Blackmore Area Local History

Blackmore: Priory Church of St Laurence

The following is an extract taken from a Guide Book written by Constance Simmons in 1966, now superseded by a newer version. Information has been updated where necessary.
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It has been suggested that the earliest possible date for the first building of the church is 1150, but a more likely date is 1170. The earliest style of architecture in the present church is late 12th century. Remains of this can be seen at the west end of the Nave, in the doorway to the Tower and the arches up in the walls north and south of the West End.


We know that Richard, Bishop of London (1155-62) gave authority for the foundation of the priory. It was endowed by the de Samford Family who held the Manor of Fingrith. The Foundation was for a prior and 12 canons of the Augustine Order. There are records of the Priory of Blackmore sending canons to act as ministers at nearby Margaretting, Willingale Andrew (Willingale Spain), and further afield, at Great Hormead in Hertfordshire.


There are indications that the original priory church had a lofty nave with side aisles which had lean-to roofs at a lower elevation. There is a string on each outer side of the west end arches where the side aisles roofs rested. The west wall of the nave was an outside wall and the Norman doorway was the main entrance.


The Priors worshipped regularly each day. Their route through the cloisters into church was illuminated by means of a cresset stone.


During the 13th century the priory must have flourished. The north aisle is 13th century, early English in style and may have been part of an enlargement project. The stone pillars of the north aisle probably date from this period. Later still, towards the end of the 14th century, one roof was erected over the nave and side aisles, with good rib mouldings and with bosses and shields at the intersections.


The bell tower was built in 1400. It is one of the finest of its kind. We now know that the nave roof, north door and bell tower are all contemporary.


Blackmore Priory was one of the first monastic establishments to be dissolved by Henry VII. In 1527 many of the smaller communities were liquidated – conclusive evidence that this had continued as a small priory. It was granted with its endowments to Cardinal Wolsey. Later it was returned to the Crown (1529). Next it was given to Waltham Abbey (1531) which later was dissolved with other larger monasteries and our priory was returned to the Crown.


John Smyth bought the Priory from Henry VIII in 1540. He was auditor to the King. The Smyth family were to hold an influential place in the life of the village for five generations, through to 1721. Various inscribed slabs in the floor of the Church indicate a succession of Smyths.


The Smyths built Smyth Hall half a mile from the church using material from the priory including stained glass. Smyth Hall was demolished in 1844 and some of the stained glass found its way to Brizes at Kelvedon Hatch.


Throughout the middle ages, the parishioners of Blackmore had used the Nave of the church to meet as well as attend worship. John granted the parishioners use of the Chancel but when his son, Thomas, inherited the Priory he claimed the chancel to be his own and removed the right of the chancel (1581), but the parishioners asserted their claim to the church. The claim was upheld in the Ecclesiastical Court in 1583.


The north and south dormer windows and the brick piers and arches of the south arcade belong to the Tudor period, but whether they were built before the period of destruction or were part of the reinstatement, it is almost impossible to decide.


From 1600 to the present time there have been no structural alterations of importance.


Blackmore's Parish Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials date from 1602. During the Civil War and under the influence of the Puritans the Church suffered neglect and disuse – as the gaps in the old Church Registers show.


Archdeacons visited the Church in 1686 and directed repairs which were – or were not – carried out. The existence of five bells in the tower was noted. These had been cast in Colchester about 1646.


In 1877 and 1898 - 1902 extensive restorations were carried out. In 1905 a carved wooden screen was erected at the entrance to the chancel. This will now be seen on the north side of the chancel enclosing the vestry, having been moved in 1988.

Kitchen and toilet facilities were created in the north west corner in 1990 and a Children's corner enclosed in the south west corner, and renamed the Rainbow Corner, in 2005.
Last updated: 30 November 2009