The following is taken from Revd. Alfred Suckling’s book, ‘Memorials of the antiquities and architecture, family history and heraldry of the County of Essex’ (John Weale, London, 1845).
Morant, in his History of Essex, derives the name of this village from the dark coIour of its soil; but, as I cannot discover that it differs in this particular from the neighbouring parishes, I should rather seek for the origin of its name from the peculiarities of its situation. While the adjoining country is thickly covered with old woods, Blackmore exhibits a singularly contrasted nakedness, which forcibly induces my opinion that the Saxon words blaec mor, (the open or exposed common,) furnish the true derivation of this appellative.
The chief distinction, however, which the place obtained in more ancient times, rose from the foundation of a priory for canons of the order of Saint Augustine, which Tanner informs us took place in the reign of King John, though others refer this event to a period still anterior, and ascribe it to the munificence of Sir John de Sandfort [Sandford], who flourished in the time of Henry the Second. It appears to have been always a small establishment; for, having been returned in 1527, as of the value of £85 9s. 7d., it was granted to Cardinal Wolsey for the endowment of his colleges. Upon the Cardinal’s attainder, it came to the crown, and two years after was granted to the Abbey of Waltham Holy Cross, in exchange for the Manor of Stansted Abbots, and other estates. At the general dissolution it was regranted to John Smyth Esq., with whose descendants it continued till about the year 1714, when the buildings and the site of the priory were purchased by Sir Jacob Ackworth, who repaired the house, and made some additions: during these operations, the workmen dug up a small leaden coffin, about a yard in length, full of bones. Except the priory church, which is now parochial, not a fragment of the ancient monastic buildings remains, and the entire site is converted into gardens and pleasure grounds attached to the adjoining residence, called Jericho House. I believe the impropriation is now the property of the Crickett family, whose residence is at Smyth’s Hall, in this parish.
The Priory of Blackmore, as before stated, was founded in the reign of Henry the Second, or in that of King John, but in either case, by the family of Sandford. The original church was a low heavy building in the style of that age, of which structure a complete compartment, with the western wall and the principal entrance, still exists. Upon this portion has been engrafted the present edifice, a moderate sized building, but one of remarkable elegance, and just proportion, lofty, light, and imposing. The pillars on the north side are composed of clustered columns, without central bands, and with plain-moulded capitals, while those on the south side are octagonal; both, however, sustain pointed arches of similar span and elevation, and finished with like mouldings. It will he difficult to imagine why the western end of the old church was preserved at the period of this great alteration, unless we suppose that the monks entertained an intention of raising a tower of stone, for which the massive Norman walls and columns seemed to offer a most substantial substructure ; but funds probably failing the present inelegant spire of timber was afterwards erected. To develope more clearly the peculiar features of each portion of this edifice, the annexed drawing has been made, which shows the first column of the new work neatly inserted into the short and clumsy Norman pillar, with the singular pilaster intended to ornament each angle of the latter.
A peculiarity exists in this interior, which I have not hitherto observed in any of our English churches, though it is frequently to be met with in those of France. A partition wall runs at right angles to the length of the church, reaching from the columns to the walls of the aisles, and thus dividing the space contained between two pillars from the adjoining portion of the aisle, and forming a separate inclosure; these unquestionably served as private chapels. An arrangement somewhat similar to this may be seen in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.
As the nave and chancel are of equal height and width, and their corresponding aisles of low proportions, a roof of red tile covers all in one slope, and gives, externally, but little idea of the lofty character of the nave. The beams of the roof are coiled with boards of oak, and at the centre of each severy or division is a circular boss, on which is painted in colours, still retaining much of their brilliancy, a human portrait. Corresponding with these, but lower down, are several shields of armorial bearings, many of which are obliterated by damp or the accumulated dust of ages. The arms of England and France, quarterly, are repeated several times; but, besides these, I was able to distinguish the charges of three only, all on the north side. There is no appearance of windows in the south aisle. The cloister probably abutted against this wall, and precluded the admission of light. In the north aisle, a series of good sized windows in part remain, with flat labels and one shaft. The chancel window is small; it is divided into three parts by two mullions, and has its upper portion filled with perpendicular tracery.
