From Norman beginnings...
That Black Notley church was built in Norman times is obvious from its architecture though there is no exact date for its building. It is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It is believed to have existed in the early 12th Century as the church of ‘Nutlea’ is mentioned in a document of Gilbert who was Bishop of London from 1163 -1188. The first Rector on our long list is Walter de Wydenhalle whose date is given as 1296. His gravestone is in the belfry, sadly now hidden by the lady chapel altar. The inscription on this stone is in Norman French, unusual at a time when such inscriptions would normally have been in Latin.
...to Civil War unrest
Brick Buttresses at the chancel end of the church were added in 1682 . Otherwise this ancient building has remained unchanged. The list of Rectors has another interesting entry – in 1645 one Rector ’intruded’ but the former Rector was ‘restored’ in 1662 showing that even a remote rural village was affected by Cromwell and the upheavals of the civil war.
Through pews and bombs...
The interior of the church throughout the centuries would have been an empty space where people stood to worship with just an altar at the east end. This changed in 1879 when, as with so many churches in Victorian times, the interior was completely changed. Pews, the wooden Chancel screen, the pulpit and choir stalls all date from this time. The porch and vestry also date from around this time. In 1943 during the second World War a bomb fell in the field adjoining the church severely damaging the east end. A new stained glass window and altar were consecrated in 1953. The church has five bells which date from the nineteenth century. They had been declared unsafe but were rehung, also in 1953.
...home to John Ray
Black Notley’s most famous son was John Ray. He lived from 1628 to 1705. A naturalist he was a forerunner of Darwin and is remembered to this day for his work on classifying plants. His gravestone is in the churchyard and a copy and translation of its inscription are in the church, donated by the John Ray Society in 1985.
...to where we are today
One Rector on our list had a long lasting effect on our church. Fr John Head was only Rector for a short time from 1945 to 1951 but his introduction of Anglo Catholic churchmanship has stayed as a distinctive part of St Peter and St Paul’s.
In 2002 our meeting room was built as a result of a most generous bequest from a member of the congregation, Miss Florence Slater. The meeting room which bears her name gave the church the much needed facilities of a kitchen, toilets and a space for meetings and social activities.
A leaflet with a much fuller history is available in the church.
With thanks to Gill Ridgewell for writing this history of St Peter and St Paul's