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 may have been founded in 1059. (fn. 1) The advowson of the rectory descended with Mount Bures manor until 1575 and then continued in the Sackville family until 1775 when it was sold to Robert Drummond; members of the family or their assigns presented, except in 1581 when Queen Elizabeth took a turn by lapse. (fn. 2) Revd. John Woodruffe of Cranham presented in 1785. (fn. 3) His son, Revd. Thomas Woodruffe of Oakley (Surr.) sold the advowson to John Brett of Wakes Colne in 1790 and the Brett family held it until 1873 when Revd. Nathaniel Davies of West Lexham (Norf.) bought it. The advowson remained in the Davies family until it was bought in 1893 by A. E. Lefroy, a London barrister. In 1901 he sold it to Revd. A. G. Maitland of Dudley (Worcs.) who sold it in 1904 to T. W. Watson of London. He gave it in 1910 to Emily Davies, wife of Revd. W. Davies of Rushock (Worcs.), and in 1987 her son, Revd. A. C. F. Davies, gave it to Keble College, Oxford. (fn. 4) In 1954 Mount Bures was held with White Colne, from 1967 with Wormingford, and by 1990 with Little Horkesley. (fn. 5)
The value of the rectory was estimated at 100s. in 1254 and there was a vicarage worth 40s. In 1291 the church was worth £5 6s. 8d. and paid 14s. to Colchester abbey. (fn. 6) It was valued at £13 6s. 8d. in 1535. (fn. 6) An annuity of 8s. a year was paid to Colne priory until the Dissolution. (fn. 7) A portion of tithes, formerly belonging to St. Botolph's priory, was granted in 1536 to Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor, who gave them to William Tey, rector of Holy Trinity church, Colchester. (fn. 8) In 1650 glebe and tithe income amounted to £72 3s. 4d. (fn. 9) The average net income in 1835 was £353. (fn. 10) In 1887 the tithe and glebe together produced £510. (fn. 11)
The glebe was mentioned in 1494, and a rectory house in 1565. (fn. 13) There was a rectory house in 1610 with c. 20 a. of glebe. (fn. 14) The Old Rectory, which was sold c. 1958 (fn. 15) when it was considered too large and difficult to maintain, (fn. 16) has a timber-framed three-bayed north front which is probably earlier 18th-century. It was remodelled when extensive new service quarters in red brick were built to the south in the earlier 19th century. In 1848 west and north-west of the house were 25 a. of glebe, (fn. 17) which remained in 1898. (fn. 18) About 11 a. of the glebe adjoining the house was sold c. 1996; the rest, in two parcels near the river, was leased out by the church in 1997. (fn. 19)
Rectors are recorded from 1326, some of them non-resident or pluralists. (fn. 20) The one in 1552 had a mistress. (fn. 21) There was apparently a chantry, of unknown founder, with a chapel in the churchyard built for the chantry priest which by 1768 had been converted into two houses. (fn. 22)
In 1559 the incumbent was ejected for nonsubscription. (fn. 23) John Simpson (d. 1648), rector, was probably sequestered for Laudian practices in 1643. (fn. 24) Philip Havers, son of an ejected nonconformist minister, was ejected in 1679 for using a substitute to swear his oaths and subscribe to the articles. (fn. 25) His successor was ordered in 1683 to put the communion table at the east end of the chancel close to the wall. (fn. 26)
In 1708 Samuel Gibson, an unbeneficed clerk, was imprisoned for marrying couples without licence or banns. (fn. 27) In the 18th century rectors lived at Bures St. Mary and served that cure besides Mount Bures. In 1723 there was one Sunday service and communion five times a year. In 1766, when the rector, Philip Gurdon, served each parish alternately with his curate, there was communion six times a year and c. 24 communicants. (fn. 28)
In 1841 the average number of communicants was 14, and 45 families belonged to the church out of the 57 in the parish; an unlicensed assistant curate served on alternate Sundays, and a Sunday school was held at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. (fn. 29) On census Sunday 1851 attendances of 50 in the morning and 94 in the afternoon were recorded out of a population of 279. (fn. 30) In 1860 there were two Sunday services and communion four times a year. (fn. 31) In 1881 several large farmers were unwilling to pay the church rate. (fn. 32) John H. Davies, rector 1887-93, published several volumes of poetry. (fn. 33)
In 1936 the rector described the parish as 'abnormally difficult', partly because leading parishioners were not Anglicans. (fn. 34) In 1957 theliving wasconsidered unattractive by prospective incumbents because of the poor state of the rectory house and the declining population. (fn. 35) Average attendances in 1996 were c. 12.
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST is built of rubble with Roman tile and ashlar dressings and has a chancel with north vestry, a central tower with shingled spire and short transepts, and a nave with south porch. (fn. 36) The nave is probably late 11th-century and has an original north doorway and three windows, one blocked. The central tower was of similar date and the chancel was rebuilt in the 14th century. The south doorway and west window of the nave are also 14th-century, the porch and south window in the nave are 15th-century. In 1633 the church and tower windows needed glazing. In 1707 there were cracks in the wall on both sides of the north door and in the west wall. (fn. 37) The spire was taken down and the tower heightened c. 1770. In 1875 the tower was very dilapidated. (fn. 38)
The church was restored in 1875 by Thomas Harris who took down the central tower and replaced it by one of larger plan, but similar height, and added the transepts and vestry, apparently reusing the old materials in the transepts. When the tower was taken down wall paintings were discovered at the east end of the nave on the south wall, probably representing St. Mary the Virgin meeting her cousin Elizabeth. (fn. 39)
In 1552 and 1768 there were four bells in the tower, but two were sold c. 1770. The two bells remaining in 1996 were both of the 15th century, one by Robert Burford, and one about 60 years later by Henry Jordan. (fn. 40) The wooden church chest is of the 16th century. (fn. 41) The church plate included a silver cup and paten of 1641, stolen c. 1993. (fn. 42) In 1959 a stone statue of St. John the Baptist by B. Dobson was placed in a niche over the high altar on the north side. (fn. 43)