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THE PARISH CHURCH OF St. MARY the VIRGIN, BELCHAMP WALTER
The oldest part is thought to be from the 10th or 11th century and has survived in the narrow semi circular window in the north wall of the chancel. The current building dates from the XIIIth Century. A major restoration took place in 1859 when the Chancel Arch which is fine and beautifully proportioned was rebuilt and the eastern wall of the Sanctuary including the Altar and Altar steps were extended and raised a few feet. This restoration was undertaken by the Patron the Reverend J.M. St Clere Raymond, he had incorporated a fine tiled Victorian reredous and decorative tiled floor, which is still visible under the carpet.
The East window is Gothic, but all the glass is Victorian except the tiny topmost light which depicts the Virgin Mary, this window along with others in the chancel was restored in 1996.
The front of the Altar is adorned with two oil paintings by G.W. Brownlow who lived in the village They depict “Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac” and “The Breaking of Bread at the Last Supper” these were painted about 1870.
The Raymond family monument, designed and built by Robert Taylor for John Raymond in 1720 is on the North wall. Beneath the floor is the later of the two family vaults.
The two oil paintings “The Crucifixion” and the “Ascension” which hang on either side of the Chancel east window, the former owes something to the style of the 17th century Flemish Prior to 1870 these were hung the east end of the nave on either side of the chancel arch.
The nave was rebuilt circa 1330; it is of unusual width for a single span and very lofty. A Chantry Chapel was added at the North – East end, all that remains is what must have been a very beautiful canopied entrance. The body of the chapel evidently extended outside the North wall, and would have incorporated the tomb of the Botetourt family – Sir John de Botetourt having been buried in 1324. Prior to that date he occupied the Manor as under lord of the de Veres – Earls of Oxford, at Hedingham Castle, and Priory of Earls Colne, to whom the Church at that time belonged. The chapel was removed during the 16th century, and the remaining memorial was apparently defaced during the Civil War, at which time memorial brasses were also removed from tombs under the Centre Aisle.
Also on the North Wall can be seen Mural Paintings of unusual interest, particularly that of the Madonna to whom the Church is dedicated. Prior to 1962 this painting had been partially visible and in 1962, along with other paintings was restored by an expert who was a Mrs Baker; she was engaged through the auspices of The Pilgrim Trust. Her initial comments regarding the Madonna are as follows “I discovered a text partially obscuring the painting, which is of 14th Century date. And I cleaned off the text to reveal an extremely lovely painting finely drawn and over life size in scale. It is probably an altar painting, bearing in mind the dedication of the church. I know of no better painting of this subject – it is the most entirely satisfactory treatment I have ever seen”.
The Virgin is crowned with her long hair flowing over her shoulders, and she is suckling her Child who is supported on her left knee, with tracings of censing angels on either side and a bird can just be made out on top of the canopy – possible a falcon.
The boldness of the drawing and the treatment of the eyes are typical of the period (XIVth Century). The long hair is said to have been a sign of virginity but the crown is unusual, although it has been known as far back as the XIIth Century when a sceptre was sometimes seen – as Queen of Heaven. The figure at the bottom right of the painting is thought to be the Patron worshipping the Virgin with his beads. The painting is reminiscent of that at Great Canfield in Essex, which is attributed to Matthew Paris, and could well be by the same hand.
The restoration then moved onto the remainder of the North wall where she uncovered two tiers of paintings. These are not by the same painter but nevertheless are interesting, in the top tier there are six subjects, and in the lower tier four subjects, but one of these is very hard to make out. The paintings are mostly in red ochre but also some are in yellow. They can be identified as follows;
Upper Tier – looking from left to right:
Christ entering the Gate of Jerusalem on a donkey which is in yellow ochre.
2. The Gate of Jerusalem. A small head is looking down from the battlements. Slight traces of a figure can be seen in the archway.
3. Christ kneeling and washing the feet of Peter.
4. The Last Supper. Judas is seen stealing the bag of money and a fish from the table.
5. The Betrayal, Judas, Christ and two Soldiers.
6. Christ before Pontius Pilate. Christ’s hands are bound and He is blindfolded.
1. The martyrdom of Saint Edmund. He is bound to a tree and being shot by the Danes with bows and arrows.
2. This is indecipherable.
3. A large “Pelican in Piety” painted in red, pecking at her breasts and so drawing blood to feed her five chicks.
This subject is in some doubt, but appears to be a King, Queen and a Courtier bearing a Hawk. Which have been identified as the first part of “The Three Living and the Three Dead”. The legend goes back to a time long before the church was built. The form in which the legend was known to the medieval artists was inspired by four short 13th century poems. The best known of these,’Li troi vif et li troi mors’, was written by Baudouin de Conde, minstrel to the court of Margaret II, countess of Flanders, 1244-80. As the salient features, reproduced again and again in village churches, are contained in Baudouin’s poem of 160 lines. The poem describes an encounter of three gay young men, when walking, with three Deaths, whom they see coming towards them’lait et disfigure de cors’. The first youth is so horrified that he flees in terror; the second, who is of sterner stuff, hails the apparition as sent by God; while the third dwells on the horror of decaying humanity. The youths speak to the grim visitors and the first Death replies in words which are the keynote of the whole morality.
