The parish church of Wormley, dedicated to St Laurence, was first mentioned in the 12th century, but its history probably goes back well before that.
Origins of the Church
The church stands, not in the present centre of Wormley on the main road, but in the old village near Ermine Street, the great Roman road running from London to York, and a stone cross had stood nearby since at least the 9th century. The stretch of Ermine Street leading into Wormley is still called Holy Cross Hill.
The manor was granted in 1062 to Waltham Abbey, “with all appurtenances thereto”, and it seems probable that these would have included a church of some kind, perhaps built of wood. The first stone church was probably built in the 12th century, and two references to a church at Wormley survive from the middle of that century. A charter of 1155 refers to “the church of Wormley”, while an edict from Pope Alexander III in 1161freed “the churches of Epping and Wormley” from all jurisdiction other than that of the Vatican.
Both the north wall and the font appear to date from this phase of the church. The church appears to have been restored and extended in the 14th and 15th centuries. A surviving feature from this phase is the staircase to the rood loft, although the loft itself is gone. Further restorations were made in 1844 (paid for in part by the compensation for church land being crossed by the railway) and in 1883. The church originally had a wooden tower with a weather vane; this was demolished in 1826, but a replacement was built in 1963, and contains two bells.
The pulpit is Jacobean, and the legend used to be told that it came from the Archbishop’s Chapel in Addington Palace, and that it was originally a three-decker pulpit which was divided between Wormley and Great Amwell churches. This story is inconsistent with the facts, and almost certainly untrue.
The Last Supper
The church’s greatest treasure is the painting of the Last Supper over the altar. This is attributed to the Venetian painter Jacobo Palma, also known as Il Vecchio, a pupil of Titian. While a reasonably conventional reading of the subject, this painting includes the idiosyncrasy of a small dog eating from a bowl under the table. The painting was purchased by Sir Abraham Hume, Lord of the Manor, and presented to the church in 1797.
On the south side of the chancel is the large, ornate tomb of William Purvey, steward to Sir Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, as well as being auditor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other monuments commemorate the antiquary Richard Gough, and the Tooke family, who held the manor in the 16th and 17th centuries.
This attractive little church, tucked away from the modern village, provides an evocative link with the Wormley of older times, back to the mediaeval period.