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English Church Architecture.


HADSTOCK, St. Botolph  (TL 559 448),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)


Essex's most important Saxon church.

Architecturally speaking, this is an untidy church but a very significant one for it is an essentially Saxon building of the early to mid eleventh century.  Indeed, it has even been suggested that it might be the minster church built by Cnut after his victory in 1016 over Edmund Ironside at the Battle of Assundun, traditionally associated with Ashingdon near Rochford but which it has been argued might actually have taken place at Ashdon, just two miles to the southwest. 



Be that as it may, excavations beneath the floor of St. Botolph’s in 1974 revealed many complications in the building’s development and suggested the first church on the site may have been erected during the seventh century:  the lower parts of the N. transept and north and south nave walls could be of this date.  The original building was certainly cruciform, though probably towerless, and it may have had an apsidal east end.  However, some while afterwards the nave appears to have been shortened and finished with the present skewed west wall, and it seems likely that around the same time, the crossing was rebuilt and topped by a wooden tower, evidence for which was found in the mortar ground plates which the excavation uncovered.  This was replaced by a stone structure in late Saxon times, which is the period to which the earliest work now visible at Hadstock may be ascribed.  Basically this comprises the nave, which is pierced by four of its original small round-headed windows, internally with unaltered oak frames, and by the splendid N. doorway (shown above left), although this is not in situ, having apparently been moved to its new position at a later stage, even though it retains its former wooden door (above right) which still swings on its original hinges!  This door is similar to the N. door of St. Mary’s, Buttsbury, also in Essex:  four vertical boards with splayed stepped edges (as opposed to five at Buttsbury), are fixed together with rivets that pass through them and then through wooden bars of three-quarter-circle section with lozenge-shaped iron rings round them, over which the ends of the rivets are spread (as illustrated in the photograph below).  The N. side of the doorway displays a roll moulding and a hood-mould of rectangular section, which is an arrangement not dissimilar to that around the tower arch at St. Bene’t’s, Cambridge, generally ascribed to the first half of the eleventh century.  The responds are decorated with single attached shafts of the late Saxon type that show Norman influence, which is to say, they are nook-shafted in the wall.  The church at Kirkdale, North Yorkshire has this feature on the W. side of the tower arch, which was formerly the W. entrance to the building before the poor little tower was added in 1827, and the Saxon work there is dated by an inscription on a sundial to the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-66).  At Hadstock, the great doorway imposts are decorated with carved palmettes. 


Inside the church, the responds and imposts of the S. transept arch take a similar but still more massive form.  (See the W. respond, below left, viewed from the transept, and the E. respond, below right, viewed from the nave.)  The arch above, however, is a thirteenth century replacement, while the whole of the N. transept arch is a fourteenth century reconstruction above the Saxon stepped stone plinths. The rebuilding of these arches seems likely to have been necessitated by structural problems experienced at the time with the crossing tower.  The two N. transept windows are Decorated, of which the three-light N. window has pleasing curvilinear tracery.  The W. tower is a mundane fifteenth century addition to the building, notwithstanding the flint chequerwork basal frieze.


The chancel is Victorian and the late work of William Butterfield (1814 - 1900), designed c. 1884 when the fires of his creative vision were burning less brightly.  It replaced a ridiculously small eighteenth century semi-octagonal apse which in turn replaced a fourteenth century chancel and, before that, the Saxon apse referred to above.  The reredos is the best part of Butterfield’s work here, featuring a fleurée cross and blank arcading, set out in orange, green and red tiles.  The floor is also tiled and there are narrow courses of red tiles on the walls, running round the piscina, sedilia and priest’s doorway to the south, and dividing the north wall into rectangular spaces.  Nevertheless, the chancel is actually rather more striking externally (see the photograph at the top of the page), due to its facing of flint chequer work above the windows' springing level.  The three-light E. window has trefoil-cusped outer lights, a cinquefoil-cusped central light, and two quatrefoils and a trefoil in circles in the head.  The S. vestry has a tiled, hipped roof and a moulded chimney to the east, which is itself almost a signature of its maker.