A Brief History of the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, Hockley.
The present building dates back to 1220 – the reign of Henry III – but it is known that a church was on this site prior to that date as earlier foundations were discovered during renovation in the rood Loft area. As the manor of Hockley is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as belonging to the royal Abbey of Barking, it is probable that a place of worship existed at that time. Architecturally the building covers the period of change between Norman and Early English, itself known technically as ‘transitional’.
Historically the ‘living’ (the right to collect tithes) of St Peter and St Paul has passed through many hands. After the dissolution of the monasteries it was given by Henry VIII to Thomas Cromwell, passing eventually to Lord Petre of Ingatestone Hall. In 1665 Dorothy Wadham, Lord Petre’s daughter, converted the advowson to the college her husband had founded at Oxford – Wadham College. The living is still in the favour of that college. The saddest incumbent was without a doubt William Tyms, deacon and curate of Hockley, who was burned at the stake at Smithfield in April 1565 for heresy having preached against the Catholic doctrine of Queen Mary Tudor.
Outside the Tudor brick porch and set into the path is the tombstone of William Waight (1790) who gave instruction that as he had always been trampled on in life, he saw no reason why things should not change after death. Inside the porch is a 13th century holy water stoop, discovered during restoration in 1938.
Immediately inside and above the 13th century south door is a much worn pre-Reformation alabaster crucifixion scene. For many years it was incorporated into the exterior fabric of the tower. It was removed during restoration and sent to the Victoria and Albert Museum which confirmed it to be the remains of a pre-Reformation altar, one of very few in England.
The statues on the Rood, the patron saints and the Stations of the Cross were carved in lime wood by renowned Austrian woodcarver Anton Daple. The pulpit is modern and the panels are decorated with the symbols of St Peter and St Paul. The font – 1160 – is of Purbeck marble.
The nave has a 14th century roof with 15th century windows. The north arcade with its Gothic arches was built in 1220. The piscine (used to drain off the water used by the priest for washing the holy vessels used at Holy Communion) is 13th century. In the south wall are the remains of the Rood loft stairs next to which is the Requiem altar, thought to have been the original high altar, discovered buried under the floor during renovations in 1937.
The choir and sanctuary are 13th century and the granite tombstone set into the floor is thought to be that of William de Codewell, Priest, who died in 1362. The blocked Norman window in the north wall of the choir was obscured when the vestry was built in 1854. The blocked window in the south wall is 14th century and the piscine 13th century. The stained glass in the east window is all that remains of a larger window given by Wadham College which was shattered when a landmine fell in the vicinity in the Second World War.
The north aisle/Lady Chapel has 14th century windows and the north doorway (sometimes known as the Devil’s doorway) is 13th century as is the piscine. Of particular note is the ancient glass in the form of a cross in the window above the altar. The inscription reads: ‘Deus Ictus’ – ‘God stricken’. Unfortunately the story behind this sad statement is not known.
The tower was built in 1350 at the time of the Black Death. The 3 bells are dated 1626, 1684 and 1657 and hang from a 14th century bell frame. The two windows are 14th century.
In the churchyard is the grave of Alexander Zass – The Great Samson – who gained international fame for his strength. He lived out his final years in Hockley and died in 1962. Zass is still remembered with pride by his home town, Orenburg in South Russia, and members of the Orenburg Charity Foundation ‘Eurasia’ and have visited on several occasions recently.