St Mary’s Priory, Little Dunmow, Essex (1/3)

 
St Mary’s Priory,  Little Dunmow is a strange church. The windows on the north side are wildly out of proportion to those on the south and the tower looks like someone stole an italian campanile and glued it to one corner. Inside, there is an arcade of columns that leads nowhere but a wall. All can be explained, however, by the fact that it was never built as a church, but as the 14th century lady chapel of St Mary’s Priory. The priory church did not survive the dissolution of the monasteries, but the lady chapel lived on as the parish church. The tower was built in the 19th century.
 
Luckily the addition of the tower seems to have satisfied the need for Victorian improvement and the original stonework inside is mostly intact.
 
 
This site features in Violet Pritchard’s English Medieval Graffiti and I am happy to report that the graffiti she mentions survives intact.

West door and first two columns

The first one of the Pritchard graffiti encountered is a face, drawn on one of the columns near the west door. Faces and heads are not uncommon in graffiti, but the quality of artwork in this case is exceptional. Pritchard identifies it as the face of a monk, and that  was the opinion of Rev Montagu Benton (vicar of Fingringhoe until 1959, Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians and extensive publisher on the churches and history of Essex). There is another face next to it drawn by a less competent hand. It is possible that it was drawn as a copy of the first as it closely resembles it.
 
 
There are two birds drawn on the west doorway. A stick figure is on one of the columns, as are a couple of heraldic shields.
 
There are some pentagrams, several daisy wheels, a concentric circle partially obscured by a modern notice and some dot patterns.

There are two instances of script. Both are fairly faint, but one has been identified by the Rev Montagu Benton as saying ‘Dum sumus in mundo, vivamus corde jocundo’ – ‘While we are in the world, live with a happy heart.’

 
The rest of the graffiti is made up of names and initials. The earliest date is mid 17th century.
 
St Mary’s Place 
Brook Street
Little Dunmow
Dunmow
CM6 3HX
Essex
 
Church is normally closed. Contact on website for key holder.
 
Report by Anthea Hawdon

Search terms: RB, AA, AW, BC, bird, JR, I, UD, BP, AM, WC, LL, BVR, AM, TO, A, N, R, 1784, Marian mark, M, LB, AG, C, J, R, Mrs W.D. Hazelton Darlington, G Frebe 85, MF, R Wilsher,P Broke, IC, Incomplete compass drawn circle, JT, JL, WB, Jas Cheek, 1830, E, B, FD, W, IT, 69, T, C, IB, EC, 1901, Charles Tellingham, 1667, T, Marian mark, W, I, B, A, dots, IL, I, DH, IO, T, B, Dot pattern, E, L, Rob, FW (faint), shield, faces, Pentagram, stick figure, TB, Daisy wheel (compass drawn), hand drawn concentric circle, Daisy wheel (incomplete), script, Concentric circles (incomplete), face, FY, 1869, ST, BP, N, I, NP, Diamond design, DST, M, iii, a, 1780s, 1700s, 1830s, 1800s, 1660s, 1600s, 1860s, Violet Pritchard