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, then a chapel of Great Tey, was recorded in 1285. (fn. 1) By the mid 16th century Chappel people were reluctant to attend Great Tey church at festivals, and Chappel seems to have become an independent parish soon afterwards. (fn. 2) Chaplains were presumably appointed by the vicars of Great Tey until 1433 when the vicar agreed that the inhabitants of Chappel should find their own chaplain, whom he and his successors would admit. (fn. 3) Thereafter chaplains or vicars of Chappel were elected by the inhabitants of the hamlet or parish. (fn. 4) The benefice was united with Wakes Colne in 1938, and Chappel parochial church council was joint patron in 1999. (fn. 5)
In 1366 the vicar of Great Tey agreed that he and his successors would maintain a chaplain to serve the chapel. The agreement was confirmed in 1399, (fn. 6) but disputes continued. In 1429 the inhabitants were ordered to pay 40s. a year to the chaplain; in 1433 the vicar agreed that the chaplain should have the vicarial tithes and offerings from Chappel hamlet and 20s. a year. (fn. 7) In 1500 John Leving conveyed to trustees a house near the chapel and two pieces of land (later estimated to be 10 a.) to keep his obit and to augment the priest's income. (fn. 8) Even with the benefaction, the living was worth only £6 a year in the mid 16th century, (fn. 9) and the charity was later misappropriated by John Turner of Crep- ping Hall (d. 1579) and not finally recovered until 1601. (fn. 10) In 1650 the glebe (Leving's endow- ment) was worth £9, the tithes £20; the living was briefly augmented by the Plundered Ministers committee. (fn. 11) The net income was £50 a year in 1835. In 1841 the vicarial tithe was commuted for a rent-charge of £80 a year, but in 1851 the tithe was worth only £70, the glebe £8. (fn. 12) In 1877 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners augmented the vicar's stipend with £6 13s. 4d. a year to meet a benefaction of £500, (fn. 13) and in 1883 the net income was £119 a year. (fn. 14)
The priest's manse, recorded in 1366, may have been on the site of the later glebe cottage, immediately west of the church, which was let for 30s. in 1637. (fn. 15) The small vicarage house recorded in 1600 was probably Barkers, the house given by John Leving, which stood across the Tey road from the church. It was held by a chaplain in 1401/2, before Leving's grant, and occupied by at least one 16th-century chaplain. (fn. 16) The house, presumably used as a source of income by non-resident 18th-and 19th-century incumbents, was rebuilt between 1810 and 1876, and demolished c. 1932. (fn. 17) In 1871 a new house was built on part of Leving's land on the north side of the Colchester road. (fn. 18)
A chaplain of Brightlingsbridge was recorded in 1285, and another was named in 1353, but the cure was probably not regularly served. (fn. 19) In 1454 Robert Holde endowed an obit with a rent charged on his estate called Machons, and in or before 1480 Richard and Alice Stonehard endowed another obit with a rent charge of 6s. a year. (fn. 20) In 1552 the churchwardens committed to parishioners for safekeeping seven vestments, an altarcloth, a copper gilt cross, two old latten candlesticks, and two painted banners; they retained for the church a blue damask cope and a silver chalice. (fn. 21) The living, served by eight or more chaplains successively in the 16th century, was vacant in 1563; in 1575 the curate, Edmund Turner (incumbent 1585-1626), was alleged to be an ignorant and unpreaching minister. (fn. 22)
Timothy Rogers (1644-55), a puritan theo- logian, was a member of the Lexden Classis in 1645 and a signatory of the Essex Testimony in 1648. (fn. 23) His successor, John Serjeant, at Chappel by 1658, had been episcopally ordained; he con- formed in 1663, and at his death in 1702 was remembered as an upright man. (fn. 24) In 1683 as many as 65 parishioners failed to receive com- munion, and in 1684 there was no linen for the communion table, although there was a chalice and cover. (fn. 25) The poverty of the living made it difficult to fill (three curates were chosen in 1723), (fn. 26) and most 18th-century incumbents were non-resident pluralists, four of them masters at Earls Colne grammar school. (fn. 27) In the 1720s there was only one Sunday service and communion was administered four times a year. (fn. 28) That pattern of services probably con- tinued throughout the later 18th century and for most of the incumbency of John Clarryvince (1824-66). Attendance at the single service on census Sunday 1851 was 70 adults and 24 Sunday school children. (fn. 29) In 1862 the Sunday service alternated between the morning and the afternoon, and there were six communion ser- vices a year. By 1864 Clarryvince's curate pro- vided three services each Sunday, but by 1866 there were only two. (fn. 30)
