The History, Superstition and Civil War Iconoclasts of Great Leighs Parish Church

The History, Superstition and Civil War Iconoclasts of Great Leighs Parish Church

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The History, Superstition and Civil War Iconoclasts of Great Leighs Parish Church

The 3rd August 2020 – 3rd August 2021 was Stephen and Yhana‘s first year on YouTube – To celebrate they are sharing one video a day across all of their favourite social media platforms – Facebook Page, Twitter and Website, as well as a daily shout out on their youtube community page. – So please check often incase you missed any of their videos during that first year.

They have also published their very first youtube almanac – Which was released 3rd august 2021.

The book will be available to buy via Amazon shortly – Although you can get a free signed copy by signing up and supporting their journey on Patreon

All Patreon‘s will get a regular mention on YouTube and on their channel publications – As your support is very much appreciated and will help to purchase filming equipment and trips to historical sites, so they can keep their films coming.

Stephen and Yhana - History and Adventure Hunters Almanac - OUT NOW
Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac – OUT NOW

The History, Superstition and Civil War Iconoclasts of Great Leighs Parish Church

Delve into the history of one of Englands most iconic parish churches

Discover the superstition, witchcraft, leper, civil war and history of Great Leighs parish church – Saint Mary the Virgin.

The walls of this church are etched with runic and symbolic symbols to keep witches away. A superstition that came all to true in 1621 – When a witch was discovered in the village of Great and Little Leighs. She was executed and now lies buried beneath a rock in the village crossroads.

Her taunted spirit still haunts the village.

If witchcraft is not enough, watch-out for civil war parliamentarian soldiers as they march into Great Leighs and vandalise, break and burn the church relics.

Welcome to Saint Mary The Virgin, Great Leighs, Essex – We are going to begin our story with the soldiers of the Parliamentarian army that walked into Great Leighs, Essex in late 1643 early 1644 and set to work at vandalising this church you see before you.

Civil War swept through England during the years 1642 – 1651, and during this period many churches were vandalised by Parliamentary Puritan Civil War iconoclasts, here in East Anglia they were led by William Dowsing

William Dowsing was born in Laxfield, Suffolk, so he was a local East Anglian man.

In August 1643 Dowsing was appointed by Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester and made provost-marshal of the armies of the Eastern Association, he was made responsible for supplies and administration in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire.

William Dowsing must have been a trusted Parliamentarian, because by December 1643 he was appointed by their captain-general, the Earl of Manchester, as “Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition”. He was ordered to carry out the Parliamentary Ordinance of 28 August 1643 which stated that “all Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry should be removed and abolished”, specifying: “fixed altars, altar rails, chancel steps, crucifixes, crosses, images of the Virgin Mary and pictures of saints or superstitious inscriptions.” In May 1644 the scope of the ordinance was widened to include representations of angels (a particular obsession of Dowsing), rood lofts, holy water stoups, and images in stone, wood and glass and on plate were ordered to be destroyed.

Dowsing carried out his work in 1643–44 by visiting over 250 churches in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, he removed and defaced items that he thought fitted the requirements outlined in the ordinance. He recruited assistants, apparently among his friends and family, and where they were unable to perform the work themselves, he left instructions for the work to be carried out. Sometimes the local inhabitants assisted his work, but often he was met by resistance or non-co-operation. His commission, backed up by the ability to call on military force if necessary, meant that he usually got his way. He charged each church a noble (a third of a pound) for his services.

This Civil War vandalism can still be seen on the church of Saint Mary’s, Great Leighs, Essex today. Most notably, the Holy Water Stoup inside the front porch has been ripped away from the wall.

The church however, was luckier then some, as beautiful carved stone effigies grace the windows and survived the civil war destruction.

Whether or not William Dowsing marched into Great Leighs with Parliamentary soldiers himself is unclear. His associates certainly did and the soldiers would have rounded the church whilst the iconoclasts set to work.

The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin stands on high ground, above the River Ter and about two miles outside the present location of the village of Great and Little Leighs. The most striking feature is its round tower, which can be clearly seen as you approach along Boreham Road. The Church Round Tower is one of six in Essex and said to be the best. The walls of the chancel are made from flint-rubble with some conglomerate which is a coarse-grained sedimentary rock, there is also a scattering of Roman Bricks, but very few.

The Nave of this parish church was built sometime around the year 1100 AD, and its foundations are Saxon in origin. So the present church was built on top of a much older place of worship. Construction work began by the de Mandeville family, who held the manor of Broomfield, Essex as well as the manor of Great and Little Leighs, they would have overseen the building work of both Broomfield and Great Leighs Church, both of which have rounded towers.

The original Norman building would have had a thatched roof and much of the structure would have been wooden.

