ID: PBH_ALN / Canon James Allen

TitleParish Church of St John the Baptist Layer de la Haye
AbstractIMPORTANT NOTE: Canon Allen's history of Layer de la Haye Church has been out of print for many years. As there is little or no prospect of it being re-printed it is being made available on the internet, free of charge, for the purposes of private study and research only. It is not to be reproduced in any form, either directly or indirectly, for any commercial purpose without permission of the copyright holders.

This document contains only the text of the Second Edition of the booklet. The two photographs of the church, one inside and one outside, which appear in the actual booklet are not included here. A third edition of the booklet was published in 1978.

Some notes have been added, in italics, giving relevant new information which has become available and referring to changes which have taken place since the history was written. These are not, nor intended to be, comprehensive.

[ June 2002 ]




Price 15p


The Rural Deanery of Colchester
The Diocese of Chelmsford

This parish was in the Diocese of London until 1845
In the Diocese of Rochester from 1846-1877
In the Diocese of St. Albans from 1877-1914
In the Diocese of Chelmsford from 1914.

The Arms of De la Haye
Argent, on a fesse gules,
2 molets of the first
between 6 martlets, sable.


From time beyond memory the priest in the parish has been its historian, and the guardian of its records. In his study of the parish church of Layer de la Haye, James Allen continues this tradition. He has assembled existing material, and added to this new facts which have escaped previous writers. The result is that we have in the pages which follow an example of local scholarship which so often has provided the material on which celebrated historians have relied.

Layer de la Haye has not been the scene of great events - of battles, violence or riot. It does not possess within its boundaries any great house, nor has it ever included in its population any powerful family. As the Vicar shows, however, there are families in Layer as long descended as any in the country and if, over nine centuries, it has escaped involvement in the turbulent episodes of history, the story of village and church is all the more characteristic of the life of the mass of the English people. To-day Layer de la Haye is still a village with its own identity and characteristic. It is right therefore that it should have its own historian to tell the story of its past.



Our Parish Church of St. John the Baptist is beloved by all, by parishioners and visitors alike. The appeal of a simple country church standing by the side of the road as one approaches it from either direction draws many a visitor inside. Visitors are impressed by the simplicity of the architecture, the furnishings and other features of this ancient building, and they pay tribute to its sacredness.

The Church which has served very many generations of worshippers in this parish, has within it an atmosphere of worship and of the beauty of holiness. One cannot help feeling that one has been in the presence of God and of countless souls who have been here before us as worshippers.

The Church is itself a witness in the parish to the existence of the Christian faith brought here by our forefathers and by no less a person than St. Cedd, the Apostle to the East Saxons, in the sixth century. It witnesses too, to the faith and culture nurtured by the Benedictine monks of St. John's Abbey and of the Augustinian Canons of the Priory of St. Botolph, both of Colchester. The church in the final resort, witnessed to the eternal verities which the Christian faith proclaims.

This little history of our parish church is dedicated to my friends the parishioners of Layer de la Haye.

The proceeds from the sale of this booklet will be devoted to the repair of the fabric of the church.

May the Lord preserve your coming in and your going forth.

2nd Edition 1972         J.A.

In compiling this history of our Parish Church the following books have been referred to:-

The Story of Layer de la Haye by Mary Hopkirk
Memories of a Village Chapel, by Mrs. H. J. Hayhoe
The Parish Church of Layer de la Haye by Lord Alport
The Reformation in Essex, by J. E. Oxley
Morant's History of Essex
Wright's History of Essex
The Royal Commission's Report on Ancient Monuments in North East Essex.

The block of the Church on the Cover was kindly given by Mr. Elwyn Blacker and the photographs of the Church by Mr. Eric Cheek, of Birch.

(The block is an attractive drawing of the church between two sheaves of corn. The illustration is still used from time to time on Layer de la Haye church documents)


The village of Layer de la Haye, at one time a very scattered and fairly small community, is now finding that its scattered elements are quickly being linked up by new buildings, most of which are bungalows. The newer bungalows are of pleasing shape and dimensions and bring an air of modernity to an erstwhile rural area.

The population in 1972 is about 1200 inhabitants, although in a few years time it is expected to increase to twice or three times as many. The community thus has a mixed population of older people who remember the village as, what seemed to them, a rural fastness a little remote from the happenings in the ancient walled town of Colchester. This town itself has spread its building tentacles far and wide into the surrounding rural areas. As far as Layer de la Haye is concerned, it is now less than two miles from one of Colchester's most recent suburban estates. Fortunately, perhaps for the village of Layer de la Haye, the appropriate authority has decreed that the area known as Kingsford on the other side of the Roman River shall be regarded as a "green belt", and forbids the building of any more new houses in that area.

The newer people in our village are, for the most part, employed in and around Colchester with perhaps a few commuters who travel daily up and down to the City.

The proximity of the village to the Colchester Garrison has resulted in a number of retired officers selecting the delightful district of Layer de la Haye as a place for their retirement. The community as a whole blends in well to make the village a happy place in which to live.

There are quite a number of successful organisations in the village which testify to the liveliness and energies of the parishioners. This is quite remarkable in view of the close proximity to Colchester.

The Parish Church itself has organisations which provide for men, women and young people in the form of the Mothers' Union, the Church of England Men's Society, and the Youth Fellowship. Other organisations in the village which can boast of good numbers and good attendances are the Women's Institute, the British Legion (oddly enough a Women's Section only), the Good Companions' Club for the over 60s. The Village Produce Association plans Exhibitions, Competitions and quizzes. All these help perhaps to keep people's minds occupied and their leisure time usefully employed. The Layer United Football Club has a splendid reputation and creates keen interest among the spectators. All these organisations make use of the Village Hall which in its present form will soon prove to be inadequate for the needs of a growing village.

