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 Copford church had been founded by c. 1100. (fn. 1) The advowson of the rectory apparently descended with Copford Hall manor, the bishops of London presenting regularly, until 1559 when Queen Elizabeth presented by prerogative right on the deprivation of bishop Bonner. In 1572 she presented in full right, but the bishop of London retained the spiritual jurisdiction, the church being exempt from the archdeacon. The Crown retained the patronage, exercised by the Lord Chancellor from the 18th century. (fn. 2) Copford was united with Easthorpe rectory in 1922 and thereafter the Lord Chancellor and the Duchy of Lancaster presented alternately. In 1994 that benefice was combined with Messing with Inworth, and the patronage was exercised in turn by the Lord Chancellor, the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Diocesan Board of Patronage. (fn. 3) In 1961 small portions of the ecclesiastical parish of Copford were transferred to Fordham, together with All Saints church, Eight Ash Green, built in 1898 as a chapel of ease. (fn. 4)
In 1254 the rectory was valued at £16 13s. 4d., and in 1535 at £15 3s. 3d. (fn. 5) In 1610 tithes included those from c. 23 a. in Stanway, and from land in Great and Little Birch, Easthorpe, Marks Tey, and Aldham. (fn. 6) In 1650 the glebe was worth £30, and the tithes £83 17s. (fn. 7) The average net income in 1835 was £495. (fn. 8) In 1838 the tithes were commuted for an annual rentcharge of £680 13s. (fn. 9) In 1887 the tithe and glebe rentals together amounted to £749. (fn. 10)
The rectory house was 'sufficient and complete' in 1610, and 'very spacious' and 'in very good repair' in 1637. In 1662 it had ten hearths. (fn. 11) By 1689 substantial repairs were necessary. (fn. 12) In the early 19th century a new house was built, a classical villa of 2½ storeys in stuccoed brick. It was sold in 1926, and the former mill house in London Road was used instead. (fn. 13) In 1970 a new rectory house was built at Copford Green and used until 1994. (fn. 14)
Hugh of Bottingham (fl. 1225) gave 2 a. to Copford church. (fn. 15) The glebe totalled 60 a. in 1610, of which 40 a. was near the house, and 74 a. in 1838. (fn. 16) About 50 a. of glebe land was sold in 1918, more in 1926, and by 1937 only 10 a. remained. (fn. 17)
In the Middle Ages bishops of London sometimes conducted administration and performed ordinations at Copford. (fn. 18) Many incumbents were pluralists who held the cure for short periods only. (fn. 19) The earliest recorded rector was one in 1285. (fn. 20) Edmund Coningsburgh, rector 1451-69, was from 1455 frequently employed on Cambridge University business, and after resigning from Copford became a papal envoy and in 1477 archbishop of Armagh. (fn. 21) Edward Mowle, rector 1545-58, was archdeacon of Essex in 1557. (fn. 22)
John Morren or Morwen, pluralist rector 1558-9, assisted bishop Bonner, who lived at Copford for a time, in trials of heretics. He was deprived for refusing to subscribe to the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. (fn. 23) John Pulleyne, rector 1559-72, a writer of Latin and English poetry, was a Calvinist who had been to Geneva in Mary's reign; he became archdeacon of Colchester on his return, and in 1561 was a prebendary of St. Paul's cathedral. (fn. 24) Robert Hewett, rector 1572-c. 1588, an apothecary, was 'an alehouse haunter'. (fn. 25) Robert Ram, rector c. 1588-1638, and rector of Great Birch, served both parishes alternately with his curate, giving a monthly lecture at each for which he assured bishop Laud in 1632 of his conformity. (fn. 26) Nevertheless in 1633 the church needed the books of homilies and canons and common prayer. (fn. 27) The puritan, Robert Thompson, rector from 1639, was on the Lexden Classis in 1645 and was ejected in 1662. (fn. 28)
In 1723 there were two Sunday services and communion three times a year. (fn. 29) John Robinson, rector 1714-54, resided part of the year in Copford and the rest in Rochester, and employed a curate, who lived at Easthorpe rectory house. By 1747 there was communion four times a year. (fn. 30) John Denne, nonresident rector 1754-1800, employed a succession of clergymen, some salaried, to serve Copford. They included John Harrison, rector of Faulkbourne and resident lord of Copford Hall manor until 1783. There were 20 to 30 communicants in 1766, and by then there were also prayers twice weekly when the children were catechized. (fn. 31) John Kelly, rector 1800-9, who was also vicar of Ardleigh 1791-1807, helped to translate the Bible into Manx. (fn. 32)
