With St Mary’s Church in Ongar currently closed as work takes place to replace its roof, reporter Douglas Patient looks back how the church developed from the 12th century to Victorian times.

While records suggest the church was built around 1181, the first notable recording of the site was in 1216.

The rector at that time, Robert de Cern, obtained a licence from King John to hold a market fair in the churchyard.

Still standing today, the main south doorway is the original from the 12th century and contains a Norman dog-tooth ornament.

A belief in this time was that the devil was on the north side of a church.

So the south door was generally decorated to a greater extent.

The old inscription over the door reads: "This is none other than the House of God and this is the Gateway to Heaven.”

Roof replacement project leader and member of the congregation, Andy Neale, said: “It is carved in stone so it is quite intricate.

“We have also got the original church coffer, an oak chest storing the records and valuables of the church.

“It pre-dated what we now use but we have still got the original coffer.

“It does not hold anything of value now, but it is itself an historical artefact.”

The flint-built chancel, reserved for the clergy and choir, was added in the 13th century.

And at a similar time to this, above the altar, the east window structure was built.

But the date of 1536, the year in which the English Church declared its independence from the Roman Catholic Church, is written on the window.

In the middle, you can see Jesus on the cross with a small shield either side.

The left shield bears the arms of the third wife of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, while the right one the arms of King Henry VIII.

It is believed that the "High" in High Ongar comes from the fact that Henry VIII used to stop here on his journeys to Jericho Priory at Blackmore.

The imposing church bell tower, though built in 13th century style, was actually added as late as Victorian times in 1858.

It replaced a wooden tower with tall, shingled spire, which stood at the west end of church.

The present tower contains a six bells.

While the oldest can be dated back to 1610, the most recent in 1933 when the bells were restored.

Mr Neale, said: “The church is certainly some structure.

“The whole area of Ongar is steeped in history and it has been there from the beginning.

“In many ways, in this day and age of change and lack of permanence and consistency, the parish has stood the test of time.

“It has stayed through the changing fashions and still stands for what it stood for when it was built all those years ago.”