Dedicated to St. Laurence and All Saints
Eastwood takes its name from its situation on the eastern side of the wood and parks of Rayleigh and Thundersley which were part of the Great Forest of Essex.It is mentioned in the Domesday Book 1086 as Estwa, being held by Suen of Essex, his father Robert having held it in Edward the Confessor's reign. Suen's son, Robert de Essex, founded Prittlewell Priory, 1100 A.D. but his descendant, Henry de Essex, forfeited all his estates to the Crown in 1163, because of cowardice in battle. After this date the Manor was generally held by the Crown. In the 13th Century the Kings of England often visited the district for hunting, making Hadleigh Castle their residence. Henry VIII was the last king to hunt here and Eastwood Lodge was the centre of the last reserved portion. At the Reformation the Manor was given by Edward VI to Lord Riche whose descendants became Earls of Warwick, then by marriage it passed to the Earl of Nottingham. The Bristow family acquired it by purchase and held it until 1866 when the estate was sold in lots: "Eastwoodbury", the large house which stood immediately to the east of the Church, was on the site of the original Manor house. It was demolished in 1954. In the course of the centuries this parish of 3,000 acres, with its scattered population, changed from a woodland to an agricultural parish and today to a largely built-up area.
The first definite record of the Church is in 1100A.D. when Robert of Essex, the founder of Prittlewell Priory, granted to that establishment the church of Prittlewell with the chapels of Eastwood and Sutton. It is evident that there was a church at Eastwood before that date, This was probably the present Norman nave with a small apsidal chancel. The walls are of ragstone rubble with some pudding stone flints and Roman and Tudor brickwork and the exterior was, at one time, covered with cement rendering which was completely removed in 1970-1971.
St. Laurence was martyred on a gridiron in 259 A.D. and this Church takes the form of a gridiron, the chancel representing the handle and the nave and two side aisles the bars. The records state that in the early 17th century the Church was in a ruinous state; this was borne out when the old exterior plastering was stripped off.
The South wall of the South aisle showed the original rubble with red Tudor brickwork on the top, three to four feet in depth and above the windows. Between the windows were patches of brick refilling a space. Probably this was an attempt at a clerestory.
The South East corner had given way and been replaced by Tudor brick, reinforced by a Tudor brick buttress. The East wall of the North aisle at some time had cracked badly and was repaired very roughly by Tudor brickwork above the window, probably done when the Church was in a ruinous state.
The following are the chief points of interest:
Small (29ft. x l6ft.). Roof 14th Century, braced collar beams. The two tie beams are moulded. East window has been restored. Two windows in North wall - Eastern is mid 14th Century, the Western is earlier, 13th Century. South wall has two windows, the Eastern corresponding to the window in the North wall. The other is a low side window of the late 13th Century or early 14th Century with one pointed light, set in a wide 14th Century recess This window was probably unglazed with a wooden shutter and may have been used as a sanctus window through which the sanctus bell was rung at the Elevation of the Host.
On the East of this is a priests door, (recently replaced). There are traces of a piscina behind the panelling on the North wall.
The Chancel arch is 14th Century and above it are marks of an earlier roof. Below the arch are two ends of the rood beam which was sawn off.
There are no traces of a rood staircase.
Before the altar are 18th Century tombs of the Vassal family, former owners of Cockethurst Farm, and an effigy in brass of Thomas Burroughs dated 1600
44ft x 20ft. Roof is 15th Century work with massive tie beams. Four of the trusses have octagonal crown posts of unusual workmanship for a village Church. When the roof was retiled in 1935, the 7" x 7" beams were as sound as when first placed there.
The nave was the original Norman Church, one of the original windows can be seen in the North wall and traces of two others are also visible.
There were probably three in each wall.
The first alteration to the original Church was the piercing of the South wall by three 13th Century Early English bays and the building of the South aisle. The octagonal columns have moulded capitals and bases and brick plinths. The angles of two columns have been flattened to give a view of the altar to the ringer in the tower and the easternmost arch has a curiously chamferred portion, the purpose of which is uncertain.
At the junction of this arcade with the chancel are two 13th Century recesses, one having been cut away and afterwards filled up, and the other pierced to allow access to the South aisle. A hagieoscope or squint has been cut in a very simple manner through the angle of the chancel wall giving a view of the high altar from the South aisle. The best alteration was the piercing of the North wall by two wide 14th Century arches. These arches have no supporting columns but spring from the wall direct and the eastern-most arch shows some of 13th Century capping, probably of a former recess cut away when the arcade was made.
The 15th Century great West window has modern (1978) stained glass depicting the life of Samuel Purchas, geographer, writer and Eastwood's most notable incumbent (1604-1614). (There is a detailed description in the Church.)
9ft 6in wide. Built 13th Century and altered in 15th Century when the roof was raised or upper part rebuilt to give a clerestory which was never completed. The two exterior gables on the south seem to support this idea. The addition to the height can be seen on the interior wall. The East window is of uncertain date and has been modernised. There are two windows in the South wall. The Eastern one is 14th Century with two trefoil lights and is square headed, with modern glass. The sill is a stone slab with a moulded edge, probably from a tomb or altar. The other window is one, wide pointed, 13th Century light (probably a lancet window reduced) with modern glass showing St. Laurence with gridiron.
