St. Mary's Church, Ardleigh
There is mention of a Church in Ardleigh in King Stephen’s reign (1135-1141), when Roger de Ramis, Lord of the Manor of Pigotts gave the Church to the Abbey that was then in Colchester. There is evidence that Ardleigh Church has been built a number of times. The tower and south porch, the oldest parts of the Church, date from 1460. The body of the Church was rebuilt in 1760. A north aisle was again rebuilt in 1841 and finally the whole Church, apart from the tower and south porch, was rebuilt in 1882 through the efforts of Canon Thomas Walter Perry, Vicar of Ardleigh at that time. The architect for this work was William Butterfield, who was one of the most outstanding architects of the period. He believed that churches were meant for prayer and sacramental worship, which no doubt accounts for the large sanctuary. This Church is the only example of his art in Essex.
SOUTH PORCH: This is comparatively large and is built of a mixture of free stone and flints and is medieval. The old niches above the doorway have modern sculpture and in their spandrels are St George and the Dragon. Crowned lions flank the door and two beasts sit on carvings of Adam and Eve and the door itself is about 500 years old. Also can be seen an inscription in Latin asking for prayers for the souls of John Hunt and Alice, his wife, and William Hunt. There is the remains of a Holy Water Stoup. Over the doorway on the inside of the Porch there is a memorial to Barbara and Henry Lufkin, who died in 1706 and 1721 respectively. This monument, which looks to be made of marble, is actually made of wood and is in the classical style. Age and wear and tear had reduced this monument to a dilapidated state but in 1961 it was repaired and the cost of the restoration was borne by the modern members of the Lufkin family.
TOWER AND BELLS: “A small and simple, but picturesque tower, highly characteristic of Essex. The buttresses are of bold projection . . . in the top stage, they are reduced to mere corner pilasters. The stepped parapet with simple flush work, also the small octagonal pinnacles appear to be rebuilt. Much of the attractiveness of this tower is due to the beautiful red-brown stone, of which, mixed with flint and fragments of brick, it is built. . .” from The Great Church Towers of England by F J Allen. In the tower hang eight bells. Six of these bells were recast in 1955. The tenor bell, cast by Robert Burford between 1410 and 1420, weigh 13 ¼ cwt., and is one of the two oldest bells in the county incorporated in a ringing peal. (The other is at Romford). In 1674, a peal of six was installed, and in 1892 two trebles were added to make up the octave. The inscriptions on the bells have been retained and the sixth bell has the names of the Vicar, Churchwardens and Captain of the Ringers in 1955 inscribed on it. Below the ringing platform, which was erected in 1953 in order to provide a choir vestry underneath are a number of benefaction tablets. The charities are still distributed but in cash and not in kind as originally. In 2002, the choir vestry was redesigned to create a meeting room together with facilities for storage and, in 2004, an award winning oak and glass screen was installed between the tower room and nave. The exterior of the Tower was restored by Messrs Cubitt and Gott Ltd. In 1968-69.
NORTH AISLE: John Kelly, Vicar from 1791-1806, made a list of the complete population of Ardleigh in September 1796, listed under households, and gave the name and age of every man, woman and child, and the trade of the heads of each house. This list took up twelve pages of Parish Register no 6. Dr Kelly was born in the Isle of Man, and before coming to Ardleigh had collaborated in translating the Bible in the Manx language. A memorial to John Kelly was commissioned by John and David Wright in 2006 and was placed in the North aisle.
CHANCEL AND SANCTUARY: The memorial tablet subscribed by members of the Church Union, of which Canon Perry was a member, can be seen on the South side of the Sanctuary. They were responsible, too, for the mural decorations, which is rather typical of the Victorian era. At the entrance to the chancel there is still some slight evidence of some fine tracery at the base of the ancient screen. In 1990, the Chancel and Sanctuary were cleaned, carefully removing years of oil and dirt – a list of subscribers may be found by the arch leading into the Chapel.
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS; All the windows are of 19th century origin and are memorials. One at the east end depicts the Ascension and is a memorial to Ann Elizabeth Nicholl. In the south aisle is a beautiful window depicting the Presentation of the Magi. In the north aisle is a window of the birth of Christ in memory of John Ball, a vicar of Ardleigh. The west window above the ringing chamber is of the Resurrection.