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Church of St Nicolas, Witham

Description: Church of St Nicolas

Grade: I
Date Listed: 1 March 1950
English Heritage Building ID: 113490

OS Grid Reference: TL8172915378
OS Grid Coordinates: 581729, 215378
Latitude/Longitude: 51.8075, 0.6346

Location: Church Street, Witham, Essex CM8 2JS

Locality: Witham
Local Authority: Braintree District Council
County: Essex
Country: England
Postcode: CM8 2JS

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Explore more of the area around Witham, Essex at Explore Britain.

Listing Text

01-MAR-50 (North side)

(Formerly listed as:

c1330, retaining some earlier fabric; C14 and C15 additions. Restored 1849-50 and 1877 by Joseph Clarke.

Flint and pebble rubble with some Roman brick. Stone dressings. Slate and lead roofs.

Nave with N and S aisles, W tower and S porch. Chancel with N chapel and vestry and S chapel. The chancel and W tower are on a different alignment to the nave, suggesting the building was rebuilt around an older core, possibly cruciform.

The exterior is largely a consistent design of the C14, except for the chancel chapels and vestry. The chancel has a 3-light window with ogee reticulated tracery, renewed in 1844. The N vestry and S chapel end in line with the chancel E wall. The embattled N vestry was originally two storied, and has in the E wall a restored 2-light window in the lower part and C14 window in the upper part. The N wall of the vestry has a late C14 lower window and two C14 windows in the upper part, and an entrance to the former stair turret. The N wall of the N chapel has a very large, late C15 window of four traceried lights. The embattled S chapel has a late C15 E window and three late C15 windows and a contemporary door in its S wall.

Neither the aisles nor the nave has a parapet. The N aisle has three N windows of c.1330 with Decorated tracery and a blocked C14 door with a moulded arch and hood mould. The S aisle has three S windows. The western two are similar to those in the N aisle, but the eastern is late C14 and has three lights with dropped ogee tracery. The S door is late C12, presumably reset in the C14, and has three moulded orders with chevron in the outer order and a C14 hood mould with head stops. Above it is a record of repairs in 1700. The W windows of both aisles are similar to those in the N aisle. The nave clerestory has four windows on each side, the eastern two early C16 with two foiled lights in a square head, while the western pairs are circular and C14. There is a single C15 light in the nave E gable. The S porch is embattled. The outer opening is late C14 and has many small mouldings; there are two 3-light openings in the porch E and W walls with tracery similar to that in the aisles. The W tower is of three stages with diagonal buttresses at the western angles and has a NE stair turret and embattled parapet added in the C19. The W door is C14 and has moulded jambs. The W window is similar to those in the aisles. The second stage has a single C14 light in the N, S and W walls and there are two-light C14 openings in each face of the upper stage.

The interior is plastered and painted, and like the outside, is mainly C14, with some later work in the chapels. The c.1330 chancel arch is of two orders on attached shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The C15 doors to the former rood stair survive in the NE corner of the nave by the chancel arch. In the chancel N wall there is a blocked C14 window with an adjacent niche, and next to it a late C14 door to the vestry, which has moulded jambs and an arch carved with square flowers. The C15 arch to the N chapel is four centred and has two orders, the inner on attached shafts with moulded capitals and bases, the outer continuous; there is a similar arch between the chapel and the N aisle. The 2-bay arcade to the S chapel is C15 and has four-centred arches of two orders on a quatrefoil pier.

The N and S nave arcades are c.1330 and have two moulded orders on piers with four attached shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The clerestory windows have internal relieving arches of brick. The narrow C14 tower arch is of three moulded orders on rounded shafts with moulded capitals and bases. There is reused C12 work in the responds and reused C13 work in the outer orders of the arch. A large recess with brick jambs and a pointed head in the N wall of the tower is probably related to a former gallery.

