Roydon Church, Essex

The Church of St. Peter-ad-Vincula (St. Peter in Chains) seems to date from the Anglo-Saxon period when it was probably one of the wood-walled churches of Essex (see, for example, Greensted Church). There was certainly a church here by 1198 when a priest named William was present here.

The present church was built between 1225 and 1240 and in 1290 the manor was given to Sir Walter Fitzgerald who was one of the Knights Templar. So the Church became a Templar Church and after their dissolution their property in Roydon was passed to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.

Around 1380 the north aisle was added to the church and a short while later the chancel was rebuilt in its current style. A great deal of damage was done during the Civil War to both the interior fixtures and, most particularly, to the stained glass.

Around 1450 the tower was built, possibly replacing an earlier one and the church had more or less the structure we see today.

Early in the 1500s the local Colte family, powerful advisors to the Tudor monarchs, invited a young man named Thomas More to Roydon. In 1505 Thomas married Jane Colte, the middle daughter of the family, at St. Peter’s Church – in the doorway as was the manner then rather than inside the church. She was 17, he was 26. Sadly the marriage only lasted to 1511 when Jane died following the birth of their fourth child – when More wrote his own epitaph he referred to Jane as “my dear little wife”. Despite all of this he was married again within a month. More himself, of course, was beheaded in 1535 and was later to become a saint of the Catholic Church.

The vicar of the church from 1752 for 56 years – was the Rev. William Day – known as “the Pugilist Parson of Roydon” as he was a boxer as well as a vicar. On one occasion whilst he was in the pulpit an argument occurred with a man in the congregation which ended up with the man and the Reverend slugging it out on the village green!

Renovation work after bomb damage in World War II revealed an unusual rood staircase above the rood screen. The bomb also damaged the plaster work of the roof and when it was stripped away the original 13th Century wooden beams were uncovered and the decision was made to leave them visible.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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