St Peter’s Building

The Maeldune Heritage Centre is housed on the ground floor in a building of great historic interest. Few building have had as many uses at various times: church, grammar school and elementary school, Masonic Lodge, County Library brand and, continuously for the last 300 years, the Plume Library on the first floor.

St. Peter’s, as a church, was closed in 1577 and only the lower part of the tower remains. In 1698 the present tower and brick building were completed at the expense of Dr. Thomas Plume.

Visitors can learn more about the fascinating history of St. Peter’s Tower and its historically important site when they come to Maldon. An information leaflet is available at the Maeldune Heritage Centre with full details of the history of St. Peter’s Tower.

St Peter’s Church

St Peter’s Tower stands on the site of the oldest of Maldon’s three parish churches. A thousand years ago it was the only one, serving a large Anglo-Saxon estate called “Mael dune”. The “mael” (cross, monument) which stood on the “dun” (hill) may have been here where the church of St Peter’s was built to serve the early Saxon settlement.


The canons of Beeleigh were priests who functioned as parish clergy for the churches given to them. They also lived a communal life and by 1244 they had decided to appoint permanent non-monastic clergy to “serve the cure of souls” in their place. In that year the Bishop of London sanctioned the union of the two parishes of All Saints’ and St. Peter’s under one Vicar who would be appointed by the Abbey.

The parishioners continued to be baptised, married and buried in St. Peter’s but the status of this church dwindled by comparison of All Saints’ which for convenience was decreed in 1244 to be considered the mother church of the united parishes.

By 1560, following the establishment of the English Book of Common Prayer and its Reformed, Protestant services, it became impractical to have one Vicar conducting the same services in two places at once. St. Peter’s became redundant.

In 1577 the churchwardens of St. Peter’s parish were ordered to arrange the seating of their parishioners in All Saints’. This church was closed. The civil parish continued to function, however, and for a while baptisms and marriages were still performed here (until about 1600) and the graveyard continued to be used until 1855.

The Vanished Church

All that is left above the ground of the old church is the base of its fifteenth century tower. The upper part was entirely rebuilt in 1698-99 and probably made much taller than the original. The tower’s west door and window and west arch that opened into the nave of the church survive. Two panels of stained glass from the old church, displaying the armorial bearings of Henry VIII and of him and Queen Jane Seymour (and thus dating from 1534 to 1536) are now in All Saints’ church.

Peter’s: A School

At the end of King Henry V’s reign (1442) a charitable trust was established to pay a priest to celebrate Mass in this church. This was termed a chantry because prayers for the soul of King Henry were included in this chaplain’s daily Mass.

Many chantry priests in the 15th century also taught children in the church where their chantry chapel or altar was and here too he was reported to be required to “keep a school”.

Commissioners who transferred this trust’s endowments (of £8 a year) to the Crown in 1549 noted that the priest was Reynold Legge, that he was 35, had no other benefice and was teaching youth in this church.

The commissioner’s duties included recommending that some chantries’ endowments might be used to maintain schools.

In the case of St. Peter’s Church they noted that Reynold Legge was well educated and a competent schoolmaster (“well learned and of good usage” they wrote). They also noted that both All Saints’ and St. Peter’s parishes were very populous.

However, in 1549 the Crown badly needed as much money as it could get from the sale of chantries and other church property to pay for warfare in Scotland, so Maldon got no endowment for its grammar school until early in the 17th century.

St Peter’s: The Town’s Grammar School 1549-1698

In 1608 one of the richest men in Essex, Alderman Ralph Breeder (a haberdasher of this town) bequeathed £300 to create a charitable trust. His will ordered that the trustees should purchase lands and property whose annual rents would be used for “the maintenance of a schoolmaster within the town of Maldon to teach a grammar school within the said town”.

Before 1621 (when Ralph Breeder’s trustees began to carry out the terms of his will) the school which Reynold Legge had been in charge of in 1549 appears to have survived independently. According to a ruling of the Corporation in 1621 schoolmasters could charge a tuition fee of no more than 20 shillings (£1) a year for freemens’ sons, “for that in any man’s memory no more hath been paid within this town”.

Dr Thomas Plume’s Schoolroom 1698 – 1800

This present building was not the one in which William Lowth and John Danes taught their pupils. Grammar schools were generally in disfavour after the turmoil of the Civil War and the Corporation of Maldon after 1660 had to bury its Puritan past. Masters of the Grammar School were appointed but the old church building became derelict.

Near the end of the 17th century Archdeacon Thomas Plume, D.D. came to the rescue. He had the old buildings demolished, except for the base of the tower, and replaced the former nave and chancel with this two storeyed brick building. The upper floor was allocated to the huge library he was assembling; the ground floor was for the Grammar School, with a bell in the tower, cast in 1698, to summon the pupils to their lessons.

TODAY the Maeldune Heritage Centre situated on the ground floor of St. Peter’s Tower is home to the magnificent Maldon Embroidery, celebrating 1000 years of history, a local Crafts Shop, Exhibition Hall showcasing local arts and craft exhibitions and a visitor information centre.

Individual and group bookings are available for talks on the Maldon Embroidery and local history.
Visitors can see local historical and archival displays/Maldon Society Listening Station and video/photographic archives.
Memories of Maldon - Maeldune Heritage Centre
Visitors can see local historical and archival displays/Maldon Society Listening Station and video/photographic archives.