Home. About Us. Newsletters. Projects. Publications. Photographs. Maps. Archive. Contact Us. Links.

Ongar Millennium History Society

Ongar Millennium History Society


November 2016

Back to Index

St. Martin’s Church and Ongar in Bloom

Opera comes to Ongar

St. Peter’s Church, Shelley

From man-of-war to madhouse

Future Events

Well the year seems to be running away with us at an alarming rate, and Christmas (sorry!) will be soon upon us.  However, before we get too excited/depressed we have a few more interesting articles in this newsletter for you to read … and hopefully enjoy!  We are always looking for new contributors to the newsletter, so if you have a story to tell please email us at info@omhs.org.uk

Thank you to all contributors over the past year. I couldn’t do it without you!

Jenny Main, Editor

Committee members

Chair          Vacancy                                 Vice Chair + Newsletter        Jenny Main

Treasurer    Kathleen Jenkins                     Venues Sec.                         Tonia Hart

Secretary    Sandra Dear                           Membership+Speaker Sec.     Lorna Vaux

Archive      Vacancy                     

Member     Lawrence Mendoza

St. Martin’s Church and Ongar in Bloom Back to top

On Sunday 17th July, Ongar in Bloom arranged a guided tour of St Martin’s Church which I led. As well as promoting a greener, more beautiful town, Ongar in Bloom aims to encourage greater community participation and to hold social events. The title of the tour was St. Martin’s in Ten Objects. I have recently written an illustrated guide to St. Martin’s Church which is available for £3 from OMHS and the church.

The tour was intended to highlight features of our historic church which often tend to go unnoticed.

We started outside the church at the old north door which is now closed and saw the 1000 year old thin red bricks showing the outline   of the door. On entering the church we could see clearly the position of the door. In 1814 it was decided to increase the seating in the church and so close the north door, place more pews across the entrance and open a new west door.

World War I casualty, Henry Austin Noble, son of Frederic Miller Noble, the master builder who was in charge of the construction of the south aisle, was then discussed. We viewed the stained glass window in the south aisle depicting St. Martin dressed as a Roman soldier. The face is said to resemble Henry Noble to whom this window is dedicated. Second Lieutenant Henry Noble of the Essex Regiment died, age 22, of wounds received in action on 8th October 1918 just a few weeks before the end of WWI. His battlefield cross, once displayed in the church, is now exhibited in the Essex Regiment Museum in Chelmsford.

We knelt down to take a good look at “EP 1931”carved on a pew near the front of the nave. Emmeline Pankhurst was a leading British women's rights activist, who led the movement to win the right for women to vote. In 1903 she formed the Women’s Social and Political Union with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. Members of the Union supported women’s suffrage - the right to vote, and were known as “suffragettes”. In 1928 her aim was achieved when the Representation of the People Act became law, granting women equal voting rights with men. After she died her followers donated pews to the church where Emmeline attended and one bears her initials and the date given.

A stained glass window on the north wall of the nave depicts St. Philip and the Ethiopian and sections at the bottom feature David Livingstone who lived in Ongar in 1838 while training for the ministry. The one on the left shows David Livingstone being greeted in Africa while the section on the right shows African converts being baptised. Dr David Livingstone was a celebrity in the 1870s.

He had a "rags to riches" inspirational story, was a scientific investigator, missionary and an African explorer. He was most famous for his meeting with Henry Stanley in 1871 which gave rise to the popular quotation "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

The large oil painting also on the north wall of the nave was for many years a mystery. Now I can reveal that it is a copy of the Spanish artist Murillo’s Virgin and Child. Unfortunately, it is not known when it first appeared in the church and who painted it. At the bottom of the painting is an inscription “And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” It seems that over the centuries Murillo’s work has been much admired and in demand and hence his paintings have been copied by many artists. The original hangs in the Galleria Palatina in Florence and was painted around 1650.

Almost completely hidden by the altar is a well-worn floor stone with a coat of arms. It is the gravestone of Jane Cromwell, the cousin of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England in the 17th century. Oliver Cromwell was one of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant in 1649. Jane married Sir Tobias Pallavicini, a member of a rich and influential family of Italian bankers, and later came to live in Ongar. Beside it is a black marble floor stone with the Pallavicini coat of arms. It is the gravestone of Jane’s son, Horatio.

