Participants in the Friends of Essex Churches study day on 7th October enjoyed a programme of interesting talks by Dr Christopher Starr and visited a variety of local churches. The second of the four churches was St Mary the Virgin, Corringham which has Anglo-Saxon stonework, but currently, a distinctly Anglo-Catholic appearance. The third church was St Peter and St Paul, Horndon on the Hill which was renovated at the end of the 19th century. As a result, it is a delight for enthusiasts of the arts and craft movement. The final visit was to St Mary Magdalene, North Ockendon. The church is rich in heraldry and our own Christopher Harold gave a short presentation about two of the hatchments. The church also illustrates one of the pitfalls for the local historian. Until 50 years ago, North Ockendon was in Essex, but it is now in Greater London. Consequently you will look in vain in the current Essex volume of Pevsner to learn about the church.
Medieval font at St Michael’s, Fobbing
However, perhaps the most interesting from the point of view of Essex heritage was the first stopping place – St Michael’s, Fobbing. This too has some Anglo-Saxon architectural features on the north wall, including a now blocked window. The font is from the 13th century (although the stem and cover are modern). It would have been used to baptise Thomas Baker – one of the leaders of the Peasant’s revolt who was hanged for his participation. He is one of the candidates for a new Thurrock heritage plaque. In the 17th century, the incumbent was John Pell. The Fobbing living was a sinecure intended to finance his mathematical research and he probably spent little time in Thurrock. None the less, he invented the division sign and is undoubtedly the most prominent mathematician to have lived here. He is another worthy candidate for a new heritage plaque.
After St Cedd converted the people of Thurrock and the rest of Essex to Christianity, there was one further relapse into Paganism, but eventually the church secured a dominant place in Anglo-Saxon society. By the eve of the Norman invasion – on the day on which King Edward was alive and dead in the evocative Domesday phrase – large amounts of Thurrock were owned by the church. In some cases ownership was by monasteries, particularly Barking Abbey and in other cases it was by senior churchmen such as the Bishop of London.
However, although the church dominated society, there were no parishes. Churches were widespread, but most local churches in Thurrock were the private property of landowners. A document known as Geþyncðo recorded that owning a church was one of the characteristics that distinguished the social standing of a thegn. These estate churches were originally used by the landowner and his family but gradually extended to others that lived and worked on the estate. It is these estates that in due course evolved into parishes.
In 1066, there were probably churches in at least ten of the 17 parishes wholly within the present Thurrock Unitary Authority (see Panorama 48). These churches would have been close to the thegn’s home – the manor house. The evidence for these pre-Domesday churches can be documentary, archaeological or architectural. One clear example of Anglo-Saxon architecture is found in Corringham church.
St Mary’s church is on Church Lane, a short distance from Corringham Hall, which was the manor house for the main Corringham manor. There is architectural evidence that Corringham church was originally built by the Saxons. On the south side of the chancel, there are a number of courses of stonework laid in a herringbone pattern which is characteristic of Saxon masonry. The tower is 11th century, and was previously regarded as probably early Norman rather than Saxon. However, recent work has suggested that it is indeed Saxon. St Mary’s Corringham is one of the churches that will feature in an autumn study day organised by the Friends of Essex Churches on 7th October. Dr Christopher Starr will be talking about the churches at Fobbing, Horndon and North Ockendon as well as St Mary’s.