A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2001.
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Architectural evidence indicates that there was a church in the late 11th century. (fn. 1) Aubrey de Vere (d. 1141) gave it to Colne priory, (fn. 2) and the priory presumably appropriated the rectory, which was held by its successors. (fn. 3) The advowson of a curacy or vicarage was granted to the earl of Oxford in 1536, (fn. 4) and descended with the manor until 1869 when Henry Hume sold it to G. J. Taylor. In 1872 Taylor gave it to Keble College, Oxford, (fn. 5) who remained patrons in 1997. The living was held in plurality with Mount Bures 1950-7, with Pebmarsh 1957-66, and with Earls Colne from 1967. In 1995 the benefice was united with those of Earls Colne and Colne Engaine. (fn. 6)
In 1254 the church, presumably the rectory, was said to be worth 100 marks, apparently an error for 100s. as it was valued at £5 6s. 8d. in 1291. (fn. 7) In 1362 and 1370 it paid 14½d. to St. Bartholomew's priory, London. (fn. 8) The living was not valued in 1535, perhaps because it was unendowed. (fn. 9) From the late 16th century incumbents were often called vicars, and by 1650 received tithe worth £22; in 1768 the tithe was of hay and wood. (fn. 10) The living was augmented with £200, by lot, from Queen Anne's Bounty in 1796, and in 1835 was worth £83. (fn. 11) When the tithe was commuted in 1838 a rent-charge of £135 a year was assigned to the vicar. (fn. 12) The living was augmented by Queen Anne's Bounty with £200 to meet private grants in 1881, and in 1887 was worth c. £164. (fn. 13) The poverty of the living caused difficulties in finding incumbents in the earlier 20th century. (fn. 14)
The parish priest had a house in 1425. (fn. 15) In 1738 the glebe house immediately east of the church was a cottage suitable only for the poorest people. (fn. 16) By 1838 it was two cottages with 1½ r. of land, and in 1841 was in bad condition. (fn. 17) It still belonged to the living in 1930. (fn. 18) W. E. Hume (vicar 1833-67) bought Colneford House, then in Earls Colne, apparently intending it for the living, but it was sold at his death. In 1868 his successor, G. J. Taylor, built a vicarage house on 4½ a. to the east of the church, acquired from Henry Hume. (fn. 19) The house, then unoccupied, was partially burnt in 1952 and was sold in 1953. (fn. 20)
A priest of Colne Miblanc witnessed charters in the 1140s or 1150s, (fn. 21) but the living was apparently vacant in 1254. (fn. 22) Nothing is known of later medieval incumbents, who were not presented to a vicarage, but a curate was recorded in 1533. (fn. 23) Parishioners bequeathed cows to the church for obits in 1524, 1531, and 1534, and for a light before the statue of the Virgin Mary in 1531. (fn. 24)
The church was vacant in 1563. (fn. 25) William Adams, curate or vicar from 1584 to c. 1609, was also vicar of Earls Colne. (fn. 26) In 1588 William Lemming, the Earls Colne schoolmaster who acted as Adams's curate, was unlicensed and insufficiently qualified in theology. He was suspended but was still preaching early in 1590; he was licensed later that year. (fn. 27) In 1595 Adams was accused of failing to say services at the proper times. (fn. 28) In 1607 there was no service on Ascension Day or a following Sunday, and in 1609 Adams was alleged to behave irreverently in church and to preach infrequently. (fn. 29) In 1629 and 1630 Samuel Stone, curate of Stisted who was later suspended for nonconformity, lectured in the parish without a licence. (fn. 30) Robert Guyon, incumbent from 1627 or earlier, was charged in 1644 with scandalous behaviour and neglect of the cure; some practices suggested that he was 'distempered in his brain', but others implied Laudian sympathies. The living was apparently sequestered, but Guyon, who seems to have remained in the parish, recovered it at the Restoration and was minister at his death in 1667. (fn. 31) The curate appointed in the 1650s, John Bigley, was apparently expelled in 1662 and was licensed as a nonconformist preacher in 1672. Nevertheless, he continued to hold services in the church, and may have been the curate John Biggen who was excommunicate in 1684 and the Mr. Biggen who preached illegally in the parish church in 1690. (fn. 32) In 1707 the church had no ornaments or equipment, and there were no services. (fn. 33)