In front of the pulpit are two oak Glastonbury chairs of unknown age with inscriptions in Latin carved on the back and arms. These chairs first appeared in churches in the 16th century and were the original flat pack chairs, made for easy transportation. There are inscriptions on the insides and outsides of the arms and on the backrest. We read: “Sit laus deo” which translates as “Praise be to God” and the abbreviated D-ne exaudi oratione short for Domine exaudi oration, meaning, “Lord, hear my prayer”.

One of the fascinating features of the church is the anchorite cell.  An anchorite was a man or woman who took a vow to remain for the rest of their life in the cell attached to the wall of the church. They would receive food from the villagers who in return would receive spiritual guidance. From inside the church, the opening into the cell, now with a wooden door, can be seen on the north wall of the sanctuary which allowed the hermit to take part in worship.

Above the south door is a diamond-shaped royal panel bearing the Hanoverian coat of arms. It is now believed that the panel is an “unofficial hatchment”, prepared as a statement of loyalty by the church on the death of one of the Hanoverian kings, most likely George III, who died in 1820 or William IV, who died in 1837. Unfortunately the artist did not represent the coat of arms of the monarch quite precisely so this is open to interpretation. True hatchments bear the arms, crest or motto of a deceased person and were carried in front of funeral processions to the church, and afterwards hung on the gate of the deceased person's house, before being displayed in the church.

The Font bowl located at the rear of the nave dating from the 15th century was the last object to be discussed. At some time it was removed from the church, perhaps as far back as Henry VIII’s reign or when his son Edward accelerated Protestant reform.  During these times altars, shrines and fonts were removed from churches and stained glass windows destroyed. St Martin’s font was discovered in a garden in the High Street and restored to the church in 1963 on a new base.

The tour was very well received by both local folk and some from further afield. It served to focus on details of the St. Martin’s Church that can easily be overlooked. The tour concluded with afternoon tea provided by Janet and Alan Brindley of Ongar in Bloom. Janet is happy to arrange another tour of the church if there is sufficient interest, and also promote other historical aspects of Ongar.

Keith Snow

Opera comes to Ongar Back to top

A recently found handbill announced the visit of the Reading, Guildford and Chelmsford Company of Comedians to the Theatre, Ongar on Monday 20 September 1790. Doors opened at 6pm, with the entertainment to begin an hour later. Seats were 'reasonably priced' at 3 shillings for a box, 2 shillings for the pit and 1 shilling for the gallery, and all tickets were obtainable from Mr Henry Thornton at the Bull Inn. The programme consisted of the comic opera, Love in a Village, to which was added the 'favourite entertainment' called The Flitch of Bacon, or The Custom of Dunmow Priory.

The presence of a theatre in Ongar with boxes, pit and gallery will be a surprise to most readers. Small groups of players like those of Henry Thornton often used a temporarily fitted-out building, perhaps a barn with a fenced off area for boxes, benches for the pit and a standing area at the back for the gallery. However the Chelmsford Chronicle of 17 September confirms that this performance took place in the Ongar Assembly Rooms which formed 'a very neat and commodious theatre'. It also reported that lord and lady Petre had attended a few nights previously 'with a large party', so the performances must have run over a week or so. Very little is known about the Assembly Rooms which have a brief mention by the Rev R I Porter in his short History of Chipping Ongar. The building was in the centre of the town, on the east side of the High Street, built about 1786 and demolished four decades later. Nothing is known about its origins or use, though doubtless a close search of the Chelmsford Chronicle would reveal more.  

Love in a Village was a comic opera in three acts, one of Thomas Arne's most successful pieces, with a spoken dialogue interspersed with songs. The Ongar performance would have been accompanied by – at the least – a fiddle and a wind instrument. The piece stars Rosetta, pledged in marriage to a man she has never met. Determined to avoid this unwelcome match, she runs away from home and finds employment as a chambermaid in the house of Justice Woodcock. Fortuitously the young Thomas Meadows is in the same position and escapes imposed matrimony by posing at Justice Woodcock's gardener. Inevitably the two young people fall in love, but their suit is thwarted by their determined relatives until there is a last minute theatrical revelation and all ends happily.

The other entertainment offered that night was also spoken dialogue interspersed with songs, in two acts. The music was by William Shield and the libretto was written by the Rev Henry Bate Dudley, a colourful character noted (amongst other things) as a fighter of duels, a journalist, a playwright, a supporter of the artist Thomas Gainsborough, and a pioneer reclaimer of Essex marshland. Bate was also a patron of Shield and had been responsible for introducing him to London's musical circle. The opera was first performed in 1778 and its popularity was long lived. Most Ongarians, of course, would have been familiar with the annual award of the Dunmow flitch.

