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).
A church existed from very early times in this town, though neither the date of its foundation nor the name of its founder has survived. This building, falling into decay, was re-edified soon after the year 1400, as an inscription, formerly to be seen on the south side of tile battlements, informed us. And indeed the western tower and other portions of architecture which remain of that second erection confirm such a relation.
With regard to the existing structure, it is a compound of modern restorations, grafted upon the fragments of a better taste. On the evening of the 12th of January, 1800, the greater part of the walls, with the entire roof, having suddenly given way, fell to the ground with a tremendous crash. The inhabitants, with a zeal truly laudable, immediately determined upon the restoration of their ‘‘fallen pile;“ and it is to be lamented that their desires met not with an architect competent to restore its original features. But the genius of Gothic architecture was at that period but just emerging from the ignorance and neglect which had so long enveloped her; and it is perhaps well that these restorations are no worse. The record of this event is preserved by a Latin inscription over the chancel door, which may be thus translated:- “A part of this edifice, dedicated to the blessed Virgin Mary, which, after having been decayed through age, was rebuilt in the year of our Lord, 1424, by certain pious subscriptions, having, on the evening of the 12th of January, 1800, suddenly fallen; the inhabitants of Chelmsford, determined to re-edify and decorate with new ornaments this portion, at their own expense, employed Johnson, the architect, for that purpose. This very sacred work, for which an act of parliament was granted, having been commenced on the 21st of June 1800, and after three years and as many months, having been completed, John Morgan, S.T.B., the reverend rector of Chelmsford, performed divine service in it again, on the Sunday of September the 18th, 1803.”
The entire tower, with the beautiful south porch and the shafts of the nave and chancel, appear to have escaped destruction, and are incorporated into the modern work. The arches of the nave are pointed, and sustained on shafts whose horizontal section represents a truncated lozenge; the mouldings of the arches being continued throughout their entire length without the intervention of a capital. On the north side of the chancel is a rather flattened Norman arch, supported in the centre by mouldings which rest on the capitals of a clustered column. This is probably coeval with the first structure raised here.
The interior length of this church is one hundred and twenty feet; the nave aisles measuring one hundred and two feet, and their breadth being fifty-four. Amidst a vast many mural monuments and floor-stones may be particularized the vault of the ancient family of Mildmay, in which repose the ashes of Benjamin, Earl Fitzwalter, and Frederica, his countess, daughter of the gallant Duke of Schomberg. It is recorded, that fanatical fury destroyed a very beautiful east window stained glass, representing the crucifixion of our Saviour, and other passages in his sacred history. Its situation is occupied in the new chancel by a window of modern colouring, - like all other modern painted glass, garish and inharmonious.