The History of East Horndon All Saints


The church of All Saints stands on rising ground overlooking the Thames plain at the junction of the London to Southend and Brentwood to Tilbury roads. It is built almost entirely of brick. The chancel, nave, tower, north and south transepts and north chapel date from the last quarter of the 15th century. The south chapel and porch were added during the first quarter of the succeeding century. An interesting and possibly unique feature of the church is the pair of two-storeyed transepts, supposed to have been the living quarters of chantry priests.

The present building is the second – possibly the third church to stand on the site. The village of Torinduna (‘thorn-hill’) referred to in the Domesday Survey may already have had a small Saxon church on the clay hill which gives the village its name. After the Conquest the parish contained two manors – Heron on the north side, long associated with the Tyrell family, and Abbots (close to the church) on the south side, held for centuries by the monks of Waltham Abbey.

c. 1200

By about 1200, the manor of Abbots and the patronage of the church had been acquired by the Neville family, but of the Norman building only the font (now in Great Wakering church), a section of the north wall of the chancel, and some reused stone remain. Not long after this date the Tyrell family acquired the manor of Heron (probably by marriage) and were to hold it until 1837.

The first known rector of All Saints was Henry (de Thorndon) and he is recorded as having granted the Abbot of Waltham Abbey a licence to erect a small chapel close to the church about the year 1263. In 1291 Ranulph, the then rector of All Saints, was arrested and detained in Colchester gaol for poaching in Langham deer park; for this offence he was later imprisoned in the Tower of London. Another troublesome rector, who was also named Henry, was accused of assaulting a man at North Benfleet in 1345.

Little is known of events at All Saints during the next century but in 1357 the Nevilles sold their advowson or right to present a priest to the living of East Horndon, and eventually it reverted to the Crown. During the 14th century the Tyrell family gradually acquired great influence in the county and succeeding generations represented Essex in Parliament, and acted as Justices of the Peace and Sheriffs of Essex and Hertfordshire. In the words of a later chronicler ‘… there branched farre a faire propagation of the Tirells in this shire and elsewhere’.


In 1422 Lady Alice Tyrell, wife of Sir John Tyrell of Heron, Speaker of the House of Commons, died and was buried in All Saints church. In her memory, her husband commissioned an exquisite memorial which happily has survived as the finest of its kind in the country. On a slab of limestone is the full length figure of a lady in 15th century dress, her portrait sensitively drawn. A Latin inscription records the usual genealogical information.

Sir John Tyrell, who had fought at Agincourt, was buried in London in 1437 and was succeeded by his son Sir Thomas Tyrell III. In 1442, in recognition of his service as a soldier in the war against the French and as a Member of Parliament, King Henry VI granted Sir Thomas and his heirs the advowson of East Horndon. Sir Thomas seems to have taken the opportunity to demolish the old building and rebuild it in brick, the material used to rebuild Heron Hall during his father’s lifetime. During the troubled years of the Wars of the Roses – in which Sir Thomas Tyrell lost a son and a brother in the fighting for the Lancastrian cause – the church was constructed on a cruciform plan – chancel, nave and transepts – all in brick. In his will dated 1476 Sir Thomas referred to ‘the steeple and new work which I have begun at East Horndon’ and requested his executors to see that ‘it be made sure in such wise that the steeple fall not down’. By the same document he provided for a small chapel on the north side of the chancel to contain ‘a tomb of timber or of stone for me and my wife according honestly for our degree’. Accordingly his executors provided a tomb with brasses showing Sir Thomas and his wife Anne, shields and an inscription. Over the centuries the tomb has been repeatedly damaged until in 1970 the last remaining portion of the brasses was stolen. As long ago as 1631, however, the antiquary, John Weever, wrote after a visit to the church ‘There be other funerall Monuments in this Church, erected to the honour of this familie; but their Inscriptions are all tome or worne out, and their Sepulchres, like all the rest, foulie defaced. These Tirells (me thinkes) having beene gentlemen, for so many revolutions of yeares, of exemplaire note, and principall regard, in this countrey, might have preserved these houses of rest for their Ancestors, from such violation.’

The 16th Century

The south or Tyrell Chapel was added to the building in accordance with the will dated 1510 of Sir Thomas Tyrell IV in which he requested that ‘my body be buried in the south side of the choir of the parish church of East Horndon and there by the discretion of my executors to be made a chapel with a convenient tomb over my said body to the charge and value of 100 marks …’. Beneath this chapel is a brick vault containing the bodies of a number of the Tyrell family but following vandalism in 1970 it has been permanently sealed.

