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Ongar Church, Essex | by Whipper_snapper
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Ongar Church, Essex

Chipping Ongar's parish church of St Martin sits behind the shops in the main street and is unseen by passers-by and motorists. You have to go down a footpath looking for it. It consists of a nave, chancel, south aisle, north vestry and west porch. There is a western bell-turret surmounted by a shingled spire and a gallery at the west end of the nave. to see the full set.


The chancel and nave were built at the end of the 11th century (following the Norman Conquest) close to the huge Norman motte which is behind the church. The church and most of the village sit within the castle's baileys. The church walls are of coursed flint-rubble with the quoins and jambs of the north doorway of bricks, probably Roman, and some courses of tiles in the walls especially at the corners. These corner tiles also appear to be Roman and may have been robbed from a nearby Roman building.


In the chancel there are two original round-headed windows, one at the east end of the north wall, the other opposite to it on the south wall. Between the windows on the north wall is a round-headed recess pierced by a small opening or hatch with external hinges and bolt-socket, perhaps originally an anchorite's cell. Flanking the present window in the east wall of the chancel are traces of four single light lancet windows showing that there was an original arrangement of six windows in two tiers under a higher gable. The original doorway on the south of the chancel is now blocked. On the north wall of the nave there is one original round-headed window; another, to the west of the present west window of this wall is now blocked; there are traces of a third original window near the east end of the wall. Between the third and fourth windows (counting from the east) is the original north doorway, now blocked. On the west wall of the nave there is another original round-headed window, and there are traces of two more.


The western window on the south wall of the chancel dates from the 13th century: it has three grouped and graduated lancet lights. About the middle of the 14th century the chancel arch was rebuilt. The splays of the east window also date from this century, which suggests that the original arrangement of six small windows was then first replaced by a large window.


The roof of the nave probably dates from the 14th century; it is of four bays with king-post trusses. In the 15th century the weather-boarded bellturret and spire were added. Early in the 16th century the present western window was built in the north wall of the chancel. It is of three lights of brick with fourcentred heads. It may have replaced an earlier window which matched the opposite window on the south wall of the chancel. From 1548 to 1554 the parish was united with Greensted and there was an attempt to demolish St Martin's. It is not possible to trace any damage from the supposed attempt in 1554 to pull down the church walls. A second act of parliament reversed the union of the two parishes in 1554 and stated the 1548 act had been due to the 'sinister labour and procurement of William Morris' who was the previous patron of the church.


The roof of the chancel is mainly Jacobean. In 1752-3 two dormers were added on each side of the nave roof in order to give light to the gallery. An engraving of 1796 shows the north side of the church. There was a north porch, apparently of brick. A path leading to a north door in the chancel shows that the door was then in use. It was probably soon after this that the main entrance was moved from the north to the west end of the nave, for in May 1814 the parish vestry, which had for some time been considering plans to provide additional seating accommodation, resolved that the north door should be closed and a pew placed across the entrance, and a new west door be opened.


In 1860 the church was restored and refitted at a cost of £700, defrayed by voluntary contributions. In 1884 the south aisle was built. It is divided from the nave by an arcade of four arches.The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings opposed the alterations. Their objections were answered in a vigorous letter by the architect, C. Rolfe. This correspondence shows that the old south wall of the church contained two 'ancient' windows and a doorway of original Norman work, an injured 14th-century window and a piscina at the south-east corner of the nave.


A new organ was installed in 1896, replacing one that had been in use since 1835. The present vestry was built in 1917. The bowl in the font is 15th century. It was found in a local garden as recently as 1963 and was returned to the church.


In 1284-5 John the clerk of Ongar was killed by the clapper of the church bell, which fell upon him while he was ringing. The church now has two bells. The first was cast in 1672 by Anthony Bartlet, the second in 1737 by Richard Phelps.


Among the graves in the churchyard are those of many members of the Boodle family, including that of Edward Boodle (1722-72) founder of Boodle's the club in St. James's Street, London.

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Taken on May 30, 2012