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 existed by 1254 when Simon Battle was the patron. The advowson of the rectory descended with the lordship of Wivenhoe manor, the lords presenting regularly, except in 1564, 1589, 1607, and 1637 when turns had been granted or sold, (fn. 1) and in 1890 when Robert Cantrell presented as guardian of N. C. C. Lawton, the younger, a minor. Lawton later sold the advowson to C. E. Egerton-Green (d. 1904) whose widow Alice Helen transferred it in 1931 to the diocesan bishop. (fn. 2) In 1984 the part of Wivenhoe parish north-east of the Alresford road was exchanged for a slightly larger area of the south-west of Elmstead parish. In 1986 the part of Wivenhoe on the west side of the Colne was transferred to St. Barnabas's, Old Heath. (fn. 3)
The value of the rectory was estimated at 4 marks in 1254. (fn. 4) The church was not valued in 1291 when it paid 4s. to St. John's abbey, Colchester, and 2s. 2d. to St. Osyth's priory. (fn. 5) The rectory was said to be worth 7 marks in 1428, and £10 in 1535. (fn. 6) In 1650 the glebe was worth £14 and tithes £50. (fn. 7) The living was augmented by a benefaction of £200 from Revd. Thomas Goodwin in 1724 and by £200 from Queen Anne's Bounty in 1725. (fn. 8) In 1835 the average net income was £371. (fn. 9) In 1838 tithes were commuted for a rent charge of £440 a year, including £8 from the glebe. (fn. 10) In 1887 the tithe and glebe rentals together amounted to £514 10s. (fn. 11)
There were c. 31 a. of glebe in 1610. (fn. 12) In 1772 the glebe consisted of a messuage, barn and out houses, orchard, small field, and osier ground, which with other glebe land in Wivenhoe, and 27 a. of Ardleigh wood in Ardleigh parish, apparently bought with money from Queen Anne's Bounty, totalled c. 62 a. (fn. 13) In 1810, after a small amount of land had been sold, the glebe amounted to c. 58 a. which remained in 1887. (fn. 14) In 1923 c. 25 a. of glebe adjoining the rectory house and 31 a. in Ardleigh was sold. (fn. 15)
A rectory house was built in 1638 c. ½ mile north-east of the church, on the parish boundary with Elmstead, possibly replacing an earlier one. It was assessed on six hearths in 1662. Substantial repairs were made by Thomas Goodwin some time between 1710 and 1734. (fn. 16) By 1838, and probably c. 1810 that house had been replaced by one built c. 200 metres north-west in Rectory Road, which was described as good in 1841, and as having 1½ a. of garden in 1887. (fn. 17) In 1923 that house was sold because it was neglected and inconvenient. The rector was then living in St. Mary's House, Belle Vue Road. The old rectory, having been completely modernized, was bought back at a reasonable cost in 1925. In 1953 it was replaced by Oaklawn, Belle Vue Road, which in turn was sold in 1959 when The Haven, Belle Vue Road, was bought as a rectory house. (fn. 18)
The earliest recorded incumbent was John Boteler in 1330. (fn. 19) In the Middle Ages rectors were appointed regularly, many of them pluralists, like John Squire, rector from 1466 who was also vicar of Bedfont (Mdx.); when he resigned in 1479 he was appointed head of the Ipswich grammar school. (fn. 20)
In 1414 Robert Newport and others founded a chantry with two chaplains to celebrate divine service in St. John the Baptist's chapel in Wivenhoe church for the souls of Richard Walton (d. 1409) and his wife Isabel. The chantry, endowed mainly with Walton's manor of Albyns, Stapleford Abbots, was dissolved in 1538-9 by John, 15th earl of Oxford. (fn. 21) In 1548 its endowments were sold to Walter Cely, who was also granted two tenements in Wivenhoe, apparently the endowment of a second chantry. (fn. 22)
Elizabeth de Vere (d. 1537), widow of John, 13th earl of Oxford, left to Wivenhoe church the vestments and ornaments from her private chapel. (fn. 23) In 1550 and 1551 churchwardens sold goods, some of which were probably items from Elizabeth's bequest, to John de Vere, earl of Oxford, the proceeds going to the poor. (fn. 24) In 1554 the incumbent, presumably William Whiteing, rector since 1522, was deprived of the living. Thomas Yaxley was ejected in 1559 for failing to subscribe to the Queen's supremacy. (fn. 25)
The living was vacant in 1563, (fn. 26) but William Betts acted as curate from 1560 before being presented to the living in 1564. (fn. 27) Formerly a weaver, he was a committed Calvinist, who had been exiled in Switzerland in Mary's reign. In 1561 and 1562 the church was rerdered, a table of commandments and a communion table being set up; a book of homilies and another book of prayers were provided in 1564. In 1566 with the consent of the leading parishioners a church shop was built on the street side of the churchyard, its profits and rent being used for the church. (fn. 28)
Edward Burges, rector, was also vicar of Fingringhoe 1572-89. (fn. 29) In 1581 and 1584 he accused Edmund Mansell, of Fingringhoe or Feering, of practising witchcraft on him, though Mansell was acquitted of the offence of 1581. Burges was indicted himself in 1586 for claiming to be Queen Elizabeth's brother. (fn. 30) His successor, Brian Atkinson, was deprived in 1591 after disagreements with a churchwarden and others and accusations of adultery. (fn. 31)
