St Mary the Virgin, Little Dunmow, Essex

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Feature Sets (2)


Little Dunmow is a village in west Essex, to the S of the A120, 13 miles E of Bishop’s Stortford.  The church is at the S end of the village, today curiously set in a residential cul-de-sac. The priory church was originally cruciform with an aisled nave and chancel, the S chancel aisle forming a Lady Chapel.  This is all that remains today, the remainder having been demolished after the Dissolution, and it forms a grand and spacious parish church with large flowing traceried windows on the S wall and the blocked chancel arcade of 5 bays on the N wall. The church is substantially of the 14thc, that being when the Lady Chapel  was added, but the N arcade (i.e. the S arcade of the original chancel), dates from the end of the 12thc.  To the E of this, visible only on the N exterior wall, is a blocked 13thc window with intersecting arcading below it, also of the 13thc.  These were originally on the interior S wall of the chancel.  In the 19thc a turret was added at the NW; a vestry with an organ room was added in the E bay of the N arcade; and windows and a doorway were added to the W wall. This work was done by Chancellor in 1872-73.  The blocked N arcade is the only Romanesque feature of the building.  


The church of St Mary the Virgin, Little Dunmow, became an Augustinian Priory when canons were placed in it by the Lord of the manor, Geoffrey Baynard, in 1106. Geoffrey and his mother Juga had endowed the church with lands, and further endowments were added by his heirs, Robert FitzRichard, Walter FitzRobert and Robert FitzWalter, so that by 1190 it held lands in Henham, Norton, Sturston, Passefeld, Barnston and Paglesham and the churches of Burnham, Hempnall and Poslingworth.


Interior Features



N arcade

5 bays with pointed arches. The arcade is carried on clustered piers of eight elements with thick shafts on the cardinal points and thinner ones on the diagonals (this arrangement is halved for the E and W responds of the arcade). The shafts on each pier are alternately plain and keeled, and the alternating keeling system itself alternates from pier to pier. Capitals are described individually below but include volute crockets, waterleaf and upright proto stiff-leaf forms and have plain roll neckings.  Bases are attic with deep, water-holding hollows, and imposts are circular in plan and quirked hollow chamfered.  The arches are basically of three orders to correspond with the capitals.

Arch 1st order

Keeled soffit roll flanked by angle rolls with scooped out hollows on the angles, and a face hollow.

Arch 2nd order

Keeled angle roll with face and soffit hollows.

Arch 3rd order

Angle roll with scooped out angle hollow and face and soffit hollows.

E respond capitals

Only three are visible.  The 1st order is best preserved with a angle volute in the form of a crocket.  The 2nd order has a plian flat leaf on the angle and the 3rd is damaged with remains of a crocket.

Pier 1 capitals

Flat leaves on the angles of 1st order capitals and angle crockets elsewhere, with a vertical trilobed leaf on the central S capital.

Pier 2 capitals

Capitals with angle crockets throughout.  On the centre of the 1st order capitals are spade-shaped vertical leaves.

Pier 3 capitals

All capitals are richly carved with vertical proto stiff- leaf rising on stems from the necking.

Pier 4 capitals

Similar to pier 2.

W respond capitals

Waterleaf throughout.


RCHME describes the arcade as work of c.1190, which is accepted here.  In detail the capital forms suggest that they were carved from W to E, with the earliest form (waterleaf) on the W respond. This would be expected if the normal practise of building from the crossing were followed (and would suggest a start after 1170 and completion in the early 13thc with the work now visible at the exterior of the E end). 


  • J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 548-49.

  • English Heritage Listed Building 122726

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 252-53.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1: North West (1916), 175-80.

  • Victoria County History: Essex II (1907), 150-54.

Exterior from SW
Exterior from SE
Interior to E.
N chancel exterior wall from N
Chancel N window W jamb
Chancel N window W capital
Chancel N blind arcade
Chancel N blind arcade springing


Site Location
Little Dunmow
National Grid Reference
TL 656 212 
now: Essex
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Essex
now: Chelmsford
medieval: London
medieval: St Mary the Virgin (1104)
now: St Mary the Virgin
Type of building/monument
Parish church, formerly priory church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
05 October 2011