St Mary, Great Bentley, Essex

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Feature Sets (2)


Great Bentley is a village in the Tendring district of NE Essex, 7 miles E of Colchester and 5 miles NW of Clacton-on-Sea. The village is grouped around a large green, said to be the largest in Essex, covering 45 acres with the church at the SW end. St Mary’s has a chancel, a nave with Romanesque windows and N and S doorways recorded below, and a W tower. The nave has a W gallery and a N rood stair. The N doorway faces the village and is protected by a porch. On the S side the nave doorway gives access from the church to a modern brick and glass passage linked to a hall; a structure built in 1987 and only accessible by arrangement. The church is of puddingstone, septaria and flint rubble with much herringbone masonry in nave and chancel. It was restored in 1871-74; a restoration that included the replacement of the chancel arch.


Great and Little Bentley are not distinguished in the Domesday Survey, but it seems safe to assume that the largest of the three holdings there was Great Bentley. It was held in demesne by Aubrey de Vere, and had belonged to Wulfwine before the Conquest, when it was assessed as a manor of 3 hides.  It also contained woodland for 150 pigs, pasture for 150 sheep, 6 acres of meadow and a salt pan.

There were two smaller holdings listed in the Domesday Survey in Great and Little Bentley. Land assessed at 42½ acres was held by Henry d’Epaignes from Count Alan in 1086, which had been held by Alwine in 1066. This holding also included woodland sufficient for 6 pigs. Finally a manor of 1 hide was held by Wihtgar in 1066 and by Roger from Richard, son of Count Gilbert, in 1086. The manor also included woodland for 100 pigs.

The lordship of the manor of Great Bentley remained with the de Veres until 1460 when John, the twelfth earl was attainted, but was returned to the same family by Henry VII.


Exterior Features


N nave doorway

Single order, round headed. The jambs are plain and square, and carry imposts with scroll volutes facing across the opening. The arch is of 11 reasonably regular voussoirs, each carved on the face only with three concentricrows of chip-carved saltires in squares, the inner two rows having 2 units of decoration on each voussoir, and the outer with two or three. There is no label.

Height of opening 2.71m
Width of opening 1.14m

S nave doorway

Two orders with tympanum, round headed

Height of opening 2.39m
Height of tympanum 0.63m
Width of opening 1.26m
Width of tympanum 1.54m
1st order

Plain square jambs carrying heavy chamfered imposts that support a segmental lintel of 9 voussoirs, each carved with a pair of daisies. The tympanum above is uncarved and of flint rubble in mortar with a modern repair occupying much of the face.

2nd order

En-delit nook-shafts on bases with a lower roll and a quirked chamfer above. The capitals are cushions with unusual shields – cusped at the bottom and either side, with a central recess carrying a relief motif that the state of advanced wear prevents a decision on whether it is a face or a flower. The plain chamfered imposts are like those of the 1st order. The arch is carved with centrifugal chevron lateral to the face; three rows with a hollow between two rolls. There is a half-roll label with a worn label stop on the E side only, features of a grotesque composite human head with recessed bulbous eyes, cat’s ears and a mouth turned down at the ends can be distinguished by the optimistic viewer.


Bettley and Pevsner describe the S side addition, by E. D. Mills and Partners, as unsympathetic, “taking up an unreasonable amount of the otherwise garden-like churchyard”. It certainly restricts access through the elaborate S nave doorway; making it a feature of the parish room rather than part of the normal experience of entering the church. The RCHME entry and the list description both offer a date of 1130-40 for the nave and chancel, which is probably correct despite the herringbone masonry.


  • J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 392.

  • Historic England Listed Building 120202

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 178.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 3: North East (1922), 107-08.

  • T. Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, II, 1831, 763-65.

Exterior from SE showing link building covering S doorway
Exterior from NE
Interior to E


Site Location
Great Bentley
National Grid Reference
TM 109 217 
now: Essex
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Essex
now: Chelmsford
medieval: London
now: St Mary
medieval: St Mary (pre-Reformation)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
25 September 2014, 11 November 2015