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St Mary, Elsenham, Essex

(51°54′37″N, 0°14′25″E)
TL 542 259
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Essex
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Ann Hilder
  • Ron Baxter
29 September 2011

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Elsenham is a village in W Essex, 4 miles NE of Bishops Stortford. The village is alongside the M11 and the commuter line from Liverpool Street to King's Lynn, but is essentially rural, with woodland and pasture dominant. The church is SE of the village centre, alongside the hall. It is essentially a complete Norman church, two-celled with a square chancel. Nave and chancel are early 12thc with walls of flint rubble covered with plaster and cement. Plain 12thc windows are found in the N and S nave walls and the N chancel wall. The West tower is early 15thc., of mixed flint and brick with some large stone blocks and covered with plaster. The S doorway is 12thc with a porch of c1500, of flint rubble with lacing-courses and dressings in brick. The 19thc N porch covers a 13thc doorway, but is now used as a vestry. Some tiles, probably Roman, are used in the tower and S porch. Roofs of tiles and slate. Romanesque features described here are the S doorway, with a 12thc graveslab used as in internal tympanum; the chancel arch, and a section of stringcourse alongside it.


Before the Conquest a manor of 1 hide at Elsenham was held by Leofstan. In 1086 it was held by Peter from Robert Gernon. In addition to the ploughland there was woodland for 100 pigs and 20 acres of meadow. Another manor of 4 hides was held by a free woman named Maerwynn before the Conquest, and by John, nephew of Waleran in1086. This manor included woodland for 1300 pigs, 12 acres of meadow and a mill.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Interior Decoration

String courses




The south doorway is heavily restored and perhaps completely remade. The capital design with its radial sawtooth suggested the Sun and Moon to Pevsner (1954), 157, but this seems unlikely as the two astronomical bodies are not distinguished from one another in any way. The coffin lid set in the inner tympanum is more or less contemporary, which points to the rere-arch having been remodelled much later, when the grave had ceased to have any memorial function. The thin red bricks forming the inner arch and jambs are usually referred to as Roman, but may be medieval, and could not really be original to a doorway of this date. The rere-arch, then, is a relatively recent construction,

A further problem occurs in the chancel, where there is a horizontal offset in the walls, at the sill level of the Norman windows (cf. Little Easton); once again, two periods seem to be demanded.

The chancel arch is contemporary with the doorway and the gaveslab, and the date suggested for all this work is "Norman" (Pevsner, Bettley & Pevsner, EH listing text). The present authors would point to the chip-carving and volute capitals as generically early features, but find it hard to date the work before 1150 because of the point-to-point chevron.


J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 343-44

F.W. Cobb, St Mary's church, Elsenham, Essex, 1934

J. Cooper, The Church Dedications and Saints’ Cults of Medieval Essex, Lancaster 2011, 131.

English Heritage Listed Building 121772

J. Fitch (ed), Essex Churches and Chapels: A Select Guide, Donington 1997, 85.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 157.

G. E. Pritchett. ‘St Mary's church, Elsenham, Essex’, Essex Archaeological Society Transactions, ns IV part II, 120.

W. Rodwell, Historic Churches - a Wasting asset, CBA Research Report 19, 1977, 106.