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St Nicholas, Castle Hedingham, Essex

(51°59′24″N, 0°35′53″E)
Castle Hedingham
TL 785 356
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Essex
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Ron Baxter
12 November 2015, 3 December 2015

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Castle Hedingham is a village in the Braintree district of NE Essex, 7 miles SW of Sudbury and 9 miles SE of Haverhill. It is best known for the Norman castle on the N side of the village, subject of another entry, but the church, in the village centre, holds much that is of interest for those involved in 12thc architecture and sculpture. It consists of a long chancel with a N vestry and a N chapel, now converted into an organ room, a nave with 6-bay aisles, a S porch and a W tower. The church is substantially of the late-12thc, except for the brick W tower, dated on a plaque to 1616, but showing signs that it was built 100 years earlier. Also of the 15thc is the S porch, the nave clerestory and the battlements on the nave and aisle walls. The church was restored by Woodyer in 1870-72, and many features that appear to be Romanesque are his. Hence the features recorded here are three doorways, those of the chancel windows that appear to have original elements, the chancel arch, the tower arch responds, the nave arcades, two carved stones reset on the exterior and one inside, and what appears to be a pillar piscina that has been interpreted as at least two other objects (see comments). In the churchyard is a war memorial that incorporates early-12thc carvings, and this is the subject of its own entry.


Castle Hedingham and the nearby village of Sible Hedingham are not distinguished in the Domesday Survey, but as both were held by Aubrey de Vere in demesne in 1086 this is not important to us. The manor was held by Wulfwine in 1066, and was assessed at over 3 hides in all. In addition the record lists 33 villeins, 29 bordars, 10 slaves, 13 freemen and 15 burgesses of Sudbury who were assessed with the manor. This adds up to 100 households - a considerable settlement.

A nunnery at Castle Hedingham was founded by Aubrey de Vere, 1st earl of Oxford, and his wife Lucy, some time in the 12thc. In 1191 their son Aubrey confirmed the gift, and added the church of Castle Hedingham and a wood in Gosfield. The manor remained in de Vere hands until the early 18thc.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches



Interior Decoration



Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


The list description calls this church 'one of the most outstanding in Essex', and it is hard to disagree. The earliest feature here is probably the pillar piscina or stoup: described as 12thc or earlier in the list description, and simply as Norman in Pevsner (1954) and Bettley (2007). It could date from the 1st quarter of the 12thc. Most authors call it a stoup, on the grounds that it is positioned where one would expect one, but its structure is that of a pillar piscina. It has also been said (see Bird, below) that its was the terminal of the churchyard cross, now remodelled as a War Memorial and given its own site entry on this website, but this seems unlikely in the extreme. The small relief on the S aisle wall has been described as an 'obscure demi-figure, perhaps of a woman praying'.and speculatively dated to the 12thc by Bettley and Pevsner, but the present author can see no female characteristics. The doorways, arcades and chancel arch are uniform in style, and belong to the very end of the 12thc, or the start of the 13thc, certainly after 1180. The random corbel head and reset chevron voussoir belong with the earlier phase.


C. Bird, History of the War Memorial at St Nicholas’ Church. See http://www.castlehedingham.org/history/war-memorial.

J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 195-97.

J. Cooper, The Church Dedications and Saints’ Cults of Medieval Essex, Lancaster 2011, 139.

Essex Sites and Monuments Record 6785

Historic England Listed Building 114530.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 99-101.

Victoria County History: Essex II (1907), 122-23 (on the nunnery)

T. Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, I, 1836, 508-24.