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Notes on Essex Churches - Galleywood to Hutton

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The Great and Good
Torments of Hell - Great Bromley Church
Torments of Hell, Gt.Bromley

Walking along St Edmunds Way near the hills by the Suffolk border, the pilgrim will come across the ancient church of St Marys. This is situated in the Parish of Great Henny, a small parish of only 3 miles in circumference. There is no nucleus to this village - the agricultural population are widely scattered, and yet this church has survived from the times of Edward the Confessor. Situated alone on high ground, the church has good views over the Stour valley, the same commanding views that the Lord of the Manor's residence would expect in order to denote his station above the freemen and villeins. The Norman tower of the Church would also provide a defensible structure and lookout point over the river and valley. At the time of the building of the church the ancient manorial seat was Henny Hall, which stood in 'Hall Field', next to the church, part of an extensive park. The Manduits were the most ancient owners on record notably Gilbert Manduit who died in 1260. Today there is no trace of the manorial park or hall. By 1830, the only vestiges of the hall were depressions in the ground where the cellars and vaults had been situated. Over the years, the population of Great Henny has steadily declined to the current number -191; but the church remains.

There are a number of villages in Essex with the prefix "Great", but some don't seem to be especially larger than their "Little" namesake. One example is Great Braxted (pop.130) compared with Little Braxted (pop. 170). The manor, originally a deer park, was recorded in the Domesday Book. William de Sackville, Lord of the Manor constructed the church around 1115, next to the manor house. However in 1708, the new owner Thomas Darcy built a new manor house about a third of a mile away from the church. Successive owners in the 17th and 18th centuries extended and beautified the estate, creating a huge artificial lake. The third Du Cane to own it built a 4.5 mile wall around the 2000 acre estate to keep the riff-raff out. The village of Great Braxted was then moved to Bung Row, leaving All Saints Church isolated and enclosed within the park.

Gt.Bromley Map from 1881
19th Century Gt. Bromley

Great Bromley church is certainly "great" in the sense that its size and splendour don't seem to match the modest village. St George's is a great example of the Perpendicular style with a magnificent hammer-beam roof, clerestories and arcades. However, the church is immediately adjacent to what was once known as Great Bromley Hall, the ancestral home of the Mortimer family who also held Martels Manor in Ardleigh. The considerable wealth of the Plantagenet family who were both patrons and advowsons of the church suggests that, like many village churches, the church was essentially there as a private landowners' church for worship and to contain monuments dedicated to their ancestral family. The local villagers weren't moved away in this case, but the church was not primarily there for them. Through the centuries, the bulk of the population gravitated away from the old manorial hall (now a nursing home) south towards Balls Green and Hare Green. Instead of a brick wall to isolate the population from the manorial place of worship, planners built the A120 trunk road in the early 1980s which effectively cut the village in two.