(I am very grateful to Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson for providing most of the expert information on which this note is based).

Michael Leach

St. Peter’s Church, Shelley Back to top

There have been three churches on the site in Shelley, all dedicated to Saint Peter. The original was founded around 1328 and consisted of a nave and chancel of stone with a wooden turret. In about 1768 it was described as “of one pace with the chancel, and tyled. In the spire, which is shingled, are two Bells”. It fell into disrepair and was declared unsafe around 1800 and demolished in 1810, when a second building was erected using the same foundations. The new building was 40 feet long by 20 feet wide with a steep roof and gothic windows. Between the windows were massive buttresses, probably added later when the building showed signs of instability. It was built at a cost of around £475, raised by voluntary subscription. It had a wooden turret housing two bells, one with the inscription “Thomas Mears and Son London Fecit 1810” [fecit means “he made it”, so “made by Thomas Mears and Son”].

However, it was of such poor quality that by 1886 it was showing signs of deterioration.  In 1888 a faculty was obtained for building yet another church, the one that we see today. The architect's report on the existing structure stated that repair was impossible and that in any case “not one single feature was worth preservation”. The estimated cost of the new church was £2,500 which was raised by subscriptions and four anonymous gifts of £500. It was designed by W.G. Habershon and Fawckner of London, and built by W. Gregor of Stratford, London.

The first brick was laid by Mrs Mary Susannah Allen of Shelley Hall on 4th May 1888 and a memorial stone was laid the following month. It reads: “To the Glory of God This Memorial Stone of St. Peter’s Shelley was laid by Sir Charles Dalrymple Bart. M.P. June 5th 1888”.

The church is larger than those preceding it and consists of chancel, nave, north aisle, vestry, organ chamber, and combined north porch and bell tower containing a Sanctus bell and a Tower bell, dated 1810. The external walls are of flint with Bath stone dressings and the tower has a shingled spire. The style is a 19th-century version of Early English and most of the windows are grouped lancets. The internal walls are faced with red brick, having dark brick bands and stone dressings. The capitals of the nave arcade are carved with stiff-leaved foliage. The east window has plate tracery, the stained glass being the gift of Mrs. Allen in 1888.


   North porch and door (left)

and South porch and door (right)

The chequered history has caused the loss of a number of gravestones and memorials, but inside the church, on the walls of the porch are tablets from the original church that were excavated when the present church was rebuilt.

On the east wall of the porch is a carved and painted stone tablet dedicated to Agnes wife of John Greene; it shows the kneeling figures of husband and wife with two sons and four daughters. It reads:”Here lyeth buried the body of Mrs. Agnes Greene the daughter of Mr William Hunt and wife of Mr. John Greene Gent who had by him 2 sonnes and 4 daughters. Shee departed this life on the 16 of September 1626”  

Also mounted on the wall of the porch are two floor slabs from the chancel of the original church. They commemorate Margaret, daughter of John Neale, (1652) and Hadesley Green (1699).

They read: “Here lyeth buried the body of Margaret Neale daughter to Mr John Neale & Margaret his wife aged 12 yeares and departed this life Y second of May 1652”, and “In memory of Hadesley Green Gent who departed this life December the 8th 1699 in his thirty sixth year”. An achievement of arms is shown. [The Green(e) family lived in Shelley Hall from 1580 until the early 18th century].

A stone inset into the wall states: “Here lieth the body of Mrs Sarah Baker coheiress of this manour who died the 4 day of August 1765 aged 72 years”.

Above the door is the oldest memorial in the Church, an inscribed brass commemorating John Greene and his wife: “Here lyeth buried the bodye of John Greene beinge of the age of 89 and had issue of his body by Katheryn his wyffe, daughter of John Wright. Children xiiitene and the issue of there too bodyes [decedents] weare one hundred and aleaven [eleven] in there lyves time which John deceased the xviii th of November 1595 and the sayd Katheryn deceased the 1 daye of January beinge of the age of 71 years”. There is a framed rubbing of this just inside the church.