In 1540, John Tyrell II, grandson of the founder of the Tyrell Chapel, was buried in the church. Nothing now remains of his tomb but it is known from his will that in addition to directions for burial in the church he left thirty shillings ‘for tithes forgotten’ and ten shillings for the repair of the churchyard fence. By the time of his death the south porch had been added to the church.

In 1562 a rector who was to prove the most extraordinary incumbent in the history of the church was presented to the living of All Saints. Years later, on the fly leaf of the parish register, he inscribed the following laconic note ‘Robert Hunter, once a baker, then a rector’. How this unusual transition was effected may never be known. Throughout his 46-year incumbency he was continously at loggerheads with his parishioners, the ecclesiastical authorities, the lord of the manor and the Common Law. It is impossible to describe here all the numerous incidents which can be found in the Archdeacon’s records and elsewhere but the following are some examples. In 1583 Hunter was charged by the manor court of East Horndon with illegally cutting down ‘a young oak without licence’ growing on waste land belonging to the manor. For this he was fined two shillings. In 1591, having already committed bigamy, he was charged with giving an ‘ill example of life, and unquiet living, beating and chaining his wife to a post’. Later that same year, the Archdeacon’s court, meeting at the White Hart in Brentwood, heard from a parishioner that Hunter was a ‘common slanderer, and maker of debate amongs his neighbours, neither doth he use to pray for the Queen’s Majesty. The chancel and the mansion house of the parson are all in great decay through his default’. In spite of his many shortcomings, Hunter performed a valuable service for his successors and those interested in the history of the parish. In 1598 he completed the laborious task of copying the entries relating to baptisms, marriages and burials in East Horndon since 1558 into a single volume – where previously they had been kept on loose sheets. The parish records are virtually complete from that date to this.

During Hunter’s incumbency the church acquired two pieces of communion plate, a silver cup dated 1564 and decorated with foliated strapwork and a silver paten dated 1567.

Little is recorded of the history of All Saints during the early 17th century but it is known that the Tyrell family, still patrons of the living, suffered heavy sequestration as a result of their loyalty to the Crown during the Civil War. Many of the family were buried in the south chapel during this period and several of their monuments have survived. The Redundant Churches Fund cares for the monument of Elizabeth Tyrell, wife of John Evelyn, who died in 1629. It is at West Dean in Wiltshire.

17th & 18th Centuries

For the year 1685 there is a surviving report of the Archdeacon’s Visitation which gives an interesting inventory of all moveables including plate, vestments and books. The report endorses Weever’s note on the condition of the church made 60 years before. ‘The Chapel on the South Side of the church belonging to Mr Fielding is cracked in several places and wants some glazing … There wants some matter of ceiling in Mr Browne’s chancel … some cracks in the north side of the church’. 300 years later many of these cracks remain. John Browne, who was rector from 1658 until 1686, left an interesting will in which he bequeathed five shillings and the right of patronage of the living of Little Warley to his son John (who succeeded him as rector in 1687), five shillings to his daughter Blanch and five pounds and the residue of his estate to his daughter Mary provided that she married neither a ‘vain, idle, beggarly and ungodly person’ nor kept company with ‘loose, vicious and scandalous persons’. In 1714 Zephaniah Peirse was presented to the living and he remained rector for the next 50 years. He had been curate of nearby Dunton when he married Ann Jay of East Horndon in 1709; their son John was born in 1711 and was eventually to serve his father as curate at All Saints then to succeed him as rector. A document of 1718 survives which licensed Charles Freeman of East Horndon to build a new pew on the north side of the chancel, next to the rector’s pew, but requiring him not to ‘barr or hinder the said Mr Peirse from burying under the said Pew when occasion requires’. Zephaniah Peirse was himself buried under the pew in 1764.

In 1766 Sir John Tyrell of Heron Hall died aged 40 years and was buried in the south chapel. With no son to succeed him he was the last of his line. Church accounts for the closing years of the 18th century have survived. In 1799, for example, £17 12s 1½d was spent on such items as ‘Mending the Ile … taking up the Old Floor to the porch … mending the ceiling in Sunderry places … carting of Clay from the Pond to the Church’. An account of 1801 for the burial of a pauper at the expense of the parish records: ‘To a Coffin … 12s Pillow & Shroud 7s Bread Cheese & Beer 6s 1 Pint of Gin had by the women 1/8d.’

