A Brief History of the Church...
You can see a plan of the present day church together with a legend showing the dates of construction. View the plan here.
Ging ad Petram (the parcel of land by the stone) was a Saxon settlement of 430 acres and a dozen peasants listed in the Doomsday Survey as ‘belonging always to St. Mary at Berking’. It was to form part of the later parish of Ingatestone. It is unknown whether a Saxon Church stood on the site, but a small Norman Church was built between 1080 and 1100, 44ft by 18ft. The present North wall of the nave shows the extent of the nave.
Two centuries later the settlement had grown into a medieval village with a market, two annual fairs and the need for a larger church. The south wall was re-erected 14ft further out and replaced by three arches. This can be dated by a Manor Court action in 1305 against a tenant of the Abbess of Barking for withholding her due share of the cost, 16s 8d. The same document suggests that the present tower may be at least the third belfry, for the tax claimed was for ‘the new belfry and the walls around the church’. About 1470 – 1510 the present tower was added. The East wall was rebuilt in brick in 1620s. Early in the 17th century Sir William Petre’s grandson, William 2nd Lord Petre, added the North Chapel with its massive memorial to John, the first Baron, who died in 1613, followed by his wife in 1624.
The Tower is the dominant feature of the church. This is described by Simon Jenkins in England’s Thousand Best Churches (published 1999) as ‘magnificent, a unified Perpendicular composition of red brick with black Tudor diapering. Strong angled buttresses rise to a heavy bettlemented crown, the bell openings plain.’
Between the chancel and the south chapel, is an alabaster memorial to 2nd Lord Petre. This is attributed to Cornelius Cure, court mason. The south chapel contains a memorials to Robert Petre and sea captain John Troughton. The later is by Epiphanius Evesham.
Before the Reformation, it is believed that the church may have had many altars. There were certainly many images in what must have been a very colourful church. During the restorations of 1886/7 a mural of the Seven Deadly Sins was disclosed west of the pulpit, dated 1400. It is in the form of a wheel, 7ft 2in in diameter. It was covered up. A coloured copy, a quarter-size, is in the Essex Records Office. A document in the Petre Muniments from the early 16th century list many images to be found in the church. One of these images, that of St. Christopher, was also found in 1866 on the north wall near the tower. This was also covered.
The church contains no visible pre-Reformation fittings or decoration. Essex was a mainly Puritan area, and a sternly Commonwealth Rector, John Willis, incumbent for 32 years until deprived for non-conformity in 1662, no doubt continued the transformation of the church to reflect it new Protestant character. The wooden communion table may well date from his incumbency. A wooden three decker pulpit, a Jacobean font cover, a barrel organ, box pews and a gallery in the tower were all removed in the ‘restoration’ of 1886/7. The only remaining feature from the Puritan period is an iron hour glass stand just west of the pulpit, positioned over the covered up mural.
The present interior of the church owes much to the work of Frederick Chancellor, the architect of the 1886/7 restorations. 1n 1905 an organ chamber in red brick was build at the north east corner. In 1966 the Victorian deal-and-plush inner lobby at the west end was removed opening up the tower arch. The approach up to the chancel through the choir was also widened during this time. 1n 1974 new vestries were added. The history of the building has been a history of change.
The dedication is to St. Edmund, the East Saxon King, captured and martyred by the Danes in 870AD and canonised in 960AD and to St. Mary. These are very ancient dedications. From a reference about 1175-80 by Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, he appointed the earliest recorded Rector, William Fitz Walkelin, that the church was then known as ‘St. Edmund of Gyng’. The Manor belonged to Barking Abbey until the dissolution of 1539. The Abbey was a Benedictine House, whose churches were always dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin and another saint.
Almost all the windows are Victorian. The exceptions are the St. Edmund window, dedicated in 1923, and the Millennium window, dedicated in 2000.
It is unknown when the church had its first clock. One was installed in by local man Thomas Scarf 1780, and it is thought this was to replace an earlier clock. Scarf’s clock is now in the Chelmsford and Essex museum. The present clock dates from 1970.
The earliest registers date from 1558. Volumes previous to 1939 are kept at the Essex Records Office.
A detailed Guide and Historical Survey, produced in 1983 is for sale in the church. Alternatively it can be ordered by post for £5 including post and packing, from the Rectory. Cheques made payable to ‘Ingatestone PCC’.
Original documents can be viewed at the Essex County Record.
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