By 1810 Sunday services had been reduced to one. (fn. 33) By 1841, when a total of 100 out of 136 families were said to belong to the church, the average number of communicants was 50, there was a Sunday School supported by voluntary subscription, and an assistant curate. (fn. 34) On census Sunday 1851 there were attendances of 105 in the morning and 195 in the afternoon, including 35 in the Sunday school at each, out of a total population of 767. (fn. 35) By 1860 there were six communion services a year. (fn. 36)
Canon Peter Wood, rector 1861-78, sympathised with the agricultural labourers' union, and denounced the indifference of landlords to labourers' poor housing conditions. His successor, Benjamin RuckKeene, rector 1878-93, thought the church should try to communicate with the labouring classes in their own language, and advocated fathers' (as well as mothers') meetings. (fn. 37) In 1885 a meeting was held at Copford advocating disestablishment. (fn. 38) B. RuckKeene and his son E. R. RuckKeene, rector 1893-1924, encouraged mission at Eight Ash Green and the building of a district church there. (fn. 39) E. R. RuckKeene supported the Society of St. Michael, devoted to the promotion of AngloCatholic ideals. (fn. 40) T. H. Hollingdale, rector 1958-67, was a former policeman and Welsh rugby international. (fn. 41) Two or three Sunday services were maintained until the Second World War, and one or two thereafter. (fn. 42)
The church, known as ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS' since 1880, earlier ST. MARY THE VIRGIN, stands immediately south of Copford Hall on the edge of the parish. (fn. 43) The foundations of what appears to be an Anglo Saxon structure have been detected to the southeast of the church. (fn. 44) The present church, which probably served as a chapel for the adjacent episcopal manor house, (fn. 45) consists of an apse, chancel with vestry, nave with threebayed south aisle, south porch, and timber belfry with spire. (fn. 46) The walls are rubble with substantial amounts of Roman and medieval brick.
The apse, chancel, nave, and central bay of the aisle were built as a single structure c. 1120, and although heavily restored in the 19th century, the interior retains much of its original wall painting, giving a good impression of what the interior of a small church might have looked like in the first half of the twelfth century. The apse retains its 12th-century groin vault and possibly its original roof, but the stilted groin vault with heavy transverse arches in the chancel and nave has been removed. A blocked door in the second buttress on the north side of the nave may have led to a chamber over the vault.
The 12th-century windows of the apse and the westernmost nave window have splayed Roman brick jambs and nook shafts with scallop capitals; there were similar windows on the south side of the chancel and nave, and in the west wall. The contemporary north nave door has two rollmoulded orders, with volute and scallop capitals on detached shafts; the north chancel door has one ashlar order with monolithic lintel and brickinfilled tympanum. The Roman brick outer order of the second bay of the arcade has imposts formed from the nave string course. It is likely that it was originally roundheaded and led into a small chapel contemporary with the nave.
The south chapel was extended to form a short aisle when the eastern bay of the nave arcade was inserted c. 1200, blocking an older window. The church was substantially renovated in the late 13th or early 14th century: the nave and chancel vaults were replaced by a new trussed rafter roof with additional crown posts over the chancel bay; the west window was pro vided with Ytracery, and the two inner orders of the second bay of the nave arcade inserted and the head rebuilt pointed.
In the late 14th or early 15th century the aisle was lengthened to the west with the insertion of the western bay of the arcade, which has one chamfered order. The aisle may also have been widened at that time; the porch was added, and the belfry, supported on a heavy frame at the west end of the nave, installed. The screen, which has a central doorway with a cinquefoil subcusped head and moulded posts and side bays of five lights with subcusped traceried ogee heads, is 15th-century; its cornice is a 19th- century restoration.
