Background, bats, bells and books!

 Hatfield Broad Oak,  or Hatfield Regis, or Hafelda, is in the Domesday Book (1086).   


Key dates:

1066    William the Conqueror gave this church to Alberic de Vere I.

Alberic II founded a Benedictine priory, dedicated to God, St Mary and St Melaine, attached to the Abbey of St Melaine at Rennes in Brittany.

1135    Alberic III issued the foundation deed of the priory.

1257    Priory at Hatfield Regis broke ties with Rennes.

c.1300 church extended to its greatest length, 70 metres.

1378    the vicar, John Cok, and the parishioners attacked the monks for neglecting the parish church.  Richard II commanded that a wall be built between the priory church and the parish church.  The wall is the current east wall, behind the altar.  The parish church was rebuilt in Perpendicular Style.

1534, 8th July: Henry VIII suppressed the priory.  The parish church remained active in the village, Sir Thomas Barrington bought the priory buildings.

1708    The Revd George Stirling founded the parish library.

1780    chandelier installed (electrified in 1950s).

1782    ring of 8 bells placed in tower.

1836    The Revd Thomas Francis Hall introduced box pews.

1843    The Revd Thomas Francis Hall refurbished the musicians’ gallery.

1870-73 American author Francis M Crawford lodged with the Revd George Burn, vicar of HBO, prior to studying at Cambridge.  Crawford immortalised the parish as “Billingsfield” in “Tales of a lonely parish".

1891    The Revd Canon Francis Galpin, parish priest, archaeologist and musician.

1890s   statue of Robert de Vere (grandson of Alberic) was placed in the chancel.

1905    choir screen installed at chancel step.

1910    current clock placed in tower.

1976    porch gates installed in memory of Robert Lumley, local artist.

1988-1983 decayed window surrounds replaced.

2000    kitchen and toilet installed in tower, choir screen moved to back of church.



Key attractions

Statue of Sir Robert de Vere, crusader - in the chancel.  Unique statue of crusader drawing sword!

Great Chest 1491 - originally for storing parish records can be found in the north aisle

Litany desk - at the cross aisle, C14th image of priest

Screen between Barrington Chapel (organ loft) and church - taken from the priory refectory

East window - (behind the altar) The left hand side shows the parable of the Ten Wise Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13); the right hand side shows the Last Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46)

Wooden statues of the Evangelists’ symbols - Matthew (man), Mark (lion), Luke (ox), John (Eagle) all found at the cross aisle

C14th corbels supporting the roof, including heads of John of Gaunt, Richard II, John Barrington, Robert de Vere, a Green Man.

Sanctus Tower on south side of church - housing “Ting Tang” bell (so called because of the sound it makes) which was rung to mark the offices (daily prayers)


St Mary’s church is home to six colonies of bats

Regular bat surveys are conducted, and we have to arrange any building or maintenance work around the needs of the bats.  



St Mary’s church has a peel of 8 Bells

Bell facts

the tenor weights 16cwt (= c.814kg).  

in England bells are hung for full circle ringing.  

the colourful fluffy hand hold on the bell rope is called a “sally”.  

bells are rung in rounds (up and down the scale); changes (darting round the scale), or methods (tunes) with names like Bob Triples, Grandsire Triples, Bob Major. 

bells are rung to call people to worship God on Sundays,for weddings, funerals and to celebrate special occasions.  

a quarter peal consists of 1260 changes and takes about 45 minutes

a full peal consists of 5040 changes and takes nearly 3hours to ring!



St Mary’s Church retains its library

We also have an unusually large parish library, containing over 300 books.  We have some very early editions of Classical authors, Bibles in many translations (including the famous “Breeches” Bible and “Vinegar” Bible), Bibles in their original languages, books of sermons by famous divines, such as Bp Lancelot Andrews, histories of Essex, Foxe’s book of Martyrs in 3 volumes, and much more!.


These books are housed in a purpose built library, and over the years some of the books have been restored, whilst others shew the effect of bookworm, mouse, damp, lampblack and dirty fingers!


The books may be made available for inspection by interested scholars by prior appointment, and a selection of books is usually displayed in church during the annual Flower Festival.


Historic baptismal, burial and marriage registers, service registers and other documents are preserved for us at the Chelmsford Record Office.  Applications for copies of entries should be made to the record office Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT or


Publications available for purchase

Millennium: a history of the parish and church of Hatfield Broad Oak  £10.50

Tales from a monastery garden: exploring the Benedictine past of the parish £6.00

A tale of a lonely parish: a novel by F M Crawford.  £10.50

A tale of a lonely parish – revealed: notes to the novel by Mary White.  £1.00

Books may be ordered by email.  The current rates of postage and packing will be charged. Please check with the Churchwarden for details of availability and costs of postage.