St John the Baptist, Finchingfield, Essex

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Feature Sets (3)


Finchingfield is a village in the Braintree district of NW Essex, 10 miles SE of Saffron Walden and 7 miles NW of Braintree. The village is clustered around a crossing of the B1053, Saffron Walden to Braintree road with the church in the centre. The walls are of flint rubble with dressings of limestone and clunch; the roofs are covered with lead, except those of the N and S chapels, which are tiled. The church consists of a chancel with two-bay N and S chapels, a nave with a clerestory and 5-bay aisles, a 12thc tower and a S porch.  The earliest part is the W tower, of c.1170.  The chancel was rebuilt in the mid-13thc , and the N chapel arcade and S nave arcade date from this period too. The N nave arcade, with clustered piers, is slightly later. The S chapel arcade is 15thc, as is the W bay of the N arcade. In the 15thc the bell-chamber of the tower was altered or rebuilt; a spire was built possibly at the same time, but it fell in the 17thc and a cupola with an open bell stage was added in the 18thc. The church was restored in the 1865-66 by Henry Stock, and the S porch rebuilt. The only Romanesque features are in the tower, and include the W doorway, the tower arch, with rich but badly eroded and enigmatic decoration on the jambs, and deep 3-bay arcading at the two interior E angles.


The pattern of Domesday landholding in Finchingfield was fragmented, and seems to have followed a similar pre-Conquest pattern. A manor of 2½ hides was held by Aelfgar before the Conquest and was counted among the king’s lands in 1086. His tenant was the goldsmith, Otto. Another manor of the same size was held by 3 free men under Eadgifu before the Conquest, and by Hervey d’Epaignes from Count Alan in 1086. Another manor of half a hide and 10 acres was held by Guy from Count Eustace in 1086, and by Northmann before the Conquest.  A small holding of 48 acres was held by Elinant from Richard, son of Count Gilbert in 1086, that was held by two sokemen  in 1066, and a smaller one of 36 acres was held by 2 knights from the same Richard in 1086 that had been held by 3 sokemen from Wihtgar in 1066. Finally the same Richard appropriated 80 acres of the king’s land and rented it to Arnold. This land had been held by Beorhtric before the Conquest. The subsequent ownership of these estates is traced by Wright (1836).


Exterior Features


W tower doorway

Round headed, 4 orders with tymapanum removed and replaced with stained glass. The carved stone is a shelly limestone. The doorway is within a rectangular frontispiece that projects slightly from the wall face.

Height of opening (ignoring modern step) 2.30m
Width of opening 1.17m
1st order

Square jambs decorated with shallow single-roll point-to-point chevron on both angles, with a thin vertical roll between the chevron pairs, halfway along the inner jamb faces. This unusual motif is badly eroded and best seen towards the top of the N jamb. At the top of each jamb is a corbel carved with three comically grotesque human heads in a line: an oval head at each end, looking away from a central head with hollow cheeks to accomodate its companions to either side. This head has horns that curve over those to either side. So far both corbels are similar, but that on the N is better preserved although the outer head has lost its chin. On the S side the outer head has lost its chin too; the central head has a long drooping moustache, and the inner one has lost its entire lower half.

These corbels now support a timber beam under stained-glass lunette that replaces the original tympanum.

2nd order

Plain en-delit nook-shafts on mlarge bulbous bases carrying double scallop capitals that differ in detail. The N capital has cylinders between the cones on the 2 faces, half-daisies carved in relief on each shield and a cable necking. The S capital has conical wedges between the cones, including one at the angle, plain shields and a plain roll necking. Imposts are hollow chamfered with an angle roll between face and chamfer. The arch is carved with point-to-point centrifugal chevron: one fat roll and two thin ones on the soffit, and one fat roll inside four thin ones on  the face. There are lozenges on the angle.

3rd order

En-delit nook-shafts: the N with double spiral moulding, alternately a low roll and a row of beading between fillets; the S shaft octagonal and carved with nested chevron, alternately (again) a low roll and a row of beading between fillets. The N capital is a double scallop withsheathed cones, traces of trefoil leaves remaining in the eroded shields and a plain roll necking. The S is a volute capiutal with vertical stems on the faces between the volutes. The necking is eroded and may once have been grooved. Both imposts are the same as those of the 1st order, and the arch has a similar chevron design to the 1st order.

