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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The church, which until 1854 stood near the western parish boundary, was first recorded c. 1145 when the tithes of Thiel of Aldham's demesne were divided between it and Colne priory. (fn. 1) It was exempt from the arch- deacon's jurisdiction. (fn. 2) In the Middle Ages, Fordstreet was perhaps served by a chapel which, with its priest's house, was in private hands before c. 1554; it may have been the free chapel in Fordham recorded in 1549. (fn. 3) Aldham benefice was held in plurality with Marks Tey from 1951, and with Little Tey from 1981. (fn. 4) The ecclesiastical parish boundaries were altered in 1961 to coincide with the civil parish boundaries. (fn. 5)
In 1283 Walter of Wigton and Robert of Aldham agreed to present to the church alter- nately, but in 1316 William Goldington gave the whole advowson to endow a chantry in the church or college of Stanstead St. Margaret or Thele (Herts.). The rectory was appropriated and a vicarage instituted, with the diocesan bishop as patron. (fn. 6) In 1431 the college's pos- sessions, including Aldham church, were given to the hospital of St. Mary or Elsing Spital in London, but in 1474 the bishop collated to Aldham rectory. (fn. 7) Thereafter successive diocesan bishops were patrons of the rectory, presenting regularly except in 1600 and 1745, when the Crown and the archbishop of Canterbury presented by lapse, until 1874 when the bishop of Rochester, to whose diocese Essex had been assigned in 1852, exchanged the advowson with Sir H. B. P. St. J. Mildmay for that of Chelmsford. (fn. 8) The Mildmays presented until 1933 when the patron was P. E. Warring- ton. In 1933 or 1934 the advowson passed to the Martyrs' Memorial Trust who were patrons in 1998. (fn. 9)
The rectory was worth 10 marks (£6 13s. 4d.) in 1254, and £8 in 1291, when it paid pensions of 14s. 10d. to St. Botolph's priory, Colchester, and of 8d. each to Colne and Little Horkesley priories. (fn. 10) The St. Botolph's pension, reduced to 13s. 4d. by 1498 and later to 6s. 8d., was still payable in 1536. (fn. 11) The rectory was valued at c. £12 in 1535. (fn. 12) In 1650 the glebe was worth £13 and the tithes £101 a year. (fn. 13) In 1675 an award regulated the rector's half share of the demesne tithes, and 17th- and 18th-century rectors negotiated compositions or moduses for their tithes. (fn. 14) In 1835 the gross income was £357, which was increased in 1839 by the com- mutation of the rectorial tithes for a rent-charge of £412 a year. In 1887 the tithe rent-charge and glebe brought in £434 a year. (fn. 15)
The glebe, round the rectory house, comprised c. 20 a. in 1610 and c. 21 a. in 1810. Although 21 p. was given for the school site c. 1829, the glebe was measured as 24½ a. in 1839. (fn. 16) One acre was sold in 1870, apparently leaving c. 21 a. in 1887. About 19 a. was offered for sale in 1919, and 4 a. was sold with the rectory house c. 1956. (fn. 17)
The rectory house recorded in 1610 stood north-west of the site of the later house; in 1662 it had five hearths. (fn. 18) In 1727 the lath and plaster house was very small and inconvenient, (fn. 19) and 18th-century rectors used it only as a source of income. A fund for a new house was established in 1804, and one was built in 1829 and 1830, in white brick, to a design by Edward Blore. (fn. 20) From 1951 rectors lived at Marks Tey, and the Aldham house was sold c. 1956. (fn. 21)
A rector was mentioned in 1289. (fn. 22) Most medi- eval incumbents, except John Taylor (1370- 1400), resigned or exchanged the living after short periods. (fn. 23) John Morgan, rector 1490-2, was later bishop of St. David's. (fn. 24) John Podynger or Potinger, LL.B. (rector 1503) had a dispen- sation for non-residence and plurality. (fn. 25) There was a Trinity guild in 1524. The existence of two alabaster tables or reredoses in 1547 sug- gests at least two altars. In 1557 a former rector bequeathed 10s.-worth of ornaments to the altar. (fn. 26)
In 1554 the rector was deprived for marriage; his successor in 1560 was deprived under the Act of Uniformity. (fn. 27) John Wilton, presented in 1563, was a member of the Dedham classis and in 1584 signed the petition of puritan Essex clergy against Archbishop Whitgift's articles. (fn. 28) He was indicted in 1586 for not using the Book of Common Prayer, (fn. 29) and was deprived in 1600 when the validity of his ordination was ques- tioned. The queen presented his successor, a former seminary priest, 'by lapse' a month before Wilton's formal deprivation. (fn. 30) The next two rectors were pluralists who resided only occasionally, and Aldham was served by curates until Daniel Falconer was presented in 1624. He was ejected c. 1645 and was followed by puritan ministers. John Wilson, who served the cure from 1649, became rector on Falconer's death in 1653 and appears to have conformed in 1662. (fn. 31) Robert Grove, rector 1669-71, was later bishop of Chichester. (fn. 32)
