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Valentine Prentice: Felsted Church


Valentine Prentice: Felsted Church
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Winter 2005 and Revised 30 Sep 2005

In genealogy, much of the time it is not all that difficult to find the dates and places of an ancestor's birth, marriage, and death. Much harder is visualizing the ancestor as a real person doing the real things that we all do every day.

One of the ancestors for many of us, Valentine Prentice, was born in Felsted, Essex County, England, about February, 1598/9 and was was baptised there on 25 Feb 1598/9.

Joan O. Strickler recently visited Felsted. She photographed the church where Valentine was baptised and generously provided us with some of those photos. She also gathered some significantinformation about the church. The village sign, left, shows both the church and the Felsted School.

For me, those photos helped me to better visualize Valentine Prentice and his family as living perople who added the church and participated in its services and activities. Her photos, together with her comments and with additional information gleaned from internet sources, are set out below.

The History of Felsted: (Excerpted from booklet published by church, by Michael Craze, M.A.)

The early history of Felsted is wrapped up with that of Colchester. In Paleolithic (30,000 to 9,000 BC), Mesolithic (9,000 to 7,000 BC) and Neolithic (7,000 to 3,000 BC) times, traders came across Britain by tracks made from point to point principally along high ground. There was a junction of ancient tracks just south of the church, marked by a stone, and early churches were often built on the sites of such stones because of the reverence with which they were regarded.

During the four hundred years of Roman occupation (about 47 AD to 450 AD), the existing British roads were improved and many new ones constructed, forming a network which became the nucleus of the modern road system. In these parts all roads led to Colchester (the ancient British capital) or to London (the Roman capital). Felsted lies in an angle formed by the two Roman roads, Great Dunmow-Braintree and Braintree-Chelmsford, near the western limit of the Roman Colchester “territorium”.

The Felsted Church and its History: (Excerpted from booklet published by church, by Michael Craze, M.A.)

Following the Roman evacuation about 450 AD, the reversion of the land to the Celts and occupation by the Saxons, the manorial system arose and the christianized lords of the manor built the churches. Felsted would be exceptional if by 1050 A.D. it had no Saxon church, and the site of the present church is the one most likely to have been used.

After the Norman conquest, the land around Felsted was given by William the Conqueror to his brother and later to an Abbey. The present church tower was built around 1120; as the village grew more prosperous, the remainder of the church was constructed. There was a vicar of Felsted in 1203. The church was connected with the abbey until the time of the suppression in 1537; it then came under the patronage of Sir Richard Riche and the Earls of Warwick. The seventeenth century saw great prosperity for both the village and the parish.

By the eighteenth century, however, things had fallen into decay. Fortunately, a school first begun in 1564 by Sir Richard Riche came into new prominence during the Victorian era and the health and vitality of the village was restored by new building and industrial development. Felsted today is an unspoiled, historic village, with several buildings dating to the sixteenth century or earlier, including the church. The Felsted School has over 600 students in its preparatory and senior classes. The British call it a “public” school, but in American parlance, it would be known as a “private” school.

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Felsted Church: Side View, Above: The Church of the Holy Cross at Felsted combines:

  • the early Norman tower (1120-30 A.D);
  • a nave which contains Norman arches from c. 1180 A.D. The nave is where the congregation sits.
  • a fourteenth century chancel. In churches with a historic floor plan, the chancel is the front part of the church from which the service is conducted, as distinct from the nave, where the congregation sits. The chancel is usually an elevated platform, usually three steps up from the nave. In the historic floor plan, the words chancel and sanctuary are often synonyms.
  • two handsome brasses from 1420 A.D.
  • the Riche chapel from 1600-1620 with a magnificently-sculpted monument tomb;
  • a 1701 clock on the tower
  • Victorian-era windows and furnishings,
  • and a peal of eight bells recast in 1915 from earlier bells dating from the 1600-1700’s.

Above: Church Floor Plan and Detail

  1. South Arcade and Pillars These were built between 1180 and 1190. The scalloped edge decorations were added in 1876.
  2. Font The bowl is Norman and is reputed to have been found in the River Chelmer. The Supports are late Victorian.
  3. Tower Screen Carved by Charles Beckwith of Coggeshall and given in memory of the wife of a former vicar, Revd Basil Pownell, in 1938.
  4. Doorway (above the Tower Screen) This is of Norman origin to allow access to the, much lower, Norman roof. The present Nave roof was heightened when the North Arade and North Aisle were built about 1330. The South aisle was probably rebuilt about that time.
  5. Tower This was built between 1120 and 1130, and is the oldest part of the church. The door to the turret stairs is 16th Century. The Cuppola was added in 1700.
  6. Bells A peal of 8 bells recast in 1914. The oldest bell was dated 1628. The clock bell in the cupola is by Stephen Tonne, and is dated 1546. The Clock was made by Johannes Fordham of Gt Dunmow in 1701. More...
  7. Pulpit The reading desk is made from 15th C traceried panels. These panels also appear in the communion table and may be the remains of an earlier screen.
  8. Restoration Tablet of 1877 Much of the church was restored at this time.
  9. Altar Tomb This was moved to its present position in 1876. It came from the East End of the South Aisle where it was used as the altar of the Trinity Chapel.
  10. Brasses
    1. Christina Bray 1420
    2. Man in Armour 1415/1420.
  11. Riche Chapel Built about 1600 by 3rd Lord Riche for his father and grandfather, Richard Lord Riche, who was chancellor to Henry V111 and founder, in 1564, of Felsted School. The Tomb The tomb was erected by the 4th Lord Riche (2nd Earl Of Warwick) about 1620. It may well be the work of Epiphanius Evesham, the best English sculptor of that time.
  12. Door The decorated door-head is dated 1607 on the outside.
  13. Almsbox is 16th century.
  14. Holy Water Stoup 15th century, restored.

A major restoration of the church was carried out in 1875-77 and other repairs have been made as needed up to the present time.

The Baptismal Font, Below:

According to tradition, the church baptismal font was found in the bed of the River Chelmer. The parish history booklet says, “unquestionably it is a Norman bowl, square, with a head carved in the boss at each angle. The supports are Norman in design, but, of course, Victorian. The Puritans disliked fonts and may have ejected this one.” The carved wooden cover, topped by a cross, is removable. It is quite likely Valentine Prentis would have been baptized at this font.

By the time of his baptism in 1598, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I would have established the Church of England, and the parish has remained Anglican ever since. Up to and during the time of Cromwell (1649-1658), however, when the Puritans were in ascendancy, there was much turbulence and desecration of sacred sites and this is likely the time when the baptismal font was thrown into the river.

The Baptismal Font has 3 separate parts: (1) the wooden cover (with the cross on top), which is removeable; (2) the large stone basin (this is the actual font), which would probably have some kind of inner bowl to hold the water for the baptism; and (3) the pedestal, which simply sets the whole thing up at a satisfactory height. It is the stone basin which was recovered from the river, perhaps during Victorian times.The river in not far from the village. Perhaps the font was uncovered during some sort of flood or period of drought and apparently someone recognized it for what it was and returned it to the church.

If you have any information about the the Felsted Prentices, or about the Felsted Church, please send your information to us at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.

Caution: If you don't use the above email link, your email to us may be deleted as spam by our email filter.


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