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St John the Baptist, Finchingfield, Essex

(51°58′5″N, 0°27′15″E)
TL 687 328
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Essex
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Ann Hilder
  • Ron Baxter
10 November 2015

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Finchingfield is a village in the Braintree district of NW Essex, 10 miles SE of Saffron Walden and 7 miles NW of Braintree. The village is clustered around a crossing of the B1053, Saffron Walden to Braintree road with the church in the centre. The walls are of flint rubble with dressings of limestone and clunch; the roofs are covered with lead, except those of the N and S chapels, which are tiled. The church consists of a chancel with two-bay N and S chapels, a nave with a clerestory and 5-bay aisles, a 12thc tower and a S porch. The earliest part is the W tower, of c.1170. The chancel was rebuilt in the mid-13thc , and the N chapel arcade and S nave arcade date from this period too. The N nave arcade, with clustered piers, is slightly later. The S chapel arcade is 15thc, as is the W bay of the N arcade. In the 15thc the bell-chamber of the tower was altered or rebuilt; a spire was built possibly at the same time, but it fell in the 17thc and a cupola with an open bell stage was added in the 18thc. The church was restored in the 1865-66 by Henry Stock, and the S porch rebuilt. The only Romanesque features are in the tower, and include the W doorway, the tower arch, with rich but badly eroded and enigmatic decoration on the jambs, and deep 3-bay arcading at the two interior E angles.


The pattern of Domesday landholding in Finchingfield was fragmented, and seems to have followed a similar pre-Conquest pattern. A manor of 2½ hides was held by Aelfgar before the Conquest and was counted among the king’s lands in 1086. His tenant was the goldsmith, Otto. Another manor of the same size was held by 3 free men under Eadgifu before the Conquest, and by Hervey d’Epaignes from Count Alan in 1086. Another manor of half a hide and 10 acres was held by Guy from Count Eustace in 1086, and by Northmann before the Conquest. A small holding of 48 acres was held by Elinant from Richard, son of Count Gilbert in 1086, that was held by two sokemen in 1066, and a smaller one of 36 acres was held by 2 knights from the same Richard in 1086 that had been held by 3 sokemen from Wihtgar in 1066. Finally the same Richard appropriated 80 acres of the king’s land and rented it to Arnold. This land had been held by Beorhtric before the Conquest. The subsequent ownership of these estates is traced by Wright (1836).


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Interior Decoration


The sculpture of the W tower, inside and out, all points to a date of c.1170 (the waterleaf capital, elaborate latticework and trumpet scallops), and this is also suggested by the list description. The arrangement of decoration on the tower arch, with more elaboration inside the tower than outside, points to the tower’s lower storey having been used liturgically, and Pevsner’s (1954) suggestion that the arcading on the E side of this space may have been connected with former altars sits well with this idea.


J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 359-60.

J. Cooper, The Church Dedications and Saints’ Cults of Medieval Essex, Lancaster 2011, 132.

Historic England Listed Building 115168.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 164-65.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1: North West (1916), 87-96.

T. Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, I, 1836, 649-69.