The opening pages of Great Dunmow’s churchwarden accounts contains a list of all the house-holders within the parish (165 names) along with the amount each house-holder contributed towards a collection for the parish church’s steeple. It cannot be coincidence that this, the first of seven parish collections which took place in the 1520s and 1530s, occurred approximately two years after the arrival of a new vicar, William Walton. Walton (vicar 1523-40) was a pluralist who from 1524 also held the larger Essex parish of All Saints, Maldon. It is likely Walton, newly appointed to his second living, decided his parishes should have impressive and admired religious artefacts. Thus the commissioning of the beautiful leather churchwardens’ account-book, to record monies raised for a steeple, was a visible method that demonstrated his authority and piety. It can also be conjectured the laity and clergy cast an envious eye on the magnificent steeple of nearby Thaxted’s church before deciding they too wanted the same. Moreover, Walton’s Maldon parish had an outstanding medieval steeple (as shown in the picture below). It is likely Great Dunmow, under the guidance of Walton, wanted to assert its piety, wealth and importance by building a new steeple and then record its benefactors within the handsome churchwarden account-book under its dedication to ‘Jhesus Maria’. This was a visible method of demonstrating the parish of Great Dunmow’s piety and expressing their community pride. However, the donations were not enough to build a substantial steeple and it has been suggested the work undertaken was merely for repairs, new windows and a wooden spire.(1) The photo above (taken by The Narrator in 2011) demonstrates that indeed the church does not have a steeple, and if a wooden spire was built, it has not survived.
1)W. T. Scott, Antiquities of an Essex Parish: Or Pages from the History of Great Dunmow (1873), 21.
2) James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner, Essex, The Buildings Of England (2007), 401.
3) Maldon Archaeological and Historical Group, Recent Projects (2010), MAHG Recent Projects.
4) Bettley and Pevsner, Essex, 579.
5) Robert Goadby, Cooper Engraving of Thaxted Church (1776).
6) Bettley and Pevsner, Essex, 764.
7) Nikolaus Pevsner, Essex, (2nd edn.,1965), 380.
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You may also be interested in the following:
– Index to each folio in Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts
– Great Dunmow’s Churchwardens’ accounts: transcripts 1526-1621
– Tudor local history
– Pre-Reformation English church clergy
– Building a medieval church steeple
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