St Mary Magdalene, East Ham, Essex

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Feature Sets (3)


East Ham, in the London Borough of Newham, is 2 miles N of the Thames and the Royal Albert Dock. Its High Street runs parallel to the A13, and immediately N of it, and the rubble-built church, surrounded by a large cemetery that is now designated as a nature reserve stands on the N side of the High Street. It is an imposing building with a tall, spacious nave, a chancel with the remains of intersecting arcading on the side walls, no chancel arch but a 12thc apse arch and a semicircular apse. On the S wall of the chancel are 2 low side windows, the westernmost equipped with a wooden shutter. There is a W tower, variously dated between the 13thc and the 16thc, and the 12thc W doorway to the nave is inside the tower. On the S side of the nave is a 12thc doorway protected by a porch. The church was dilapidated by the end of the 19thc, but was restored in 1891-96.  Further restoration work took place in 1930 and more recently after in was damaged in the 2nd World War. Romanesque features described here are the W and S nave doorways, the chancel blind arcading, the apse arch and a corbel reset above the piscina on the S wall of the apse.


Three manors in Ham are recorded in the Domesday Survey. Westminster Abbey held 2 hides in 1066 and 1086 that was certainly in East Ham. A second, held by Aethelstan in 1066 and by Robert Gernon and Ranulf Peverel in 1086 was valued at 8 hides and 30 acres; this manor was largely in West Ham according to VCH. Gernon also held a manor of 7 hides that was in the hands of Leofraed in 1066, and this may largely have been in East Ham. A church was in existence in 1066, since 3 virgates of the estate that became Robert Gernon’s were held by a priest called Edwin. In 1254 the advowson of East Ham church was held by a successor of Gernon, Richard de Montfitchet.


Exterior Features


Nave S doorway

Round headed 2 orders under a 19thc porch. The doorway is largely a work of the 19thc, presumably copying the 12thc doorway, and original features are noted in the description.

Height of opening 2.82m
Width of opening 1.49m
1st order

Plain and continuous with a chamfer – entirely 19thc.

2nd order

19thc engaged nook-shafts on attic bases, carrying capitals of which the W only is original. It is an eroded cushion capital with an angle tuck containing a triple wedge. The E capital is a copy of the W. The hollow chamfered imposts with a roll at the foot of the face are 19thc, but the arch, with a fat nook-roll, is 12thc.

The label is largely hidden by the porch.

Nave W doorway

Round headed, 3 orders.

Height of opening 3.32m
Width of opening 1.74m
1st order

Engaged half-shafts on the jambs, with worn bases, probably attic, carrying cushion capitals with angle tucks and roll neckings, and quirked hollow chamfered imposts. The nook outside the shaft is square in secion with no capitals but impots of the same design. The arch above the shaft has a plain half roll on the soffit, and above the nook is a chamfer in the arch with a chip-carved voussoir at the apex carved with two quatrefoils side by side.

2nd order

Similar to the 1st, but the jambs have detached nook-shafts, and the arch has face and soffit rolls with a quirk on the angle between them. Above the nook is a plain chamfer.

3rd order

Jambs are as the 2nd order, and the arch has a fat roll on the face. The label is plain with no chamfer.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Apse arch

Round headed, 2 orders to W and 1 to E. All orders are plain and unmoulded in jambs and arch, with chamfered impost blocks with a roll on the arriss between face and chamfer.

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

N chancel blind arcading

The arcading is of intersecting round arches, with no break or capital between the shafts and the arch, i.e. they are continuous.  The shafts are flat pilasters carved with back-to-back single roll chevron on their angles. This continues on the soffit only of the arches.  On the N wall there were originally 7 half-bays of arcading, but now only 5 half-bays remain at the W and 1 at the E end.

S chancel blind arcading

As the N arcading, but only fragments remain; at E and W of the wall, both functioning as window surrounds.


Scalloped corbel in apse

Positioned above a head sculpture in the tympanum of the 13thc piscina, is a half-round multi-trumpet-scalloped corbel with a semicircular grooved abacus.


Nothing here predates the 12thc, but the Romanesque work is not easy to date. The two doorways, with their simple cushion capitals and heavy roll mouldings could belong to the 1st half of the century, as could the blind arcading. The curious trumpet-scalloped corbel is unlikely to predate 1180. Cherry (2005) suggests that the arcading is after c.1130, but in general the works cited below offer no dates more precise than the 12thc.

More interesting is the apse, which Pevsner suggested was intended to be vaulted, based on the pilaster buttresses inside and out. The intention may not have been carried out, as the timber roof of the apse has been dated to the 1st half of the 12thc, and is thus probably original (see Cherry (2005), 270).


  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 149-50.

  • B. Cherry, C. O’Brien and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5 East, New Haven and London 2005, 266-71.

  • J. Cooper, The Church Dedications and Saints’ Cults of Medieval Essex, Lancaster 2011, 136.

  • Historic England Listed Building 204948

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 2: Central and South West (1921), 58-61.

  • Victoria County History: Essex VI (1973), 8-31.

Exterior from N
Exterior, S side, W tower, from SW.
Exterior, N side, W tower, from NW.
Interior to E
Chancel S wall from SW
Chancel S wall, W low-side window
Apse, E wall, pilaster.


Site Location
East Ham
National Grid Reference
TQ 429 824 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Essex
now: Greater London
now: Chelmsford
medieval: London
medieval: St Mary Magdalene (from 1374)
now: St Mary Magdalene
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Isabel Tomlins, Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
20 July 2016