Recently on Instagram I shared this photo I took in 2016 from the far corner of the churchyard, looking at the rear of All Saints Church in East Hanningfield, Essex.
Though it’s very lovely, unlike many of the churches I’ve shared, All Saints isn’t particularly old. It dates from 1884-5 and was Grade II Listed in 2012.
According to Historic England, All Saints was listed for its various architectural merits, such as the materials used in its construction and its distinctive timber spire.
But what is really interesting about this church is that it isn’t the first All Saints in East Hanningfield. It’s a replacement. There were two much older churches in the village; the first was built in the 7th century by a Saxon Chief who converted to Christianity.
Then, the original All Saints Church was later rebuilt on the same site in the 13th century. Sadly, the church caught fire in 1883 and was destroyed before fire crews could make it to the village to save her. The fire was so hot that it not only destroyed the church, it even melted its bells which fell as a “shower of molten metal in the west end of the church.”
Later, the metal was reportedly salvaged by local schoolchildren. It was used to make bells for the new church at the historic and recently closed Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The foundry, shut in 2017, was the same place that made the Big Ben and original Liberty bells.
Today, East Hanningfield is home to this pleasant Victorian church with an active parish. However, as I alluded to on Instagram there are still indications of where the old church used to be if you know where to look.
Next to East Hanningfield Hall there is a small wood and within it is the old graveyard of the original All Saints Church. Tucked away in trees and flowers yet surrounded by lovely homes, there are old tombstones that help you understand where the church and churchyard once sat.
I stumbled on the graveyard unexpectedly when out walking with my partner. It wasn’t until afterwards that I did some research and connected it with the present-day church.
Initially, I was saddened by the site of the neglected tombstones and uneven ground, but once I gave it some thought I better saw the beauty of the graveyard’s situation. It’s not been abandoned so much as let to merge with nature in this beautiful part of the country.
Should you visit, please spend some time in the peaceful surroundings and think of what it was like in years past. (And please be respectful and tread carefully!)
Today it’s crumbling graves surrounded by bluebells and trees. Until the 1800s it was the village church. And before that, it was a Saxon-era church. One small wood on the edge of a little village in Essex, which people pass by every day, is the site of so much history.