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 advowson of East Donyland church was confirmed to St. John's abbey, Colchester, in 1178, and the abbey retained it until the Dissolution, presenting to the rectory regularly except in 1387 and 1439 when the bishop of London presented by lapse, and in 1530 and 1544 when turns had been granted to Robert and John Powell and to Arthur Clark. (fn. 1) The advowson followed the descent of the manor until 1718 when Daniel Bayley sold it back to the youngest Joseph Thurston. Joseph appears to have conveyed it to his mother Mary Thurston, who tried unsuccessfully to sell it in 1726. (fn. 2) In 1732 she sold it to Peter Salter and Francis Folkard; in 1761 Nathaniel Salter, pre- sumably Peter's heir, sold it to John Pilborough who sold it to William Gansel in 1766. (fn. 3) The advowson then descended with the manor again until the 20th century, when the Havens retained it until A. E. Havens conveyed it to the bishop of Chelmsford in 1986. (fn. 4) The patrons presented fairly regularly, but in 1591 first John Jobson and then Elizabeth I presented, presum- ably as guardians of the infants Elizabeth and Mary Jobson. In 1598 and 1600 William Gray, second husband of Edward Jobson's widow Mary, presented, and in 1801 Charles Hewitt had apparently been granted a turn. (fn. 5)
The rectory, composed of glebe and tithes, was valued at 1 mark in 1254, when it paid ½ mark pension to the abbot of St. John's. In 1291 it was valued at £2 7s. 10d., and in 1535 at £10. (fn. 6) The ½ mark pension or rent was confirmed in 1201 to St. John's, which also held two thirds of the demesne tithes in the earlier 13th century, and was still being paid in the late 14th cent- ury. (fn. 7) In 1656 James Norfolk, owner of the castle estate in Colchester, was said to be proprietor of the tithes of East Donyland, (fn. 8) but the refer- ence seems to have been to the tithes of part of the castle lands. In 1650 the rectory was worth £52; in 1726 a prospective purchaser found it worth just under £75. (fn. 9) The net income in 1831 was £209. (fn. 10) The tithe was commuted for a rent charge of £220 in 1840 and that, with £40 from the glebe, raised the value to £260 in 1851. In 1887 the tithe rent charge and offerings were worth £235 18s. 10d. (fn. 11)
The rector held land north-west of Rowhedge in 1483. (fn. 12) The glebe was estimated at 32 a. or 33 a. in 1610; in 1733 it comprised 36 a. along Birch brook in the north-east corner of the parish. (fn. 13) In 1839 there was 40 a. of glebe in the same area, but by 1887 c. 1½ a. was occupied by the rectory house and a further 3 a. was claimed by the commissioners of the River Colne. The rest of the glebe was sold in 1919. (fn. 14)
There was a rectory house in 1610 and 1707, but in 1733 there was no house on the glebe. (fn. 15) In 1723 the rector kept only a room in the parish. A parsonage house had been built on the north side of the later Rectory Road by 1777, but was too unhealthy for the rector to live in. In 1815 the house was a small single-storeyed cottage, allegedly built by a former patron for his game- keeper. (fn. 16) In 1832 and c. 1848 it was occupied by a tenant farmer. (fn. 17) The rector H. E. Lufkin built a new house on the opposite side of the road c. 1863. It was replaced by a house built on part of the site in 1973. (fn. 18) After the union of the bene- fice with Fingringhoe in 1986 the house was occupied by a curate.
In 1319 the parson was assessed for subsidy, presumably on a lay fee, at 4s. 4d., the highest assessment in the parish, (fn. 19) but the living seems to have been a poor one, as until the late 15th century most rectors resigned or exchanged it after a short period. Only one, John Ollerton rector 1443-52, is known to have served for more than two or three years. (fn. 20) The rector in 1463 was accused of fishing in the Donyland Hall fishponds, and his successor in 1493 of attacking a parishioner. (fn. 21) John Dalrymple, rector 1506-30, lived in the parish and requested burial in the chancel of the church. (fn. 22) Thomas Powell (1532 or earlier to 1544) was resident for at least part of his incumbency; the wills he wrote sug- gest he may have had a legal training. (fn. 23) St. Laurence's guild was assessed on 40s. stock in 1524, (fn. 24) but was presumably dissolved before 1548. There was a statue of St. Catherine in the church in 1514. (fn. 25) Several obits were endowed in the late 15th century and the early 16th. (fn. 26)
Most parishioners seem to have followed the current orthodoxy in the earlier 16th century, but in 1528 at least two were Lollards, associated with the group in Colchester. (fn. 27) In 1547 the church retained a chalice, vestments, and other medieval church goods, but a chalice, two cen- sers, vestments, and other items had been sold to pay for whitewashing the church, making a new pulpit, and buying a new Bible and other books. A few more goods were sold the following year, including a cross, three handbells, and two latten candlesticks, perhaps those bequeathed to the church in 1501. (fn. 28)
Thomas Yaxley, presented by Philip and Mary in 1555, was deprived in 1562. (fn. 29) William Kirby, rector 1572-90, was alleged to be an ignorant and unpreaching minister; in 1581 he was accused of failing to hold services on Easter Day. Nevertheless he lived in the parish at least part of the time, witnessing wills between 1583 and 1589 and acting as executor in 1587. (fn. 30) In 1633 there was no cloth for the communion table, and no copy of Bishop Jewell's works or the Book of Homilies. In 1684 and 1707 the church lacked a paten as well as linen for the communion table, but there was a chalice. (fn. 31)
