Churches and Schools
Most mediaeval manors had their own church and the landscape of the New Town is enriched by the presence of the manorial churches which survived to become the principal places of worship when parishes were laid out. St. Mary's in Churchgate Street, dedicated as early as 1219, was Harlow’s church although, by the mid-12th century the advowson belonged to the Abbey of Bury St. Edmonds. The nave dates from the 12th century; and the transepts a the round-headed window in the north-west corner of the nave from the 13th. A second dedication, to St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, was added in the 15th century. The church was extensively rebuilt after a serious fire in 1708 which destroyed the steeple and melted the bells. It was then subjected to a major 'Victorianization' between 1877 and 1880, with half the cost born by John Perry-Watlington, one of the town's major 19th century benefactors. His family seat was Moor Hall, on the Matching Road. The manor dated from the 11th century, but the house he occupied was rebuilt around 1810 as a three-storied, five-bay, neo-classical mansion. At the suggestion of Humphrey Repton, the Matching Road was diverted to give the house more privacy. The house was taken over by the British Army during the Second World War, and the allowed to decay. It was burned by vandals and finally demolished ca. 1960, although part of the stable block and one of the lodges survive.
Harlow’s second church was built by subscription in 1839. The founders and parishioners of St. John the Baptist, located at the north end of St. John's Walk, off Market Street, supported the Oxford Movement. They objected to what they considered the rather 'low' traditions of St. Mary's. The Latin liturgy and incense in St. John’s followed High Church traditions. A new parish, which included most of the town, was created in 1857 and the advowson assigned to J.W. Perry-Watlington. However the two benefices were reunited in 1923, and St. John's declared redundant in 1979. The disused church was converted to the Harlow Arts and Recreation Centre in 1985.
Prior to the passage of the Elementary Education Act in 1880, which made it compulsory for all children aged 5 to 10 years to attend school, virtually, all education took place either in private, or Church-sponsored, schools. In 1849 a generous donation from Perry-Watlington of Moor Hall made possible the opening of a Church of England school in Churchgate Street. The new school was built at the urging of the vicar of St. Mary’s who objected to the non-sectarian education teaching offered at the Fawbert and Barnard school in London Road.
The Prospectus of the new school promised that it would:
"afford to children of both sexes, of the age of seven years and upwards, residents in Harlow and the neighbourhood, a sound English Education based upon the principles of the Church, embracing:
English taught grammatically
Penmanship and linear drawing
Arithmetic with the elements of geometry and algebra
The theory and practice of vocal music
History, especially of our own country
Geography, with the sketching of maps.
In the girls’ school, half the day will be given to needlework. The terms including books and stationery will be, for parishioners of Harlow, six shillings, for children from other parishes twelve shillings a quarter. The children of the poor will be admitted: those of Harlow at one penny, from other parishes at two pence a week for each child. Payments to be made in advance. Application for admission to be made to the Vicar."
The school rapidly outgrew its cramped accommodations in Churchgate Street, and with an important change in its mandate, moved to a new site near St. John's Church. The new school, St. Mary's (later Harlow) College, opened its doors on 29 May 1862 (see the 1875 and 1921 Ordnance Survey maps above).
The new school aimed to provide:
"a superior education for the sons of gentlemen and (when sufficient amounts have been obtained) to train at low charge the sons of missionaries abroad, of clergymen similarly engaged at home, as well as orphan sons of gentlemen who have been reduced in circumstances."
The 1947 decision to use Harlow as the basis of a New Town brought about the school’s demise, in spite of the assertion in the 1962 prospectus that the buildings of the New Town "do not in any way encroach in the school grounds, nor can they be seen therefrom". Two years later the headmaster was told that the site would be required for construction of the houses in the Jocelyns estate. An effort was made to find the college a new site in Hertfordshire, but this was unsuccessful, and it was closed, and all but one of the buildings demolished in. The surviving building, which had housed the Lower and Middle Remove and some staff accommodation became part of the Memorial Campus. Both parts of the original building were converted into faculty accommodation in 1969: St. John's House and St. John's House Cottage. St. John's House was converted back to a classroom in 1998.
Latton, the parish to the west of Harlow, was served by St. Mary the Virgin, or St. Mary-at-Latton. The present building occupies the site of a Saxon church which was demolished after the Conquest by the new owners. The Domesday Book records that the church was served by two priests, one appointed by site of Mark Hall, but now sits in a splendid location in the middle of the park created when the course of the Latton Road was moved westwards in 1785.
Remnants of the Norman church, built in 1087, remain: a small window in the south wall of the nave, and the arch of the original south doorway. Both are turned in Roman brick. The tower was rebuilt in the late 16th century, and incorporates more Roman brick, as does the south-east corner of the chancel. New stained glass windows were inserted during this rebuilding. One of the new windows cut off part of another Norman doorway on the south wall - this one had originally led into a small vestry. The porch was added by the Altham family in 1562.
