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).
The extent of Writtle, which is the largest parish in Essex, is its only present distinction, though, in former days, it appears to have been one of the most important. By Horsley it is considered as the Caesaromagus mentioned in the fifth Iter of Antoninus, and the distance of that station, twenty-eight miles from London, agrees well with the position of modern Writtle. But, “notwithstanding the pompous name of this station,” says Dr. Henry, (Caesar’s seat,) “its very ruins are now so entirely ruined, that its exact situation cannot be discovered; but by the distance from London, and the direction of the road on which this rout (Iter v.) proceeds, it must have been at or near Chelmsford.”
No indications, I believe, of Roman Castrametation are visible here at the present day to determine this point. At a period far remote from that in which some Roman commander made choice of Writtle for a military station, the inglorious John, from causes not now remembered, erected in the same village a royal palace, a few inconsiderable ruins of which are said to be remaining on the village green, about a quarter of a mile to the left of the public road leading towards Chelmsford.
The disappearance of all these vestiges of ancient importance shew in a very striking light the instability of human grandeur, where neither the stupendous labours of Roman ambition, nor the luxuries of royalty, have left a wreck behind.
The ecclesiastical history of this place is well determined, but remarkable for the frequent changes it has experienced. From the shape of the font, carved in very hard stone, a church must have existed here from a very ancient period; certain however it is, that in 1143 King Stephen granted it to the priory of Berrnondesev, in Surrey; eighty years subsequent to this donation, King John obtained possession of it, whether by the right of purchase or exchange, or by an arbitrary stretch of violence, so common in the annals of his reign, I know not; but by him it was bestowed on the hospital of the Holy Ghost, at Rome, belonging to the English resident there, and its funds destined to the maintenance of the poor and infirm. In the second year of Edward the Third’s reign, this appropriation was confirmed. Being afterwards seized as belonging to an alien hospital, it was obtained by William of Wickham, who augmented the revenues of his new college at Oxford with its impropriation, and presented to the warden and fellows the patronage of the vicarage. With this body both still remain, being exempt from all episcopal jurisdiction, and subject in spiritual matters to the commissary of that college alone.
The church consists of a lofty nave and chancel with two aisles, north and south porches, and two small transepts or chapels; that on the south side being of red brick, and about Henry the Eighth’s era. The tower is square, and being built of red brick in 1802, is consequently tasteless and inelegant. Over the west door of this tower is inserted a curious piece of sculpture, preserved probably from the ruin of the older structure.
The interior of the edifice is remarkably light and pleasing, and had not an oaken roof been laid over it of too flattened an arch, the tout ensemble would he exceedingly fine. This roof is sustained in the nave by an arcade of five pointed arches resting on cylindrical pillars, finished with round and plainly moulded capitals; while the columns of the chancel, though of like form, have octangular capitals. The first arch eastward of the nave is much wider than any other in the church; and that at the west end is as remarkably contracted. It would be difficult to account for these incongruities, which, besides detracting from the beauty of the structure, must have added materially to the expense of its erection.
BENEFACTIONS TO THE POOR OF WRITTLE.
“A.D. 1506. Thos. Hawkins gave about sixty acres of land to endow Alms Houses in the churchyard.
“1591. William Horne gave for bread, £2 13s. 4d.
“1605. Edward Hunt gave two tenements, and yearly to two poor persons inhabiting the same, £1.
“1634. Dorothy Davis gave for bread, £2 13s. 4d.
“1737. Eleanor Jones gave for bread, £1.
“1774. John Blencowe gave for the education of poor children of Writtle and Roxwell, £1200.
“1776. Sarah, Viscountess Falkland, annually for bread to the poor who attend the church, the interest of £121 0s. 8d., vested in the 2 per cents.
“1811. William Francis Henry, Baron Petre, gave the timber for the frame work of the bells.
“1811. Mr. Henry Lambrith gave one hundred pounds towards the expense of recasting the bells, Bumstead’s Farm, Parken’s tenements in Greenbury, East Hays, in Church Haw Street, one tenement, two shillings yearly from a piece of ground near the leet.