‘Tel seres vous et tel comme ore
Estes, fumes, ja fu li ore’.
(What you are, we were, and what we are, you will be.)
The second recalls that Death treats rich and poor alike, while the third emphasises that there is no escape from his dread summons.
In 1964 Mrs Baker returned to look at the South Wall but the results were disappointing. The plaster on this wall being in poor condition, details had become obliterated, but portions of a roundel are seen depicting a figure with arrows and a woman. This is possibly Saint Sebastian, who was wounded with arrows shot at him, the archers leaving him for dead. His wounds were healed by Irene, widow of the martyr Saint Castulus.
On the South side above the door there appears to be three women with Christ – the Resurrection Scene? Especially as there seems to be a sleeping figure near his right foot.
To the right of the door is an inscription in Old English, this is of a much later date and quotes from the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 20, verse 9): “And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen asleep; and as Paul was long preaching, he sank down with sleep and, fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead”, however the narrative goes on to say he recovered.
In 1996 the whole of the walls containing the paintings was stabilised and cleaned.
Massive and sturdy born of an age which produced some remarkable decorative effects the Font is circular in shape and on its bowl are designs of various kinds rather crudely carved. The upper part is in the past was report Norman, but some experts believe that it is Saxcon, some sort of restoration has occurred here, but in its very ruggedness, almost its suggestion of the primitive, combined with fact that the Eastern Counties are singularly lacking in fonts of a similar nature, makes this relic outstanding.
ORGANAn electric blower was fitted in 1957 from a bequest from former organist Mrs E.R. Bouffler, and a major restoration was carried out in 1967 when the swell shutters were removed and the range of pedals increased from 1 ½ to 2 ½ octaves.
The Stop list is:
Open Diapason (from Tenor C)
Unfortunately there is no room in the case for any pedal stops; this deficiency being particularly supplied by the bottom octave of 16 foot pipes on the Manual. The tone is transparent and bright, eminently suitable for early organ music as well as for accompanying congregational singing.
A feature of the nave is its quadrangular Pulpit, which is adorned with paintings by Brownlow, of the four Evangelists.
A family Vault is situated under the floor near the remains of the North door.
The Heating in the nave is primarily by electric fires, the old ‘Tortoise’ stove is still used but is not stoked up to the same extent as it used to be when it was the sole source of heating in the church. If looked at closely, scorch marks can be seen on the pews that are positioned on either side of it. The hooks that can still be seen on these pews used to hold in place metal sheets to protect them from the heat.
The timbered Porch, and massive South door with its original lock, its key was stolen in 1997, is presumably of the same period as the nave.
The flint work battlement tower is of the XVth Century, its tall (west) window glazing is from a much later period being installed about 120 years ago, this was restored in 1997.
In the tower is hung a fine peal of eight bells, it is thought that the bells were augmented to six in 1774 and to eight in 1778. The first known peel from the eight bells was one of “Oxford Treble Bob Major on the 8th January 1781. The last recorded peal was a peal of Plain Bob Minor on the 1st February 1913, they were rung for the last time in 1923 because of the condition of the fittings and the oak timbered frame was unsafe. The only remaining peel board records a peal of Kent Treble Bob Major rung on the 11th June 1882. The bells were later adapted for chiming. The eight bells are inscribed as follows;
Treble Bell – CUM VOCO VENITE:……..T. OSBORN DOWNHAM NORFOLK FECIT. 1782. (INCISED)
2nd Bell – CAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LONDON Ltd. REVd SAMUEL RAYMOND 1778 RECAST 1891 REVd J.M. St. RAYMOND LAY_RECTOR REVd F.W. PELLY_VICAR.
3rd Bell – PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT. 1774 THE REVd SAM. RAYMOND (INCISED)
4th Bell –C & G. MEARS FECt. 1844.
5th Bell – THOMAS GARDINER CAST VS THR-E 1712.
6th Bell – PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECERUNT 1780.
7th Bell – RECAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LONDON 1871 +.
(on waist) Revd J>M> St. CLERE RAYMOND LAY RECTOR
CHAs ADAMS )
ROB FIRMIN ) CHURCH WARDENS 1871 +
E.W. DOWNS HUNG ME.
Tenor Bell –JOHN MAYNE ESQ KENSINGTON MIDDLESEX FEB: 9. 1781: THOs OSBORN DOWNHAM FECIT.
The first floor of the tower some 30ft above ground level is the former silence chamber here can be found carved graffiti: – Go. Taylor Ringer Aug. 29 1802 and Harry Twichey Ringer Sept 1880 age 20. In this room situated on an elevated platform is the Clock mechanism, which is in good working order, it is dated by experts as being from 1730. It was converted to automatic electric winding in 1985.