In 1886, in order to marry his beloved Spanish fiance Maria Victorina Ysasi, Newman Gilbey converted to Roman Catholicism. Deprived of support from the lord of the manor the church fell into disrepair. However, eight members of the Gilbey family, including both Newman and Victorina, are buried in the church graveyard and Simon Gilbey, who died in March, 2009, asked that his name be added to one of the stones. Two of the family's servants, Mary Ryan and Antonia Ruiz, are buried here as well. Antonia's inscription, dated 1959, reads: 'Greatly loved for over 60 years in the service of Newman Gilbey and Maria Victorina.'
Between 1924 and 1941 only two people regularly attended the annual Vestry meeting: the Vicar and the Mark Hall gardener. Some of the stained glass in the southern windows was lost in 1945 when a V-1 rocket bomb exploded just south of the church, approximately where the sculpture 'Solo Flight' is located, south of Second Avenue. The church was repaired and re-consecrated in 1950 and then completely restored after a serious fire in 1964.
A new vicarage was built by Joseph Arkwright ca. 1820. Now called Moot Hall, it was converted into a community centre during construction of the New Town and now forms part of the complex centred on The Stow shopping centre.
The impressive remains of Latton Priory can still be seen amongst the buildings of Latton Priory Farm which are just outside Harlow, in an area controlled by the Epping Forest District Council. Augustinian canons established Latton Priory near the south end of the parish 1230. It was a poor priory, and struggled to maintain even the small complement of a prior and four canons. It was long ago converted to a barn, but the four 13th century arches of the crossing survive, as do portions of the transepts and a short section of the nave. The remains can be accessed by means of a public footpath running south from Latton Common Road.
The farm and the remains of the Grade 1 listed priory will presumably continue to exist in the future but in an entirely different spatial context. The East of England Plan requires the construction of tens of thousands of new houses in and around Harlow. Plans for up to 2,500 housing units to be built in the Latton Priory estate over a 20-year period were proposed in 2013 but have not yet been approved by the District Council. (For details of the proposed development see www.lattonpriory.co.uk).
Netteswell's church was St. Andrew's. The nave and chancel were built in the Early English style in the 13th century but there has been a church on this site for far longer - perhaps as early as the 8th century. The first written record of a church at Netteswell is in a charter of Henry II, dated 1177. The wooden bell turret was added ca. 1400, and two of the three bells date from this period. Two 13th century lancet windows survive, one in each of the north and south nave walls. The southern window contains red and blue plumes which are said to be the device of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester - Lord of the Harlow Hundred - who was put to death by Richard II. The church was ' thoroughly restored', as they say, in 1875. The church was granted to Waltham Abbey in 1177. The adjoining six-bay tithe barn, referred to now as the Monk’s Barn, dating from ca. 1440 was used to store grain before it was sent on to the Abbey. Netteswell Pond, north of the church and barn, was one of the Abbey's fishponds.
The Monks’ Barn was formerly used as an engineering workshop and then a riding school. It suffered serious fire damage on 26 June 1970, but was carefully restored so that the original, fire-blackened, timbers can easily be differentiated from the modern replacements which faithfully reproduce the original unique joint work.
The manor and its church were sold to the Arkwrights in 1903 and then bought by the Harlow Development Corporation in 1947. The church was declared redundant in 1978 and, along with the Monks’ Barn and the adjoining 16th century Day Barn were converted into the Harlow Study Centre.
The parish of Parndon was divided in two in the 13th century, and therefore had two churches. St. Mary, Little Parndon was demolished in 1868 and its replacement paid for by Loftus Arkwright. The original church of St. Mary The Virgin, Great Parndon standing in the shadow of Katherines manor house, was built in the early 13th century. It was thoroughly restored in the 15th century; futher additions (the south transept) were made in the 16th century, and the north transept added in 1913. The tower was restored in 1895 and again in 1969. It contains three bells, two cast in 1613 and one in 1779. One of the oldest ones is original; the other two were re-cast in 1958.
Non-Conformists have lived in Essex for a long time, and have left their mark on Harlow. The Baptists, one of the break-away groups which enjoyed a degree of religious tolerance under Charles II, were organized in this area as early as 1662, based on the manor house at Campions. Two chapels were built: one in Fore Street in 1764, and one in Potter Street in 1756. The Fore Street chapel was enlarged in 1810 and then replaced in 1865, when the congregation numbered 600 souls, by the existing Italianate-style chapel.
When the Gilbey family were the lords of Mark Hall manor, they provided a centre for Roman Catholic worship in buildings of their estate. In 1950 Mr. and Mrs. Newman Gilbey made available a plot of land at Mulberry Green for the building of Our Lady of the Assumption - the first Catholic church built in Harlow since the Reformation.
A small Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in 1886 in High Street, near Mulberry Green. It was apparently intended to be the Sunday School of a larger chapel that was never built. It was converted to flats in 2004.