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west face is through a very slightly pointed opening, so slight in fact as to be nearly semicircular, and is said by Buckler to be "Early Perpendicular". This door or entrance, like Great Leghs, is undoubtedly an innovation; Great Leghs being the only other round tower of Essex having a western entrance. The width of this opening on the outside, between the stone quoins, is 3 ft. 10 in., and 4 ft. 4 in. in the inside between the reveals. The existing height of the tower as restored is about 56 ft. from the floor in the inside to the top of the stone embattlement. At the time Buckler wrote his description of the church, he states that the tower, in its decapitated condition, is 37 ft. in height, and surmounted at summit with a conical tiled covering.
Plan of Tower.
The original tower was probably intact up to 1638, when the upper part was struck with lightning and destroyed, the top of the tower at that time being surmounted with a wooden spire. In Buckler's book there is a sketch showing the condition of the tower in 1856, and judging from this, and the tower even in its restored condition, it certainly had originally a resemblance to those of Great Leghs and Broomfield, especially in the dimensions of the base and the position of the windows; its height when intact probably did not exceed 45 ft., which would be equal to about 2 diameters. The diameter of the tower internally varies from 13 ft. 9 in. to
14 ft., the rubble walls being about 4 ft. thick, consequently the external diameter is about 22 ft., therefore the height of the tower as restored is 2 diameters. The basement, or lower part of the tower, is covered over with plaster internally, so that no original rubble work can be seen, nor can any junction between nave and tower wall
ing be seen, if any exists. Besides the two openings in
the basement, or first storey, viz., the western entrance and the tower arch, there is a window immediately above the west entrance, which gives light to this storey. It still bears traces of an ancient window, being semicircular; it is 2 ft. wide, and about 4 ft. high to the soffit of the arch, and heavily splayed in the inside, being 3 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. 9 in. wide. This window has undergone considerable alteration, the arch and quoins, both inside and out, having been rebuilt of red modern bricks, and you can well imagine how they harmonise with the restored flint work, to say nothing of the old rubble work.
The tower internally, when intact, was undoubtedly divided into three storeys or floors, viz., the first, or basement storey; the second, or middle storey; and the third, the top or belfry storey, if any bells then existed. The basement storey is 17 ft. 6 in. in height, being divided from the second storey by a wood floor, which has been renewed, but appears to be in its original position. From this floor a small surface of the original rubble walling can be seen, the stones forming the rubble being nearly all rounded and water-worn, and not angular, and are laid in lime mortar, with some slight respect to courses. In the wall on the eastern side of the tower, and directly over the centre of the pointed tower arch, are two roughly turned stone semicircular arches, probably introduced to relieve the arch from the superincumbent weight of the superstructure. Whether they are coeval with the main structure of the tower it is difficult to say. They have also the appearance of assisting to gather over from the straight line of the nave wall into the circular walling of the tower, and are filled in with rubble work. The diameter of the tower on this floor is more regular, being 14 ft. in all directions. This storey receives light from two windows or openings (it originally had three), the distance from the floor to the sills being different in each
window, the window on the west face, immediately above the one in the basement, being similar in every respect, and still bears a trace of antiquity, for all the barbarous treatment it has been subjected to. The opening in the north face has been treated with more consideration. It is of greater antiquity than any of the openings in the tower, being a rectangular slit, 12 in. wide and 3 ft. 6 in. high, the outside quoins of which are of Barnack stone (?), but internally, alas! the opening has not escaped the hands of the modern bricklayer; being once heavily splayed to the extent of 3 ft. 2 in. in width, it is now filled in square with red brickwork. As to the third window, it has entirely passed away, the aperture having been enlarged to form a doorway, which is in connection with a modern circular stone staircase built on to the outside of the tower; this staircase being for the purpose of getting into the second storey of the tower. With reference to this staircase I shall have a word or two to say shortly. The height of the second storey is 13 ft. 4 in., although Buckler states it to be 12 ft. 6 in., which may have been the case, alteration and restorations since then having been the order of the day.
