Great Leighs St Mary
St Marys church is located in Great Leighs, an Essex village about 6 miles south of Braintree.
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Visiting Great Leighs St Mary
Like neighbouring St Mary’s in Broomfield, St Mary’s in Great Leighs is usually locked, and to see the interior you have to plan ahead. And like in Broomfield, the couple opening the church for us turned out to be really lovely, and gave us a really warm welcome – and even opened the tower for us, a rare opportunity to take photos inside the tower as well. This Church has a fine 12th century west doorway to the tower, with a variety of chevron patterns in its round arch. The lowest stage of the tower has four and a half flat pilasters (the half one starts above the west door), supporting the walls. Above this the flintwork changes and there are two layers of pointed slit windows with stone frames, more like 13th century work. There is a splay-footed spire rebuilt 1882 at the top, with four lucarne openings. The nave shows its 12th century origins with two stone-framed round-headed windows remaining in the north wall and one in the south, and the outer orders of a 12th century chevroned arch above a pointed 14th century doorway. The south nave wall includes Roman bricks and ferricrete. The chancel, a bit higher than the nave, is 14th century, built of cut flints, and has a south priest’s doorway with headstops, and, west of this, is a low-side window. This was formerly used for the Sexton to ring a bell to tell people outside the Church that the important parts of the Mass Service had been reached.
There is a 1720 gallery across the west end of the nave, so it is easier to see the tower arch from within the tower. Within the tower, a new mezzanine floor was inserted in 1991, accessed by a modern steel and timber spiral staircase. The 14th century font has quatrefoils round the bowl, with different centre carvings, of foliage, etc. The heavily carved flat font cover came from an Oxford Church. Near the door is a “dog-rapper’s seat,” for someone to control dogs – and boys! There are some 15th century traceried bench ends. The Rood screen was added in memory of the Rector who organised the restoration in 1882. In the north wall of the chancel is a recess for a founder’s tomb, with a cusped and gabled arch. Within the arch are finely carved, deeply undercut leaves, typical of about 1300. Opposite are the piscina and triple sedilia, circa 1330, again ornately carved with pinnacles and crocketted gables supporting finials. Near the altar rail, in front of the altar, is a brass showing the top half of a priest, Ralph Strelley †1414, though possibly the head belongs to another brass. By the priest’s door stands a tiny barrel organ, dating to 1830, which can play 20 hymn tunes and 20 voluntaries.