The very young ones are not forgotten either, for Cubs, Brownies and Guides flourish under expert guidance.

In addition to football, the other sport which seems to occupy the time of a good many local people is that of fishing. The old gravel pits opposite the waterworks buildings provide an opportunity for this hobby. Some fishermen can be seen early on a Sunday morning trying to hook the early fish. Further fresh-water fishing may be done in the reservoir itself a mile further on. The area now occupied by the reservoir, was until about twenty-six years ago, a beautiful fertile valley with a delightful stream which ran through it. The beautiful valley has given place to a wonderful inland lake which is the resort of many unusual birds. Bird watchers from the district may be seen any day scanning the waters of the reservoir with their binoculars.

The village boasts of two inns - The Fox at Layer Cross, which is the resort of many villagers, and the Donkey and Buskins on Kingsford Hill which seems to have a more sophisticated air and attracts customers from the town who like to ride into the country for a drink.

The Parish, of course, has its usual village shops of which there are two and which purvey practically everything from a pin to a coffee percolator. One of them serves as a post office for the village. The village boasts of a Primary (Church of England controlled) School, a District Nurse, two telephone kiosks, a Garage which at one time served as a forge and blacksmith's shop, and a County Library which opens for about three hours a week. A building in the parish which calls for some comment is the South Essex Waterworks. Designed in a style reminiscent of ancient Rome, and with a pleasing corrugated steeple, the building blends with the rural scene and appears not to be out of place. The function of the waterworks is to supply the purified water from the reservoir to some of the population in South Essex.

In the villages of England, and especially in Essex, are to be found some buildings which, if not of picturesque interest, have served a portion of the community as a place of worship. As the writer of the history of our village Methodist Church tells us, "They are often very simple buildings, built by people who had not much money, but who sacrificed to provide a place wherein they might worship God according to their conscience." Such is the Layer de la Haye Methodist Church; it is in fact, a simple building of four walls, a roof and a small porch which serves as the only entrance. It was built in the year 1864. On the site of the Methodist Church were previously six small four-room cottages. The rent from these cottages, 1/6d. per week, was devoted by their owner to the Chapel building fund. The bricks from these cottages when they were pulled down to make way for the chapel, were sold and used to make the brick wall at present surrounding the Cross House. The cottage next to the Methodist Church, now known as Rose Cottage, was at one time used for Bible Classes, and before the Church was built, services were held in the cottage on the opposite corner. The Chapel was demolished in 1970.

The other building of religious origin testifies to the popularity in this area at one time of the Society of Friends, known as Quakers.

The factory and machine shop in the Birch Road, owned by Mr. Ratcliff, was it is said, a Quaker meeting house. Now instead of quiet moments the building is alive with the noise created by the making of wrought-iron gates and implements for agriculture.


Layer de la Haye is described in a gazetteer of 1870 as a village and parish in the Lexden district of Essex (now known as the Lexden and Winstree Rural District Council). "The village stands one mile south of the Roman River," says the Gazetteer, "and five miles S.S.W. of Colchester Railway Station." The account states that the parish contains also the hamlet of Layer Cross. This in effect, means that the old village of Layer de la Haye lay further north and east of that part of the parish which at present is more thickly populated. Layer de la Haye in older days would have comprised the area round Malting Green, Fields Farm Road, and the vicinity of the Parish Church. It is most likely that the area now known as the High Road comprised part of Kingsford. Unfortunately for the parish, the Parish Church except for one farm known as "The Rows", is the last building almost on the outskirts of the Parish, and about a mile away from Layer Cross.

The name Layer de la Haye is one of the most romantic and attractive names in the Colchester area, and visitors to the village are very interested in its origin. The original name is to be found in Domesday Book (1086) where it is found simply as "Legra". This is probably a Latinised form of the Saxon name. Up to the thirteenth century it appears in various documents as Legra, Leigre, or Leghere. There are two theories about the origin of the name; one is that it is associated with the old Norse word "leirr" or "leger" which means clay. P. H. Reaney in his book, "The Place Names of Essex," says that this theory cannot be supported etymologically. In any case, it is only partly true, geologically speaking, for there is a great deal of gravel in the parish as well as clay. The second theory is that the answer to the problem is to be found in the existence of the Layer Brook, for this name Legra or Leger was given to three distinct settlements in the vicinity: viz: Layer de la Haye, Layer Marney and Layer Breton. P. H. Reaney points out that this name Legra or Leger is identical with another river which gave us Leicester (Ligeraceaster) and also with the French river Loire. This sounds a most feasible explanation. There is a third theory which does not appear to have much support, which says that the name Layer comes from an Anglo-Saxon name for a camp "legr".

The second part of the village's name traces its origin to Normandy. The original family of de la Haye probably came from the Val de la Haye, twenty-two miles east of Rouen, the home of Maurice de Haia. "La Haye" is said to be the French form of the Saxon word "hage" which represents a Roman Villa. The name "Hay" is a more modern form as found in the name Fotheringhay. The "haga" is the "ham" (home) surrounded by a domain. "The Hague" is a disguised form of the same word. At La Haye near Rouen was an establishment of Knights Templar who may have had some connection with the interesting manor of Blind Knights in this parish.

