An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 3, North East. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1922.
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7. BIRCH. (C.d.)
(O.S. 6 in. (a)xxvii. S.W. (b)xxxvi. N.W. (c)xxxvi. S.W.)
Birch is a parish 5 m. S.W. of Colchester. It includes the former parishes of Great and Little Birch. The church of the former, now the parish church, has no ancient features. The ruined church of Little Birch is interesting.
b(1). Church of St. Mary (Plate, p. 6), formerly the parish church of Little Birch, stands ¾ m. N.E. of the parish church of Great Birch. The walls are of rubble with some brick; the rubble of the nave is coursed; the dressings are of limestone and brick. The Nave was built early in the 12th century. About the middle of the 14th century the Chancel was rebuilt and the West Tower added. The Chancel-arch was inserted c. 1400. In the 16th century the upper part of the tower was rebuilt and the stair-turret added. The church fell into disuse, probably in the 17th century, and is now roofless and ruinous.
Architectural Description—The Chancel (26½ ft. by 16½ ft.) has in the E. wall the jambs of a 14th-century window; the head has gone and the sill has been broken away. In the N. wall are two mid 14th-century windows, with two-centred heads and moulded labels; the former mullion and tracery of each has been destroyed. In the S. wall are two similar windows but the outer arch and label of the eastern window has been destroyed; between them is a mid 14th-century doorway with moulded jambs, two-centred arch and label. The chancel-arch was inserted c. 1400; the arch has gone, but the late 14th-century responds of cut brick have each an attached shaft, with a moulded stone base.
The Nave (31½ ft. by 19 ft.) has in the N. wall two windows, the eastern is of the 12th century, now blocked, and has a Roman brick W. jamb and splay with part of the round head of stone; the western window has moulded jambs perhaps of the 14th century and an early 16th-century brick head; it is set low in the wall and has a single pointed light under a square moulded label; E. of it is the N. doorway of which only the splays and segmental-pointed rear-arch, probably of the 14th century, remain; E. of the eastern window is a small quatrefoiled opening of the 15th century which formerly lighted the stairway to the rood-loft; the upper and lower doorways have been removed and the openings blocked. At the E. angles of the nave are pilaster buttresses of Roman brick and the W. angles have quoins of the same material. In the S. wall are two windows, the eastern, formerly of two lights, is now only a ragged opening with the sill and part of the E. jamb remaining; the western window is of the 12th century and is similar to that in the N. wall but is complete and not blocked; further W. is a ragged opening representing the former S. doorway; it has splays and rear-arch of Roman brick and perhaps of the 12th century. In the S.W. angle is the early 16th-century doorway to the stair-turret of the tower; it has chamfered jambs and a four-centred head.
The West Tower (6½ ft. square) is of four stages with a ruined parapet. The two lower stages are of the 14th century but built on to the 12th-century W. wall of the nave; the two upper stages are of red brick and are of 16th-century date. The 14th-century tower-arch is of brick and has responds and two-centred arch of two chamfered orders. The 14th-century W. window is of two cinquefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head with a moulded label and carved stops, one with a head and one with a grotesque beast. The second stage has in the E. wall a square-headed opening; above it are the marks of the former steep-pitched roof of the nave. In the W. wall is a 14th-century window of one cinquefoiled light with a moulded label. The bell-chamber has in the E., N. and W. walls an early 16th-century window of brick and of two four-centred lights in a square head; the mullion of the W. window has been destroyed.
Fittings—Coffin-lid: Tapering slab used as threshold of S. doorway. Piscina: In chancel— with moulded jambs and trefoiled head, broken drain, 14th-century.
Condition—Ruinous and tower much overgrown with ivy.
b(2). Birch Castle, formerly belonging to the Gernon family (Morant, II, 182), stands a few yards S. of the parish church. A short length of rampart and ditch situated on a spur of high ground is all that remains of the earthworks of the Castle. Morant describes the work as a mount surrounded by a ditch.
In the valley to the N.E. of the castle is an old dam, now disused.
b(3). S.E. of Birch Holt and nearly 2 m. W.S.W. of the parish church.
b(4). At Birch Holt Farm, 150 yards N.W. of (3).
The following monuments, unless otherwise described, are of the 17th century and of two storeys, timber-framed and plastered; the roofs are tiled or thatched. Many of the buildings have original chimney-stacks and exposed ceiling-beams.
Condition—Good, or fairly good.
b(5). Winter flood's Farm, house, nearly 2 m. W.N.W. of the parish church, is of L-shaped plan with the wings extending towards the S. and E.
b(6). Cottage, on S. side of road, 500 yards N.E. of (5).
b(7). Claypit Farm, house, nearly ¾ m. E.S.E. of (6), was built probably late in the 16th century, with a cross-wing at the N. and S. ends. The original central chimney-stack has grouped hexagonal shafts.
a(8). Upper Hill Farm, house, 1½ m. N. of the parish church, was built late in the 16th or early in the 17th century, and has a cross-wing at the W. end. The upper storey projects at the N. end of the cross-wing and on the E. side of the main block.
b(9). Cottage, about ¼ m. S.E. of St. Mary's church.
b(10). Cottage, on the E. side of the road at Birch Green, about ½ m. S. of the parish church, was built probably in the 16th century, and has a cross-wing at the N. end.
c(11). Roundbush Farm, house, about 1¼ m. S.W. of the parish church, has an original chimney-stack, with four octagonal shafts.