Heritage: A structural tour of Cranham's church hundreds of years ago

A view of Cranham's church in 1873 from a Bell’s postcard, with incorrect captioning

A view of Cranham's church in 1873 from a Bell’s postcard, with incorrect captioning - Credit: From the collection of Andy Grant

In last week's article, Andy Grant looked at the history of Cranham Hall. This week, he turns his attention to its associated church.

The close proximity of All Saints' parish church to Cranham Hall manor house is an arrangement typical in Essex, usually indicating late Saxon or Norman origin.

Starting as a private chapel belonging to the lord of the manor, it later evolved into a parish church.

The earliest known record mentioning a church at Cranham was in 1254 and the list of rectors is unbroken since 1310.

Fortunately, a number of pictures and an architect’s survey survive from before the church’s demolition.

A view of Cranham Church around 1845

A view of Cranham Church around 1845 from a woodblock by Mason Jackson - Credit: Collection of Andy Grant

The earliest part of the church was the nave and chancel in the “early English” Lancet style, suggesting it was built in the 13th century.

The inside of the chancel measured 9.3m x 5.4m and the nave was 9.5m x 5.9m. The walls were solid masonry some 61cm thick, with buttresses at the eastern end of the chancel.

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In 1789 a sketch by John Pridden depicted the original east window with plate tracery, surmounted by a quatrefoil, but this window was replaced sometime thereafter.

The north and south walls of the chancel had three plain lancet windows with quarries of bottle-green glass; these windows were 2.1m from the floor, 31cm wide and 1.7m high, and each was splayed internally to 1m x 2.4m.

At some later date, a priest's door was inserted, which broke through the easternmost window on the south wall.

A low, rounded side window of moulded bricks was probably added in the 15th century, but later blanked off.

In the north wall was a double ambry (cupboard for sacramental utensils). A chancel arch, opening to the whole width of the chancel, was supported by huge piers lacking form and character.

On each side of the nave were large round-topped windows of Elizabethan character.

There was also evidence that its walls had been reduced in height, and four plain tie beams added, to prevent them spreading outwards.

The nave had an original, plain doorway in its south wall, and a wooden porch, clad in weatherboarding, probably dating from the 15th century.

Another similar door on the north wall, similar in form and moulding, had been stopped up.

In the west wall of the nave were three lancet windows; two below and one above in the gable, and there may once have been a small stone turret atop the gable.

The tiled roofs of the chancel and nave were no older than the 15th century.

A plan of Cranham’s old church

A plan of Cranham’s old church - Credit: Andy Grant

The floors were paved with tiles and contained several gravestones. The tower had a semi-octagonal brick-built base around 35cm thick, with a chamfered plinth.

There were two small loop windows on each face and a tiled pent roof. A 3.5m square timber-framed tower sat on stone sills extending 1.8m beyond the framework, bedded upon brickwork, with raking timbers at the extremities serving as abutments.

The bell-chamber was clad in weatherboarding with a low pyramidical slated roof. When the wooden tower was added, probably in the 15th century, internal access was created with a 76cm wide doorway, with a four-centred arch, being broken through the west wall of the nave.

On each side of the belfry were double-light windows, with portions of plain-arched tracery remaining.

The three bells, which hung upon the framing, date from the 15th century.

At a meeting on March 14, 1873, it was decided that the old church should be rebuilt.

The new church

The old church was demolished and a new one erected on the same site, designed by architect Richard Armstrong of Paddington.

The cost of building was paid for by Richard Benyon.

The windows were executed by Messrs. Hardman and an organ was installed by Hill & Son. The ancient bells were reused. The new church was formally opened on December 3, 1874 by the Bishop of Rochester and Richard Benyon.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group. 

READ MORE: The colourful characters of Cranham Hall through the ages