St Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex

St Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak, was originally part of a Benedictine Priory founded in 1135. The priory was founded by the de Vere family, the Earls of Oxford. The effigy of the third Earl, Robert de Vere (died 1221), lies in the centre of the chancel. The current church is all that remains of the priory, which did not survive the dissolution of the monasteries. The nave arcades belong to the 14th century, the south doorway is late 14th century, where the porch is 15th century.

The columns in the nave have suffered from time and wear. The surface of the stone is worn and rubbed which means that much of the graffiti has been removed by accident as much as by restoration. However a few protective symbols still survive, mostly circles both compass and hand-drawn and two pentagrams in the south porch.

The pier by the tower arch has a couple of birds on it and something that may be a porpoise or even a narwhal. A jaunty figure on the south doorway brandishes a sword and appears to be wearing a steel skull cap.

The rest of the pictorial or symbolic graffiti in the nave and south porch is made up of shields, crosses, dot patterns and a curious scratch or mass dial on the inside of the tower arch where it could never have seen the sun.

There are a series of marks made in pencil on a column in the north aisle. They are possibly made by children (and are certainly at the right height). It is tempting to feel that the long-nosed person is drawn from life.

The church pipe organ dates to 1859 and was once hand-pumped. The bellows-pumpers have left their marks. These consist of names and initials, but there is also a sketch of a plane which must surely date to World War 2.

The rest of the graffiti in the church consists of names and initials. The earliest date is 1660.

Report by Anthea Hawdon

St Mary the Virgin
Feathers Hill/High Street
Hatfield Broad Oak
Bishop’s Stortford
CM22 7HG

The church is usually open during daylight hours.

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