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St Leonard, Southminster, Essex

(51°39′42″N, 0°49′51″E)
TQ 959 997
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Essex
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Ron Baxter
12 August 2015

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Feature Sets

Southminster is a small town on the Dengie peninsula, in the Maldon district of the county. It is 8 miles SE of Maldon and 2 miles N of Burnham-on-Crouch. The church stands in the centre of town, on the S side of the main street, and has a surprisingly spacious churchyard behind it. It is a curious-looking cruciform church with a W tower. The nave, (originally 12thc as indicated by the S doorway and the nave W window, visible only on the interior) is of mixed rubble, and has been heightened twice; once in large knapped flints in the 15thc, when a clerestory was added, and again in brick in 1819. The N doorway, facing the town, is protected by a 15thc stone-vaulted porch. The tower is largely 15thc on a 12thc base. It is of rubble with a low double-pitched roof decorated with flint chequerwork on the gables. The transepts are massive, and the chancel, of 1818-19 by Hopper, is on a similar scale and has a semi-octagonal apse with 5 tall gabled chapels. Transepts and eastern arm are rendered in an unattractive brownish cement mortar. From 1891 the interior was remodelled, but no attention was paid to the exterior which remains, possibly, the ugliest in the county. There is no Romanesque sculpture, but the plain S doorway allows this singular church to be included here.


The Domesday Survey records two manors in Southminster; both held by the Bishop of London. The main one was of 30 hides and was held by 14 knights from the Bishop. A second manor was of 18 hides and was held by 15 freemen from the Bishop in 1066, and by 14 freemen from the Bishop in 1086. The land was alienated from the see by King Cnut, but restored by William I.

The lordship of the main manor remained with the Bishops of London until 1550, when Bishop Ridley conveyed it to King Edward VI, who granted it to Thomas, Lord d’Arcy. The second manor, called Cage, was held of the Bishop by Robert fitzWalter in 1328, and remained in this family until the 16thc.


Exterior Features



Pevsner (1954) compared the wide nave to an early 19thc Methodist chapel; a comparison discarded in the 2007 edition. Wright (1836) described the church as “a large and handsome building.”


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, 3 vols, London 1899, 259.

J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 717-18.

Historic England Listed Building 428723.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 326-27.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 4, South east. (1923), 146-47.

T. Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, 1836, II, 684-86.