At the time of the Norman Conquest a Saxon freedman name Aelric was Lord of the Manor of Layer de la Haye. He had cleared three hundred and thirty acres of forest land. William the Conqueror gave the manor of Aelric to Eustace, Earl of Boulogne, who was the grandfather of Queen Maud, the wife of King Stephen. Thus the manor became Crown property. The first account of a tenant of the Earls of Boulogne appears in a charter of 1128 which states that the Benedictine Abbey of St. John the Baptist at Colchester, owned the church of "hea" (Layer de la Haye) and two thirds of the tithe of Legra, the demesne of Walter de la Haye. A descendant of Maurice de Haia known as Juliana de Haia, held Layer de la Haye before 1185. It is interesting to find the following note in the official guide to Lincoln Castle - "in the course of the quarrel between King John and the barons, the castle was held for the king by the aged Nicholas de la Haye." Later in the notes this appears:-

"The constableship of the castle, hereditary in the family of Haye, passed by marriage to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln."

It is quite possible that the present name of the parish was given to it late in the twelfth century. It appears in different forms from the beginning of the thirteenth century. Though many people including the local authorities and newspapers have added hyphens to the name this device is historically incorrect. In all ancient documents the name always appears without hyphens.

The de la Hayes were very generous benefactors to the Benedictine Abbey of St. John the Baptist at Colchester. A member of the family, Hugh de la Haye was Abbot from 1130 to 1147. In a charter granted by Richard I to the first Priory in England of the Augustinian Canons at St. Botolph's Colchester, they held "The church of Legra and all its emoluments," presumably tithes and lands. The Priory also provided a parish priest. There seems to be no accounting for the fact that the property changed hands from the Abbey to the Priory at this time.

The de la Hayes were lords of the manor until the death of Ralph de la Haye, but the manor remained in the hands of his widow Lucia during her life time, and then reverted to one William de Munchensi.

Incidentally, it is believed that the name "Munson", a well known local Essex name is the Anglicised form of Munchensi. William had, for some reason, claimed the property after the death of Ralph, but Lucia laid claim to it as a joint property "wherewith her husband had endowered her when he espoused her at the church door." Which church door it does not say. The lands, however, were forfeited to Queen Eleanor in 1291 on account of a misdemeanor of the son of William de Munchensi, but they were restored on condition that he took part in the Crusades.

The arrival of the Black Death wiped out many in Layer de la Haye including the Layer Munchensis. The Black Death, which affected the whole of England, was a kind of bubonic plague and it decimated the population of the country. It caused the beginning of the breakdown of the feudal system and was the direct cause of the fusion of Anglo-Saxons and Normans. Those landowners who survived the plague were unable to find sufficient labour and there began the yeoman system of sub-tenant farming.

The monks of the Augustinian Priory at Colchester began immediately after the plague to restore the derelict church of Layer de la Haye. They rebuilt the nave, the tower and the north porch. Later they rebuilt the chancel arch and placed in the belfry the church's oldest bell. The stone it is said, came from quarries in Caen in France which supplied a great deal of stonework for English Churches. The bell, the second largest in the tower, erected by the Priory, is said to have been cast by a woman, Joanna Sturdy in 1459. Her husband John died in 1458 and he was a renowned bell-founder at Sudbury. (John and Johanna Sturdy were bellfounders at London, not Sudbury. Perhaps there has been some confusion with the founder of another of the bells, Thomas Gardiner, who was at Sudbury) His widow continued the industry. The bell, which is still used, bears the Latin inscription "In Multis Annis Resonet Campana Johannis," (May John's bell ring for many years).

In 1495 we hear of the first recorded Vicar of Layer de la Haye - Ralph Richardson. We also hear of the theft of a Missal from Layer Church by one Thomas Lymenour who, as a debtor had taken sanctuary at St. John's Abbey. He left the Abbey on the Feast of St. Bartholomew (August 24th) in 1415, and committed his crime at Layer de la Haye. He was caught by a monk, tried by the Abbot and fined forty shillings.

The next important lords of the manor were the Teys who gave their name to the villages of Marks Tey, Great and Little Tey. They were a family of considerable standing in the vicinity and acquired large estates including that of the manor of Layer de la Haye.

The first member of the family we hear of as lord of the manor was Sir Robert Tey and he was succeeded by his grandson in 1426. A great-grandson, during the Wars of the Roses, was ordered by Henry VI to resist the Earl of Warwick the Kingmaker. John, we are told, "was not to be hanged for talking." and placed the motto "Tais en temps" in a window of his manor house. This house stood on the site of the present Layer Hall and was there for more than three centuries. A descendant, Thomas Tey, lived at the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries and died in 1543. He and his wife were buried in a grey Purbeck marble tomb with which is combined an Easter Sepulchre (N.B. the Blessed Sacrament was placed within on Maundy Thursday and a watch kept throughout the night). This tomb is on the north side of the Sanctuary. Originally, under the canopy there were two brass figures of Thomas and his wife. The tomb bore the following inscription:
"Of your charite pray for the soules of Thomas Tey Esquire, some time of this town of Layer, and Jane his wife, on who(se) soules and all christen Jeshue have mercy."

The brass figures and inscriptions have disappeared but the tomb remains though somewhat weather-beaten. This is no doubt due to the ruinous condition of the church in earlier days. On the south wall of the chancel until some time after 1622, there was a monument to another member of the Tey family who was known as "Standing Tey." This sobriquet was applied to him "for upon an occasion of fighting a duell he vowed if he had the victory he would never take his meat but standinge." It is obvious what the result of the duel was.

A member of the Tey family became Vicar in 1569 and it is said that he provided the church with its Elizabethan Chalice and paten or cover; one of the treasures of the parish. In a catalogue on church plate the following details are given of this chalice and paten.
a) Cup Silver 9¾ ozs height 6.1/8"; diameter of bowl 3¾"; diameter of foot 3¾". It bears no maker's name and has no inscription.
b) Paten silver 1 oz 9 dwt; height 1.1/8"; diameter 3.7/8"; diameter of foot 1". It has no marks except the sacred letters "I.H.S." which may be found beneath the canopy.