Keith Snow and Stan Ball

From man-of-war to madhouse Back to top

In 1804 Mr Patmore, overseer of the poor, reported to the Chipping Ongar vestry that  'having visited Wm Travell in Warburton Mad-house Bethnall Green, the man, in his opinion, seems to have his proper intellect'. On the basis of this report, the vestry decided that he should return to the workhouse.

There is a more complicated - though still very incomplete -  story behind this brief note. Various members of the Travel(l) family had lived in Ongar for 3 generations, though their trade or trades remain obscure. Nothing is known of William Travell, who was born in 1758, until late in his life in 1807 when Mr Land (perhaps an agent employed by the Ongar vestry) was trying to obtain two year's back payment of Travell's pension from the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, as well as any prize money which he might have accrued in service. The agreed pension arrears amounted to £27-5s, and the prize money (from the L'Aigle only) to £2-14-9d. The letter detailing these payments noted that Travell was 'insane and a pauper' and that the entire sum was to be paid to the Chipping Ongar vestry.

The accompanying letters reveal a little more about Travell's life in the navy. In October 1794, in a letter written on board HMS Victory by Admiral Hood, he was recommended as a sailmaker for the frigate L'Aigle. This would suggest that he had been working in this capacity on Nelson's flagship. The L'Aigle was a frigate, originally built as a French privateer in 1780, acquired by the French navy two years later but captured in the same year (in spite of an attempt by her captain to de-mast her, and then sink her by drilling holes in her hull) She was repaired and pressed into service by the Royal Navy but retained her French name.  Serving on her, Travell would have seen a lot of action, capturing numerous French privateers and Spanish cargo boats throughout 1797 and 1798. In July 1798 she was wrecked off Tunisia due to a navigational error, though her captain was acquitted by the ensuing court martial. All the crew were rescued.

A month later, Travell was posted to the bomb vessel Hecla. This specialized warship carried only a few cannon for self defence, its main weaponry being heavy mortars, mounted on the foredeck and designed to fire explosive shells. These ships were broad in the beam and heavily strengthened to resist the recoil of the mortars, making them slow in the water and difficult to manoeuvre. These limitations made them quite unsuitable for pursuing and capturing other ships, and would explain why Travell had earned no prize money during his service on the Hecla. Their role was to bombard shore towns and fortifications, and Travell was probably on board when the Hecla took part in the battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

It can be assumed that he was invalided out of the navy on a pension, and was returned to his parish of settlement where he was initially placed in the Ongar workhouse before being taken to Warburton's madhouse in Bethnal Green. This establishment was used exclusively for paupers, at the heavy cost to their parish of origin of about 10 shillings per week. By 1815 the conditions had become so scandalous that a Royal Select Committee was convened to investigate the gross overcrowding, undernourishment, lack of sanitation and routine shackling of inmates. Travell probably welcomed his return to the Chipping Ongar workhouse, though nothing more is known about his subsequent life. Even the parish register entry for his burial has not been found.

Obviously the cause of his insanity cannot now be identified, but it is tempting to imagine that he suffered from what is now termed post traumatic stress disorder. He would have seen some grim sights, particularly as one of the duties of a naval sailmaker was to sew up the dead in canvas for shipboard burial. One might also wonder how a man came to leave an inland rural parish to go to sea, and how he coped with the harsh realities of naval life.

Michael Leach


ERO D/P 124/8/2: Chipping Ongar vestry minutes

ERO D/P 124/18: papers relating to naval career of William Travell

Lost hospitals of London: ezitis.myzen.co.uk/bethnalhouse.html

Wikipedia entries for HMS L'Aigle and HMS Hecla

Future Events Back to top

Events will be announced in future newsletters and on the website.  Have you looked at our website?  The site is regularly updated with future events so this is where you will hear the news first.  The address is http://www.omhs.org.uk/ or just type OMHS into a search engine.  

Membership Renewal

Just a quick reminder that everyone should have renewed their membership for 2016/17 by now.  If you know someone who has not yet renewed, please remind them to contact Lorna Vaux on 01277 366807 to renew their membership for the coming year.  

Christmas Lunch

OMHS Christmas Celebration for all OMHS Members at the Ongar United Reform Church High Street, through the arch. Come and see us in the Church and enjoy a social chat over lunch and view our archive.

5th December 2016 at 1.00 pm

Newsletter Contributions

We always welcome articles for the newsletter.  If you have anything that you would like to contribute, please submit to the editor or through the website before the end of January 2017 to be included in the next edition of the newsletter