John Cornwall, rector 1607-37, apparently a moderate, managed to withstand 'pernicious contentions' in the parish between 1617 and 1619, which culminated in the principal parishioners petitioning the patron, Sir Roger Townshend, to defend their 'most loving minister' against his opponents. (fn. 32) In 1633 there was no decent cloth for the communion table and no pulpit cloth. (fn. 33) Thomas Cawton, rector 1637-44, was later a prominent Royalist. There was no minister in 1650. William Blagrave served briefly in 1656 followed by Thomas Tarrey who was appointed later that year but ejected before 1663. (fn. 34) In 1684 the church still lacked pulpit cloth and linen for the communion table; a new surplice, a new common prayer book, books of homilies and canons, and table of degrees of marriage were also needed. (fn. 35)
In 1723 there were two Sunday services and monthly communion. By 1741 there were also prayers on Wednesdays, Fridays, and holy days. (fn. 36) Charles Lind, rector 1750-71, was also perpetual curate of St. Giles's Colchester 1749-71, and rector of Paglesham 1752-71. A friend of the Corsellis family, he lived in Wivenhoe where he served the cure himself, conducting one Sunday service and monthly communion. (fn. 37) Nicholas Corsellis in 1771 presented himself to the living and employed his second son, J. G. Corsellis, as curate. (fn. 38) In 1796 the churchwardens paid 3s. a week for 24 weeks for instruction in church music. (fn. 39)
J. G. Corsellis was rector himself from 1826 until he died in 1835, when he was employing a curate although he did not hold any other livings. (fn. 40) In 1841 out of 368 families in the parish 215 were attached to the church, 80 families were Dissenters, and the remaining 73 were 'divided, doubtful, or irreligious'; the average number of communicants was 85. (fn. 41) In 1842 five parishioners were summoned for refusing to pay the church rate. (fn. 42) On census Sunday 1851 attendances of 256 in the morning and 500 in the evening, including 120 in the Sunday school on each occasion, were recorded out of a population of 1,672. (fn. 43) The church was rebuilt and enlarged in 1859 during the incumbency of E. T. Waters (1846-67). (fn. 44) By 1888 there was a third, afternoon, service on Sundays about twice a month, and occasionally there were concerts. (fn. 45)
The Liberal social and political views of J. S. Carolin, rector 1890-1922, often provoked criticism from parishioners who did not share his opinions. (fn. 46) In 1929 there were three Sunday services and an afternoon Sunday school. (fn. 47) The churchmanship was moderate and the strong musical tradition was maintained in 1995 by services of choral evensong held every 6 weeks and at festivals. (fn. 48)
The church of ST. MARY, in High Street, has a chancel with north and south chapels and a north vestry, an aisled and clerestoried nave with north and south porches, and a west tower on which there is an open sided cupola. The walls are of rubble, which includes some Roman tile, with ashlar dressings. The tower was plastered in 1563 and the south side of the church was apparently plastered or rough cast in 1764. (fn. 49) The plan is irregular and there is reused moulded stonework of the 13th century but the oldest standing parts are the mid 14th-century aisles which were originally of only two bays. The chantry chapel (fn. 50) was perhaps in one of the aisles. The north chapel, west tower, and nave clerestorey were added late in the 15th century or early in the 16th.
A wooden south porch was in existence by 1566, and a west gallery was added in 1568. The church was extensively repaired between 1561 and 1572, but by 1590 the building and the churchyard fence were in such decay that rain was penetrating the fabric and pigs were rooting up the graves. (fn. 51) In 1633 the church was seriously in need of external repairs. Part of the north aisle and its east window required repair in 1684. The north aisle was repaired in 1699. (fn. 52) A wooden cupola had been added to the roof of the tower by 1734. (fn. 53)
Plans were prepared by E. C. Hakewill for the enlargement and partial rebuilding of the church in 1858 and the work was completed in 1860. Before the alterations there was a gallery in the north chapel and another in the nave. Both were removed and the whole of the east end and much of the south aisle were demolished. A new chancel arch was built, one bay to the east of its predecessor, and both aisles were extended to three bays. Porches were added to north and south and a south chapel was provided in the rebuilt east end. (fn. 54) A further restoration took place after the earthquake of 1884. A reredos was installed in the 1950s. The nave was levelled and a kitchen unit and lavatories were added at the south-west corner in 1987. (fn. 55) A picture of the crucifixion by the Belgian painter, J. H. Mols, hung on the south wall of the south chapel in 1995.
A new bell was bought in 1564. The main bell was broken in 1590. (fn. 56) There were five bells in 1768. (fn. 57) In 1905 a peal of six bells replaced one of a similar number of 1802. (fn. 58) A church clock was mentioned in 1613. A clock with a bell was presented by Matthew Martin (d. 1749). (fn. 59) The church plate includes a cup of 1562, probably bought to replace the silver chalice sold then, a paten of c. 1670-80 probably intended as a cover to the cup, and a flagon of 1709 given by N. Corsellis. (fn. 60) The iron parish chest is probably Flemish, possibly a dower chest. (fn. 61) The octagonal, 15th-century font was reinstated in the church, after being found in the graveyard in 1923, to replace one of 1860. (fn. 62) There are brasses to (1) William, viscount Beaumont (d. 1507), a friend of John 13th earl of Oxford, (2) his widow Elizabeth (d. 1537), daughter of Richard Scrope, whose second husband was John 13th earl of Oxford, and (3) Thomas Westeley, Elizabeth's chaplain (d. 1535). (fn. 63) A granite cross in the churchyard commemorates the dead of the two World Wars.