chickney church


The History of Chickney 



Chickney is a small parish standing high with good views. There is not much here, but what there is, is rather special – the only old house in the parish noted by Pevsner is Sibley’s Farm about a mile away, 14-15th century house with fine period fireplaces, staircase, windows, doors and wall painting. The aisled barn behind Sibley’s is Tudor and close by is a medieval dovecote, said to be one of the oldest in Essex.

Even better is the fantastic little thousand-year-old church, which became part of Broxted parish in 1972, and is no longer used regularly, but looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. Inside St Mary’s Church still has a Saxon nave and, as Pevsner puts it, ‘hardly a right angle to be found’. The pre-Reformation altar slab with five consecration crosses was restored in Victorian times from its hiding place buried in the churchyard – a wonderful find. There are original splayed windows and some 14th century features too - the tower and carved font. Look out for some interesting graffiti carved in the soft stone centuries ago, and scratch dials on two of the south windows.

Arthur Mee’s classic book on Essex calls it ‘one of the oldest and most remarkable churches’ in the county, and you can feel the age of the place, set in an oval churchyard – itself a sign of Saxon beginnings. So although Chickney is tiny, it is really rather special. Perhaps the best expression of this is in Simon Jenkins’ sumptuous book, England’s Thousand Best Churches (1999), among which he numbers Chickney: ‘This must be Essex’s most improbable church. It lies detached from any village beyond an asparagus farm. Pheasants rise shrieking from an overgrown churchyard, which is sheltered by chestnuts and sycamores. Nothing else moves or breathes. The church has a dunce’s cap for a spire. The interior is small and atmospheric, with a chancel askew and a nave that is not quite a rectangle… The chancel is filled with furniture, like an old attic… Though redundant, the church is still supplied with candles and fresh flowers. Chickney is not unloved.’ (p182).

Any visitor would see the truth of this – Chickney Church is a wonderful survivor of Saxon England, unspoilt by the Norman invasion or the thousand years of history that have passed since it was built.

Jacqueline Cooper