History and Guides 

ChurchJB-300-1The parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin is the largest in Essex, with an overall length of 183 feet, whilst the height of the tower and spire is 193 feet.

The East Saxons who gave their name to Essex were pagan, but after St. Cedd led their conversion to Christianity in the 7th century there was in all probability a Saxon wooden church here, The massive Norman stone church that was known to exist in 1130 was rebuilt and enlarged in the early form of the 'Decorated' period between 1250 and 1258.

A general rebuilding in the 'Perpendicular' style was begun in about 1450 and the present church takes a high place, from an architectural point of view, among the parish churches of England. The spire, however, is more modern, for it was built, and the upper part of the tower was renewed, in 1832, to the design of Messrs. Rickman and Hutchinson.

Illustrated guidebooks (see also below) and postcards of the church are available at the West end of the church.

Do have a look at our Historical Guide to St Mary's - taken from the 'Illustrated Guide to St Mary's Church Saffron Walden' by Lawrence Gooderham with illustrations by the late Don Burns.

A History and Guide to St Mary's Saffron Walden

By the late Dr Kenneth Dixon and complied and edited by Hamish Walker in 2000. Download a copy of this definitive history and guide to our Church.

The 2017 and completely revised edition with new material by John Read is available on the Friends' stand at the west end of St Mary’s church at a price of £5. All proceeds will go to the Friends of St Mary’s Parish Church to help fund future projects.

Aug Profile cover 3a-800Parish Profile September 2020

This Parish Profile was prepared for the recruitment of our new Team Rector for the Saffron Walden and Villages Team Ministry and Area Dean and provides and introduction to our Parish and Team Ministry and Deanery.



History of our Organ

There was apparently an organ in St Mary’s as early as 1451. The present organ is a descendant of one built in 1824 by John Vincent. Rebuilt in 1885 by T. C. Lewis and following further rebuilds, the organ is now a four-manual instrument, with five keyboard divisions, Solo, Swell, Great, Choir and Bombarde. Its most dramatic feature is a strong fanfare trumpet en chamade – the Trompeta Real – which continues down to the Pedal Organ at 16-foot pitch, to provide a very solid foundation for the full organ.  A versatile example of the romantic genre, the organ is suitable for playing any of the recitalist’s repertoire......

Find out more by downloading our Organ Leaflet recently updated by Peter De Vile and which makes very interesting reading.

360° Tour of St Mary's Church

Click here to see Harry Jubb's 360° Tour of St Mary's Church - August 2015 - On Google Maps

A Walk-Around Guide to St Mary's Church

Download a copy of this useful 2 page guide.  This has also been translated into Czech, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

Heraldic Records

38 shields from Glass, Memorials and Tombslabs recorded by Peter B Rushbrook from Great Baddow in 2000. B&W scan or Greyscale scan.

Guide to the Stained Glass Windows of St Mary's Church

These revised  notes (2006)  are based on those of  Muriel Simpson, who compiled the original leaflet with advice from Martin Harrison, author of ‘Victorian Stained Glass’.

The Making of Mary

An account by Tessa Hawkes of the making of the statuette Mary - in the North Chapel.

History of our Tower with 12 Bells

With a tower of 12 bells, St Mary’s has a 'Society of Bellringers', who ring for Sunday services and weddings. Find out more about St Mary's Bells here.

Illustrated Guide to St Mary's Church Saffron Walden

By Lawrence Gooderham with illustrations by the late Don Burns.
Download a copy (0.7 MB). Copies are also on sale at the back of the Church for £1. If you are interested in the illustrations you can download a higher resolution version (4.5MB).

Article on the History of St Mary's Church Saffron Walden - 1920

By Revd Montagu Benton, which appeared in 2 parts in the magazine of Friends' School - The Avenue - Vol X March 1920 No 31 and Dec 1920 No 33.
Download a scan of these articles here or see a transcript here.

From the Essex Record Office

Details of repairs to St Mary's Church Saffron Walden from the parish records from c 1790. Many thanks to Beryl Meehan who transcribed this from the Saffron Walden parish registers on-line at www.essexcc.gov.uk/ero  Download this document here.

Other documents from the Essex Record Archives can be found at www.essex.gov.uk/ero  In the search box in the middle of the page type in "Saffron Walden Parish" and then press search.

To trace your Family History check out our Family History Page.

Burials within the Church

An introduction to burials within St Mary's Church from the February 2012 edition of St Mary’s Church News by John Read.

See John Read's article in the Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 4 Autumn 2002 on "St Mary's Saffron Walden Burial Registers 1558 - 1892". Over 780 people have been buried inside the church - read John Read's interesting article to find out more.

You can download John Read's full list of burial locations within the church in pdf or Excel format, and see some examples here of interesting burial locations with the church.

Find out who is buried in the Howard Vault at the east end of the Church by John Read.

Burials within St Mary's Churchyard

Find out more about burials in the church and churchyard. (Over 18,000 people were buried in St Mary's Churchyard over a 300 period from 1553 to 1860!)

Finding Aid for St Mary's Saffron Walden Churchyard Memorial Stones - by John Read

Monumental Inscriptions in the Churchyard and Church of St Mary's SW between 1521-1982 - transcribed by members of the North West Essex Churchyard Group (1978-1984) and edited, indexed and typed by Neville G Price MA 1984.

Other Historical Documents relating to St Mary's

The Byrde and Woodhall Memorials on the west end of the north wall – from St Mary’s Parish News  July 2011 by John Read

Restoration Wall Plaque above South Door - from St Mary's Church News October 2011 by John Read

The North and South Aisle Statues - from St Mary’s Church News November 2011 by Hamish Walker

More about the South and North Aisle Statues – in Parish News November 2012 by John Read

'Historical Notes on the North Chapel' by John Read. Taken from the April 2012 edition of Saint Mary's Parish News

'Thomas Dove' - from St Mary’s Parish News June 2012 by John Read

The Muniments Room -  from the Parish News April 2013 by John Read

The Peal Boards in the West Porch - from the Parish News October 2014 by John Read

'John Thomas Frye - organist 1820 – 1884' by John Read. From the April 2015 edition of Saint Mary's Parish News.

Information about the Ledger Stones at the West End of the Church by John Read. Taken from the July 2015 edition of Saint Mary's Parish News

Thomas Turner father and son by John Read -  from the May 2016 edition of Saint Mary's Parish News.

The Walsingham Family - from St Mary’s Parish News October 2017 by John Read

Rev'd William Gretton - from St Mary’s Parish News April 2018 by John Read