When I was a lad I collected stamps. In 1972 (when I was 10) this stamp was issued – designed by Ronald Maddox – and it was in my collection. Apparently it was one of a seven stamp set of “Village Churches”. For information the others were Earls Barton (Northamptonshire), Letheringsett (Norfolk), Helpringham (Lincolnshire) and Huish Episcopi (Somerset) – do I see a southern bias? A few years later, when the Central Line still ran to Ongar, my friend Phil and I got off the train at Blake Hall station and walked here. (That was part of a few days when we did the whole of the Underground – we went out to the end of each line, then bussed across to the end of the next one. Shall I do it again, and blog about it?).
On this occasion (16 January 2014) Julie and I drove from the cottage south to the outskirts of Ongar, then across the old Central Line at Blake Hall, and round to Greensted church, St Andrew’s. Excellent website – with some good photos. I’ll stop blogging now. The church is at TL539030 and is well signposted – the parking space gives strict instructions – or are they addressing Angles?
The Saxons who settled here in the forest as the Romans left worshipped their gods in groves – perhaps this was a pagan site. Cedd was sent from Lindisfarne in 654 – he based himself at Bradwell and probably built the first church here soon after. There are remains of a couple of early churches, and the nave of this one was built around 1060. There are 51 oak logs, split lengthwise – grooves in the sides took long tongues of wood to seal the gaps. There are no windows in the nave walls – originally lamps around the church would have given some light.
The body of St Edmund, King and Martyr, who was murdered in my old parish of Bradfield St Clare in 869 (don’t believe what they tell you about Hoxne), was taken from Bury St Edmunds to London for safe keeping and then returned in 1013. En route it rested in this church. One piece of blatant Essex propaganda says “Greensted – last known resting place of Edmund”. Excuse me??!! His body spent several centuries in the Abbey Church in Bury St Edmunds, and was only lost at the Dissolution. One school of thought says he’s in Arundel, another in France, but the truth is that he was in my garden in Bury. Where else would you hide a body but in a corner of the Abbey Precincts? A pilgrimage from St Edmundsbury Cathedral came via this church last year – a notice in the porch stood as a reminder. I also liked this meeting of biblical text and emergency notice.
The Normans added the chancel – their flint footings remain – and there’s a crusader grave by the south door. Around 1500 the chancel was rebuilt in brick, and a tiled roof replaced the thatch. The dormer windows gave light to the Nave for the first time, and the south porch added. The tower is seventeenth century. In 1837 Philip Ray became Rector and started a restoration. Perhaps a little over-zealous, but the church is now in a good condition. The jam on sale was excellent too.