ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST LITTLE LEIGHS
The simple Norman church consisted of today’s nave, which was built in the 12th century. There was no separate chancel and the original position of the east wall is indicated by the present screen. The altar would have been in front of the wall, with the piscina and sedilia to the right, and the credence to the left, all three of which can still be seen. The chancel was added in the 13th century.
In 1895 the Victorians set to work. They extended the chancel very slightly and rebuilt the east wall with arcading and reredos, removed the box pews in the chancel, rebuilt the porch, and added the vestry. The ‘inconvenient and unfitting’ west gallery was taken away. A brass tablet in the south wall of the sanctuary informs us that all this was paid for personally by the Reverend Henry Edward Hulton, Vicar of Great Waltham and Rural Dean of Chelmsford.
Wooden Effigy (chancel)
Within the early 14th century recess, with external tiled quoins, the glory of our church lies beneath a clunch canopy in the north wall. Described as of ‘startling and moving simplicity’, the life-sized effigy (c.1300) represents a priest buried in the tomb beneath. He wears eucharistic vestments and his head is supported by two angels, now defaced. At his feet are a lamb and a lion with mane. More than 100 such wooden effigies survive, but this is the only one of a priest known in England. The original appearance of the effigy is quite unlike that of today, being once coloured with gesso. There is some white in the creases of the robes and a small area of blue and red by the feet. Unusually, it is made of oak. It is wooden not because the donor could not afford stone, but because it was made to be movable to make a place for the Easter sepulchre.
Stained Glass Windows
East window: Christ in Majesty; the Crucifixion, with St Mary the Virgin, St Mary Magdalene and St John; the Last Supper; c.1895, possibly designed by Ion Pace, Clayton & Bell
Nave, north wall: St Peter and St Paul, 1951, by Gerald E. R. Smith, A.K. Nicholson Stained Glass Studios
West window: Virgin and Child; St John; St John as an old man; c.1895, possibly designed by Ion Pace, Clayton & Bell
Part of the 1895 restoration, simple late 19th century oak screen, which contributes much to the church’s rustic atmosphere.
Rood Loft Staircase
During the Victorian restoration four rubble steps with thin oak treads were discovered in the north wall of the chancel. They once formed part of the staircase leading to the original rood (crucifix) loft, above the rood screen. (A chancel screen becomes a rood screen when it incorporates the crucifix above it.) Rood lofts, used by the choir and musicians, had high panelled fronts, often with the great rood flanked by carvings of St Mary the Virgin, and St John the Evangelist, which would have been appropriate for this church, built into them. Our east window reflects the original rood presentation. The upper doorway has been removed and walled up, but its extent can be seen in the outline above Daniel Welstead’s monument. Many rood screens, lofts, and their carvings were removed during the reign of Edward VI when his commissioners did away with anything they regarded as ‘superstitious’ with puritan zeal.
In the 1895 restoration the box pews in the chancel were reused to form the pulpit, as well as for panelling the vestry.
The oak lectern is dedicated to the memory of the Reverend Thomas Bowen, Rector from 1893-1911. He was succeeded by his son, James, Rector from 1912-1930, whose brass wall tablet is on the south wall of the chancel.
1. After the death in 1673 of Charles Rich, 4th Earl of Warwick, Leez Priory passed to his eldest sister’s son, Robert Montagu, 3rd Earl of Manchester and it remained in that family until it was sold soon after 1722. Four of the monuments in the nave are to the Welstead family, agents to the Earls (later Dukes) of Manchester, whose main residence was Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire.
2. Above the piscina is a brass wall tablet to the memory of Captain William Hughes-Hughes. On 1st October, 1915 the Reverend Andrew Clark of Great Leighs wrote in his war diary, ‘It was known in Little Leighs, by telegram on Wedn. Evening (29 Sept.) that ‘Willie’ Hughes-Hughes, son of M. E. Hughes-Hughes, of Leez Priory, had been killed. He was a captain (in the Welch Regiment).’ He died aged 31 and is buried in the Browns Road Military Cemetery at Festubert.
3. Herman Olmius, whose monument is in the middle of the north nave wall, lived at the Warren House. Herman Olmius senior was patron of the living here. This successful trader of German goods bought the Bishops Hall manor in Great Leighs, and Cressing Temple.
1. On west wall: Herman Olmius (junior) d.1726
2. On south wall: James Welstead of West Ham. He was the youngest son of George Welstead, married Louisa Porter of Great Waltham in 1814, and died in 1843. ‘Bien étayé’ is a heraldic pun for Welstead.
The benches in the nave are early 16th century with a reed design at the end. Some of those at the front were repaired and replaced in the Victorian restoration, when the choir stalls were introduced.
Well positioned on a stepped base with animals and foliage around it. The 13th century bowl is octagonal with tracery on the panels added in the 14th century.
The porch was rebuilt as part of the 1895 restoration. The door is a remarkable survival of c.1300 with foliate iron-work of which William Morris would surely have approved. There is a small graffito figure in the order just above the left capital. Note the holy water stoup to the right.
Abridged from the Church Guide compiled by Julia Abel Smith