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).
Fifield [Fyfield] is the modern spelling and pronunciation of this village, which, in earlier days, was written Fifhide; and is derived from the Saxon Fif, five, and Hyde, a quantity of land. In the Conqueror’s reign the parish belonged to Eustace, Earl of Boulogne.
The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and the tithes were given, in the year 1094, to the monastery of Bermondesey, by Roger de Tany, one of the knights of John Fitz-Waleran - that nobleman giving his sanction to the endowment. In 1107 these tithes were confirmed to that monastery by Maud, wife of Asculph, and by her son Graald or Grailand de Tany, who at the same time gave to that religious establishment the advowson of the church, which grant was confirmed by kings Henry the First and Second. Notwithstanding these gifts, this church was wrested from the monks before the year 1331, and, strange to say, even before they had obtained an act for appropriating the tithes. The name of this spirited opponent of monastic rapacity has not survived. The rectory has ever since been attached to the manor. The whole parish is rated to the land-tax at £1372 2s. 4d.
Fifield church is a jumble of architectural styles - of architectural elegances, and modern barbarisms. Its Norman tower, standing in the centre of the building, is surmounted by a wooden incumbent, as incongruous as tastelessness could devise, while its chancel, internally rich in that species of pure and elegant Gothic which distinguished the earliest portion of the fourteenth century, is marred by the presence of those unseemly uprights and transoms which have displaced the ramified tracery once so ornamental there. Nor is this the only spoliation Fifield has to regret. Not fifty years since, as I learn from a well-informed inhabitant, the interior of this edifice was actually darkened with that solemn but rich gloom - the effect of stained glass - which has given place to a glare unwarmed by a single tint. An ornamented piscina, with three stalls for the ministers officiating at the ceremonies of the Romish altar, still remain, and but little injured. While the visitor will gaze with increasing admiration upon the beautiful fillet of foliage in stone-work, which surrounds the entire aperture of the large eastern window, will it be credited, that this specimen of taste and munificence remained till within these very few years covered with plaster and whitewash?
The nave and aisles have been so much altered by external modifications as to induce a supposition, at first sight, that they are of a date very inferior to the rest of the edifice; a glance, however, at its original western entrance, now converted into a window, its cylindrical and octangular columns, and the pointed arches resting upon these, convince us that they are at least coeval with the chancel, if not of a date somewhat anterior. A large and square font of grey marble carved with knots and semicircular arcades, witnesses to its own antiquity, and completes the ornaments of this venerable structure, with the exception of a niche, now statueless, placed at the north east angle of the aisle.
There is, however, worthy of observation, a singular arch, seen externally beneath the east window of the chancel. The three quatrefoils in the head of this seem once to have been perforated, and lead to a puzzling conjecture as to their original purpose. At first, I was inclined to imagine that the floor of the chancel might have been at one time raised sufficiently high to admit of a vault or crypt beneath it, to which these openings would suitably enough have afforded air and a glimmering of light but an inspection of the interior immediately refuted such a notion. Could they possibly have been used to produce any effect at the high altar? There are also two or three arches, now closed with masonry, very singularly situated in the lower part of the tower on the south side, the uses of which it is equally difficult to explain.
In the interior of the church are the following monumental records:-
1. Here lies the late virtuous and lamented Mrs. Ann Beverley, who was born 13th of August, 1680, and died September 29th, 1702 ; which Ann was the eldest daughter of James, the eldest son of Thomas Beverley, late of Gaynes Park, in the county of Huntingdon, Esqre, and Ann, his wife, the daughter of Thomas Duncombe of Broughton, in the county of Bucks, Esqre. The above named Thomas Beverley, and his wife Elizabeth, lye interred on the left hand of this stone, close to it.
2. Here lies the body of Thomas Brand, Esqre, who departed this life the 7th of October, 1718.
Also, Margaret, relict of the said Thomas Brand, Esqre., who departed this life 29th of August, 1767.
3. Here lyeth the body of John Collins, the elder, who departed this life the 18th of August, 1729, in the 82 year of his age.
Also, the body of Mary, his wife, who departed this life the 28th day of Febry, 1732, in the 81st year of her age.
4. Here lieth the body of John Collins, late of Sambpitts in this parish, Esqre, who depart this life September 17th, 1750, in the 74th year of his age.
He was a good and affectionate husband, father, and friend; and as he lived in the practise of every Christian virtue, so he met death with great composure of mind, from a stedfast hope of a joyful resurrection and the life everlasting.
On the right hand side lyeth his wife, Mrs. Mary Collins, and their son John Collins, who died June 23rd, 1731, in the 19th year of his age.
5. Here lies the body of Mrs. Mary Collins, the wife of John Collins, the younger, of this parish, Gent., who lived virtuously, and died much lamented, the 9th of October, MDCCXIV, in the xxx year of her age.
In the chancel are the following armorial ensigns on escocheons against the wall:-
1. Berwick . . . Arg. three bears’ heads erased sable, muzzled, or.
2. Sable, two swords saltirewise arg. pommelled, within a bordure engrailed argent.
3. Vert, a griffin erect or, impaling –
4. Gules, a saltire argent, on a chief of the second, three griffins’ heads erased of the field.
This church is kept in a very neat and reputable state.
I forgot to observe in its proper place, that amongst the heads carved on the stalls in the chancel, is a grotesque face, with a fool’s cap.