During the 19th century restoration the east wall of the nave was covered in a stencilled pattern with angels on either side of the Chancel arch. Plates containing the ten commandments where hung on either side of the arch. The plates were removed and the wall whitewashed following the restoration of the ancient murals
The massive cross beams for a period during the 19th and 20th centuries were encased, now laid bare; they can be seen in their original splendour.
The pews in the Nave – were installed in the 19th century and at that time arranged in three rows, they were later reset into two rows, with a central and two side Aisles.
The churchyard, which overlooks the picturesque valley of the Belchamp Brook, has been closed for burials since 1920 and interments are now made in the Cemetery adjoining. In 1964 a Faculty was obtained to re-site some of the tombstones, after which, the ground was levelled and sown with grass. In spring a large area of the yard remains natural with beautiful displays of Daffodils and other Narcissi. These were planted by the Peoples churchwarden, Ian Swift in memory of his sister.
On the exterior North wall of the nave is the following Epitaph to a former Sexton: –
Snug by this wall lies old Sam Cook
Who with his Spade his Bell and Book
Serv’d Sexton Three Score Years and Three
Until his Master grim Death cry’d
Enough – your Tools now lay aside
And let a brother bury Thee
Died 6 May 1800
Aged 89 Years
In the year 1559 Queen Elizabeth I ordered registers to be kept in all Churches. In 1623 William Smythies was appointed Vicar. He not only kept the registers most beautifully, but also copied out entries of his predecessors from 1559 onwards in a vellum bound book.
The current registers are preserved in the Church safe, but the older registers are kept in the Essex County Archives.
BELCHAMP WALTER CHURCH WARDENS
1873 Robert Firmin 1873-1881 Charles Adams
1874-1904 J.E. Brand 1882-1923 C.M. Stunt
1905-1914 J. Pannell 1924-1926 A. Skey
1915-1917 F.W. Wilson 1927-1929 Walter G. Deal
1918-1932 R.C. Mauldon 1930-1932 A.J. Daniell
1933-1939 A.J. Pearsons 1933-1950 H. Rowe
1940-1945 Walter G. Deal 1951-1955 J. Morton
1946-1965 S.P. St. Clere. Raymond
1956-1993 Ian R.K. Swift
1966-1998 Michael (Joe) B. Brown
1999-2010 David Cox 1994- 2012 Terry A. Raybould
Martin Runnacles 2013- Becky Poynter
BELCHAMP WALTER VICAR’S
Joh. Clarke –
Ric. de Oakham 1370 Priory and Convent
Ric, Wright – “ “
Rob. Eede 1387 “ “
Joh. Crispe 1401 “ “
Joh. Man 1404 “ “
Nic. Baxter (or Barker) – “ “
Nic. Gyan 1465
Joh. Forthington 1469
Rob. Hochinson –
Hugo Fetherston 1526 “ “
Vincent Wharton 1528 Priory and Convent
Joh. Gilliot (or Gyllet) 1529-1560 (died)
Edw. Riggs (or Rigges) 1580 Our Lady Queen
Tho. Corbett 1583 St. Edmunds Hall Oxford
Joh. Collinson 1584 “ “
Will. Smythies 1623-1643 (resigned) Raymond Family
Joh. Wright 1650 Our Lord the King (by
John Firmin –
Ric. Bate 1679 William Ayliff & William
Joh. Thomas 1680
John Goodwin –
Geo. Rutherford –
Wm. Kent 1723 The King
S. Raymond (senior) 1758-1767 Raymond Family
Robert Wright 1767-1784 “ “
Raymond (junior) 1784-1826 “ “
F.W. Pelly 1889-1893 “ “
T.L.V. Simkin 1893-1899 “ “
A.P. Pannell 1899-1942 “ “
E.W. Hamond 1942-1946 “ “
G.E. Adams 1947-1956 “ “
G.T. Beale 1956-1959 “ “
R.Trevor. Howard 1959-1993 “ “
Father Aidan Harker 1997-2000 “ “
Father Eoin Buchanan 2004- 2012 “ “
Sally Womersley 2014 – 2019
Gill Morgan 2019 –
The Parishes of Belchamp Walter and Bulmer were united on 27th September 1765.
The Parish of Belchamp Otten was added to the Benefice on 18th March 1958.
A new Benefice was formed on 1st July 1997 when the above three Parishes were joined with the Parishes of Belchamp St. Pauls and Ovington.
A new pastoral scheme was signed on 17th July 2003 which created the benefice of North Hinckford and established a team ministry by the union of the benefice of Alphramstone, Gt. & Lt Henny, Lamarsh, Middleton, Twinstead and Wickham St Paul, the benefice of Belchamp Otten with Belchamp Walter and Bulmer with Belchamp St Paul and Ovington, and the benefice of Pentlow, Foxearth, Liston and Borley.