In 1633 and 1684 the church was in a poor state inside and out, and lacked some books. (fn. 33) In 1727 the rector claimed to hold at least one Sunday service, and in 1736 a single Sunday service had been the norm for more than 60 years. (fn. 34) In the mid and later 18th century serv- ices were held alternately in the morning and afternoon, with communion 3 or 4 times a year. The number of communicants fell from c. 30 in 1766 to 8-12 in 1790. In 1766 Philip Morant, the Essex historian and rector 1745-70, noted that people from Fordstreet usually attended Fordham church which was nearer to them. He and other 18th-century rectors lived at St. Mary's-at-the-Walls, Colchester, which they held in plurality; they visited Aldham frequently and also employed curates, often the incumbents of neighbouring parishes. (fn. 35)
Although H. C. Jones, rector 1823-40, was also archdeacon of Essex and vicar of West Ham, he was active in Aldham, building the new rectory house and the school and establishing, with his curate, the Aldham and United Parishes Insurance Society. (fn. 36) His successor Charles Bannatyne (1840-82) built the new church nearer the centre of the parish in 1854-5. (fn. 37) Attendance at the morning, and apparently the only, service on census Sunday 1851 was only 29 with 23 Sunday school children, although Bannatyne claimed average attendances of 40 in the morning and 100 in the afternoon with 32 Sunday school children at each service. (fn. 38) By 1911 a weekly communion service had been introduced. (fn. 39)
The church has maintained a low church tradition in the 20th century. Evening services were discontinued c. 1990, and in 1998 there was one Sunday and one mid-week service, some- times using the Book of Common Prayer; half the services were led by laymen. In the 1930s a churchwarden led a men's fellowship; (fn. 40) weekly Bible study meetings were held in the 1980s and 1990s.
The medieval church demolished in 1854 comprised chancel, and nave with north chapel, south aisle, south porch, and western bell turret. A small 13th-century or earlier church seems to have been enlarged and remodelled in the 14th century, when the north or St. Anne's chapel was added, apparently by James at Lee, and the south aisle built, perhaps by the Tey family. The chapel was roofless by 1639 and had been demol- ished before the mid 18th century. (fn. 41) In 1633 the steeple, presumably the bellcote, was in decay, one of its buttresses had partly fallen, and the stairs were ruinous. In 1684 the steeple boarding needed replacing. (fn. 42) By 1853 the south arcade had been replaced by wooden posts, and a west- ern singers' gallery had been built. (fn. 43) Although the church was repaired in 1800 it was in a 'wretched state' by 1853. (fn. 44)
The new church of ST. MARGARET AND ST. CATHERINE, (fn. 45) possibly formerly ST. ANNE, (fn. 46) was built on a new site in 1854-5 to designs by E. C. Hakewill. Its plan is the same as that of the old church, but enlarged, and many of the old materials were re-used in its construc- tion. It comprises a chancel with new north vestry, a nave with south aisle and the 14th- century timber porch, and a new west tower and spire. The c. 15th-century roof timbers of the nave and south aisle, with some of the 13th- 15th-century Barnack limestone windows, were re-used. The three lancet windows in the south wall of the south aisle, the chancel arch, and the south nave arcade, were new. An external stair turret at the east end of the south aisle appears to have been copied from the rood loft stairs of the old church. (fn. 47)
The south tower door of c. 1300, the 14th- century piscinae in the chancel and south aisle, the 14th-century vestry door, the 15th-century door of the south porch, (fn. 48) the early 18th-century altar rails, and the lower part of the font are all from the old church. Wall plaques to Philip Morant (d. 1770) and his wife Anne (d. 1767) and to Susanna (d. 1795) and Robert (d. 1814) Lay were re-erected in the new church. In 1855 the 15th-century east window was filled with stained glass in memory of Philip Morant, and in 1966 his tombstone from the old church was placed against the south wall of the chancel. (fn. 49)
A silver chalice was stolen in 1552 and a copper one shortly afterwards. (fn. 50) In 1684 there was a silver chalice and cover, but the surviving chalice and cover and the paten, the latter prob- ably by R. Hutchinson, are of 1730 and 1727 respectively. (fn. 51)
One of the four bells was sold in 1552, and another was lost between 1684 and the 1760s. The surviving bells are (i) Thomas Bullisdon, early 16th-century, (ii) William Dawe, c. 1400, repaired 1972. (fn. 52)
The graveyard at the old church was disused by 1887 and officially closed in 1965, the tomb- stones being moved to the new churchyard. The site of the old church and graveyard was sold in 1981. (fn. 53) The war memorial of c. 1920 was moved from across the road into the south-west corner of the churchyard in 1972. (fn. 54)
Edward H. Lee's charity, founded by a dec- laration of trust of 1973, gave a quarter of its income, which totalled £168 in 1998, to the rector towards his expenses, and a quarter for the maintenance of the church; the remainder was given to the elderly. (fn. 55)