A considerable part of the entire eastern end has been divided from the rest of the chancel, to form a burial place for the Cricketts, and various other disfigurements, the result of modern tastelessness, meet the eye in every direction; yet, not withstanding these defacements, the interior of this sacred edifice immediately produces in the mind a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction, arising, unquestionably, from the justness of its proportions, and the simplicity of its design.
The construction of the wooden belfry is very similar to that at Margaret[t]ing; which has been already described, and it is not unlikely that both are the work of same monastic architect, as the latter parish was a dependency of Blackmore: both reflect the greatest credit upon his geometrical skill. The number of these wooden belfries and spires, which are to be met with in this part of Essex particularly, recalls to our recollection the extensive forests which formerly abounded in this quarter of the county, and at once explains the cause of their frequent occurrence, and proves, by their soundness at the present day, the extraordinary durability of English oak. There are five bells in this tower.
Not a single trace of monastic interment exists in the Priory Church: whether we are to ascribe this to any religious feeling, particularly directed against monkish relics, or to the possible circumstance of the cloisters or other parts of this priory having been selected as their burial place by the inmates of this house, must ever remain a matter of conjecture; but the discovery of a leaden coffin, while levelling the site of the old buildings, and which has been mentioned, certainly proves that the interment of persons of consideration did, occasionally, at least, take place out of the body of the church. There is one old floor-stone however, deserving notice, lying near the east end of the chancel, probably covering the remains of a benefactor the circumscription and elegant cross of brass are torn away.
The length of this marble slab is seven feet three inches, by three feet in width at the head. The following are the modern inscriptions:-
1. In memory of Mrs. Esther Acworth, daughter of Sir Jacob Acworth, Knt., who died the 8th day of September, 1768, aged 57 years.
2 To the memory of Charles Alexander Crickett, of Smyth’s Hall, Esquire, many years one of the representatives in Parliament of the Borough of Ipswich who died the 16th of January, 1800, aged 65 years.
Also, to the memory of Sarah, the widow of Charles Alexander Crickett, Esq., who departed this life the 29th day of July, 1828, aged 84.
The arms of Cricket are, Az. three pelicans argent.
3. Here Iyeth the body of Simon Lynch, Rector of Runwell, who for fearing God and the king, was sequestrated, prosecuted, and persecuted to the day of his death, by Gog and Magog, and left yssue Elizabeth, Sarah, Simon, and Ithiel, unto whom the Lord be merciful, who dyed ye 10th of June, 1660, aged 60 years.
This church is dedicated to Saint Laurence, and is a donative in the gift of the impropriator. The stipend is only £20 per annum.
Adjoining the north side of the churchyard, a respectable mansion, belonging to the family of Preston, occupies the site of an ancient house of pleasure, possessed by Henry the Eighth. It is still distinguished by its former name of Jericho, which the courtiers of that gallant monarch are said to have invented to disguise the object of their master’s visits, who, when his absence from court was observed, was said to be gone to Jericho. It is a very remarkable situation to have chosen for the purposes of debauchery, as it not only abuts upon the churchyard, but is actually within a stone’s cast of the residence of the monks. Here was born Henry’s natural son, Henry Fitz-Roy, by his mistress, the Lady Elizabeth Tailbois widow of Gilbert Lord Tailbois, and daughter of Sir John Blount - a female so eminent for her beauty and accomplishments, that this frailty hindered not her subsequent union with Edward Clinton, the first Earl of Lincoln of that family. Henry Fitz-Roy was created, at the early age of six years, Earl of Nottingham, and Duke of Richmond and Somerset, in June 1525 and likewise elected a Knight of the Garter. These dignities were conferred on the anniversary of his birthday, which was on the 18th of that month. Nor did his royal father’s affection stop here; for, on the 26th of the following July, he was constituted, with amusing absurdity, Admiral of England, Ireland, and Normandy. Two years after, he was made Warden of the East, West, and Middle Marches, towards Scotland; and, in the 22nd of Henry the Eighth, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland,
He is acknowledged to have been a youth of great promise, displaying much capacity in the acquirement of learning, and excelling in genius and refinement of manners. His education was finished at Paris, whence he returned in 1532, and married soon after, at a very tender age, to Mary, daughter of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and sister to the accomplished Earl of Surrey. He was born at Jericho House on the 18th of June 1519, and died at Westminster, without issue, on the 24th of July, 1536, in the seventeenth year of his age, and to the sincere regret of his father.
He was buried at Thetford in Norfolk.