From 1600 or earlier until 1834 East Donyland was held by pluralists. A union of the parish with Fingringhoe in 1646 ended with the resignation in 1650 or 1651 of the rector, Thomas Lawson, later a prominent Indepen- dent minister in Suffolk. (fn. 32) William Slinger, rector 1687-1734, was master of Colchester grammar school 1674-91 and held Layer Breton in plurality from 1692. In the 1720s he lived at the Hythe in Colchester, but served both par- ishes himself, holding one Sunday service at each church and administering holy communion 4-6 times a year. (fn. 33) His successor also served St. Leonard's, Colchester, in 1738, both Langenhoe and Fingringhoe in 1741, and Langenhoe in 1747. (fn. 34) Nathaniel Salter, rector 1759-1801, held no other benefice and claimed to serve East Donyland himself in 1766, although a curate had been licensed to the parish in 1765. From 1767 he also held a Suffolk parish. The one Sunday service remained as it had been in the 1720s, morning or evening alternating with Langenhoe; the number of communion services for the c. 30 communicants fell from 4 in 1766 to 3 in 1790. (fn. 35) From 1801 to 1834 the church was served by curates, whose stipend rose from £30 a year in 1810 to £40 in 1831. In 1810 the curate also served Langenhoe, in 1815 Layer-de-la-Haye and Berechurch. (fn. 36) In 1829 the curate was V. M. Torriano, who became rector in 1834 and held the living until his death in 1862. (fn. 37)
Torriano was chiefly responsible for the building of a new and larger church at Row- hedge in 1837-8, and of parochial schools in 1862. (fn. 38) In 1851 his curate reported average con- gregations of 290 in the morning, 480 in the afternoon, and 200 in the evening, although actual congregations on census Sunday were somewhat smaller. By 1860 holy communion was celebrated once a month. (fn. 39) H. E. Lufkin, rector 1863-98, continued the same pattern of services until he resigned in 1898, on grounds of age and ill health but following a disagree- ment with the churchwardens over his moving the choir and organ from the gallery into the space in front of the small chancel. (fn. 40) During the ensuing vacancy a weekly communion service was started. J. M. Easterling, rector 1898-1927, was in 1918 the first incumbent in the neigh- bourhood to invite a nonconformist minister to preach in his church. His successor increased the number of communion services, and pro- vided ornaments for the chancel. (fn. 41) Paul Faunch, rector 1965-75, was a musician and theologian, who attracted good congregations on Sunday mornings. (fn. 42)
In 1950 the area of the ancient parish north of Birch brook, which included the Colchester suburb of Blackheath, was transferred to the new parish of St. Barnabas, Old Heath, and a small area of housing north of the brook, between Rowhedge and Battleswick, was trans- ferred from St. Giles's Colchester to East Donyland. (fn. 43) The benefice was united with Fing- ringhoe in 1986, and the united benefice with that of Abberton with Langenhoe in 1990. (fn. 44)
The medieval church of ST. LAURENCE, (fn. 45) demolished c. 1840, stood on the east side of the Fingringhoe road, just north of East Donyland Hall. It comprised a small nave and chancel, of the same width but with separate roofs, a west porch and a small bellcote. (fn. 46) In 1815 it was said to hold only c. 80 people; in 1831, 200. (fn. 47) It may have been 12th-century in origin, but was remodelled if not rebuilt in the 13th century. The rood loft was recorded in 1514. (fn. 48) A south, or possibly a north, porch needed repair in 1707, and was replaced by the west porch during the 18th century. The bellcote was probably built in the same century, replacing a more substantial turret which held 3 bells in 1547. (fn. 49)
The church was replaced in 1837-8 by an octagonal building of white brick, c. ½ mile east of the old church on the outskirts of the growing village of Rowhedge. The building, designed by W. Mason of Ipswich, was described in 1934 as 'a preposterous imitation of the chapter house of York Minster' and in 1937 as the ugliest parish church in England, (fn. 50) but by the later 20th century was well suited to altered patterns of worship. The plaster ceiling was replaced by a wooden one in 1872. (fn. 51) A new altar, altar rails, pulpit, lectern, choir seats, and panelling were given to celebrate the church's centenary in 1937. (fn. 52) The interior was re-ordered in 1969 when the floor was replaced, the pews re- arranged, the 14th-century font from St. Martin's, Colchester, placed in the centre of the nave, and the organ moved to the west gallery. The area under the gallery was walled off to pro- vide vestries, and the pulpit was placed against the new wall, at the west end of the church. A large classical altarpiece from a redundant church was erected behind the altar, cutting off the small chancel. (fn. 53)
Brasses to Mary Gray (d. 1627), formerly wife of Edward Jobson, and to her son by her first marriage, Nicholas Marshall (d. 1621), were re-erected in the 19th-century church, as was a marble wall monument to Nicholas's wife Eliza- beth Marshall (d. 1613), showing her seated under an arch. (fn. 54) The Hanoverian royal arms on the gallery may also be from the old church.
The church has one bell of c. 1900 in a brick turret over the north door. Of the three bells in the medieval church in 1547, one was stolen in 1567, (fn. 55) and another had presumably been lost by the time the small 18th-century bellcote was built. The remaining bell was apparently stolen c. 1834. (fn. 56) The church plate is modern. (fn. 57)
A new graveyard was made at the 19th- century church, but the graveyard at the site of the old church remained in use, and a new cem- etery adjoining it on the east was opened between 1923 and 1936. (fn. 58) An oak gate was erected at the entrance to the old graveyard in 1949. (fn. 59)