Ascending now to the second stage, or floor, one finds that the ruthless hands of the destroyer have been exceedingly industrious here. In 1856 Buckler states "the top or belfry storey is but 6 ft. 6 in. in height, and contained the remains of four windows, one on each face, and all similar, being heavily splayed on the inside." Half of these windows only remain, being shortened when the upper part of the tower was destroyed; there are no stones or arches across the openings to connect the walls; they appeared always to have been of larger dimensions than those on the lower storeys; in their present state they are 18 in. in width on the outside, spreading to 4 ft. 4 in. inside. By raising the roof of the nave, in the seventeenth century, the east window of the tower was enclosed; it now gives access, and admits air, to the timbers of the roof. At the present time a trace of one of these openings only remains. At a distance of 6 ft. from the floor of this storey is the last trace of the ancient walling, which is here only 3 ft. 6 in. in thickness, the set-off being on the inside; above all this is the restored part of the tower,
Since Buckler wrote, the only bell has been re-hung, on new timber framing. It is about 2 ft. in diameter, and having several coins of King Charles II's reign cast therein, with the following inscription in Roman capitals irregularly disposed in three lines:
"John and . Christopher : Hodson: made me :
This bell was given by: Richard : Mulford : Sexton :
And heare placed. TH: IL: then Churchwardens."
Externally, the tower now calls for few remarks from an antiquarian point of view, except that in general outline it bears the germ of antiquity.
The window openings on the west face are immediately above one another; between these two windows a Norman, or Early English grotesque head has been built into the restored flint work, in a similar manner to what one would see at the present day at St. Alban's Abbey. The opening in the north face was about half way up the original tower; it is just such a rectangular slit as one would see in the ruins of an early Norman castle, and may have performed the same function, as the splaying on the inside would admit of the free use of the crossbow. Throughout the external walling, and interspersed at intervals, are large pieces of stone, and consist of Barnack, sandstone, and clunch.
In the south angle of the tower, at the junction of the circular walling with the nave, and shown on the plan, is the circular stone staircase previously referred to. It was built at the time of the "restoration" of the church, in 1866, probably with the idea that it would be more convenient to get into the second storey of the tower from the outside. Previous to this abominable innovation, and for say nearly eight hundred years, the floors of the tower were probably approached by ladders from the inside, as exist at the present day in the towers before described, with the exception of Bardfield Sailing, which has a similar staircase of the fifteenth century, but approached from the inside of the tower, the effect of this incongruous innovation being to destroy the beauty and outline of the tower.
As to the date or origin of this tower, one can only
say that it contains considerable traces of Norman work. Whether it existed prior to the Norman period, or was built for the purpose of forming part of a sacred edifice, it is impossible to say; not a particle of evidence in this particular tower exists, so far as I can find, to speculate upon beyond the Norman period. I might, however, state that the tower is on high land, being about 200 ft. above sea level, from the summit of which a considerable area of country can be seen, especially that Essex mountain of London clay, the Laindon Hills. Neither must it be lost sight of that the distance of the tower from the river Thames is only about 3 miles. The record Wokendon-ad-Turrim is evidence of the existence of a tower in early times.
Summing up the results of my investigations so far on the six round towers of Essex, I must say their origin is still vested in mystery, there being little direct evidence to prove that they existed prior to the Norman Conquest, while on the other hand there is evidence to prove the existence of round towers in Saxon times (see remarks in previous papers). With reference to the round towers of Suffolk and Norfolk, from the geographical position they occupy, which is chiefly along the banks and mouths of rivers and estuaries, it appears evident they were not built with any idea of forming part of sacred edifices, their function probably being as towers of security and defence from the piratical invasions which were of such frequent occurrence in the days of the East Anglians.
In conclusion, I have to express my thanks to all those who have assisted me in this research, and to the Rev. Julius Rowley, the rector of South Ockendon, and the Rev. W. Warren, the vicar of Little Sailing, for the kind assistance they have given me in pursuing this investigation in their respective churches.