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St Mary the Virgin, Little Dunmow, Essex

(51°51′53″N, 0°24′13″E)
Little Dunmow
TL 656 212
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Essex
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Ron Baxter
05 October 2011

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Feature Sets

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



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.