The Parish Church of St. James, Little Clacton, in the County of Essex
This lovely old church is an almost completely unspoilt example of early Norman architecture. The chancel was built soon after 1100 and the Nave lengthened and probably rebuilt in the early 14th century. The immensely thick walls are built of rubble, plastered on the inside and cemented outside, which architects meddle with at their peril.
In histories of ancient churches the further you go back the more "probably's" and "possibly's" creep in. However we do know that The Domesday Book of 1086 records that parts of the Manor of Clacintune were given by the Bishop of London to five knights, whom he supplied for the defence of the realm.
Early in the 12th century Bishop Richard de Belmeis acquired the manor and he granted it to the newly founded priory of St. Osyth.
You enter the church through the ancient porch, "probably" 14th century, though one source pinpoints it at 1381. Recently the porch had its lean stabilised by lifting the roof up and the fitting of new oak beams. The originals could have been either rescued from wrecked ships around the coast or less romantically cut from the oakwoods then surrounding the village. Still in the porch and before you go through the South door into the church, in the wall on the right is an ancient holy water stoup.
Standing inside the South door, when you've had a chance to take in the feel of the place, you'll see above the North door opposite a fine example of the Royal Coat of Arms, dated 1726.
On your left is the font, dated around 1190. It was formed from a solid block of Purbeck marble from the hills near Corfe Castle and is decorated with shallow round headed arcades. (There is a legend that it was rescued long ago from someones garden.)
Further to your left is the organ, (for organ buffs it is a two manual keyboard Walker organ).
Above it is the gallery and in the west end a completely unrestored 14th century window of three lights. Up to 1934 there was a minstrels gallery but this was demolished to make way for a huge organ bought from the Abbey Church at Farringdon, eventually replaced by the present one in 1970.
In the bell tower above the gallery hang three bells, you can see the ropes dangling from beams. The oldest bell was cast by Robert Crouch in 1437, inscribed Sancta Margarita Ora Pro Nobis - ( St. Margaret pray for us). It is thought only thirteen of his bells exist and ours is the only one in Essex. On it are the foundry mark, a cross and a shield bearing the three leopards of England. The second is inscribed Miles Graye, 1652, this was recast in 1914. The third, the tenor, says Thomas Gardiner, Fecit 1748. Sadly we can no longer peal them; even the massive timbers of the bell tower are showing their age.
However in 2006/7 they were given a thorough clean and inspection and new bell ropes fitted by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and we do chime them. Underneath the gallery is the vestry.
Looking back across to the North door, on the left is another 14th century window and a memorial to the dead of two world wars. Many of the names can be traced back far into village history.
Through the North door is our new Parish Room, only completed in 1993 after years of fund raising effort. Unlike the original church it has had the benefit of advice and decision from various learned committees.
Just to the right of the door there is a brass plate in the wall. This dates from 1530 and records William Hubbard of Bovills Hall and his three wives, Rose, Jayne and Joice. This belongs to the large stone across the floor before the door.
Following the "guided tour", as you walk up the aisle, on the right is a board listing the priests and curates of this church since John Russell in 1321. Then come two windows, both originally 14th century.
The large window with three round-headed encusped lights on your left is Elizabethan.
The pews have an interesting history. The old original pews, presumably mediaeval, are reputed to have been taken out and sold off to local public houses and in 1847 replaced by high pine box pews, dark varnished and a haven for bored children during long sermons.
These were replaced in 1963 by the present limed oak pews, still with doors by popular demand and given in memory of past congregation members by relatives.
Coming into the chancel, the pulpit dates from 1952. The choir stalls and the altar rails, given in memory of a past vicar and another member of the congregation respectively, date from the same decade.
The magnificent glass in the in the 14th century East window was put in as a memorial in 1945.
In the floor to the right of the altar are two tombs giving a touching story of the Hallam family. One records Mary Hallam aged 34, who died in 1715 and was buried with two infants, Thomas and John, while beside her lies Thomas Hallam who died in 1719 aged 47 and was recorded as a tender husband, an indulgent father and a true friend.
Also to the right of the altar in the South Wall of the sanctuary is an ancient double piscina, rare in that in most churches it is single and dating probably from the 1300's. Unused wine and water which had been blessed by the priest was returned directly through the piscina to consecrated earth, water in one bowl, wine in the other.
To the right again is a small round headed doorway, the Priest's door, through which he entered his domain, the sanctuary and the chancel.
On either side of this door are two windows, the one to the left is the same date and style as the East window, the one to the right is 15th century.
On the North side, to your left, facing the altar is a genuine and very narrow Norman window. This has beautiful new stained glass in memoryof a parishioner. Next to it the Aumbry, used to reserve the sacrament.
Both the window and the Priest's door are almost certainly contemporary with Bishop Richard de Belmeis.
There are two brasses to the left of the altar in the sanctuary floor, to Giles Bageholt alias Badger, 1581 and Thomas Bageholt, his brother, 1568.
It was decided in 2006 that we would raise funds to remove the Victorian concrete from the outside walls of the church. This was primarily to stop the problem of damp and work started in 2006 on the South wall.
The original intention was to render it with permeable plaster but taking off the concrete revealed a complete wall of septaria stone. This was so striking that we prevailed on the diocese to let us have it pointed and kept as it was and very lovely it looks in the summer sunshine. We also discovered a medieval Scratch Dial carved in one of the stone quoins.
In 2007 work started on the North and West walls and here we found some surprises. Although most of the wall was septaria stone as the South wall, about half the North chancel wall was part Tudor and part 18th century brick. Then we discovered that this brick wall was standing out from the original wall and behind it was the outline of a wide low Norman archway. Its purpose remains a complete mystery.
Even more surprising when a new vestry window was being put in place in the West wall, half a ton of rubble cascaded down into the vestry from the hollow wall above with amongst it an ancient tomb lid. This has now been dated as 12th century, made of oolitic limestone from the quarry at Barnack in Lincolnshire. Some medieval builder obviously thought it a handy bit of rubble.
Future plans when we have raised enough money are to render the North wall, it not being in as good condition as the South wall. The third stage will be to strip and re-decorate the interior walls to see if there are any surprises there..
Although tucked away for nearly a thousand years in a rural corner of Essex and having absorbed in its walls the prayers and worship of Christian people over the centuries it cannot have escaped the turmoil and turbulence of our nation's history. We hope any visitors will enjoy its present tranquillity and peace. If the sun is shining the extensive and well kept churchyard is shaded by some forty forest trees, many planted in the last fifteen years.