A very brief history of St. Mary's church

In the church you will find copies of this History and Guide in the form of a booklet, please take one - they are free. Meanwhile here is a much shorter account of the history of St Mary's church…

For a plan of the church showing when each part was built please see the image on the right.

The Early Church

The earliest known reference to a church in Great Dunmow is in a Saxon will dated 1045 but we do not know where the church was located. The earliest recorded vicar was Geoffrey de Dunmow in 1197.

The first church on the present site was probably built about 1250. It was almost entirely rebuilt around the middle of the 14th century in the Decorated style of that period, a task that took about 150 years. All that now remains of the earlier church is the archway of the south door and some stones that were re-used in the north arcade of the nave.

It was almost entirely rebuilt around the middle of the 14th century in the Decorated style of that period, a task that took about 150 years. The chancel, nave and north and south aisles remain.


Fifteenth Century

Between 1400 and 1450, the Tower was built and soon after this the chancel was widened and the nave arcades rebuilt to allow the addition of the clerestory. Also in the 15th century was added the south chapel now known as St John's chapel.


The Reformation

In 1536 the Church plate was sold, possibly to forestall confiscation by the State. In 1550 the Altars were taken down, subsequently restored and finally destroyed in 1558. During this period the Rood Screen was taken down and burned and the rich vestments sold.


Victorian Restoration of the Building

In 1872, a major restoration was carried out. Galleries to the north and west of the nave were removed to give the church its present open interior. One gallery remains, over the south door, which dates from pre-reformation days.


Twentieth Century

Between 1928 and 1948, the present High Altar was set up and the present organ was built. In 1967, severe infestation by deathwatch beetle necessitated an extensive programme of restoration. The roof timbers were again treated in 1993 and the church re-wired in 1995. Substantial repairs were carried out to the parapets in 1996 and 1999. In 2002 the Chancel roof was stripped and recovered with timber boarding, insulation and lead and mediaeval timbers were repaired. More work remains to be done.