Old Churchyard Site in Halstead

"Historical Halstead"

The oldest ruins in Halstead are to be found at the Old Churchyard site at Halstead Place which is classified as a "Scheduled Ancient Monument". The first written record of a church was in 1120AD, but the church was almost certainly older and probably originated as the private chapel of an Anglo Saxon thane as part of his estate, now known as Halstead Place.

The church was enlarged and altered over many centuries but, despite an extensive programme of restoration between 1866 and 1873, a surprising decision was taken in 1880 to demolish the church and build a new one at the current site of St Margaret's. As Geoffrey Kitchener mentions on page 65 in his book Millennial Halstead, much of the flint from the demolished church was reused and many ornaments transferred.

Extra space for burials had been needed for many years, and in 1854 John Pelly Atkins the owner of Halstead Place donated land for a new burial ground, which was consecrated in 1855, and forms the main part of the present churchyard. A burial chapel which was erected on this land forms the chancel of the new church.

An interesting footnote in the history of the village is the omission of the transfer of the right to solemnise marriage in the church when it was rebuilt, with the result that 112 marriages celebrated there until 1919 were invalid, and many villagers therefore illegitimate. The marriages were validated by an Order, confirmed by a special Act of Parliament in 1920. Some years later when Halstead Place became a school, the children of J B Priestley were pupils there, leading to speculation that Halstead's unlawful marriages formed the basis of his play "When we are married".