An altar to St. Catherine recorded in 1526 perhaps stood in a chapel in the east bay of the aisle. (fn. 47) By 1633, the church roof needed tiling in several places and the bellcot needed boarding. (fn. 48) In 1768 the church was in good repair and the wooden bellcot had a shingled spire. (fn. 49) Probably by that time the nave and chancel had been ceiled, the square north window installed, (fn. 50) and the screen removed.
In the early 19th century the screen was discovered in a local barn, (fn. 51) and c. 1825-30 used to support a gallery at the west end of the nave lit by a new unsplayed window and two oculi in the upper part of the west wall. (fn. 52) Brick buttresses, rebuilt in stone later in the 19th century, (fn. 53) may also have been added at that time. By 1859 the vestry was very poor, the belfry could be ascended by ladder only, and the porch was very old. In 1862 there was accommodation for 180 people. (fn. 54) During restorations financed by the rector in the 1860s and 1870s, the 15th-century south porch was destroyed by a Colchester builder, who, having taken it to pieces, was unable to put it together; (fn. 55) the 12th-century south door was moved into the north doorway, with the loss of most of its original ironwork, (fn. 56) and painted glass was installed in the east and south windows. (fn. 57)
Between 1879 and 1884 an extensive restoration, financed by subscription, was carried out to plans by Henry Woodyer. (fn. 58) The gallery was removed and the screen placed at the entrance to the chancel; the nave ceiling was removed; the south aisle roof and belfry were restored, and the external render was removed. The southeast organ chamber was built, the arch from the chancel into the organ chamber, similar to that of the first bay of the nave arcade, replaced a large window of uncertain date. The nave windows were altered to make them appear more Romanesque: tracery was removed from the northwest window, (fn. 59) and the square window lighting the pulpit was given a round head externally and detached shafts with scallop capitals internally. Lancet windows were installed in the south aisle, and a new north window inserted in the chancel. (fn. 60) A pulpit carved by Mr. Peters of Antwerp was given in 1886. In 1920 a war memorial was dedicated. (fn. 61) The church was extensively repaired between 1988 and 1990. (fn. 62)
Wall paintings of c. 1120 were discovered under whitewash at Copford in 1690-1 during restoration by the parishioners, and described as 'very fair and fresh paintings of Christ upon the Cross, of St. Peter's motherinlaw lying sick of a fever, of St. Mary Magdalen, and other representations, which were all whited over again, but not defaced'. (fn. 63) In 1871 the whitewash was removed from the interior of the apse; in 1872, the paintings uncovered there were restored by Daniel Bell who 'added and supplied what was necessary'. (fn. 64) The nave paintings were restored in 1879, and all of the paintings were restored in 1931-2 by E. W. Tristram, in 1963-4 by Eve Baker, and between 1990 and 1993 by Wolfgang Gärtner. (fn. 65)
The paintings in the apse depict Christ in Majesty surrounded by angels and apostles; there is a zodiac on the soffit of the apse arch. (fn. 66) The nave and chancel paintings have scenes from Christ's ministry, related typological miracles, and what are either military saints or a Psychomachia with the Virtues and Vices depicted as armed, male figures. (fn. 67) There is extensive geometric ornament around the openings, much of it heavily restored; the lost vaults in the nave and chancel were also probably painted, probably with figures in roundels. Technically and stylistically, the paintings are related to those in St Gabriel's chapel in Canterbury cathedral, and may relate to a scheme at old St. Paul's cathedral. The scenes of the Annunciation and the Visitation of the Shepherds over the chancel arch are an addition of the 1880s.
There are three bells, two of the 15th century by Henry Jordan and John Bird respectively, and one of 1574 by Thomas Draper and William Land. The bells were good in 1859, (fn. 68) and survived in 1998. In Edward VI's reign there was a chalice of silver and parcel gilt. (fn. 69) In 1998 the ironframed wooden chest survived as did the font which had a late 12th-century square bowl and modern base; (fn. 70) there were monuments to members of the Haynes and Harrison families, and memorial stones to some rectors and their families. The lychgate was given in memory of Capt. C. C. F. Harrison (d. 1937) by his wife. (fn. 71)