There is a C15 square-headed piscina in the chancel, and another C15 with a cinquefoiled head in the S chapel. There are two late C15 or early C16 chancel seats with curved arm rests and panelled backs and bases. The fine chancel screen is late C15 and was modified in the C19, when the cross and canopy were added to designs by Ernest Geldart in 1891. It is of 8 bays and has cusped arches with cusped ogee sub arches below. There are C19 screens in a Perpendicular style in the S chapel. Royal arms of William III, carved in the round. Good C19 and C20 glass, including the W window by Wailes, 1850, given by noted architect Sir Gilbert Scott in memory of his clerk of workers, Henry Mortimer, killed in 1849 working on Scott¿s Nikolakirche building in Hamburg.

Except for the chancel, the roofs are all old. The N and S aisles have C14 pent roofs with moulded tie beams and struts above the ties. The N chapel roof is C15, of a flat, pent design with moulded principals, purlins and wall plates. The N vestry roof is plain, C15. The S chapel roof is late C15 of a pent design with moulded principals and purlin. The nave roof is of an uncertain date and plastered behind the rafters. The S porch roof is probably c.1700, the date of an inscription recording repair over the S door. Other woodwork: The door to the N vestry is late C14 and has moulded ribs and strap hinges. The S chapel S door has a reset C17 door. There is late C17 panelling in the vestry.

There are many good monuments. There is a C12 coffin lid, and another of the C13. There are three late C15 or C16 brass indents and a floor slab to Elizabeth --, d.1664. There is a large standing monument to John Southcote, justice of the Queen¿s Bench, d. 1585 and his wife Elizabeth: an altar tomb with very fine effigies, with an adjacent tablet with Corinthian side columns and achievements of arms. Wall tablets include Mary, widow of Thomas Smith and wife of Francis Herve, d.1592, of alabaster and marble with side pilasters, cornice and obelisks around kneeling figures, attributed to Garat Johnson the Elder; Robert Barwell, d.1697 and his wife Sarah, a white marble table with cherubs and an achievement of arms attributed to John Nost; and George Lisle, rector of Rivenhall, d.1687, of black and white marble with a shield of arms. William East, d. 1726, a large monument filling the blocked window in the N chapel, a bust above an inscription tablet by Stanton and Horsnaile. Hannah Pattison, d.1828 and her son William and daughter-in-law Sarah, d.1832, drowned in France; a bas relief of the couple being reunited in heaven with the mother, by C A Rivers. Four helms of the C15-17 are preserved in the S chapel, including one assembled from parts for use as a funeral display. There are several bequest boards in the tower.

The oldest surviving part of the church is the late C12 S door, reset in the S aisle in the mid C14, but evidence for the church to which it belonged has been lost. Around 1330, the whole church, including the nave, aisles, chancel and W tower was rebuilt. The N vestry and S porch were added in the late C14, and the N chapel was built between the vestry and the aisle in the C15. The S chapel is also C15. There were interior alterations, including the construction of galleries, in the post medieval period, but these were removed during the two C19 restoration programmes in 1849-50 and 1877, both by Joseph Clarke. There was some refurnishing by E Geldart in the late C19 and the church was partially reordered c.2002.

Witham gives its name to the local Hundred, an important early administrative division, and was settled from pre-historic times. There was also Roman settlement in the area. The Anglo-Saxon settlement at Witham was at Chipping Hill, in the vicinity of the parish church, and included a royal holding, a mill and a market. The church is not mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, but it is probable that there was a church, most likely on or near the site of the present church. The very irregular plan of the late medieval church suggests that it was constructed around a large, early core. In the mid C12, Witham was given to the Templars, who established a new market some distance from the church, near the old Roman road. None the less, St Nicolas remained the parish church, perhaps because it had already been granted to St Martin le Grand in London and so was outside the grant to the Templars. Its rebuilding in the C14 and C15 reflects the prosperity of the town as a centre of cloth production and as a market town.

RCHME Essex II (1921), 263-5
Bettley, J and Pevsner, N., Buildings of Essex (2007), 843-4

The church of St Nicolas, Chipping Hill, Witham, Essex is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* A very complete parish church of the C14 with excellent surviving fabric, with some C15 and early C16 additions, restored in the C19.
* Notable fittings, including medieval roofs and screen.
Excellent monuments, especially of the C16 and C17.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.