The 19th Century – Decay & Closure

The painter Samuel Prout visited the church in 1804 and recorded in his notebook: ‘On the N side are two small chapels one of which is much ornamented and contains an old monument much mutilated, the inscription is on a rim of brass most of which is worn away the date remains …’.

During the remainder of the 19th century a number of antiquaries visited the church and in their notebooks they recorded the relentless progress of decay. Cracks in the walls widened, tiles fell, windows were smashed, ceilings sagged and brickwork crumbled. Finally, by the 1890’s, the church was almost ruinous and ‘will soon be hardly safe to worship in’. East Horndon, unlike the majority of Essex churches, was not restored during the High Victorian period.

In 1898 the church was closed for worship on account of its dangerous condition and ten more years passed before it was reopened by the Bishop of Barking. During the closure, restoration was lovingly undertaken by the Young family of East Horndon and their skilful work undoubtedly preserved the church from total ruin. Many interesting features were found hidden in plasterwork or beneath the church floor and everything was repaired and restored as closely as possible to its original state.

Unhappily, the church was once again attowed to decay. A mere 20 years later the writer of a report for the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments found the building ‘shows sign of settlement and tower has bad cracks in W wall etc’.

In 1926 Arthur Henry Brown the musician and ecciesiologist was buried close to the south porch of the church he loved so much. He is perhaps best known for the many hymn tunes he composed, including the well-known ‘Saffron Walden’. Ralph Vaughan Williams arranged an English traditional melody which he entitled ‘East Horndon’; the hymn beginning ‘I think, when I read that sweet story of old’ is sung to it.

World War II, Fire, Vandalism & Theft!

During World War II an enemy bomb exploded close to the church, destroying much ancient glass and further weakening the general structure of the building. Little was done to save the church until 1962 when funds were made available for urgent repairs. Then one disaster followed another. A tramp set the tower alight causing much damage, and thieves broke in and stole brasses, woodwork and armour, and also, with great enterprise and daring, the four ancient bells from the tower. Others took the lead from the coffins in the Tyrell vault beneath the south chapel. Finally, when there was nothing left to steal, vandals came and smashed windows, fittings, chairs and, worst of all, hundreds of roof tiles. Soon rainwater began to pour through the roof and the church was in imminent danger of total ruin once again. The final act was the removal to safety by museums and others of the font and several surviving monuments.


In 1970, when it seemed all was lost, a small committee under the chairmanship of Christopher Starr was formed and began a campaign to save the church and preserve it for the nation. A public meeting was held in the church on All Saints Day 1970, attended by nearly 200 supporters, and the Save All Saints Campaign was launched. During the following weekends working parties met at the church to clear rubble and make the ruined roof and tower as watertight as possible. By the following January the interior of the church and the grounds were presentable once again. During this period and until the following summer, the church was regularly patrolled by campaign members and further acts of vandalism were successfully prevented. By mid-June 1971 a survey of the building had been made and following this a national appeal was launched in order to raise the £5,500 needed for essential repairs. An association named the All Saints Society was formed to put the work of the campaign on a permanent basis. Very soon donations began to pour in; many private individuals gave generously and in addition, the Friends of Friendless Churches made a grant of £100, the Ford Trust of Britain £200 and the Essex County Council £250.

Under the then new procedure of the Pastoral Measure 1968 the church had been declared redundant on 13th November 1970. It was at first intended that the building should be leased to the All Saints Society for use as a cultural and community centre, but as the repairs progressed it became clear that the task was too big for a voluntary society and agreement was reached that the church should be vested in the Redundant Churches Fund.

The Redundant Churches Fund – Repairs

The Fund appointed the late Mr Laurence King, OBE, FSA, FRIBA as its architect for the repairs. Living in Essex, he had many Essex churches in his care and had already been carrying out the work for the All Saints Society. Bakers of Danbury Ltd were retained as the contractors for the work.

The principal repairs were these:

•The leaded lights to the windows were broken and it was necessary to renew them.
•Stonework renewals were carried out in Clipsham stone.
•A total of 278 defective bricks on all faces of the tower were cut out and renewed with matching Tudor bricks and much repointing was done elsewhere.
•A thorough overhaul was carried out of gutters, downpipes, drains, etc.
•The south arcade, which was unsafe, was reconstructed, the existing stonework being used as far as possible.