4th order

Originally with nook-shafts as orders 2 and 3, but both shafts and their bases are lost. The capitals remain, however. The N is a catastrophically worn doubpe scallop, apparently with sheathed cones and a roll necking with a major loss to the W face. The S capital is another double scallop with conical wedges between the cones and shields decorated with beading. The necking is plain. Both capitals have imposts as the inner orders, and the arch has three rows of centrifugal chevron on the face, a hollow between two rolls; and a pair of roll on the soffit decorated with a row of directional chevron that crosses both rolls. The face has a cogwheel inner edge. There is a worn chamfered label carved with an overall lattice design on both face and chamfer with bosses in the interstices.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

W tower arch

The arch is plain and unmoulded on both faces, but it is carried on engaged angle shafts on tall bases with a roll and hollow profile and tall double scallop capitals. The capitals, imposts, shafts and the plinths below the bases are all treated differently in terms of decoration, and are described separately below.

1. E face, S angle

The capital is a double scallop with conical wedges between the cones and a plain necking. The impost above it is a replacement copy: a low chamfered impost with a tall face and an angle roll between face and chamfer. The impost continues under the arch, and here it is original; the same profile but decorated with a row of stylised roses on the face only. The base has no special treatment.

2. E face, N angle

The capital is similar to the SE capital. The impost is chamfered with a row of directional chevron that occupies both face and chamfer and continues under the arch. The base has no special treatment.

3. W face, S angle

The impost profile and decoration continues from the SE angle as far as the SW angle, when the decoration on the face comes to a stop. The impost continues along the E wall of the tower without decoration. The capital is a plain double scallop with plain necking, a prominent hole drilled in the W face and a vertical run of modern electrical cable that just avoids the capital itself. Towards the bottom of the angle shaft are signs that oit was decorated with an overall lattice pattern like that on the label of the W doorway. Below the base, the plinth is carved on its N face with a sexfoil daisy, and on its W face with a row of concentric lozenges.

4. W face, N angle

The directional chevron design of the impost cinues to the NW angle, where the decoration stops and the impost becomes a plain chamfered one with an angle roll. The capital is lost, and its place has been roughly patched with scored mortar. The lower parts of the shaft exhibit two different directional chevron designs. On the lowest course is a plain alternation of roll and hollow mouldings, and two courses that, a similar design with a row of beading in the hollows decorates the shaft. The plinth below the base is carved on its S and W faces with a continuous row of intersecting arches. Again the area below and alongside the shaft is the site of intrusive runs of modern cabling, but the carving itself is not obstructed.

Interior Decoration

W tower blind arcading

The two E angles of the ground storey of the tower are decorated with deep blind arcading: one bay on the E wall alongside the tower arch and two bays on each lateral wall. The two sections of arcading are separated by the tower arch, and mirror one another. Each section has three bays with plain round arches, with plain and continuous supports at the two ends of each section and cylindrical detached shafts carrying capitals of various types without impost blocks in the intermediate positions.

1. NE arcade, NE angle capital

A trumpet scallop capital with four scallops on the W face and (apparently) three on the S. There are thin double wedges between the cones, shields defined by a groove, and a plain roll necking.

2. NE arcade, N capital

A plain scallop capital with four scallops on the E and W faces and  three on the S. There are thin double wedges between the cones, shields defined by a groove, and a plain roll necking.

3. SE arcade, SE corner capital

A quadruple scallop capital with thin double wedges between the cones, shields defined by a groove, and a plain roll necking.

4. SE arcade, S capital

A tall waterleaf capital with rows of beading along the spines of the leaves and a plain necking. It is badly eroded.



The sculpture of the W tower, inside and out, all points to a date of c.1170 (the waterleaf capital, elaborate latticework and trumpet scallops), and this is also suggested by the list description. The arrangement of decoration on the tower arch, with more elaboration inside the tower than outside, points to the tower’s lower storey having been used liturgically, and Pevsner’s (1954) suggestion that the arcading on the E side of this space may have been connected with former altars sits well with this idea.


  • J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 359-60.

  • J. Cooper, The Church Dedications and Saints’ Cults of Medieval Essex, Lancaster 2011, 132.

  • Historic England Listed Building 115168.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 164-65.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1: North West (1916), 87-96.

  • T. Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, I, 1836, 649-69.

Exterior from S
Exterior from SE
Interior to E


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TL 687 328 
now: Essex
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Essex
now: Chelmsford
medieval: London
medieval: St Peter (1542) and St Peter and St Paul (1496 - 1536)
now: St John the Baptist (by 1848)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ann Hilder, Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
10 November 2015