« PreviousContinue »
THE ROUND CHURCH TOWERS OF ESSEX.
BY J. M. WOOD, ESQ.
(Read 18 June 1890.)
The Round Church Tower of Little Sailing in the County of Essex. -The parish of Bardfield Sailing, or Little Sailing as it is now called, is situated in the northern part of the county of Essex. It is about four miles from Dunmow, and five miles from Thaxted, and about the same distance from Braintree. It is bounded on the north by Great Bardfield, on the south by Stebbing, and on the east it is joined to Great or Old Sailing. From early times until considerably after the dissolution of the monasteries Little Sailing has been recorded under various names, some of which are as follow: Berdfelda, Bardfield juxta Sailing, Bardfield Sailing, Little and New Sailing. Although the two Sailings join, they are in different hundreds, viz., Bardfield Sailing, or Little Sailing, in the half hundred of Freshwell, and Great Sailing in the hundred of Hinckford.
The early history of the parish of Little Sailing appears shrouded in mystery. The records, especially in the Domesday Book, of which there are two, being anything but clear, and are as follow:
"Hundred of Froshwell or Freshwell.-In Berdefelda Wielard holds i hide, which was held by ii men in the service of Wisgar, and then they did not pay any custom or geld to the King, nor could they remove without the leave of their Lord, as the Hundred testifies. Alway i team in demesne. It is worth xx shillings."
"Hundred of Hidingforda.—Sailinges are held of John by Turstinus. They are held of i freeman in the time of K. Edward for a manor and half a hide. Then ii teams in the demesne, afterwards none, then i half. Then iii villeins and one priest. Then and afterwards iii bordars, now v. Then iv serfs, afterwards and now iii. Then and after wood for ccl swine, now for cc; x acres of meadow. It is worth 1x shillings."
With reference to the first entry, it would appear that in Saxon times Berdefelda was in the possession of two servants of a thane named Wisgar, who I find was part possessor of the adjoining lands of Great Bardfield.
It then afterwards became the property of Richard Fitz Gislebert, whose under-tenant was named Wielard. According to Newcourt's Repertorium, Salmon and Morant's History of Essex, and Marsh, the translator of the Domesday Book of Essex, this entry under the heading of Berdefelda applies entirely to what is now Little Sailing.
I would not say that such is not the case, while on the other hand the entry could just as reasonably apply to parts of the adjoining parish or lands of Great Bardfield, for the reason that there is another similar entry in the Domesday, under the heading also of Berdefelda, which the before-mentioned writers state applies to Great Bardfield. Why one entry under the heading of Berdefelda should apply to Great Bardfield, and the other to Bardfield Sailing, both being similar, I am at a loss to know.
Now with reference to the second entry, it would certainly appear that the lands comprising the Sailings were held by one man, and probably was one parish. If such were the case, the former entry could not apply to Bardfield Sailing. I should like to quote Morant on this point because I think it may throw a ray of light on the subject of this paper, viz., the round tower of Bardfield or Little Sailing Church. He says in his History of Essex, under Great Sailing, "There are in this county two Sailings, contiguous, but in different hundreds, namely Great or Old Sailing, in the hundred of Hinckford, and Little or Bardfield Sailing in the half hundred of Fresh well. They were not originally distinct, but even at the time of the general survey comprised under the heading of Sailinges, which John, son of Waleram, and his undertenant, Turstinus Wisgar, held then, but had belonged, in Edward the Confessor's reign, to a certain freeman. From the Survey it appears there was then a priest, from whence it may be reasonably inferred that there was then a distinct parish, and hence some place of worship; but the present church of Great Sailing is not so ancient, having most probably been erected about the reign of King Henry II."
Now this remark of Morant's is certainly of interest as far as it goes, because, if the present parishes of the Sailings were one in Saxon times, and also at the time of
the Survey, and a priest existed (as the entry before mentioned states), undoubtedly there was some place of worship or sacred edifice; and as the present church of Great Sailing is not of greater antiquity than King Henry II's reign, it therefore is not unreasonable to suggest that Bardfield Sailing or Little Sailing Church may have been the sacred edifice to which the said priest was attached, because to my mind there is in the round tower of this church traces of much greater antiquity than exist in the church of Great Sailing.
