Great Dunmow, Essex – St Mary the Virgin

We had a week in Bread Cottage at http://www.buryfarmcottages.co.uk – very convenient for Saturday’s wedding, Cambridge and London. Just a few miles from Stansted Airport, but in the middle of nowhere. I even managed a country walk.

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DSC03366We drove into Great Dunmow, which is just down the road. We couldn’t park by the shops, but managed to find the church down by the River Chelmer and parked in the car park – TL629230. I went for an explore, and found the church of St Mary the Virgin open.

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I chatted to one lady who said they have a new Vicar who is keen to have the church open, and they have an exhibition “Portrait of an Artist’s Garden” by Nabil Ali. The blurb says “Creating colour and organic object Art using 14th century painting processes from the Montpellier Liber Diversarum Arcium Art recipe Manuscript” – that is a sentence I have never written before. The church magazine says “If you thought paint just came in pots and tubes then this exhibition will be an eye opening experience. A must see for anyone interested in plants, art history and science.” I am speechless! http://www.nabilali.co.uk

St Cedd first established Christianity in Essex in 653, and Dunmow was one of the biggest Saxon towns. In 1045 the will of ‘Thurston’ says “I give to Mervyn and his wife and their children my land at Dunmawe except half a hide that shall go to the Church and a Toft”. The cynic in me wonders how much “half a hide” was worth … . Two Normans of the noble house of Clare, Roger de Clare and Richard de Clare, became incumbents in 1294 and 1310 respectively. The first church on this site, which is quite a way from the centre of the town, dates to 1250. The porch doorway is apparently all that remains, but I was too busy saying Hello to the scarecrow to notice!

DSC03380 Looking left as I entered you get an impression of the height of the church, and as I walked under the Tower it was good to look up and look east through the bell ropes. Round about the middle of the 14th century the church was rebuilt, and a century later this lovely tower was added. The clerestory of the Nave is also 15th century.

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I like this paragraph from the guidebook: “It took some 150 years for the Church as we know it now to be completed. It was not, as is a modern edifice, designed and its building directed by a trained professional architect, but was the work of countless hands. Master builders, masons, carpenters, each carried out their own task to the glory of God, as in course of time, each part was added to the Church. Yet the result, far from giving an impression of lack of plan, is a work of high magnificence, of stately proportions and surpassing beauty. There was scope for the expression of men’s gifts and capacities, because the humblest craftsman could point with pride to some piece of work for which he was responsible. In this way a mediaeval Church grew with a natural growth, like an oak tree, through the centuries. It was a real expression of the soul of the people.”

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A good selection of signs, some good bell ringing certificates, an old font (I assume), and the Chapel of St Martin of Tours where the War dead are remembered. One of them is Noel Mellish, the first Chaplain to gain the V.C. in WW1. He was Vicar here from 1928 to 1948 – and had to announce the commencement of WW2 from this pulpit. There is a book about him called “A Chaplain’s War” by Hugh Montell (Serendipity, 2002).

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While we’re on the subject of previous Vicars, the guidebook gives a paragraph about many of them. Robert Falconer 1710-29 “had a peculiar zeal for getting children baptised at the earliest possible instant. One of his entries ‘5 May 1714 Elizabeth Wright, daughter of John and Mary, born that morning’ and ‘19 December 1718 Robert Wasket, son of Robert and Elizabeth, born this instant’.” Of David T. Callum 1948-61 it simply says “He first introduced this [guide] booklet,” and David Ainge 2003-13 “He and the PCC agreed the following Mission Statement for St Mary’s life and activity: ‘To know Christ better and to make Christ better known’.” I have no problems with the Mission Statement, but I hope I’ll be remembered for more than that! I assume we can’t even give Mr Ainge the credit for this window. I like the Vine window too. Not so sure about the Annunciation window.

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Lovely Chancel roof and harvest altar. Nice double piscine and triple sedilia.

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Over the South Door is a unique South Gallery built in pre-Reformation days. It was probably built as an overflow to a Guild Chapel, but later was used as a family pew by the Manor of Newton Hall. I want a family pew like this – space to go and doze when the Vicar goes on too long (not that we ever do …)

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