into Blackmore from Kelvedon Hatch ones eye is drawn to the strange
village bell tower. Architectural historian Nikolas Pevsner
in 1954 described it as "one of
the most impressive,
if not the most impressive, of all timber towers in England".
use of timber is very common in
churches especially in this part of Essex.
towers are numerous. There are
some one hundred possess belfries in Essex
and nine bell
towers: at Mundon (in the east of the county near Maldon), Ramsden
Greensted, Magdalen Laver, Navestock, West
(Harvard), Margaretting and here at Blackmore.
Bell Tower at Blackmore
any other church in Essex
the tower at
Blackmore rises in three stages. Inside, the design is similar to the
Margaretting and it has been suggested that the same architect was
for the construction of both. Also,
much of the timber at Blackmore is
considered to be original and is of exceptional quality. This suggests
someone of enormous wealth was responsible for the construction of the
historians were successfully
able to date stone work, all the timber towers of Essex
assumed to be 15th century.
was not until the early 1960s that
Cecil Hewett, a local enthusiast, single-handedly studied the
medieval carpentry and concluded, through relative study of Essex
buildings and radiocarbon analysis, dates of construction. He studied
tower at Blackmore and dated it to around 1480. Cecil
Hewett's work has stood for a
generation. More recently it has been challenged by the successful
of a newer technique of tree-ring analysis (known as dendrochronology).
applies the simple fact
that all trees grow at different rates year on year, depending on
conditions. Each year will leave a tree ring and by comparing the
lesser growth of trees of samples, by reference to surviving trees and
timbers it is possible to determine the age of timber used in
technique excites archaeologists because timber framed buildings were
constructed, using ‘green’ wood, which means that
the age of a building can be
determined with some precision, sometimes within a year of felling,
the sapwood is present. For example, the outer wall of the bell tower
church has been
dated “Winter 1534-35”.
were keen to use this
technique on the church at Navestock because there had always been some
regarding the date of construction given by Cecil Hewett. It was
the date given by Hewett (1190 to 1260) was too early. In 1999,
analysis concluded that timbers in the bell tower have a felling date
1365 to 1391. Navestock’s tower, still appears to be the
in Essex. There
were a number of theories about the
date of Blackmore’s bell tower. Most
suggested a date range between 1380 and 1480.
enquiries established that it was
possible to have the bell tower at Blackmore tree-ring dated, so in
members of Blackmore Church’s congregation* (St Laurence
Blackmore PCC) decided to proceed with a project to
determine the age of the
bell tower. The
work was carried out by
Dr. Martin Bridge, a local expert, from the Oxford Dendrochronology
in May 2004.
samples were taken from the massive
bell tower for analysis: seven at floor level and two more from the
bell frame. The
samples from the bell frame failed to date, as did one sample at floor
level. Of the
six remaining, three gave precise dates of the felling of the tree.
contained the complete bark edge and sapwood. This meant Dr Bridge was
accurately date when the trees were felled. One sample was dated
another 1398/99, and a third 1399/1400. He concluded that the tower"
built in 1400, or within the
following two years".
bell tower is the largest of its kind in Essex and the date of 1400 is
earlier than historians and archaeologists
have previously thought. The date is a major new discovery and has the
rewriting the history of the village. We
now know that not only was the Nave
roof built by 1397, judging by the sixteen coloured heraldic devices
but also the north doorway and tower built around the same time. This
that the Priory was at its wealthiest at the end of the fourteenth
Since then Blackmore has not been as rich.
* Andrew Smith, webmaster of this site, was involved in commissioning
the work. St Laurence Blackmore PCC gratefully acknowledge
the grant aid given to the project by the Council for British
Archaeology and the Essex Heritage Trust which fully paid for
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