The Nave is 47 ft. by 24¾ ft.,The North wall, which is opposite the south facing church porch has three windows; the easternmost window is a much later addition and built in the 15th century during much of the parish church restoration. the two western windows are both of the 12th century and original to the construction of the Nave.

There is also a 15th-century North doorway with moulded jambs, four-centred arch and label with carved head-stops much defaced.

In the South wall are three windows; the easternmost is similar to the easternmost in the North wall, the second window is an original single 12th-century edition similar to those in the North wall; the westernmost window is of early 14th-century and again installed during the church restoration.

Between the two south facing western windows is the 14th-century South doorway set within the 12th-century opening; it has moulded jambs, two-centred arch and segmental rear-arch; it includes the very damaged and vandalised Holy Water Stoup which was mentioned earlier in this video.

The Chancel is 35 ft. by 19½ ft., and was built c. 1330, During the parish church restoration. Many Churches across England underwent extensions and restoration during this period, it was the reign of King Edward III, a golden time for England and much of what you see in historical churches and castles happened during this period of English history.

The East window is of four trefoiled ogee lights with net tracery in a two-centred head; the external jambs, head and label and the rear-arch are moulded. In the North wall are two windows, partly restored, of two cinque-foiled lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head; the detail is similar to that of the East window. In the South wall are three windows similar to those in the North wall, and much restored; between the two western windows is a much restored doorway with moulded jambs, two-centred arch and label;

This is a priests door, and complete with ancient iron work, the door is extremely small, but exquisite. The doorway is a personal favourite of mine on this particular parish church. Next to this low doorway and close to where the chancel and nave meet is a low sided window. Now blocked with bricks.

The window is a leper window. A Leper window was built low in the chancel wall of some medieval churches. usually iron barred and shuttered. Lepers stood outside and watched mass through this window. Food may also have been passed through these windows, as lepers were povity stricken and ravaged with disease.

Its an eerie spot to stand, when you consider the death and illness of those that stood there in history.

The West Tower is 17 ft. in diameter is of late 12th-century, so built after the nave was constructed. The tower is circular in plan, and said to be one of the finest examples of round tower churches in Essex. The tower has five pilaster buttresses stopping at the floor level, the westernmost buttress rests on the label of the Western doorway. It is said that the buttresses are purely for decoration. As the massive thick walls of the round tower, need no support at all.

The tower contains 5 bells, each inscribed Miles Graye made me 1634 and were cast in the churchyard.

Facing outwards from the western round tower is a beautiful Victorian clock and gifted to the parish church by Mr H Tritton of Lyons Hall, which is a stately home opposite the church.

If you look close enough as you venture around the church, you may also see sun-dials within the church walls itself.

The roof of the modern south porch has some old timbers, possibly of the 15th century.

One of the most interesting aspects of this particular Essex parish church is the amount of old graffiti that can be found on the outside walls, window seals and doorways. Much of this can probably be dated to the 17th and 16th centuries.

They include symbols of protection against witchcraft, some of which are dated. There are many of these protection symbols in various locations around the church and they are easy to spot too.

Some are even runic symbols for protection and birth.

One of the witch protection symbols is dated 1664 and is initialed B D. Could this be a protection a Witch by this name or could they be the initials of the person that left the mark. Either way, the superstition behind these are extremely interesting.

Sad too, as many woman, men and children were executed across England during the 17th and 16th century, some died in prison, many were hanged. In Essex alone, more 760 people were accused of witchcraft during the dates 1560 – 1680

Great Leighs itself has its very own story of witchcraft, which makes these symbols of protection against witches on Saint Mary the Virgin, Great Leighs even more credible.

The story is associated with an Anne Hughes that lived close to Great Leighs in the 17th century.

In 1621, she was found guilty by a Chelmsford court of practising witchcraft.

Most individuals charged with witchcraft were hanged, but Hughes was also accused of murdering her husband, which was punishable by burning at the stake. Denied a Christian burial, her remains were buried on the spot of her execution. It is believed this place of execution was either at the crossroads shared with the The Castle inn. Or at a crossroads in between Great Leighs and Little Waltham on a spot known as Scrapfaggots Green.

Wherever the true location might be has been lost with time, but a witches stone exists outside the castle Inn on the Great leighs crossroads.

Crossroads were commonly used to bury those denied a Christian burial at the time, such as executed criminals. There is debate over why this was the case. Some argue that, as crossroads belonged to nobody, no burial costs would need to be paid. Others believe that crossroads were chosen to confuse any returning spirits. As was customary in the burial of those believed to be witches, a large stone was placed over the site to trap the spirit and mark the grave. The stone remained in place through the centuries, until World War II.

Where local legend says it was accidentally moved, and caused the restless spirit of Anne Hughes to return from the grave and reek havoc in the village.