Description of Church

The nave is built almost entirely of brick and dates from the late 15th century. On the north wall are monuments to the Powell family, forebears of Sir Robert Baden Powell. Below them is a small doorway dating from the 14th century which seems to have survived from an earlier building on the site. This doorway is blocked on the inside by a large slab which bears the indent of a monumental brass, perhaps to the memory of one of the Tyrell family.

Farther along, the nave opens into a two-storeyed transeptal chapel. The lower stage formerly contained a font dating from c 1200 but this was removed to Great Wakering, Essex, in 1969. From the ground floor of the transept a narrow brick staircase leads to an upper chamber opening into the nave. It is believed that, like its counterpart on the south side, the room served as living quarters for a resident priest. The upper rooms were originally connected by a wooden loft or gallery across the nave and traces of the doorway to this rood loft can he seen high in the north wall. This loft would have served the additional function of allowing access for liturgical purposes to the rood beam which, in pre-Reformation England, would have supported the figure of Christ upon the Cross. Now only the rood beam survives.

In front of the north transept stood the pulpit dating from c 1700 but this was destroyed by vandals in 1971. The 15th century roof of the nave is of the king-post type and is well preserved.

The chancel was thought to have been entirely rebuilt at the same time as the nave but during the restoration of the church in 1972-73 the curious discovery was made that the north wall of the earlier building had been incorporated into the 15th century brickwork. The large blocks of puddingstone uncovered when the plaster was removed are probably part of the Norman church. At the same time the Norman foundations of the church were uncovered in several places. The most interesting feature of the chancel is the small sepulchral chapel known as the Founder’s Tomb which projects from the north wall. In this tiny chapel Sir Thomas Tyrell and his wife Anne (Marney) were buried beneath a stone tomb chest. They were formerly commemorated by brass effigies, shields and an inscription, but the brasses have been stolen. Above the arch, there was a fine escutcheon – the arms of Tyrell impaling Marney – but this was removed to Layer Marney church where it may now be seen in the north aisle. Only a single fragment of mediaeval stained glass survives. On the exterior wall of the north chapel is an inscription in memory of the Revd John Peirse, died 1767, and his wife Sidney, who died 1817.

Much late Victorian glass was destroyed during World War II and in 1970, together with altar rails, altar table and other fittings. The chancel roof, although damaged, is a marvellous example of 15th century English woodcarving. Each roof boss is delicately carved, and designs include flowers, fruit, birds, shields and angels.

In the chancel floor are stone slabs in memory of the Revd Zephaniah Peirse died 1764, the Revd H Powell died 1831 and his mother Laetitia Powell died 1801.

An arcade of two bays divides the chancel from the south or Tyrell chapel which dates from c 1510. The chapel once contained a fine collection of sepulchral monuments in memory of the Tyrell family, but in recent years these have been stolen or badly damaged. The earliest monument, a fine incised slab in memory of Lady Alice Tyrell, who died in 1422, was removed to Layer Marney for safety in 1969 but returned with the agreement of the Layer Marney parochial church council in 1976. So too was a black marble floor slab in memory of Sir John Tyrell of Heron Hall, who died in 1675, but this also has been recovered for its original home.

The inscription which he wrote himself describes his many misfortunes:

Once decimated
Twice imprisoned
Thrice sequestered
He holds his peace
As oft as plundered
Here lyeth buried
John Tyrell, Knight.

On the south wall are two other marble monuments – the first commemorates Sir John Tyrell again and his wife Martha (Washington) who died in 1679, also his grandson Sir Charles Tyrell, second baronet, died 1714, and his wife Martha (Mildmay), who died in 1690, and the second is in memory of Sir John Tyrell, third baronet, died 1729, and his wives Mary (Doliffe), died 1719, and Elizabeth (Cotton), died 1757, together with Sir Charles Tyrell, fourth baronet, died 1735. Beneath the monument remains a black marble slab in memory of Martha (Mildmay) wife of Sir Charles Tyrell. Part of this inscription reads as follows:-

Could this Stone Speak it would ye Reader tell,
She that lies here did Her whole sexe excell.
And why should death with A promiscuous hand
At one Rude Stroak Impoverish a land.