Before attempting to describe the church of Bardfield Sailing or its round tower, which is the chief object of this paper, I should like to draw your attention to the following MS. (Braybroke, 234), which has been copied by Newcourt and all the county topographers, and is as follows:-"The church or chapel of Bardfield Sailing, annexed to Great Bardfield, was dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul in March 1380, and the cemetery or yard where it stood was consecrated the next year by the Bishop of Pisa, commissioned by the Bishop of London; and 11th Dec. 1384, by his successor, Robert de Braybroke, who likewise confirmed the following agreement between the vicars of Great Bardfield and the inhabitants of this hamlet, namely, that they should have free liberty of burying in the said chapel or chapel-yard such as died in their hamlet, or desired to be buried there; and that they should yearly, on the Feast of Ascension and of the dedication of their mother church, come hither and make their accustomed offerings; and also bear the third part of the third part of the charge belonging to the lordship's quarter, towards the repairing or rebuilding of the mother church of Great Bardfield. Upon nonperformance, the chapel and chapel-yard to be interdicted till satisfaction be made.'
Among the Patents, 22 Richard II, there is an exemplification of the composition made between the Vicar of Great Bardfield or Berdefelda and the parishioners of Berdefield Sailing. From this it will be seen that at the time of the dedication of the church, Bardfield Sailing was a hamlet to Great Bardfield, and the existing church a chapel of ease; from which circumstance the hamlet may have been called Bardfield Sailing.
In the reign of King Henry VIII this chapel had the misfortune to be called by him out of its name, a chantry, and so granted, with all that belonged to it, by Patent, 20th Sept. 1546, to Henry Nedham, who the same month, by licence, conveyed it, by the name of "The Chantry of Great Bardfield", to George Maxey, etc.
In 1424 Catharine, wife of Richard Downham, of Old Hall, in Little Rayne, gave 3s. 4d. to the Chapel of Bardfield Sailing, in honour of St. Margaret the Virgin. This record may refer to the chapel in the south aisle of the church, to be hereafter mentioned, which may probably have been dedicated to St. Margaret, where there may have been an altar in honour of her.
The dedication of the church appears a little uncertain, for on referring to Ecton's Thesaurus Rerum Ecclesiasticarum, I find the following, "Sailing Parva, alias St. Peter Capel, to Bardfield Magna"; whereas in Bacon's Liber Regis it is "Bardfield Sailing Chapel" (St. Margaret).
The Church.-The Church of Little Sailing is situated on a flat plain of land. From the summit of the round tower a considerable stretch of country can be seen. The church is about eight miles from the nearest round towered church, viz., Great Leghs, and ten miles from Bromfield. It is a modest little structure of the Decorated period, and would call for very little remark either from an architectural or antiquarian point of view, except that it has a round tower, at the west end, of uncommon design and proportions.
The church consists of a nave rectangular in plan, and having on the south side an aisle divided from the nave by an arcade of three Pointed arches of pleasing proportions. At the extreme or easternmost end of this aisle a chapel once existed, probably the one dedicated to St. Margaret (before mentioned), and of which only a modest piscina and sedilia remain, calling for no remark. All trace of ornament, in the shape of grotesque figure-heads at the bases of the mouldings surrounding the arches, both inside and outside the church, have been disfigured, probably at the time of the Commonwealth. Each face of the heads has the appearance of having been struck full in the face with a hard piece of material, thereby smashing the figure. At the east end of the church is a
chancel of very small dimensions, only a few feet in length, and having the appearance of being truncated in early times. The chancel-arch is small; alongside which is a slanting doorway leading from the chancel to what was the chapel, and probably takes the place of a hagioscope or squint.
The existing floor of the church is at a higher level than the original floor, the latter having been lately discovered by the Vicar. It is composed (so much as has been uncovered) of glazed tiles of a buff colour, and decorated with a floral design. The windows in the nave and aisle are all of the Decorated period, and probably coeval with the church.
The Register dates from 1561.
The Tower. The tower, externally, is curious, and of somewhat remarkable design, and differs from any of those previously described in that it is built in three storeys, each storey being less in diameter and height than the one immediately beneath it. At first sight the tower has the appearance of being coeval with the main structure of the nave. The walls of the tower appear to be built or bonded into the main walls of the nave; but on a closer examination it is impossible to speak with any degree of certainty as the tower and nave-walling are covered with plaster and whitewash inside and out, and the junction cannot be seen, if any exists; while, on the other hand, the windows, mouldings, and parapet of the tower are undoubtedly of the same period as the nave. The tower is three diameters in height, being 56 ft. high from the floor, in the inside, to the top of the stone parapets surmounting the tower, and having at base an external diameter of 19 ft., and an internal diameter of 11 ft. 6 in.; consequently the walls have a thickness, at the base (throughout the first storey) of 4 ft., and in the second storey about 3 ft.
The tower, like those before described, is perfectly round both inside and out, except on its face or junction with the nave; but in this face, above the nave-roof, it is perfectly round. The walls in the inside of the tower are vertical, consequently the diameter of the tower in the inside is the same at base as at summit; but the thickness of the walls varies at each storey, due to the