For much of the 18th century the church was held by non-resident pluralists and served by. neighbouring clergy. (fn. 34) In 1738 the vicar, who also served Little Tey, provided only one service on Sunday and communion four times a year. He claimed in 1742 that until his arrival there had been only one sermon a month, and that parishioners could attend a neighbouring church if they wished. (fn. 35) By the 1750s there was only one service a fortnight, but John Houghton (1760-1811) restored the weekly service. He served the church himself from Halstead, where he was schoolmaster, until 1775. (fn. 36)
In 1833 W. E. Hume, the impropriator and patron, presented himself to the living. (fn. 37) Mental illness, culminating in his admission to an asylum in 1852, prevented him from serving the church for most of his incumbency. From 1848 his curate was G. J. Taylor, an energetic and popular priest, who succeeded him as vicar 1867-96 and who was responsible for founding the National School, building the vicarage house, and restoring the church. In 1841 there was an average of 25-30 communicants; in 1862 there were 25. (fn. 38) In 1851 a morning congregation of 46 adults and 27 Sunday School children and an afternoon one of 95 adults and 29 children were recorded. (fn. 39) By 1911 there were 46 Easter communicants, and attendance remained high, 40-60 out of a population of 365, in 1937. Although John Thomas, vicar 1929-38, introduced a Sung Eucharist and eucharistic vestments, his successor in 1956 referred to the central churchmanship of the parish. In the 1980s the church still attracted congregations of c. 20 from its small parish. (fn. 40)
The church of ST. ANDREW, (fn. 41) formerly ALL SAINTS, (fn. 42) comprises chancel, aisleless nave with south porch and south vestry, and west tower. The late 11th-century church seems to have consisted only of the nave, which has Roman brick quoins, and the chancel. It was remodelled in the 14th-century when a west tower and spire were added, and windows and the chancel arch replaced. (fn. 43) A south porch was recorded in 1622. (fn. 44)
The chancel was out of repair in 1584 and 1589, but neither the vicar nor the farmer of the rectory would accept responsibility for it. (fn. 45) The nave also needed repair in 1607, and in 1707 the church was very dilapidated. (fn. 46) By c. 1730 the spire and top of the tower had fallen down. (fn. 47) The church was thoroughly repaired c. 1760. (fn. 48) A vestry had been made under the tower by 1840, and a small gallery was erected in 1846. (fn. 49) Between 1866 and 1872 the church was so thoroughly restored, to plans by C. J. Moxon, that little of the original work remained. The tower appears to have been almost entirely rebuilt; in the nave and chancel plaster ceilings were removed, walls were repaired, all the window tracery was replaced, and the south porch was completely rebuilt. A vestry, added on the south side of the chancel, had to be rebuilt in 1890. (fn. 50)
Traces of the 15th-century wall paintings of stars and fleursdelis discovered in 1869 remained in 1922 but had disappeared by 1949. (fn. 51) Three modern niches in the east wall of the nave, behind the pulpit, may replace a reredos for a medieval nave altar; a single, Perpendicular, niche survives to the south of the chancel arch. In the chancel are a 14th-century piscina and aumbry. The 17th-century pulpit is a composite piece, incorporating probably Continental carvings of St. James the Great, St. Augustine of Hippo, and the Virgin and Child; it was in the church before 1866 and may have been introduced at the c. 1760 restoration. The font was apparently replaced c. 1760 and again in 1870. (fn. 52)
The 3 bells in the church c. 1548 were later 'exchanged' with those of Earls Colne. (fn. 53) By c. 1730 there was only one bell. (fn. 54) A treble was added in 1878 and the earlier bell was recast in 1880. (fn. 55) The treble was stolen in 1971. (fn. 56)
The plate includes a silver cup of 1563 with a slightly later paten cover, another paten of 1789 given by M. R. Hills of Colne Park, Colne Engaine, and a silver salver of 1746. (fn. 57)
The churchyard was extended in 1891 and 1966; the lych gate was erected in 1923 in memory of Harris and Mary Hills of Berwick Hall. (fn. 58)