This aisle was formerly used as a side chapel as the 14th Century piscina and aumbry indicate and may have been a Lady Chapel. There are slight traces or colouring on the pillar below the Eastern end of the arcade and holes which may indicate support for a statue. It has now been restored to use as a side chapel.
On the stonework level with the pews, are two scratched figures or graffiti, one of a knight and the other a curious serpent-like figure.
The ancient chest is situated in this aisle.
Remarkable for its unusual figure and peculiar form. It is the best example in Essex of a late Norman or Early English font, (late 12th Century), shown by the semicircular arcading round the drum interlaced to form pointed arches and by slender shafting
6ft 6in wide, 14th Century. It is difficult to say why this narrow addition was made. In the East wall is a 14th Century Late Decorated window with two cinquefoil windows - partly restored.
In the North wall is a 14th Century doorway, the 12th Century door is similar to the South door.
At the west end of the North aisle is an unusual feature, a priests' room, an oak framed apartment of two stages lighted by a small 15th Century square headed window. The screen is 15th Century oaken work with moulded and embattled head and rail. The door is narrow, massive and nail studded. the use of this chamber is unknown, it may have been the sacristy and muniment room or a priest's room to accommodate the monk when the Church was served by Prittlewell Priory. The hinges of the door and the trap door are probably original. The lower chamber is now used as the Vicars Vestry and there is an oak bier, dated 1706, in the upper chamber.
In this aisle is a tombstone of Elizabeth Hooker(1666), another with the brasses torn off and an oak table thought to have been used as a Communion table during the time of Cromwell.
Small, 6ft 6in square. Its position at the west end of the South aisle is unusual. The lower stage is early 13th Century but the upper stage is modern. Either the tower was at first unfinished or the upper portion was unsafe and was taken down. Tudor brick buttresses outside suggest the latter. Timber was used in the rebuilding to avoid the expense of stone, which was imported.
There were originally four bells, three of which still remain. For many years the ancient wooden bell frame had been unsafe for ringing, although the tenor bell could be tolled. In 1984 the tower was strengthened to hold a new metal bell frame and the three old bells were rehung and augmented to a ring of six by the addition of three lighter bells. During this work, one of the old bells (now the 5th) which was cracked, was repaired by welding.
The whole cost of this project was met from outside sources and without calling on the church funds.
The weights and inscriptions on the bells are:
Tenor: weighs 9cwt 8lbs Sancta Gregori ora pro nobis St. Gregory pray for us) (Cast 1380)
5: weighs 6cwt 6lbs Sancta Katerina ora pro nobis (St. Katherine pray for us) (Cast 1380)
4: weighs 4cwt 2qtr 2llbs Charles Newman made me 1693
3: weighs 4cwt 12lbs We praise thee 0 God in memory of Ethel & Gladys Fowler of Cockethurst Farm
2: weighs 3cwt 1qtr 8lbs 0 come let us sing unto the Lord in memory of Ranie & May Fowler of Cockethurst Farm
Treble :weighs 2cwt 3qtr 16lbs Unto thee 0 Lord do we give thanks The gift of Mable Free
Brick 16th Century, Pre-reformation; note niches over doorway. Roof timber was old timber reused-note slots in cross beam. Holy Water stoup on East side of doorway is partly filled in.
South doorway, 13th Century, Early English, but has lost its original character being now square headed. This door and the North door inside the church are the most interesting in the district because of the strap ironwork on both. The north door was repaired and rehung as the entrance to the new Choir Vestry in 1966. The horizontal strap of the South door has an inscription in Lombardic letters almost obliterated,"Pax regat intrantes eadem regat egredientes"; "May peace rule those entering and also those leaving".
This ironwork is 12th or even 11th Century, probably the work of a local smith and an excellent example of early craftsmanship. The North door may be somewhat earlier than the South as its ironwork is a little simpler.
The South door has a triangular knocker generally regarded as a Sanctuary Knocker. Recorded in Rolls of Edward 1st, who, when hunting in the district, granted a pardon to a criminal at Eastwood who had stolen three pigs. The man was condemned to be hanged, the rope broke, he escaped to the church for sanctuary until he was pardoned. He was afterwards exiled.
A list of incumbents is displayed on the North wall of the Nave
In Henry Il's reign the church was a chapel to Prittlewell Priory and monks were sent to conduct services at Eastwood, they were non-resident and this may explain the use of the N.W. chamber. At the Reformation the Advowson passed to the Crown to whom it still belongs.
The most notable Vicar was Samuel Purchas, distinguished as a geographer and the second English writer of sea adventure and discoveries.
A record of 1619 shows a man of Eastwood was fined "For sleeping in the time of divine service upon a Sunday afternoon this last summer, and so, sat sleeping until all the people had gone forth of the church".
The Churchwarden's Accounts date from 1632. They give totals but little detail.
The registers date from 1684. In 1762 a note mentions that the leaves were cut out in many places.
An inventory of Church goods made in the reign of Edward VI mentions there were two silver Chalices belonging to the church, but one was sold.
The other 1552 Chalice is still used for some special occasions.
You may care to reflect that, men and women have been worshipping God for almost a thousand years and do so still.