North Stifford Village
St. Mary's Church
The Domesday Survey of 1085 refers to 30 acres of Glebe (church) land at Stifford, and it was presumed that the church existed here before that date.
This was confirmed when building and repair works in 2005 uncovered the remains of an Anglo Saxon building. However, the first recorded rector was Ralph de Stifford in 1180.
It is believed that St. Mary’s formed part of the Pilgrims’ Way for the Canterbury Pilgrimages. Pilgrims travelled down Pilgrims’ Lane to St. Clement’s Church in West Thurrock before crossing the Thames on foot at the ford which used to exist at low tide, before the river was dredged in modern times.
Because of the importance of preserving wild flowers whose only refuge from modern farming practices may be at the churchyard, certain areas are not mown until July at least. This accounts for the sometimes rather unkempt appearance of the churchyard.
St. Mary’s is constructed from local sandstone (from quarries at West Thurrock and Northfleet in Kent), flints, of which there is a local abundance, and lime mortar.
The church tower is surrounded by an oak-shingled broach spire, which supports the clock which has been restored since it was made in 1885. The clock strikes the little bell housed on the outside of the steeple. Formerly this was the Angelus bell, struck to let workers in the fields know when the bread and wine were consecrated for Holy Communion inside the church. They would pause in their work to pray before continuing with the harvest.
The south door is not as large or ornate as the north door, but it is flanked by a pair of medieval stone heads on the corbels of the outside arch.
The east window is also flanked by corbels and heads, however they appear to be crowned; one male and one female.
The west window is decorated with corbels and heads but the south window appears to have been damaged and the heads chopped from the corbels (Cromwell's work perhaps).
The North Door
The north doorway is Norman – 12th century. The door itself however, is 16th century with 13th century ornamental ironwork (nothing wasted). The crescent shaped hinges owe their shape to St. Clement – the patron saint of blacksmiths. The iron catch and lock-plate are 17th century.
The main building and extensions took place from the 12th to 17th centuries and remained unaltered until the Rev. William Palin became rector in 1834. The fabric of the church was in such an appalling condition that he had extensive repairs made and the north porch was added.
Few changes have been made subsequently, apart from the removal of pews from the south aisle to provide a meeting room and modernisations such as heating and lighting.
Apart from worshipers, the church has another congregation; it houses a colony of bats. They are a protected species and therefore cannot be removed. Unfortunately the bats tend to 'leave their calling cards,' so some areas of the church have to be covered up when the church is not in use, to protect them from the droppings.
There are two War Memorials at the church. A memorial to the fallen of the First World War stands in the church yard, and there is a plaque commemorating those who died in the Second World War inside, on the north wall inside the church. There is a third war memorial in Stifford Green.
North Stifford War Memorials
The previous Rectory was a Victorian building and used to occupy the site on which Marian Close now stands. Part of the building housed the Rector's carriage and horses, and there was a hayloft above. The hayloft was called 'the den' and was used as a kind of village hall. Eventually the old Rectory, an adjacent orchard, and other church land was sold off, and new houses and a new Rectory were built on the site.
You can find out more about St. Mary's Church at the Parish of Stifford website.
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