Essendon & Woodhill
The village of Essendon lies on the B158 and is surrounded by Green Belt countryside. It has the most challenging hill in Hertfordshire for cyclists and the area attracts walkers. The parish includes several hamlets and a permanent Traveller site.
A Greek Orthodox Church (formerly C. of E.) is on its southern border; the churchyard (St Mark, Woodhill) there is still part of St Mary’s parish, Essendon. The church of St Mark, Woodhill was transferred about 1915 from the parish of Bishop's Hatfield to the parish of Essendon. Built in 1852 and rebuilt in 1880 the church was declared redundant in 1976. It was purchased in 1977 by the Missionary Association of the Crusade of the Holy Spirit, a Roman Catholic organisation that trained priests for mission in Latin America. It was re-consecrated as The Greek Orthodox Community of the Twelve Apostles on 1st October 2000.
The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin is in a conservation area in the middle of the village. It is very much part of the village’s identity. St Mary's church building as it appears today is largely determined by the rebuilding of 1883 followed by the repairs to the damage from the Zeppelin bomb of 3rd September 1916 (click here for more information), the addition of the lych-gate in 1919 and most recently by the building of the church room opposite the north door in 2003. Norman fragments found during the 1883 rebuilding indicated that there had been a church here since the 12th century and the list of Rectors displayed in the church and researched by a previous Essendon schoolmaster and sub-librarian at St Albans Cathedral, begins in 1213.
The tower is the oldest part of the current structure. There is a tradition that the tower fell and was rebuilt. Certainly, there was extensive rebuilding in 1628 as recorded on the south side of the tower and the west door and window above it were restored in 1884. The spandrels of the west door contain the arms of Henry Courtney, Marquess of Exeter, and his wife Gertrude. The execution of the
Marquess in 1539 brought an end to the connection of this family with Essendon, suggesting that the doorway was part of work done to the tower in the early years of the 16th century. There were originally five bells; these having been cast between 1681 and 1685. A sixth bell was added in 1769. Individual bells were recast in 1894 and in 1903 and two more were recast in 1990 when the bells were restored and augmented to eight in number.
The old church, except the tower, was pulled down and rebuilt to a design by William White FSA adding the north aisle and faced in flint with red and white Ancaster stone dressings. The church was re-opened on Thursday, May 29th, 1883, while restoration of the tower continued. Many memorials from the old church were incorporated into the new building. The lych-gate in memory of Frances Culling Hanbury of Bedwell Park and built with timber from Hatfield house was added in 1919.
One of the two baptisteries formerly housed a black basalt Wedgwood font, one of only three made. It is hoped to again display this treasure in the future
In 2003 the church room was added, and the splendid Bell Ringer’s Millennium stained glass window installed in the church. Figures of bell ringers are depicted against a view of Essendon and its church on the hill as seen from the A414. Two small bats can just be spotted.
The church room with modern facilities including two toilets (one for disabled people and with baby changing facilities) provides a pleasant comfortable venue for meetings and small
social events, including the weekly drop-in coffee morning.
The beautiful, well-maintained churchyard is still an open churchyard; a recent gift of land ensures that it should remain so for the near future.
We are blessed with a loyal and supportive congregation. Services are both modern (Common Worship) and traditional depending upon the service. A monthly Evensong is held from Easter till September. We have a small, effective choir and a fine Willis organ.