“The organ was the gift of Thomas Penrose, D.C.L., Vicar; and P. C. Labouchere, Esqre, of Hylands, 1821, and an addition was given to the organ by Henry Lambrith, Esqre.”
Writtle church must at one period have possessed a fine collection of sepulchral brasses, as the numerous matrices robbed of these ornaments evidently prove. Of those which remain, four lie on the floor near the chancel door, two warriors and their wives; the inscription is reaved, but by their costume we may infer that they flourished during the reign of Henry the Seventh. The position of the whole group, which exposes it to the constant tread of the congregation, is highly injurious to its preservation.
On a fantastic mural monument against the north wall of the chancel is this inscription
Edward Pinchon et Dorothea Weston una olim caro unum nunc cadaver hoc in tumulo
Vixére singulari erga Deum fide
Pan inter se concordia,
Nec aliâ erga homines charitate,
Hoc si fib maestisso dicenti non credis
Interim cave mali quicquam de illis dicas
Nam etiam mortui bone audiunt.
On the top of this monument, in allusion to ears of wheat carved there, are these lines:-
Petra erat X. R. S.
Si non moriatur, non reviviscit,
Vos estis die agricultura,
Messores nos savit, fovet, lavit, coget, renovabit,
Arms: Pinchon quarters Weston; Gules, 3 pears or; and a chev. reversed of the second. In the third quarter; Argent, two bendlets engrailed sab. 4 qr. as the first.
2. Near this place lies interred the body of that truly great and good man, the Rt. Hoñble Sir John Comyns, Knt., late Lord Chief Baron of his Majesty’s Court of Exchequer, universally esteemed one of the brightest ornaments of the Bench, and ablest lawyers of his time, who departed this life on the 13th day of November, 1740, aged 73. That a character of so much piety, learninge, and merit should not be buried in oblivion, but remain as a shining example to others, this monument (out of duty and gratitude) was humbly erected to his memory by his Nephew and Heir, John Comyns, of Hylands, Esq 1759.
Cui pudor et justitiae soror
Incorrupta fides, nudaq: veritas
Quando ullam invenient parem.
This monument bears the arms of Comyns, and a marble bust of the Chief Baron.
3. An altar tomb of Purbeck marble, of the style of the fifteenth century, projects from the north wall of the chancel; it bears no inscription, but has the following armorial ensigns attached to its side, engraved on brass plates:-
1st. A martlet, charged with a mullet for difference, on a chief, five balls.
2. The same shield impales quarterly, - 1st, two lioncels pass. guard. crowned. 2nd, three bendlets int. a bordure. 3rd, two bars, and a bend, surtout. 4th, a fret, and a chief.
3. The first shield also impales quarterly 1 and 4, barry of four, on a chief, a lion pass, guard. 2nd and 3rd, ermine, on a chief, two mullets.
4. Over the vestry door is a mural monument in the taste of the sixteenth century, on which are rudely carved the kneeling effigies of a man with four sons before a faldstool, on the other side of which are similarly placed those of a female and her daughters. The inscription is as follows:-
Nere unto this place resteth in peace the bodie of Edw. Elliott, late of Newland, in the countye of Essex, Esqre, Soñe of John Eliot, of Stortford, in the countye of Hartford. He tooke to wife Jane, one of the daughters of James Gedge, sone and heire of Margaret Gedge, one of the daughters and heires of Thomas Bardfield, of Shenfields, in the countye aforesayd, by whom he had issue iiij sonnes, and vj daughters, whereof he left living iij sones and five daughters. The lived together in married estate xxxviij yeres, and he deceased the xxij day of Decemb. in the year of our Lord, 159e; aetatis 60.
Above this inscription are some verses too high to be read from the ground, but this circumstance is probably little to be regretted.
5. To the memory of Frances, late wife of Richard Comyns, Esq Serjeant-at-Law, who dved ye 30 of Sepr, Auno Dni. 1773.
6. On the floor of the nave lie the effigies. The inscription is lost; but at their feet stand two groupes of children, consisting of six sons and two daughters. The arms attached are, a chev. int. 3 mullets.
