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Notes on Essex Churches Ugley to Writtle

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Interesting churches and a mighty Abbey

Some of the most fascinating churches in Essex are the small village churches. The interest can lie in the relationship of the church and its setting – for example, the charm of All Saints, Ulting, lies very much is its quiet location in a churchyard right on the banks of the Chelmer, whereas All Saints, Vange sits right on the top of a hill with stunning views across the Thames valley.

Sometimes a church has been rebuilt, adapted and changed so often that it is it chock full of different historical features. Old St Mary's in West Bergholt is a case in point, where the doors and windows have been moved, aisles built and extended, ceilings lowered, a gallery and a bell tower added; and yet the whole church has a simplicity and unity which belies all this upheaval. By contrast, the tiny Saxon chapel of St Helen in Wicken Bonhunt has hardly changed at all since it was built in the 10th century.

Rood Screen, Wendens Ambo
Rood Screen, Wendens Ambo

The church of St Mary, Wendens Ambo, has both the siting and the history. It sits in the heart of the village, at the top of a row of pretty thatched cottages and the building itself has been added to and changed many times over the centuries. But for this church the real interest lies internally: rare pieces of medieval glass in the windows, a fragment of a 13th century wall paintings, and some beautifully carved 15th century woodwork including a rood screen and pulpit, and the splendid 15th century bench end carving of a boar, reminiscent of the carvings of mythical and known beasts which grace the pews in Danbury church. These items appear so fragile, yet they have survived for centuries.

These village churches are small and full of interest. They are almost cosy. In complete contrast the church of Waltham Abbey is awe-inspiring. Built between 1090 and 1150 it has survived for over 900 years (although it was once three times the size it is now). Inside there is a medieval Doom painting, showing the Day of Judgement. This was covered in whitewash during the Reformation and was rediscovered in 1876.