The Chalice has a straight-sided bowl inclining outwards towards the lip on a wide trumpet stem, which is probably not the original stem but replaced the original when the chalice was at one time repaired. It is united to the base of the bowl by a slightly decorated knop. Below the lip the bowl is encircled by a band of the conventional strap-work rather faintly executed. The foot is similarly decorated. On the cover is a triple band of interlacing strapwork. A Visitation record of 1684 records that the church possessed "a flaggon and patten of pewter," but no mention of these was made in a later visitation in 1707.

The next interesting owner of the manor of Layer was a Colonel John Brown who served under the famous Duke of Marlborough and he became a general in 1754. In 1756 the General made a will in which he expressed a wish to be buried at Layer de la Haye Churchyard. He left £100 to the poor of the parish. When he died in 1764 he was buried in the gardens of his house in France but his remains were brought home and re-buried in what was described as a "handsome vault" at Layer de la Haye churchyard. The "vault" is an obelisk over the general's presumed grave. It takes the form of a stylised cannon surrounded by stone cannon balls. The obelisk bears the following flowery and verbose inscription, typical of the 18th century:-

To the memory of Lieut-General Brown whose military merit was founded under the auspices and confirmed by the approbation of John, Duke of Marlborough, and whose many private virtues and amiable qualities were long beloved and venerated and at last sincerely bewailed by all who enjoyed his friendship or were acquainted with the character of a humane, homely and honourable man, Lady Frances Burgoyne erected this monument as a testimony of his worth and of her own respect and gratitude.

This must surely be one of the longest sentences in the English language! Lady Frances Burgoyne was a daughter of the second earl of Halifax and she married a cousin of the ill-fated General Burgoyne who figured prominently in the loss of the American colonies at the time of the American War of Independence.

Within three years of the death of the general, his manor house which for 300 years had stood opposite the church, was either burnt down or pulled down by the new owner. The tenant farmer, a Dan Rudkin, moved into the Cross House, which for the next eighty years was known as "The Hall". Morant says that the Tey coat of arms which were in Layer Hall were transferred to the windows of the Cross House.

Legend has it that the manor of Blind Knights which lies a mile south-east of the church, was, during the times of the Crusades, a kind of hospital for those knights who had lost their limbs and eyesight in battle. A more prosaic explanation offered by a recent historian is that the manor at one time belonged to a blind man whose name was Knight! There is no evidence for either explanation but the former is more feasible and defensible on the grounds that several such hospitals did exist throughout the country. The name Blind Knights appears in a document of 1364 and the house itself is very ancient with medieval semi-circular and curved doorway arches of oak. It is possible that a house has existed on this site for more than eight centuries. Outside the building at the foundations of the old bakery is some ancient brickwork which incorporates some Caen stone and Roman brick, similar to the material (Septaria) used in the 12th century chancel of the church.

In 1289, John the son of Adam de Ry gave one hundred and sixty acres of land at Layer de la Haye to St John's Abbey, and the name is perpetuated in the name of the manor of Rye, now known as Rye Farm. The farm has a medieval moat and this was used for defensive purposes. At the end of the fifteenth century the Abbey built a house on this land now called "The Greate House". There was originally a toll-gate across the road immediately opposite the house and this probably accounts for the name "Gate House," now corrupted to "Great House."

A Colcestrian, Sir Thomas Audeley, who became Lord Chancellor after the Dissolution of the monasteries 1536 - 1539, appropriated the manors of Rye and Blind Knights, together with the Mill and the patronage of the living. Since that time for nearly four hundred years, all the former monastic lands and property in Layer de la Haye formed part of the Berechurch Hall estate. Thomas Audeley appropriated the Augustinian Priory of St. Botolph's at the same time as he appropriated the manor of Blind Knights. As well as receiving the advowsons of Layer de la Haye he also received those of St. James, St. Peter's and St. Martin's at Colchester. In July 1538, St John's Abbey at Colchester granted Audeley the manor of "Goosebeks" at Stanway as well as that of Rye, in return for the rectory and advowson of Long Compton in Warwickshire.

The Parish Church stands on a prominence overlooking the South Essex Reservoir, and beyond can be seen the river Blackwater and the Bradwell Atomic Power Station. From the Church tower can be seen the churches of Layer Breton, Birch, Great Wigborough, Peldon and Abberton. Until recently the church had no dedication though in 1877 the incumbent headed his register "St. James' Church, Layer de la Haye". Though why and on what authority we do not know. In more recent years the Parochial Church Council discussed whether the church should be known as St. George's or St. John's though nothing came of it. In 1962 the church was given the dedication of St John the Baptist on account of the association of the parish with the former Benedictine Abbey of that name at Colchester. Strange to say, there can be found no record anywhere of an earlier dedication and it is assumed that though the monks ministered here in this parish, the church was probably regarded as a chapel-of-ease. As Lord Alport has written in his admirable little booklet, "This ancient church has stood at the heart of the Parish of Layer de la Haye since Norman times."

