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Fyfield Church, Essex | by Whipper_snapper
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Fyfield Church, Essex

The parish church of St Nicholas at Fyfield, Essex, consists of nave, north and south aisles, chancel, central tower, north porch and organ chamber. The nave and the first stage of the tower are mostly flint rubble with some Roman brick. The second stage of the tower is largely of red brick and there is a timber belfry. The exterior of the church is mostly covered with cement, now in poor repair, and numerous buttresses of the 18th and 19th centuries show where weaknesses have developed. The building differs in several respects from the type of parish church found in the area. The 12th-century plan with the tower standing 'cathedralwise' is unusual, and it is evident that large sums were spent on improvements during the 13th and 14th centuries. to see a full set taken over several years.


The nave was built in the 12th century. The walling at each end of the two arcades is 3 ft. thick and is evidently the original 12th-century work. The lower part of the tower is of the same date, including the large stair turret on the north side reaching to the second stage. The stair has a circular newel of Roman brick and there are arches of Roman brick to the round-headed windows in the south and west walls of the second stage of the tower. The former window has been blocked by brickwork and the latter opens into the roof space above the nave.


About 1220 a north aisle of three bays was added to the nave. The pointed arches are of two chamfered orders and rest on circular columns with moulded capitals and bases. Attached half-columns form the responds against the ends of the 12th-century walls. In the middle of the 13th century the south aisle was added. This is similar in general arrangement to the north aisle but the arches are moulded and the supporting columns are octagonal. The single-light window in the west wall is probably of the 13th century but its four-centred head was added later. There are traces of colour decoration of uncertain date on both arcades.


The chancel was built about 1330-40. The date can be fixed approximately by the detail of the interior. All the windows are of the 14th century and have moulded labels and head stops. The tracery of the east window has been replaced, but the fine carving of the jambs and rear arch survives. Between the windows in the south wall are stepped sedilia of three bays. The arches are cinquefoiled and between them are octagonal shafts of Purbeck marble. The moulded label has four carved head stops, one head wearing a mitre and another a curious pointed head-dress terminating in a flower. In the spandrel above a third head are three balls carved in relief; it has been suggested that these are the emblems of St. Nicholas.


East of the sedilia is a piscina of similar detail and further east there is a credence with one jamb cut off by the east wall of the chancel. Below the chancel is a vault which has a wide arched opening externally under the east window. This opening was sealed during the restoration of 1893 but one account of the church suggests that it was formerly pierced with quatrefoil openings, possibly for the viewing of relics. Another account, given in 1898 by the then rector, the Revd. L. Elwyn Lewis, referred to the existence of arcading internally below the east window.


The arch between the tower and the nave is of the 14th century, much restored. The north porch retains moulded timbers of the late 14th century and a pointed timber arch of which the spandrels were probably once filled with tracery.


Some years before 1768 part of the tower fell, perhaps after being struck by lightning. Before the end of the 18th century the second stage was largely rebuilt in red brick and a window was inserted on the north side. Above the brickwork is a hipped roof, above which is a square weather-boarded belfry with ball finials at the corners. There is a small boarded spire. The west wall of the nave may have been rebuilt in the 18th century.


In the first half of the 19th century a vestry was formed by extending the north aisle eastward as far as the stair turret of the tower. In 1853 the church was restored and in 1875 tracery was inserted in the east window at the expense of W. S. Horner. In 1893 £1,300 was spent on restoration. Some blocked windows were uncovered and a new west door and window inserted.


Both the tower arches were largely rebuilt and the chancel roof may have been reconstructed at the same time. The oak reredos and chancel seating were installed, the oak coming from St. Paul's, Knightsbridge. The seating in the nave is also of the late 19th century, incorporating some 16th-century moulded rails. During the incumbency of the Revd. L. Elwyn Lewis (1895-1905), who held high church views, a surpliced choir was started and the old organ was moved from the west end of the church into the vestry. In 1901 a new organ was installed against the north wall of the tower, largely at the rector's own expense. The vestry is now an organ chamber.


The square font bowl of Purbeck marble is of the late 12th century. Two of the sides are decorated with recessed arcading and the other two have a central fleur-de-lis flanked by vine leaves. The oak screen between the nave and the tower was carved by A. J. B. Challis of Clatterford Hall in 1914. The pulpit is of the same date.


There are six bells, all modern or recast. Under the organ on the north side of the chancel there is said to be a slab bearing the indent of a foliated cross, flanked by square pennons or axes. There is a tradition that this covers the headless body of Henry, Lord Scrope, beheaded in 1415. Also in the chancel are some 18th century floor slabs with shields of arms to members of the Pochin family and to one of the Beverley family. There are also several 18th-century slabs to the Collins family of Lampetts and to the Brands of Herons.

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Taken on June 24, 2012