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St John the Baptist, Little Maplestead, Essex

(51°58′28″N, 0°39′4″E)
Little Maplestead
TL 822 340
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Essex
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Ann Hilder
  • Ron Baxter
09 October 1994 (AH), 12 November 2015 (RB)

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Feature Sets

Little Maplestead is a village in the Braintree district of N Essex, 8 miles NE of Braintree itself. The village is clustered around a network of minor roads W of the main A131 Braintree to Sudbury road, with the church and the hall alongside it at the W end of the village. The present church is of flint and pebble rubble with limestone dressings, and is of c.1335. It consists of an aisleless chancel with a semicircular eastern apse and a S vestry, and at the W end a circular nave carried on 6 piers. Above the nave is a wooden belfry with a pyramid roof. There is a W porch of 1851. The church is of c.1335 with no earlier fabric surviving. It was the subject of a drastic restoration by the architect R. C. Carpenter in 1851-57. The only Romanesque feature is the font.


The Domesday Survey does not distinguish between Great and Little Maplestead, and identifies three holdings in the two villages. Half a hide was held by Osmund from John FitzWaleran in 1086, that belonged to Grim as a manor in 1066. Ilger held half a hide from Robert Gernon, that belonged to Wulfwine in 1066, and the wife of Aubrey de Vere appropriated 5 free men with 1¼ acres here, that Tidbald held under her. In addition, and perhaps of more significance, is the manor of ‘Napstead’ in Little Maplestead, which was held by the wife of Aubrey de Vere from the Bishop of Bayeux in 1086, and by 8 free men in 1066, and was assessed at 22½ acres. It is not clear which of these holdings is relevant to the later history, which is that the village and the church were given by Juliana FitzAudelin, the daughter of Robert Dosnel and wife of William FitzAudelin, Henry II’s steward, to the Knights Hospitallers, a grant confirmed by her husband in 1186.





According to RCHME the church has one of only five remaining circular or polygonal naves in England. The plan in Wallen (1836) shows the font alongside the SW nave arcade pier, in the aisle. Pevsner (1954) calls the decoration of the font ‘very raw’, and suggests that it may be 11thc. RCHME also says ‘probably 11thc’, while Bettley (2007) simply asserts that it is 11thc, and repeats Pevsner’s aesthetic analysis.


J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 558-59.

P. G. M. Dickinson, St John the Baptist or The Round Church Little Maplestead, Church Guide, Little Maplestead 1956, revised edition 2001.

Essex Sites and Monuments Records 9410, 9411.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 256.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1: North West (1916), 184-85

Victoria County History: Essex II (1907), 178-79 (on the Preceptory).

W. Wallen, The History and Antiquities of the Round Church at Little Maplestead, Essex, London 1836.