A brief history of
St Mary the Virgin Great Leighs
The church stands on high ground above the River Ter about two miles from the present village centre. The most striking feature is its round tower, one of just six in Essex and said to be the best. Built from flint, roman tiles and conglomerate two thousand years ago its condition is a tribute to the care and skill of countless generations of worshippers.
The base of this tower is Saxon in origin with a door from Norman times inserted about 1100AD. The beautiful doorway has two layers of stones, beautifully moulded by the masons with chevrons and chamfered edges. The five Norman buttresses are for decoration, the massive walls of the tower needing no support. The clock is Victorian and given by Mr H. Tritton from Lyons Hall opposite..
The tower contains 5 bells, each inscribed ‘Miles Graye made me 1634’ and were cast in the churchyard.
The original building would have been thatched and wooden in structure and most was replaced in the 14th century. There are sun-dials or mass clocks in the walls, a Priests door with original ancient iron work and a Leper window.
The medieval porch was of timber but in 1820 the roof was shored up and the sides rebuilt in brick. The medieval roof timbers can still be seen. The doorway is 14th century, set within a Norman arch.
Inside the nave is Norman with two of the original 12century windows in the north side and another in the south.
Opposite the porch door is another 14th century door cut into the north wall. The two doors were used for processions on Holy Days. The north wall door now leads to a vestry.
DOG RAPPER SEAT
Inside the south door is the unusual Dog Rappers seat where until the mid 19th century the Dog Rapper (a paid position) sat keeping dogs and unruly boys to order.
The Font is octagonal, and dates from the 14th century. The foot is about a foot below the present level of the floor which is flush with medieval glazed tiles. The carved oak cover was a gift from the previous churches of Rev Andrew Clark in 1896.
The floor of the nave was paved with large red tiles from the local brick yard during the reign of George lll .
The date of the gallery is uncertain but the present organ, dedicated in 1959 hides a beautiful Benefactors Board and one wonders why this was not removed when the previous organ was first placed in this position. The choir used to sit in the gallery.
THE PEWS, PULPIT AND LECTERN
The beautiful low pews in the Nave, with panelled and traceried backs, are 15th century.
The stone pulpit was given by Dr Kay (Rector 1865-86) and the Lectern of carved oak is in memory of another Rector, the Revd. Albert Negus (1922-30).
The chancel dates from about 1330 and remains intact but the roof was replaced about 1866.
Many of the windows contain some medieval glass but much Victorian stained glass fills the 14th century stone frames. Victorian restoration work removed ancient seating and replaced it with the current choir stalls and screen (in memory of Dr Kay who organised the restoration)
The three windows in the south side of the chancel are sermons in glass while the Victorian East window depicts the four stages of Christ’s life.
Some of the old 14c glass was made into a fire-screen for the Tritton family but now sits in the north Chancel window.
Under the arch of the Founders Monument is the crumbling medieval Parish Chest made from a tree trunk and on the floor of the Chancel are many slabs in memory of past rectors.
The most interesting is that of Ralph Strelley, Rector here, who died 1414. It is a brass of a priest with tonsured head wearing his vestments. The head really belongs to another on the north side of the chancel probably William de Chichester who died 1370.
All the other floor slabs were removed during the Victorian restoration and re sited to allow for the choir stalls.
The new altar frontal was given by Colin Gorham from the proceeds of a book he wrote about life in this village during the Second World War. Colin had been a choirboy here at that time.
MORE INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND IN THE CHURCH