Church Chests

Church chests became common church objects  in the early middle ages as they provided a means of securing documents , gifts and church valuables from casual theft or accident.

Bradwell Church Chest 1893 Bradwell Church Chest

H William Lewer and J Charles Wall were celebrated church historians in the late 1800's and in 1893 wrote a definitive guide on local Church Chests called  The Church Chests of Essex .

The guide provides a good general account of chests and their used plus an index of facts about chests in specific churches.

The extracts below reproduce their comments about church chests in eastern Essex providing a snapshot of church life in 1893.


First mentioned - 29 September 1553 in an inventory - Althorne One olde cheste


Not listed

Bradwell on Sea

Five Bradwell Juxta Mare has a chest of the eighteenth century in the vestry. It is of oak, varnished,dovetailed, and with two small ornamental lock-plates of brass, with a similar plate and drop handle on the front.

L 3' 4" W 1' 8.5"  D 1' 3"

Burnham on Crouch

Not listed

Cold Norton

First mentioned - 28 September 1553 in an inventory - A hutch sold to John Lyndsey for the sum of eyght pence


A nineteenth century chest with a moulded plinth, the whole covered with dull yellow toned paint.

L 2' 7.5" W 1' 6.5"   D 1' 6.5"


Not listed

Latchingdon - St Michael

First mentioned - 22 September 1553 in an inventory- Lachingdon - A cheste for the regestre boke. Assigned to the church Gardners to the use of the church the chales, the coope, the chest for the register booke, the residue of the p'misses comytted to the salf keping of John Osborne gent and John Camnper to the use of the kings maties please

This church is now disused and converted into a house. The chest is no longer in situ.

Latchingdon - Christchurch

Not listed


First mentioned - 28 September 1553 in an inventory - Maylond- It'm is old coopes and a church hooche.


Not listed

North Fambridge

AD  1598 -Detect :That many things contained in the first Art are wanting - A chest and the X Commandments.

This was taken from the Acts Books of Chelmsford as part of a review of local churches - Not only was the chest missing but the congregation seemed to have forgotten the 10 commandments!


Confined in a dark corner the chest at Purleigh cannot well be examined. It is apparently built of chestnut wood, and is varnished.

The only parts visible are the front and the top. The front is cross bound with thin bands of iron, two horizontal and three vertical; a lock plate occupies a position in the middle, and provision is made for padlocks at the upper part of each outermost band, but no hasps remain. A moulded plinth is a subsequent addition, possibly put on when the seventeenth century chest was furnished with a modern lid, which has four moulded panels.

L 6' 2"  W 1' 9"  D 1' 9"

St Lawrence Newland

A very ordinary eighteenth century box, very plain, the only relief being found in the scalloped edges of the front angles, and moulded edges to the lid and the plinth. The hinges are inside the lid, and the latter is secured by a short chain of five links which is fastened to the lid by a staple, and passes over another staple in the front for the reception of a padlock.

L 3' 6"  W 1' 8"  D 1' 7"


First mentioned - 1 October 1553 in an inventory- Southmyster - Itm 4 chests

southminster church chest

Possibly the cubical chest in situ is one of the four mentioned in the Edward 6th inventory and being broken and one of the least valuable or attractive , escaped the royal pillage.

It is built of sturdy oaken planks and cross banded with iron. The iron straps on the front are fastened at angles to allow space for three locks and yet to equalise the support at the base; a local idea of ornament may also have influenced this eccentric method of banding.

The condition and placement of locks and the former position of others lead to a conjectural solution of this unusual arrangement. Two of the original locks have been wrenched from the wood, and such force was used by sacreligious hands that the lid was fractured in tearing off one of the bands which carried the hasp. To mend the lid two additional pieces of iron are carried across the break; and to fasten the chest a lock is placed on the middle of each side.

The whole chest, both wood and iron has been covered in black paint.

L3' 2.5"  W 3' 2"  D 3' 2"


Steeple with Stansgate

First mentioned - 25 September 1553 in an inventory- Steple - 1 chesse

A well made nineteenth century box of varnished oak serves as the parish chest in the new church of Steeple. It is finely dovetailed, with a moulded plinth and a brass drop-handle on an ornamental plate.

L 2' 1" W 1' 9"  D 1' 9"


Stow Maries

Not listed


First mentioned - 1249 - Four chest to stow vestments and ecclesiastical items.

On  a further visit in 1297 there was one fewer chest.

Both taken from St Paul's Cathedral inventory of it's possessions


Woodham Mortimer

First mentioned - 25 September 1553 in an inventory- Wodeham Mortymer - Of redy money in yee church box

Woodham Walter

AD  1587 -For wanting of a key for the Vicar, of the church chest.

This was taken from the Acts Books of Chelmsford as part of a review of local churches