates from the 13th or 14th century.

In the 15th or 16th century the square tower was added to the west end of the nave a little to the south of the centre line. It is weather-boarded externally and has louvred openings. The lower story of the tower is now used as a vestry. There is a broach spire. About 1500 the chancel was rebuilt in brick. On the south side is an early-16th-century doorway with moulded brick jambs and an elliptical head. Next to it on the west is a window of similar date also with an elliptical head. The four-centred chancel arch is probably of the 16th century. In that century also the nave was probably reroofed. Views of the church before the restoration show a sagging roof line, lower than that of the chancel, with two dormers on the north side and one on the south. (fn. 21)

The church was being repaired in 1683. Beams had recently been set on the inside of the chancel but it was feared that this would not prevent the cracks on both sides of the east window from getting worse. (fn. 22)

Extensive repairs were carried out in 1848. The oak sills of the nave walls, which originally rested on the ground, were completely decayed, together with the lower ends of the logs. These last were shortened from the base and tenoned to new sills supported on dwarf brick walls. The plaster was stripped internally and oak fillets fixed over the joints. The north doorway, which had already been plastered up before this time, was blocked by the insertion of three new timbers. The nave roof was replaced and three additional dormer windows constructed so that there are now three on each side. A new window was inserted in the west gable. In the chancel the east wall was rebuilt and a new east window with stone 'perpendicular' tracery was inserted. A new window was also placed in the north wall and another in the south wall to the east of the doorway. The east wall and the chancel arch were strengthened by the external addition of buttresses. A traceried window was placed in the tower, and a new timber porch, a copy of 15th-century work, replaced a small weather-boarded structure. (fn. 23)

In 1891-2 the roof, which was of fir, was again found to be decayed. A subscription list for a new roof was started by William Hewett, tenant of Greenstead Hall and churchwarden, and the work was carried out in oak by Frederic Chancellor, the diocesan surveyor. He followed the same design on the assumption that it was a copy of the roof taken down in 1848. (fn. 24) At the same time a brick buttress on the north side of the nave was removed, exposing sound timbers behind it. (fn. 25) No important alterations have been carried out since 1892, but the spire was recently covered with shingles of Canadian cedar. (fn. 26)

There is one bell by William Land, 1618, and a sanctus bell, uninscribed. In 1552 there were two Rogation bells weighing 10 lb. and two great bells weighing 300½ lb. (fn. 27) Early in the 19th century an old bell larger than the present bell, being cracked and unhung, was sold. (fn. 28)

In the chancel is a stone pillar piscina with an octagonal bowl, probably late 15th century. The 19th-century quatrefoil window in the west gable of the nave contains an early 16th-century roundel of stained glass, showing a man's head and shoulders in the dress of the time. A crown suggests that he may represent St. Edmund. (fn. 29) Two other pieces of stained glass, probably of similar date, were removed from the church before 1836. They came into the possession of a Bobbingworth farmer who took them with him to New Zealand. He was persuaded to return them to the church but they were lost in a shipwreck off the Scilly Isles on their return journey in 1871. (fn. 30) Hanging in the nave is a round-headed wooden panel on which is an oil painting of about 1500 showing the martyrdom of St. Edmund. (fn. 31) The octagonal oak pulpit was presented by Alexander Cleeve in 1698. (fn. 32) One panel has the date and I. H. S. inlaid in darker wood. The stone font is of the 19th century. The stained glass in the four chancel windows was inserted in memory of William Smith, d. 1871: the north window shows the martyrdom of St. Edmund and the east window the Last Supper and Crucifixion. The oak screen dividing the vestry from the nave was given in memory of Gerard Noel Hoare and his son, between them churchwardens from 1907 to 1949.

The church plate consists of a cup, 1739, paten, 1699 (the gift of Alexander and Mary Cleeve), a flagon 1858 (the gift of the Revd. P. W. Ray and family), and an alms-dish, 1817. The last piece was obtained in compliance with the archdeacon's instructions in 1817 to 'sell pewter plate and provide patens for the offerings'. (fn. 33)

On the north wall of the chancel is an alabaster tablet in memory of Jone, second wife of Alane Wood (1585). There are also tablets to the Revd. W. H. Warren (1825) and Mary wife of Craven Ord (1804). On the south wall is a tablet to Richard Hewyt, rector (1724). In the nave are tablets to P. J. Budworth (1885) and his son Major-Gen. Charles E. D. Budworth (1921).


  • 1. 'Apud Aungre hospitabatur vero ejus nomine lignea capella constructa permanet usque hodie': B.M. Add. MS. 14847 f. 20.
  • 2. It is of course possible that the dedication has been changed. It is interesting to note that the church of Greenstead by Colchester has the same dedication to St. Andrew.
  • 3. E.A.T. n.s. xviii, 18.
  • 4. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 289.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. CP43/169 rot. 52.
  • 7. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 289. One institution was missed by Newcourt, for the rector who died in 1641 was William Young: cf. Par. Regs. Greenstead, ed. F. A. Crisp, 32.
  • 8. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 289.
  • 9. Par. Regs. Greenstead, 8, 9.
  • 10. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 289. In 1689 and 1691 conveyances of the advowson were made by James Lacy, clerk, presumably the son of Nathan Lacy: CP43/ 424 rot. 205; ibid. 430 rot. 21; J. and J. A. Venn, Alumn i Cantabrigienses, pt. i, iii, 33.
  • 11. Morant, Essex, i, 153; J. and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantab. pt. i, iii, 390; G. Hennessy, Novum Repert. Eccl. Paroch. Lond. lxvii, 107.
  • 12. Lunt, Val. of Norwich, 336.
  • 13. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 23b.
  • 14. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 437.
  • 15. E.R.O., D/CT 153.
  • 16. For the details of this temporary union see Chipping Ongar.
  • 17. B.M. Stowe MS. 752, f. 49.
  • 18. Vetusta Monumenta, ii, pl. 7. See plate facing p. 61.
  • 19. P. W. Ray, Hist. of Greenstead Church, 18-20. Ray was rector when the church was restored, 1848.
  • 20. Lethieullier's description of the jointing, 'the edge of one tree made to slip a little within its neighbour', is probably less accurate.
  • 21. A. Suckling, Memorials of Essex, 4; P. W. Ray, Hist. Greenstead Church.
  • 22. E.A.T. n.s. xix, 268.
  • 23. For various pictures of the church before and after 1848 see E.R.O., Prints.
  • 24. E.A.T. n.s. iv, 223; E.R. i, 139; Notes & Queries, 1891, 316.
  • 25. E.A.T. n.s. iv, 223.
  • 26. Inf. from present rector, Revd. W. A. Hewett.
  • 27. E.A.T. n.s. ii, 236.
  • 28. Ch. Bells Essex, 265.
  • 29. See Hist. Mon. Com. Essex, pl. p. xxxv; p. 112.
  • 30. E.R. iii, 135; xxii, 45.
  • 31. See E.R. xlvii, 78.
  • 32. P. J. Budworth, Mems. of Greenstead-Budworth.
  • 33. Ch. Plate Essex, 135-6.