St Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex

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Feature Sets (3)


Hatfield Broad Oak, or Hatfield Regis, is a village in the Uttlesford district of NW Essex, 11 miles NW of Chelmsford and 6 miles NE of Harlow. The village is concentrated around a loop of minor roads with the church on the N side of the High Street, surrounded by a large churchyard. St Mary's, large as it is, is only the remains of the Benedictine Priory church begun in around 1135 by Aubrey de Vere, the second of that name (c.1085-1141). His church had a crossing and a cloister on the N side of the nave. Nothing remains of the original east end beyond the W crossing arch, which was blocked to form the eastern termination of the shortened church. The only physical evidence of the cloister is the high placing of the N aisle windows. The church was rebuilt after a quarrel between the priory and the villagers in 1378, and thereafter a wall was built separating the nave, which was the parish church, from the crossing and eastern arm, belonging to the priory.  The latter was demolished at the Dissolution, so the present east facade consisits of the W crossing arch with its late-14thc infill, flanked by the two chancel chapels.

The church as it was rebuilt after 1378 consisted of the present aisled nave, chancel and N chapel. The W tower, S porch and S chancel chapel are additions of the early 15thc. Towards the end of the 17thc the brick N vestry was added to the nave, and in 1708 the S chancel chapel was enlarged to house the parish library.  Construction is of flint pebbles with some 17thc. and 18thc. brickwork and some old ashlar. the N vestry is of brick; the dressings are of Barnack and clunch, patched with cement, and cement render has been applied to the nave clerestory and parts of the N nave wall. The church was restored by R. C. Carpenter in 1843. There is no Romanesque sculpture surviving in its original location in the fabric. Reports of a waterleaf capital, suggesting a date of c.1175 for the W crossing arch are erroneous (see Comments), but this arch has been treated as a feature below despite its later date. The W crossing arch infill contains many moulded stones and shaft sections re-used in the fabric, and among them are 3 chevron voussoirs, also recorded below.


Hatfield Broad Oak was recorded amng the king's lands in the Domesday Survey. It was held by Harold in 1066 as a manor of 20 hides. A church is recorded as holding 1 hide and 30 acres that were taken away from it by Swein after he lost the shrievalty

In 1141 King Stephen granted Hatfield Broad Oak to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, but after his death in a revolt in 1144 it was forfeited it to the crown. Thereafter it was let to a series of tenants: Richard de Lucy, justiciar from 1157 to 1179; Walter of Hatfield from 1179 to 1190, and his son Walter in 1191. Catherine of Hatfield in 1192 and Pain of Rochford from 1200-1214.

As for the church, between 1102 and 1107 Henry I gave the tithes to St Botolph's, Colchester, then c.1135, Aubrey II de Vere, Lord Great Chamberlain, founded a Benedictine Priory here as a cell to the abbey of St Melaine at Rennes. He gave the church to Hatfield Priory, although it is not clear how he came into possession of it. The rectory and the advowson remained with the priory until it was dissolved in 1136.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration


Reset chevron voussoirs

The infill of the W crossing arch of the former priory church contains many moulded stones and shaft secions employed as rubble. Among them are 3 chevron voussoirs, all placed out of reach for measuring.

Chevron voussoir 1

Sited to the N of the E window at the mid-height of the lower lights, approximately 1.0 m to the N of the window. A centripetal chevron voussoir with a single roll on the inner edge. It has a loss to the upper edge.

Chevron voussoir 2

Sited 4 couses above the sill of the E window, 0.5 m to the N of it. Another voussoir as 1, with a loss to the upper part of the extrados.

Chevron voussoir 3

Sited 2 courses below the E window and approximately 2 m N of it. Another voussoir as 1, generally eroded but woth no major losses.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Former W crossing piers

The jambs of both the W crossing piers survive, although the lack of any crossing arch voussoirs renders their interpretation somewhat speculative. Each pier has half shafts corresponding to the 1st order of the W arch on both sides, and the W responds of the 1st order of the N and S arches. Between them on both piers, the jambs are splayed and articulated with a pair of engaged half columns side by side flanked by pairs of angle rolls. Where bases survive (better on the NW pier) they are spurred attic bases. The questionable feature is the 1st ordercapital of the W crossing arch. This is the only surviving capital and it is a tall, keeled concave moulded capital on a keeled respond. It has a plain chamfered necking, a flat abacus and a quirked, hollow chamfered impost block.


The confusion over the dating of the crossing piers must be attributed to Pevsner; a rare lapse indeed. He described the sole surviving capital as a waterleaf, dating it to c.1175. What seemed from the ground to be leaves are the two faces of a keeled moulded capital typical of the early 13thc. Unfortunately the slip was repeated in the most recent edition (Bettley (2007)) and found its way into the List Description of 1967 too.


  • J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 477-78.

  • J. Cooper, The Church Dedications and Saints’ Cults of Medieval Essex, Lancaster 2011, 138.

  • O. W. Daryo, ‘Notes on the Church of St Mary, Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex, with the remnants of the Priory,’ Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, New Series 1, part 2 (1875), 82-86.

  • J. Fitch (ed), Essex Churches and Chapels: A Select Guide, Donington 1997, 106-07.

  • F. W. Galpin, ‘The History of the Church of Hatfield Regis or Broad Oak, with some Account of the Priory Buildings’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, New Series 6, part 4 (1898), 327-45.

  • Historic England Listed Building, English Heritage Legacy ID 353622

  • G. A. Lowndes, ‘The History of Hatfield Broad Oak’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, New Series 1, part 2 (1875), 64-81

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 234-35.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 2: Central and South West (1921), 116-17.

  • Victoria County History: Essex II (1907), 107-10 (on the Priory)

  • Victoria County History: Essex VIII (1983), 158-86 (on the parish)

Exterior from E
Exterior from SE
Exterior from S.
Exterior from NE
Interior to E


Site Location
Hatfield Broad Oak
National Grid Reference
TL 547 166 
now: Essex
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Essex
medieval: London
now: Chelmsford
now: St Mary the Virgin
medieval: St Mary the Virgin (from 1499)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Isabel Tomlins, Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
05 October 2011 (IT), 04 May 2018 (RB)