St Peter and St Paul, Bardfield Saling, Essex

The church of St Peter and St Paul in Bardfield Saling (also known as Little Saling) dates to the 14th century. It is notable as being one of only six churches in Essex to have a round tower. The organ is an 18th century chamber organ and was installed in 1933, it is situated in a gallery above the west door. There is the remnants of a consecration cross on the north wall of the nave.

Before I visited the church I had been told that there was a demon graffitied on one of the columns. The same figure was also described as a bishop/archbishop. So at least there’s a wide range of opinion as to what this figure represents! Bari Hooper in an article in the Essex Journal makes the case that it is actually a sketch of a set of armour on a stand. There were Acts of Parliament in Queen Mary’s reign that required each parish to supply arms for some of the parishioners and these were sometimes stored in the church itself. (Hooper, Bari. Late Elizabethan to Early Stuart Graffiti in Bardfield Saling Church in Essex Journal, vol 34, no 1, p20-23)

There is another figure on the columns. A man in late Elizabethan dress strikes a pose as a man of fashion. The dress and attitude is very similar to that of a painting of Sir Walter Raleigh and Son in the National Portrait Gallery. 

In addition to the figurative graffiti there is a scattering of symbols, a few possible Marian marks, a pentagram, some script and a multi-petalled daisy wheel on the west door frame.

The organ being situated high in the west gallery meant that the organ blowers, the youths of the parish who pumped the bellows until it was turned electric, were completely out of sight of the priest and congregation. Amidst the usual lists of names and initials is written, in large letters, ‘DO NOT SIN’, so at least the main thrust of the sermons was getting through. It appears that announcements of national importance were also made in the church because the organ graffiti notes VE and VJ Days, the Festival of Britain and the death of George VI. ‘Died in his sleep’ is the addition to this notice as well as the date.

The rest of the graffiti, both in the church and around the south door, is made of up of names and initials. The earliest dates are 17th century with many in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Report by Anthea Hawdon and Linda Wilson.

Church Road
Bardfield Saling
The church was open when we visited and there are instructions in the south porch on where to find the key if it is locked. It may be worth contacting the parish to check it will be open if you are making a special visit.

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