St James the Less, Hadleigh, Essex

Download as PDF

Feature Sets (3)


Hadleigh is a small town in the S of Essex that forms part of the conurbation that runs practically seamlessly from Southend-on-Sea in the E to Basildon in the W.  Despite this it retains its own character, centred on the church of St James the Less that now occupies a large island in the A13. The church is substantially of the 12thc and consists of a chancel with an apsidal E end, the apse arch having been removed but the responds retained, while the 12thc chancel arch remains, flanked on the nave side by plain round arches. One plain 12thc window remains on the N chancel wall, while the apse has 3 segmental windows.  The nave is tall with a W gallery housing the organ and 5 plain 12thc lancets remain in the side walls.  The N and S nave doorways retain their round-headed rere arches, but the outer faces of both have been replaced. The S doorway is covered by a weatherboarded porch and the N by a large vestry, built in 1927 by Nicholson and now used as a kitchen and lavatory block. There is also a plain W doorway. There is no tower, but a 16thc weatherboarded bell turret with a slender broach spire is built over the W gable of the nave. The church is of rubble with clay tiled roofs. It was restored by G. E. Street in 1855-56.


Hadleigh is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but is assumed to have been included in the Honour of Rayleigh. Hence it was held by Swein of Essex in 1086, and subsequently by Robert fitzSwein, and his son Henry of Essex (d.1170) a royal Constable in the reigns of Stephen and Henry II, whose disgrace, trial by combat and retirement to Reading Abbey is detailed in Baxter (2016).


Exterior Features


W doorway

Round headed, 2 orders, both plain and continuous.

Height of opening 2.50m
Width of opening 1.27m

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Apse arch

Only the responds remain, and they are single-order low pilasters with hollow-chamfered imposts with angle rolls between face and chamfer, marking the springing of the removed arch.

Chancel arch

Round headed, 2 orders to W, single order to E. All orders have plain square jambs with no bases, carrying imposts like those of the apse arch and plain unmoulded arches. The chancel arch is flanked by a pair of round-headed, plain continuous niches, each pierced by a 15thc quatrefoil oculus, presumably intended to act as squints 

Interior Decoration


Relief panel

On the E reveal of the N nave doorway is a small chip-carved spoked hexagon. The entire wall surface is coated with a heavy layer of whitewash, but its form is quite clear.


The lateral nave doorways have been reduced in height but not in width, commonly found in Essex for reasons it is difficult to imagine. The chip-carved hexagon set in the jamb of the N doorway is related to a series of such markes, ranging from scratched and compass-drawn motifs to skilful carvings like this ones that are normally labelled “protection marks”.


  • R. Baxter, The Royal Abbey of Reading, Woodbridge 2016, 95-96.

  • J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 437.

  • Historic England listed building 116825

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 215.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 4, South east. (1923), 62-63.

  • W. Rodwell, Historic Churches - a Wasting asset, CBA Research Report 19, 1977, 

  • T. Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, II, 1831, 597-98.

Exterior from SE
Exterior from NE
Chancel from SW
Interior to E
Chancel from NW
Nave N wall from SE
Nave N wall from SW
Nave S wall from NW
S nave doorway rere-arch
N nave doorway rere-arch


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TQ 810 871 
now: Essex
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Essex
now: Chelmsford
medieval: London
now: St James the Less
medieval: St James (pre-Reformation)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
19 July 2016