It is said that the church bells of Saint Mary the Virgin randomly rang, chickens stopped laying eggs, and cows no longer produced milk, livestock escaped with no clear means of doing so and her ghost was seen in the Castle Inn.

It is said that human bones were found beneath the stone around the time that these seemingly cursed events began.

Superstition and panic spread across the village, and Able to endure no more, the villagers insisted the stone be replaced over the grave. It was found broken, so a large fragment was chosen as a compromise and reinstalled. The unwelcome events promptly stopped.

The Witch stone of Anne Hughes remains in place to this day. Though the inn is still said to be haunted by her ghost, the rest of the village has had peace ever since

Saint Mary the Virgin Parish Church in Great Leighs, is certainly one of the finest samples of a Round Tower Church in Essex. Steeped in history, superstition, witchcraft and civil war like its sister church in Broomfield, Essex its a beautiful example of Norman architecture and will dominate and grace the landscape for centuries to come.

  • Published: 2 January 2021
  • Location: Essex, England
  • Duration: 28:00
  • Photography – Stephen Robert Kuta / Yhana Kuta
  • Written by – Stephen Robert Kuta

Music –

  • When Johnny Comes Marching Home (Traditional)
  • When Church Bells Ring – by Arylide Fields
  • Misericorde – by Lo Mimieux

Music Licensed by Epidemic Sound

The History, Superstition and Civil War Iconoclasts of Great Leighs Parish Church

​Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac

Stephen and Yhana - History and Adventure Hunters Almanac - OUT NOW
Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac – OUT NOW

Support us on Patreon / Stephen and Yhana YouTube Channel

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On the 30th of January, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). In the following weeks, the virus quickly spread worldwide, forcing the governments of affected countries to implement lockdown measures to decrease transmission rates and prevent the overload of hospital emergency rooms.

The United Kingdom implemented lockdown on the 16th of March, 2020 and from this date and up until the 3rd August, 2021 the UK had suffered three national lockdowns which all included Restrictive measures on border controls, closing of schools, markets, restaurants, nonessential shops, bars, entertainment and leisure facilities, as well as a ban on all public and private events and gatherings. In between these lockdowns we saw tier systems and heavy restrictions on how we all lived our lives.

We all decided on different approaches on how we spent that free time as many people were on Furlough as their businesses were shut, only key-workers carried out their working duties. Although I continued working as a key-worker, I still had a lot more free time as Yhana was not at school.

Both Yhana and I spent those first few months experimenting with tiktok and photography, we explored our home village of Great Leighs and took some incredible photographs as spring and eventually summer took hold.

Tiktok was a short-lived adventure for us, although we enjoyed it all the same — tiktok like so many Social Media platforms had exploded during the pandemic but none more so then YouTube.

In 2020 alone YouTube had more than 9 billion views globally

66% of people used YouTube to develop a new hobby in 2020, and a whopping 94% of people in India used YouTube to learn to do things themselves, Whilst Globally, 82% used YouTube to the same. What were they learning to do, exactly?

• Views of beauty tutorials increased nearly 50% in 2020.

• There was a 90% increase in bike maintenance and repair videos.

• Daily views of videos with “raising chickens” in the title increased 160%.

• Videos related to learning guitar saw 160 million views from mid-March to mid-April.

• Videos about container gardening saw 6 million views in the same period.

• There was a 215% increase in daily uploads of videos related to self-care.

• There was a 458% increase in daily views of videos about making sourdough bread and a 200% increase in daily views of recipe videos for bubble tea.

• Videos of how-to videos for home haircuts also spiked in April.

Even though these giant increases in YouTube views began as early as March 2020, it took Yhana and I up until August of that year to begin our own channel, and Yhana’s encouragement certainly helped on that matter.

So it began, 3 August 2020 – We went out and filmed our very first video. To be honest I wasn’t sure what our plan would be for our channel, I had a rough idea of what kind of content I would like Yhana and I to make and as a historian I looked at the channel as a way to record at least one year of our life, not just any year either, but our life during the Covid-19 Pandemic. So for me, it was a great way to record a piece of social history.

This book in front of you developed from that period of our lives also, and is a showcase / diary / almanac of all the videos we created, many of the photographs we took, the treasure hunts we went on and some of the incredible finds we discovered just a short walk from where we lived. In truth, those finds would never have been discovered if it wasn’t for lockdown.

So for prosperity, social history, a window into our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic and a transparent visual look at what its like to create a YouTube channel in that first year including channelytics, descriptions of videos, thumbnail artwork, viewer comments and more.

We have written this full guide, our first joint book –

Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac.

Stephen and Yhana - History and Adventure Hunters Almanac - OUT NOW
Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac – OUT NOW

The book is available to buy through Amazon and via all good bookshops.



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