7. Here Iyeth interred the body of Catharin Petre, wife of Joseph Petre, of Fittelers, in the county of Essex, Esqre, daughter of Sir William Andrews, Baronet, who dyed ye 3 of December, 1700, in the 32 year of her age.
Arms: Petre impales Andrews,
8. Within the altar rails lies a floor stone, with an inscription to the memory of the Rev. John Birch, LL.B.
9. Here lyeth the body of John Pynchon, of Writtle, Esqre, son of Sir Edward Pynchon, of Writtle, Knt., who departed this life ye 30 day of July, 1654. And also ye body of Edward Pynchon, Gent., son of ye said John Pynchon, Esqre, who departed this life ye 12 day of Febry, 1672. And also ye body of Ann Pynchon, wife of ye said John Pynchon, Esq who departed this life ye 10 day of May, 1675.
10. Hic jacet
Quod mortale fuit
Nup Hospitij Grayensis, Ar:
Qui obiit undecimo die Aprilis,
Anno Salutis humanae
Hic etiam jacet
Quae obiit, 24° die Maij,
Anno Domini 1732,
AEtatis suae 81.
Conjux Johis Rogers
Civis Londini, Soror Thomae Houghton hujus ecclesiae
Vicar - quae
Raris casibus puerperij
Mature gavida invito obstetricantis ingenio
Partum non enixa difficulter obdormuit.
H.SS. xvi die Augusti, 1684.
Elizabetha, uxor Thomae Swallow, LL.B, hujus ecclesiae Vicar; Filia Artheri Hyde de Hinton Daubney, in Agro Southton, Armig. quae ob. 2 die Julij, Anno Dom. 1728, aetatis suae 29.
H. S. S.
Thomas Swallow, LL.B., hujus parochiae cum capella Roxwell annexa Vicarius. Ob. xxij Aug. MDCCLV, aetatis suae LXVIIJ.
13. Randall Adams, Esqre, eldest son of John Adams, Esqre, late of Writtle, departed this life 9 day of April, A.D. 1725, aged 55 years. He married Elizabeth, daughter of John Weever, of South Luffenham, in the county of Rutland, Esqre, and had issue by her two Sons and two daughters, who all survived him.
14. George Emport, of Calveley, in Cheshire, Esqre, and Elizabeth, his wife, one of the daughters of Will. Comvns, of this parish, Esqre. She departed this life, 14 day of Nov. 1731 aged 56 ; he upon the 7 November, 1735, aged 84.
15. Bene nata - bene erudita,
Forum ingenio et virtutibus insignis,
Christ cultrix frequens et sincera,
Annos 27 vixit
Morbo lento et incurabili
Fortitudine plusquam femineâ diu luctata,
Graviora passa dum filiolas
Praematura morte extinctos
Quietam solamen et immortalitatem
Quam meruit felicem,
Prid Iduum, Oct. 1738.
Amoris et pietatis ergo, hoc marmor posuit
Johannis Comyns de interiori Templo Armig.
Fidelissimam lugens quam comitari maluit uxorem.
16. Here lyeth buryed the body of Edward Bowland, Gentleman, who departed this life, with blessed memorye, the 14 of September, 1609.
Here lyeth Jone, the wife of Edward Bowland, Gent., who dyed the 18 of Aug. Ano Dni. 1616.
17. On a brass plate affixed to the wall are two figures kneeling before a faldstool.
Obiit xiiij die Augusti, 1606.
Vivit post funera virtus.
Neere to this place resteth the bodie of Edwarde Hunt, late of Wrytle, Gent., who lyvinge was muche beloved, releeved the poore, and by his laste will gave in perpetuytie two almshouses in Churche Lane, wth an yerely allowance of twentye shillinges for their better maintenance, and also hath willed for ever to ye poore of this prishe, to be yerely distributed on Good Fryday, x shillinges, wch somes are lymytted to be paid out of a parcel of lande called Appesfield, in Chelmsforde parishe, as by his saide wille at large appeareth.