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St Mary the Virgin, Chigwell , Essex

(51°37′28″N, 0°4′49″E)
TQ 441 938
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Greater London
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Isabel Tomlins
17 August 1997

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Feature Sets

The original 12thc nave and chancel were considerably altered, extended and restored in the 15thc and twice in the 19th. Only part of the S wall (and possibly an upper portion of the N arcade walling) remains from the 12thc. Of the S wall openings, only one small 12thc high-up window remains (one splay extended, a later mullion inserted and no decoration). A small undecorated water stoop to the left inside the doorway may be 12thc. The interior of the S doorway is plain but the exterior (protected by a wooden porch) contains the only extant 12thc sculpture.

The 12thc nave and chancel covered ground now occupied by the present S aisle and S chapel. In the late 15thc a N aisle and a bell tower were added. In the 16thc the church was reported in good repair, but 100 years later the chancel was said to be ruinous.

In 1854 extensive restoration took place and the old nave and chancel were reroofed and new windows were inserted in the lower S wall opening. In 1866 the N aisle was demolished and a new nave and chancel built, the earlier nave and chancel becoming the S aisle and S chapel with the original Romanesque S doorway still surviving.


A stone church was probably built c. 1160 by a member of the Brito family which held the tenancy of the demesne of Chigwell Manor around that time.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration


As regards dating the sculpture, sources (Victorian County History, local guide) associate the Brito family in the 1160s with the building of the church, but I have not yet found the origin of this assertion. One writer, early in the 20thc thought the doorway was early 12thc. Early to mid 12thc would seem appropriate for this style of decoration in a village church. The exterior has been rendered so there is no guidance as to how much of the 12thc walling remained after rebuilding and there is no evidence of re-used stones.
In recent years the doorway has been thickly whitewashed, so it is difficult to judge the state of the decoration or to tell whether it has been restored or recut. Enclosed is an undated photograph from the Conway Collection showing the tympanum unpainted and in good condition.


Victoria County History, Essex, Vol. 4, 18, 24, 33, 34.

Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Essex Central and South- West, 1st Col., 47.

N. Pevsner, revised by E. Radcliffe, The Buildings of England, Essex, London 1965, 121.

Essex Archaeological Society, Transactions, Vol 12, 1913, 137-40.