A portion of the south-east angle of the nave is Norman and the chancel is mainly twelfth century, but the rest of the church, apart from the south aisle is fourteenth century. The south aisle was added in the middle of the 19th century. The church has a north porch with a fourteenth century gable, and a tower of the same date with diagonal buttresses and battlements. On the interior walls of the tower can be traced two blocked-up doorways, one of which led to the minstrels' gallery. There are indications that formerly there was a West door in the tower. The gallery which was removed in the nineteenth century also contained a barrel organ which played a limited number of tunes; about six. This instrument may now be seen in the Colchester Museum. The organ was made by Imhof & Co. Ltd., of Bedford Street, London. It appears, by the decorations on the instrument, that it was probably in private hands originally as they are by no means of an ecclesiastical nature. The barrel organ was in use in Layer de la Haye Church during the incumbency of John Dewhurst who was Vicar from 1845 to 1869. The organ's repertoire was rather limited and included the "Old Hundredth" and a tune now no longer recognisable and which was known as "Layer de la Haye." In 1965 this barrel organ was restored for the Museum authorities by Mr. Alan Kitley of Layer de la Haye.

The Tey tomb, already mentioned, stands in the Sanctuary on the north side, and on the south side is a fifteenth century piscina and also a blocked window of unknown date. In 1964 a twelfth century window was found blocked up on the north side of the chancel. This was opened up after it was discovered that it was bricked up on the outside and on the inside, and a sheet of plain glass semi-circular in shape was inserted. This window was restored in memory of the late Mr. 0. S. Pawsey by Mrs. Pawsey. In 1962 a new window of clear glass which gives a beautiful view over the reservoir was placed on the south side of the chancel in memory of the late Miss Emily Digby. It was given by Miss L. Digby. During repairs to the church in 1965 a thin layer of cement was removed from the chancel walls, thus revealing the 12th century stonework (Septaria). At the instigation of the Vicar and Churchwardens, this stonework was "pointed" and restored to its former condition.

In the same year another blocked window was opened up on the south side of the chancel and is to be used as a recess into which will be placed the lovely African carving of the Madonna and Child. The carving was presented to the Church by Lord Alport and was executed at Cyrene art School in Africa.

A great deal of Roman brick was used in the construction of the chancel and tower and one may speculate as to the origin of these bricks. There are so far, no records of Roman habitation in this parish though it is conceivable that some important people from the Roman Colonia (Colchester) may have built themselves villas in this area. Though it is not definitely established, it appears that there was regular Roman traffic passing through Layer de la Haye between Colchester and West Mersea. On the other hand as far as building material is concerned, the builder-monks may have brought a good deal of their building material from the ruined Roman houses of Colchester.

The tower contains five bells, one of which has already been mentioned. The bells are inscribed as follows:-
1. Thomas Mears of London fecit 1792 (30")
2. Thomas Gardiner Sudbury fecit 1724 (32")
3. Miles Gray made me 1673 (34")
4. In Multis Annis Resonet Campana ]ohannis (39")
5. Miles Graye made me 1622 (42")

The Miles Graye who made the fifth bell was the father of the maker of the third bell. (It is now thought more probable that the older Miles Graye was the grandfather, rather than the father, of the younger Miles Graye, but this remains unconfirmed) On bell No. 2. are to be found very clear impressions of eight coins of the reign of George I. (There are grounds for thinking that there may be eight actual coins set into the bell, not just impressions. The matter is being investigated.)

The bells were inspected in 1904 and declared to be not in ringing order.

Since that time the bells have been chimed only by means of ropes which reach to the floor of the tower. Is it a pious hope that one may once again hear these bells properly rung? (The hope was fulfilled when a major bell restoration project was completed in January 2001, at which time a new sixth bell - the Lufkin bell - was added.)

There is a local tradition of bell-ringing after a death; three for a man, two for a woman, one for a child.

The registers of the church date from 1755; a former incumbent having lost or otherwise disposed of the earlier records which dated from 1678 at least, though it is possible that they went back to the middle of the sixteenth century. They disappeared between 1830 and 1900.

In 1965 it was discovered that the woodwork in the church was deeply affected by the existence of the death watch beetle, by woodworm and by dry-rot. This necessitated a great deal of repair work and of disinfestation by the firm of Rentokil Ltd.

Amongst the necessary repairs was the replacing of the "wall plate" (a long beam supporting the roof along the length of the nave) on the south side. The firm responsible for the work guarantees freedom from the work of these depredating insects for at least twenty years. The work cost over £1,000.


The first recorded incumbent of the parish is a Ralph Richardson who was appointed by the Prior of the Augustinian Canons at St. Botolph's Priory, Colchester. One can assume perhaps that before that date the cure of souls was in the hands of the Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of St. John the Baptist, Colchester.

There is a record of four sixteenth century incumbents.

Sir Roger Church was parish priest in 1510 and was described as an "active man." It is said that he was a Grey Friar as he championed their cause. About 1567 Thomas Audeley presented Stephen Caterall formerly curate-in-charge at Kirby-le-Soken. In 1569 William Tey M.A., a brother of the lord of the manor became incumbent. He was born in the parish in 1546 and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was ordained by the Bishop of London and at the early age of 23 was a pluralist, being Rector of Peldon as well as Vicar of Layer de la Haye. Not surprisingly he is said to have had Calvinistic leanings. In 1588 William Tey and his churchwardens were taken to task at an ecclesiastical court at Colchester because "Ye Register Boke ys kept by ye sexton contrary to Hir Majesty's injunctions". The churchwarden, one Anthony Brackett, was directed to see "that ye Register Boke be kept and that ye former chest hath ii new locks and ii keys, ye minister to have one." Perhaps William Tey had too much work to do in looking after two parishes and neglected Layer de la Haye which he may not often have visited as he probably resided at Peldon.

William Tey was succeeded by Roger Goodwin in 1595.

