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The earliest mention of a church in Stifford is in the Domesday Survey of 1086 (sometimes known as the Doomsday Book). This records that 30 acres of land had been given to the church by the people. The first recorded rector of the church is Ralph De Stifford of 1180. It is also believed that St Mary’s formed part of the Pilgrim’s Way for the Canterbury Pilgrimages.

St Mary’s is constructed of local sandstone, flint and mortar. The construction of the Main Building and extensions took place from 11th to 15th centuries. The present condition of the building, however, owes a great deal to its restoration in Victorian times under Rev William Palin.

The North Doorway - the main entrance to the Church - is 12th century Norman, though the door itself is 16th century with 13th century ornamental ironwork.

The South Door is not as large or ornate as the North Door but is flanked by a pair of medieval stone heads on the corbels of the outside arch. Corbels and heads also flank the East Window. The West Window is decorated with corbels and heads but the South Window appears to have been damaged and the heads chopped off the corbels - perhaps at the time of the Civil War.

The Clock was originally presented in 1761, the clock bell cast in 1762. There is no known reason why the little dormer roof contains a bell an as there are no others like it in the surrounding districts it remains a mystery.

Inside the Church, we have further reminders of its history.

In the Sanctuary, there is a memorial brass to Ralph De Percheray (Rector in 1380) and it is noted for the Fylfor Crosses (which resemble swastikas) on his vestments. On the floor of the Sanctuary is a stone slab bearing crosses and the name David de Tillebury (Tilbury?) is inscribed with the date 1330.


The Font is early English (13th century) and is of the style known as Polypod (meaning many legs) with a square bowl. The remains of old lid fastenings can be found in the rim and it has been frequently repaired. Its position close to the South Door suggests that the South Door was originally used as the main entrance as in the Middle Ages the left, or North side of the Church, was considered as evil and could not be used.

The Pulpit bears the date of 1611 which infers that it is the only pulpit St Mary’s ever had because they were only made compulsory in 1603.This pulpit was not built for the purposes of the Church but instead so that the King’s Messengers could read out the proclamations to the populace. Attached to it is a 17th century hourglass stand (or lantern holder – this fact is still being debated) inscribed with the letters A.H.

The Tower Arch is late 15th century and the West Window and Lights in the Bell Tower are late 13th century.


In the Tower memorials to the Silverlocke and Lathum families can be found. The latter is our historic link with the Worshipful Company of Broderers of the Guildhall, London. At one time the Silverlocke’s and the Lathum’s owned much of the surrounding land in Stifford. The centuries-old wooden staircase, which reaches up to the Bell Chamber in the Tower, is made of wedge-shaped steps and enormous hand-made nails. The 3 Bells were made in 1663, in 1635 and 1737.

In the Chantry Chapel more brasses of the Lathum and Ardalle families were reset on the East Wall during the 19th century restorations. In the South Wall of the Chantry Chapel there is a Fenestella containing both a piscina and credence (check out what these are). The Fenestella is possibly pre-reformation and is placed very close to the Alter, on the South Side; the conjecture is that it was moved during the 19th century restorations.

The Chantry Chapel also contains an organ installed in 1875 and made by Maley Young & Oldknow of London. It was originally blown by hand and the bellows handle is still operational. The Chantry Chapel has also, at various times, been known as the Lady Chapel, the South Chapel and, more recently, the Organ Chapel.

The Church Chest, which to this day is also to be found in the Chantry Chapel, bears the date of 1713 on the hinge. It has three locks and three keys – one held by each of the Churchwardens and one by the Rector. The Chest can therefore only be opened when all three keyholders are present and holds all the Parish Records.

Set in the floor beneath the Arch leading to the Chantry Chapel is an ornate black memorial bearing a Coat of Arms. The College of Arms said that this was undoubtedly the Arms of the Grantham Family. Whilst there are no records of the Granthams of Stifford or West Thurrock being entitled to bear Arms, it was common for families to assume Arms granted to another family of the same name.

Above the Chantry Chapel is a huge pillar with a corbel and head on it, and the remains of a painted design that was added approximately 500 years ago. It is possible that this pillar may contain a staircase. A similar, undamaged, unpainted head and corbel can be found on the pillar at the south end of the Church opposite the Font.

Across the Nave are a huge tie beam and King post, as old as their names suggest, which hold up the roof and tie the whole construction together.

The Stained Glass Windows in St Mary’s are all very different from each other, as the window arches are much older than the stained glass they now contained. The windows above the Alter are engraved, as well as stained. This type of window is no longer made. Great pains have been taken to replace some that had been damaged and many of the other windows are equally as old.

The Colonel Laurie Memorial Window in the South Aisle, although of modern origins, is made with very old glass and this also is no longer in production. The best-loved window is undoubtedly The "Lamb Window" in the South Aisle and many generations of Sunday School children have adored it. It was damaged twice by thieves and vandals but was lovingly restored on both occasions. Of all the windows we know more of the history of the "Healing Window" in the South Aisle than any of the other windows.

It was designed by Henry Holiday of a company called Powell & Sons. Henry Holiday was a very famous designer of stained glass window. The window was believed to have been installed in the 1890’s and later damaged by a bomb in World War II. It was never repaired because no one could remember what it looked like. Many years later, in 1991, a visitor who had lived abroad for forty years showed a watercolour she had painted before the War. It is now just a matter of time before the window can be restored to its former glory. Other works of Henry Holiday can be found in Worcester College and St Mary Magdalene College, Oxford and in the Brunel Window in Westminster Abbey and a very large part of Holiday’s work is to be found in Canada and the USA.

For further information and pictures of St Mary's try the following external links:

Steve Pavitt's Bygone Grays Thurrock site (archived)

North Stifford village website

Essex Churches (St. Mary's)

Friends of Essex Churches


St. Cedd's Sunday Services - 10:30 am

1st Sunday: Family Worship

2nd Sunday: Holy Communion

3rd Sunday: Morning Worship

4th Sunday: Holy Communion

5th Sunday: Evening Praise and Celebration#

# 6.30pm. No morning service on this Sunday of the month

St. Mary's Sunday Services - 11:15 am

1st Sunday: Holy Communion*

2nd Sunday: Morning Prayer

3rd Sunday: Holy Communion

4th Sunday: Family Worship

5th Sunday: Parish Family Communion

* 6:30 pm (4 pm during Winter month). No morning service on this Sunday of the month