J. P. Britton, vicar 1869-94, was resident. (fn. 31) Nevertheless, church life was at a low ebb in 1890 when no new parish churchwarden could be found, and only Britton himself attended the Easter vestry. The refusal of Alfred Werninck, with whom Britton exchanged livings in 1894, to pay dilapidations at his previous living, apparently compounded by his refusal to levy a voluntary church rate and a disagreement with the school managers, led to the sequestration of Chappel from 1897 to 1900. The church was served by the vicar of Greenstead Green, but in 1898 parishioners complained that there was only one Sunday service. That year the vicar's churchwarden resigned and was not replaced because only three people attended the Easter vestry. Peace was restored in 1901. At his death in 1934 Werninck was a valued public worker and the 'father' of Lexden and Winstree Rural District Council. (fn. 32)
In 1928 Frank Hunt of Earls Colne conveyed to the parochial church council £400 worth of stock, the income to be used for the church and churchyard, in accordance with wishes of his father, Reuben (d. 1927). (fn. 33)
The church of ST. BARNABAS, (fn. 34) earlier ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, (fn. 35) comprises an undifferentiated nave and chancel with a south porch and a north vestry; there is a bellcote at the west end of the nave. (fn. 36) The walls, of flint rubble with clunch dressings, may be those of the 13th-century chapel. In the 1370s or 1380s the bishop of London's suffragan granted an indulgence to those contributing to the repair of the chapel, and the surviving east window, the westernmost window in the south wall, and the nave roof date from that time. (fn. 37) The west window and the second window from the east in the south wall were replaced in the 15th cent- ury. A steeple, presumably the bellcote, was recorded in 1552, (fn. 38) and a south porch in 1598. (fn. 39)
The building was out of repair for much of the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 40) The west gallery, with a window to light it, was probably made in the 18th century. In 1826 the chancel and the 'steeple' were repaired. (fn. 41) The chancel walls were repaired in 1853, and the interior of the whole church in 1860-1. (fn. 42) Presumably at one of those dates, much of the window tracery was renewed and a new window inserted in the north wall, apparently to replace a 17th- or 18th-century one. The south porch was largely rebuilt. A small north vestry had been added by 1876. (fn. 43) The east end or chancel was restored by the ecclesiastical commissioners before 1897, (fn. 44) the work perhaps including rebuilding the south- east buttress in brick. In 1937 the ceiling was removed, the roof repaired, and the east end re-ordered. (fn. 45) The vestry was enlarged c. 1959. (fn. 46)
The Lord's prayer, creed, and command- ments were repainted as late as c. 1878. (fn. 47) The interior of the church was extensively redecor- ated by the vicar, A. Werninck, in 1910. (fn. 48) The pulpit and reading desk contain Jacobean panels, perhaps introduced by Werninck whose work included wood-carving. The altar rails are in 18th-century style, perhaps introduced during the 19th-century re-ordering; the modern rail on the north side was inserted in 1937. The 19th-century font came from Kelvedon in 1952. (fn. 49) The royal arms of 1742 hang on the south wall.
Two bells of 1676 by Miles Gray the younger, which replaced the two bells recorded in 1552, were themselves replaced in 1871 and 1893 by J. Warner & Sons. (fn. 50)
In the chancel paving is a memorial to Gamaliel Lagden (d. 1736), rector of East Mersea and Abberton, who served Chappel in the 1720s, and his wife Mary (d. 1736); it was found under the chancel floor in 1937. (fn. 51)