In 1511 a Richard Duke left money for the purchase of land for the Church and gave his name to a farm called Dukes Farm. There were other endowments too; "given out of the land called Furchers in the tenue of Robert Scarlett to find a lamp before the Trinity 8d." "Out of Garlands in the hands of John Smith and Robert Field to find two pounds of wax for the rood light for ever, yearly 8d." These two endowments are interesting because they imply that there was a statue representing the Holy Trinity and a Rood or representation of the Crucifixion. Both these devotional aids were probably destroyed at the time of the Reformation.

About 1612 Roger Goodwin was followed by John Harris of Christ's College, Cambridge. In 1627 John Parker M.A., was appointed by Sir Henry Audeley but he resigned within the year to become vicar of Westerfield. Thomas Partridge M.A., of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, was appointed in 1628 at the age of 25 years. He died only two years later leaving a wife and infant son. His will, in which he left his "goods and chattels" to his wife Elizabeth was witnessed by three parishioners called Thimble, Mary Westbroom and Alexander Digby.

An interesting incumbent who followed Partridge was John Argor who became vicar in 1632. During the time of the Commonwealth he became a Presbyterian and was appointed vicar of Braintree. Although he was episcopally ordained he was ejected in 1662 but his parishioners supported him to the extent of providing him with £100 - a goodly sum for those days - as a token of esteem. Under the Five-mile Act which forbad ejected ministers to live within five miles of their former parishes, Argor moved to Copford and was licensed to preach at Copford Hall, the home of one of Cromwell's generals, and at Birch which were "places of meeting of the Presbyterian way." When John Argor died at 1679 at the age of 77, a friend wrote "He was a very lovely Christian. . . when his livelihood was taken from him he lived comfortably by faith." When asked by a friend how he would live after being ejected from his benefice, he answered "as long as God is my house-keeper, I believe he would provide for me and mine."

John Argor was followed by John Audeley of Christ's College, Cambridge. He was a high churchman and was presented to the benefice by his cousin Sir Henry Audeley. He was ejected in 1646 when Presbyterianism was established in the land. Curiously enough he seems not to have been replaced by a non-Anglican.

Soon after the Restoration of 1660 Sir Henry Audeley appointed Thomas Parker as curate of Layer de la Haye and Berechurch. He was succeeded by Richard Reynolds of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. On the recommendation of the Bishop of London he became headmaster of Colchester Grammar School from 1691 to 1702 and was regarded as a "good and diligent master."

Many of the 18th century clergy generally were non-resident and pluralists. They provided curates to officiate in their absence. Layer continued to be cared for jointly with Berechurch. In 1700 the Vicar was Thomas Lufkin who later became Rector of Frating. The next vicar on record is Christopher Gibbon who began his ministry about 1755. In the intervening period between 1700 and 1755 Layer was ministered to by a succession of curates.

Stephen Aldridge of Emmanuel College succeeded Gibbon and he held Layer and Berechurch in plurality with Layer Breton. He employed as many as eleven curates in fourteen years and his last curate John Stevenson of Trinity College, Cambridge, succeeded him as vicar of Layer and Berechurch. He also held Abberton in plurality. He held services in this parish once a fortnight and celebrated Holy Communion only three times a year with about 20 communicants.

A curate of St. James' Colchester, one Meshak Seaman who officiated at Layer in 1825 began a "Minister's Book" in which he left a record of nineteenth century services. The parish's connection with the Church Missionary Society began in Seaman's time. The then Vicar of St. Peter's, Colchester, preached on behalf of that Society in 1825 and raised £5 in collection.

Edward Crosse succeeded Stevenson in 1826 and he was vicar both of Layer and Berechurch. This plurality continued until 1913 when the parishes were separately administered as they still are. As Crosse was also headmaster of the Grammar school he employed no less than eight curates in nine years. There is a memorial to this Vicar at Berechurch which says that he died in 1835 at the age of 61.

One of the curates who ministered at Layer in the nineteenth century was Charles Hewitt who was notorious for his drinking habits and for falling asleep in the pulpit. On one occasion when this happened the clerk woke him to inform him that the congregation had gone home. "They're all out sir," said the clerk. Hewitt replied "All out? Then fill 'em up again". He too, was headmaster of the Grammar School at Colchester and was described as a "gentleman who paid no attention to the duties of a schoolmaster."

The next vicar was Matthew Dawson Duffield, B.D., and it was during his incumbency that the parish's earlier records are said to have disappeared - the registers of the period between 1678 and 1755. An interesting event during his incumbency (1835-42) was the founding of the village school in 1837 "for the education of the poor children of the parish in the principles of true religion and useful knowledge." This remained a Church school until 1951 when the parish accepted controlled status. The church still has two Foundation Managers to represent it on the board of managers. One of Duffield's curates Robert Eden, eventually became the first Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness.

On Duffield's resignation in 1842 he was succeeded by John Richard Errington an Oxford M.A., but he stayed for only three years.

In 1845 John Heyliger Dewhurst M.A., Oxon., became Vicar and was the first incumbent to reside in the new vicarage built up the Birch Road in 1846. This was the residence of the vicars of Layer de la Haye until 1961 when a new modern vicarage was built in the Malting Green road. During the incumbency of Dewhurst the church was restored and enlarged. This was necessary because the population was by this time nearly double the size it was at the beginning of the century. The number of houses increased from twenty-five to one hundred and thirteen. At this time John Pearson, as lay rector, re-roofed the chancel and lined the walls with cement. This cement was removed in 1965. Pearson also blocked up three ancient windows in the chancel. It is said that he removed some 16th century stained glass from the East window which contained the Tey arms. He replaced the glass with a cheap-looking Victorian window and inserted his own punning device on the name Pearson, with the motto "Dum spiro spero", (While I breathe I hope). Pearson also seemed to have raised the sanctuary and covered over an ancient tomb with memorial brasses for his own family. All that can be said in favour of Pearson's restorations is that he saved the chancel from destruction and the parish a great deal of money.

