The Church of St John the Baptist, Little Maplestead, ‘The Round Church’

The Round Church

The current Church of St John the Baptist was built around 1335. It replaced previous buildings which dated back to 1186 and which were originally erected by the Knights Hospitaller (now the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem which still retains close links with the Church). The origins of the building were recorded in the Doomsday Book, as still evidenced by the font which dates from around 1080.  What is particularly unusual about the Church is that it is one of only four churches still in use in England that has a round nave.  The “Round Church”, as it is locally known, is therefore of great historical significance.

The building was substantially restored between 1851-1857, as detailed in the old minute book of the Restoration Committee that still exists. Unfortunately, much of the work was done with little regard for traditional construction methods and the result has been serious damp problems, exacerbated by poor guttering and drainage.  This has been left unattended to for a long while and has led to cracked walls, bubbling plaster, flaking of the stone surrounds to the windows, buckled stained glass in the windows and damp throughout the building.

The repairs required to rectify a rapidly deteriorating situation have been extensive and have included installing new guttering, constructing French drains and soakaways, repairing and replacing masonry, re-plastering and painting, resetting the stained glass and repointing the flint work on the exterior walls. The bill for all the necessary repairs is approx. £110,000 which is a vast amount for a village with only 300 residents.  

With this challenge in mind, The Friends of the Round Church was created in 2009 by residents to raise this significant sum of money. As of the end of 2018, donations had reached approx. £84,000.  The funds have been spent on implementing permanent solutions to the causes of the damp and then, stage by stage as money is raised, on repairing/restoring/replacing any damaged fabric and structure of the building.  The result has been transformational to both the interior and the exterior and will ensure the long-term health of the Church structure.  We are extremely grateful to the Essex Heritage Trust for their generous donation for the repair of the stained glass.  The work here has been substantial and has involved removing entire stained glass windows, taking the window apart into the individual glass sections, cleaning and, in some instances, replacing certain pieces of glass and then resetting it all with new lead before remounting in the window.  This has been a significant task but one which has restored the stained glass to the beauty it had when first installed