Victoria & Albert Museum

A monument of great interest has been removed from the chapel to the Victoria and Albert Museum. This is by the sculptor Joseph Nollekens, one of two in Essex churches, and is a fine example of his early work. The monument is to the memory of Sir John Tyrell, fifth baronet, and the last of the male line of the Tyrells of Heron, who died in 1766. Beneath the floor of the chapel is a small crypt containing the remains of a number of the Tyrell family, now sealed.

Adjacent to the Tyrell chapel is the south transept, the lower storey containing an altar tomb dating from c 1520, but it is not possible to determine in whose memory it was made. Until 1970, it bore a small monumental brass showing an armoured knight kneeling with his eight sons. The indent remains, together with indents of his wife and daughter(s) and an inscription plate. A curious legend has arisen concerning the tomb which nurtures the belief that the head or heart of Anne Boleyn was buried within, following her execution in 1536. Despite considerable research there is no known connection between the Boleyns and either East Horndon or the Tyrell family which would account for the legend.

The upper storey of the transept contains the unusual feature (for a parish church) of a mediaeval chimney and fireplace; this adds weight to the theory that the room was occupied by a resident priest. A staircase descends from the upper chamber to the porch, probably the last major addition to the church. Above the outer doorway of the porch is a small niche which formerly contained the image of the Virgin Mary and inside there is another small niche, which may also have contained an image. The original seating survives in the porch and it was here that much of the civil business of the parish would have been conducted during the Middle Ages. The inner doorway is well preserved and dates from c 1500, the two spandrels enclosing a shield on one side and a Tudor rose on the other. Inside, on the wall of the nave, is a small holy water stoup of c 1500; this has been badly damaged. The door itself has iron strap hinges, and a small metal grille, an unusual feature.

The tower was built c 1475 and seems to have fallen in the 17th century. It has since been damaged and repaired more frequently than any other portion of the building. The small west doorway was probably added c 1700. There were formerly four bells – dated 1621, 1621, 1633 and 1735 respectively – but they were stolen as noted above.

Stuff of Legends

The following legend, having been handed down from father to son for many generations, was recorded in 1695 by John Tyrell of Billericay, descendant of the Tyrells of Heron. The events described appear to have occurred at the end of the 13th century in the vicinity of All Saints’ Church.

‘The merchants of Barbary having brought home a serpent in a ship, which lay upon the Thames, within twelve miles of Heron, which escaping out of the ship, lived and haunted about those woods, ‘twixt Heron and Horndon Parish Church, devouring such passengers as came that way, which made the country seek redress from Sir James Tyrell, a great man in those parts.

‘He armed himself, and hung a looking glass before his breast, and going to the aforesaid churchyard the serpent came hovering at the glass, and playing at her own shadow, whereat Sir James taking his best advantage, struck the serpent and slew it, cut off its head, and carried it to his wife’s bedside before she arose in the morning.

‘But he so overheated himself with his combat, that he shortly after died, and his son coming that way where the serpent’s bones lay, spurned one of them, saying “This is the bone of the serpent that was the death of my father”, but the bone piercing the summer shoe, so hurt his toe, which gangrened, and his leg was cut off at the knee. The picture of which Tyrell with one leg is now to be seen in the glass window at Heron, thereby causing the tradition to be often mentioned.’

Guide Acknowledgements

This guide was originally written by Christopher Starr FRCS ARHists, who gratefully acknowledged the help of the Revd E H Ward, former Rector of East with West Horndon, and, for access to original manuscript sources, the staff of the Essex Record Office and the Manuscript Department of the British Library.

The following are the principal printed sources of the information contained in this work:

•The History and Antiquities of Essex – the Revd P Morant 1768.
•Ancient Funerall Monuments – J Weever 1631.
•Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society
•The Essex Review.
•Royal Commission on Historical Monuments – Essex 1916-1923.
•A Short Account of East Horndon Church – A Parishioner 1895.
•All Saints Church East Horndon – The Revd E H Ward 1962.
•The Tyrells of Heron in the Parish of East Horndon – P G Laurie 1906.
•A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles – M Stephenson 1926.

Redundant Churches Fund (now the Churches Conservation Trust)

The Fund was established in 1969 to preserve Church of England churches no longer needed for regular worship but which are of historic and/or architectural interest. The Fund’s main income is provided by Church and State but the constantly increasing number of churches entrusted to it (243 in September 1988) means that its resources are severely stretched. Contributions are always gratefully received.