In 1865 a new window was inserted on the north side of the nave near the pulpit. This was copied from its neighbour a 14th century window but the slight difference may be noted. In the cill of this window were placed in 1892 the ashes of the wife of Thomas Oldmeadow Price. This was a daring, if not eccentric thing to do in those days for cremation was still regarded as being unusual, to say the least. Thomas Oldmeadow Price succeeded Dewhurst in 1869 and he remained until 1912. The vicar attempted to provide lighting of some kind in 1873 but the vestry meeting refused to do anything as it meant a charge on the rates, a customary but resented method of raising church money in those days.

In 1884 the church was considerably shaken by the same earthquake which caused damage to a number of buildings in the area.

In 1887 not only did the vicar succeed in providing a system of lighting - probably paraffin oil lamps, but a fund was started for a new altar (still in use) and organ. As far as the services were concerned the vicar was an innovator too in this respect as he introduced a monthly celebration of Holy Communion.

The registers of Mr. Price's time record the deaths of two centenarians - Sarah Anderson aged 102, and Anne Demmon who died a month before her hundredth birthday. In 1888 a parish magazine was inaugurated but it did not survive after four years of publication. When Thomas Price died in 1912 he was buried in the churchyard and the first Layer incumbent to be buried in his own churchyard for many a long year. The last incumbent to be buried here was Partridge in 1755.

In 1913 Fritz William Hille B.A., was appointed and the institution was notable in that the parish for the first time in recorded history received a visit from a Diocesan bishop - the Bishop of St. Albans. Mr. Hille ministered during the years of the Great War and because of his German or Swiss origins there was a certain amount of prejudice against him. He too is buried in the Churchyard and a memorial plaque was placed on the North wall of the Chancel.

In 1924 Richard Arthur James Hichens, M.A., became vicar and during his incumbency the present village hall was built for the needs of the parish.

Mr. Hichens was followed by Frank Stuart Hopkirk, M.A., who came in 1932 and remained until 1936. In 1937 Philip Stewart Browning was appointed and in 1939 Percy Coulthurst Hon. C.F. He was succeeded by Robert Charles Williams Hon. C.F. who remained for ten years.


TOMBS. In addition to the two tombs already mentioned, namely those of Thomas Tey and his wife, and of General Brown, there was a tomb under the altar. In 1682 Samuel Lock, a London merchant laid a large slab of black marble in the sanctuary bearing in bas-relief the following inscription:-
Here lieth the body of Christian, wife of Mr. Joshua Warren, sometime of this parish, merchant, the daughter of Samuel Avery of London, Alderman, obit 23 June 1669. Joshua her husband is also buried here.

There is no record of this family except that it is known that Eleanor, widow of Thomas Tey of Layer Hall, had re-married a certain Thomas Warren. Perhaps Joshua was a descendant. There is no trace of this memorial now and the chancel was paved and tiled in the nineteenth century. To-day we find only brass tablets commemorating members of the Pearson family who lived at Blind Knights in the middle of the last century. This family have left a punning device in the East window on the name Pearson - the sun peers over the horizon!

There are in the churchyard at least six tombs which pre-date the existing registers. They are:-
Mary Prestney 1719
Thomas Prestney 1721
Elizabeth Harper 1728 (outside the porch)
Abraham Tracey 1730
Robert Pygott 1733
Bridget, wife of John Goodey 1739

The following names, some of which are still to be found in the parish, appear in the registers:-
Clarke, Digby, King, Baker, Reeve, Cole, Theobald (or Tibbald), Sadler, Bewers, Harrington, Round, Bland, Goody, Carter, Demmond (or Demmant), Fisher, Gentry, Humm, Keable, Martin, Polley, Peachey, Taylor, Tiffin, Willsmore, Atkinson, Barton, Bullock, Curtis, Mead and Potter.


1912 The Oak Lectern was given by parishioners and friends in memory of Thomas Oldmeadow Price, Vicar.

1923 The oak Litany desk was given in memory of Joyce Freeland Theobald.

1929 The Altar Candlesticks were presented in memory of Mabel Pennefather.

1934 The church was fitted with electric light and the sixteen paraffin oil lamps which were previously used to light the church were sold.

1936 The churchyard extension was consecrated on June 21st.

1937 The old organ was sold and the present one was purchased from a Halstead church.
The brass alms dish was presented by the Rev. Philip Stewart Browning in May.
A pearl and silver Baptismal shell was given by the children of the church.

1939 On March 4 the Revd. Philip Stewart Browning recorded the following in the church register of services:-
"There has been a great deal of work going on in the parish in connection with the Essex Waterworks scheme. On the north side of the church, some quarter of a mile distant, dredging has been going on night and day for sand and gravel." This, of course, is a reference to the building of the reservoir and of the South Essex Waterworks.
In Holy Week of this year the Rev. Philip Stewart Browning gave a chalice and paten which is still in use.

1950 The church windows were repaired.
The oak gate and fence were erected and given by Miss C. M. Poland in memory of Laura Poland and Muriel Leeston-Smith.

1951 The North porch was restored in memory of Sybil Mary Round by her friends and family.

1955 An altar stand was given by Mr. E. Carter and his son in memory of Mr. Carter's wife Isabella Emma Carter.
The Bishop's chair in the sanctuary was presented by Mrs. Theobald in memory of her husband who had been church clerk for 57 years.

1956 The two churchwardens' staves were presented by Mr. C. J. M. Alport (now Lord Alport)

1958 A small prie-dieu in the sanctuary and a wrought iron flower stand were given by Mrs. Fleeson in memory of her husband who had been church treasurer.
The oak processional cross was given by Mrs. Goody in memory of her husband who had been churchwarden for sixteen years.
A Brass ewer for the font was presented in memory of Jack Thorburn.

1959 Repairs were carried out to the organ in memory of Philip Cockerell.

1961 The flower stands in the Sanctuary were given by the Mothers' Union.
The choir seats were purchased from St. James' Church, Colchester.
The electric heating was installed.
A silver wafer box was presented to the church by Miss M. Lennox in memory of her father and mother, Robert and Mildred Lennox.

1964 A Litany book for the Litany desk was presented by Mr. J. Chatband and family in memory of Peta Louise Chatband who died June 14, 1964. A prayer-book for the vicar's desk was purchased in September to commemorate the Jubilee year of the Diocese.
Oak doors affixed to the porch.

1965 An oak stand for the lectern was presented by the late Mr. K. Brown.

1967 A modern chalice and paten in silver was purchased as a memorial to the late Hon. Stella Frances Maxwell (1886-1966)

1968 The chancel roof was painted as a memorial to the Hon. Zoe and the Hon. Stella Frances Maxwell.

1969 The screen in the tower arch was placed there in 1969 as a memorial to the two above-mentioned ladies who each left £200 to the church.

1970 A new oak door was fitted to the tower. The ancient 15th century hinges were re-used. The door was given as a memorial to the late Mr. and Mrs. G. M. Wilson by their daughters.

1971 A new Priest's stall was given as a memorial to the late Mrs. M.B. Cottingham by her daughter Myrtle.

1972 A silver ciborium was presented to the Church by Mrs. M. Bond in memory of her mother, the late Mrs. Aldridge.

1976 The organ was repaired as a memorial to Miss Cicely M.M. Poland.

1976 The Screen in the tower arch was completed with the remainder of the legacy left to the parish by Miss Cicely M.M. Poland.


The following appears in the Royal Commission's Report on Historical monuments in North East Essex:-

Layer de la Haye is a parish and small village four miles S. W. of Colchester. The church is interesting.

Parish Church. Stands near the middle of the parish. The walls are of mixed rubble and septaria with dressings of limestone; the roofs are tiled. The S. E. angle of the nave is of 12th century and chancel from its form and absence of buttresses is probably also of an early date, but all definite evidence is concealed by cement.

The nave was rebuilt circa 1350 and the west tower and north porch added about the middle of the same century.

The chancel arch was built in the 15th century.

The church was restored in the 19th century when the south aisle was added and the north wall of the nave refaced and rebuilt.

Architectural description. The Chancel (21ft x 15½ft) has an East window, all modern except the two-centred rear arch. In the south wall are two blocked windows, but in both cases the head has been destroyed and they are of uncertain date. The 15th century chancel arch is two-centred and of two hollow-chamfered orders, the outer continuous and the inner carried down as a plain chamfer on to the hollow-chamfered base.

The nave (39½ft x 21ft) has S. E. quoins of Roman brick. In the north wall are three windows; the easternmost is modern and the two western are of the 14th century partly restored, and each of two trefoiled ogee lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head with a moulded label; between these two windows is the modern north doorway.

The West Tower (11¼ft x 10ft) is of c. 1350 and of three stages with an embattled parapet. The two-centred tower arch is of two continuous chamfered orders, hollow in the arch and plain in the responds with hollow-chamfered bases. In the South wall is a doorway to the stair turret with chamfered jambs and two-centred arch, a blocked doorway of similar form and at a higher level indicates the former existence of a gallery.

The West window is of two cinquefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head with a moulded label. The second stage has in both the North and West walls a window of one trefoiled light in a square head with a moulded label. The bell-chamber has in each wall a similar window but of two lights.

The North porch is timber-framed, the outer archway being formed with a cambered tie-beam and two curved traces; the gable has mid-14th century trefoiled and sub-cusped barge boards, the top main cusp being of ogee form.

The roof of the nave is of trussed rafter type and probably of the 14th century. The roof of the north porch has moulded wall plates and chamfered tie beams of the 14th century.

Fittings: Bells 5.

Bell-frame probably 15th century.

Monument in chancel against north wall, altar-tomb of Purbeck marble with moulded edge and plinth, defaced panelling in front, recessed canopy with coved and quatrefoiled vault, flanked by attached shafts and surmounted by a frieze with a band of quatrefoils and a carved cresting, early 16th century.

Piscina. In Chancel with hollow chamfered jambs and trefoiled head, round drain 15th century.

Plate: includes a late 16th century cup with a band of incised ornament and a stem probably of later date; the late 16th century cover-paten has the sacred monogram.

The first edition was probably written in about 1965. This download is the text of the second edition published in 1972. Canon Allen was Vicar of Layer de la Haye when he wrote his history which draws heavily on Mary Hopkirk's booklet for the history up to 1934, but adds history about the church from the mid-1930s.

The transcription was originally published on rgc/June 2002.
In May 2022 it was moved to

Read More
The Story of Layer de la Haye by Mary Hopkirk M.A.
The Story of Layer de la Haye since Saxon Times by Rev. James Allen

AuthorCanon James Allen
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath
Related Images:
 Layer de la Haye Parish Church of St John the Baptist. Plan by T.B. Millatt  TBM_LDH_001
ImageID:   TBM_LDH_001
Title: Layer de la Haye Parish Church of St John the Baptist. Plan by T.B. Millatt
Source:Mersea Museum / T.B. Millatt