West Bergholt: Church

Pages 35-37

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.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



A late Anglo-Saxon timber church has been excavated beneath the existing church. Its position next to Bergholt Hall suggests that it was established as a proprietary church, probably in the 10th or 11th century. (fn. 1) The church was held with the manor by Robert de Sackville c. 1119 and the advowson descended with the manor whose owners presented regularly. (fn. 2) When the Sackville family sold the manor in the late 16th century they apparently retained the advowson, although they regularly granted turns to others. In 1575 the new lord, John Dister, presented; in 1613 Edward Legg, in 1679 Sir Harbottle Grimston, and in 1705 and 1706 William Boys of Colchester. (fn. 3) In 1597 the incumbent was removed because of irregularit- ies in his presentation and the Crown presented by lapse. (fn. 4)

In 1775 John Frederick Sackville, duke of Dorset, sold the advowson to Robert Drummond. Two years later Drummond sold it to Marshall Lugar who sold it in 1781 to Thomas Fisher. After Fisher's death in 1789 the advow son passed to his sons Joseph (d. 1816) and William (d. 1844). William's executors pre- sented in 1846 and in 1856 conveyed the advow son to his heir, William Fisher Hobbs. On Hobbs's death in 1866 the advowson descended to H. P. L. Blood. In 1876 Blood presented jointly with C. T. Corrance to whom he sold the advowson in 1891. After Corrance's death in 1896 the advowson was sold to Maria Vawser who held it until her death in 1932 when it passed to her daughter Gertrude Maria, wife of the incumbent A. J. Havard. In 1934 she transferred the advowson to H. Clapham. (fn. 5) By 1946 the bishop of Chelmsford was patron. (fn. 6)

The rectory was a rich living in the middle ages, valued at 100s. in 1254, £7 6s. 8d. in 1291, and £10 with another 20s. from tithes in 1535. (fn. 7) In 1564-5 the glebe comprised 27 a. of land, pasture, and wood worth £20, which had increased by 1610 to 32¾ a. In 1650 the glebe was said to be worth £13 and the tithe £80. (fn. 8) By 1810 the glebe comprised 33 a. 3 r. 13 p., most of it near the rectory house although 12½ a. lay adjacent to Fordham. By 1835 the gross income of the rectory had risen to £463. In 1842 the tithes were commuted to a rent-charge of £600. (fn. 9) The glebe had increased to 38 a. 2 r. 13 p. by 1848, but declined thereafter to 37 a. in 1866 and 35 a. 1 r. 29 p. by 1887. (fn. 10)

The Old Rectory, standing about ½ mile south of the church and West Bergholt Hall on Cooks Hall Lane, was probably the site of the rectory house recorded in 1610. (fn. 11) The core of the house is a timber-framed building of the later 17th or early 18th century which has a double pile plan with a through stair hall. Late in the 18th cent- ury, and perhaps not in a single campaign, the exterior was encased in brick, a canted bay window was added to the west, the south-east room was extended southwards, and the interior was refitted. A two storeyed porch was added to the west wing early in the 20th century. About 1953 a 19th-century north service wing, incorporating some older timbers, was largely demolished and replaced by a new residential wing. In 1848 the house 'a good residence commanding a fine view of the vale', had a barn, stable, coach-house, cartlodge, and gran- ary. (fn. 12) The house was sold and replaced by 'Penneys' on Lexden Road between 1902 and 1906. That house was itself replaced by 20 New Church Road in 1945, and that by 1 Church Close c. 1986. (fn. 13)

The names of incumbents are known from the mid 12th century. (fn. 14) The late 12th- or early 13th-century rectors Robert, Richard, and Alan were rural deans of Lexden deanery. (fn. 15) John de Sackville, rector in 1361, was probably a member of the family who held the manor and advowson. (fn. 16) In 1332 James Bures founded a chantry at St. Mary's altar for himself and his family, endowing it with 2 houses, 40 a. of land, 1 a. of meadow, 8 a. of wood, and 33s. 4d. rent in Bergholt and Fordham. John Doreward gave 40s. rent in 1407. (fn. 17) The abbot of St. John's, Colchester, presented to the chantry in 1362. (fn. 18) A chantry priest was last recorded in 1511. By 1560 the chantry house with 3 a. of land had been leased to a tenant of Bergholt manor. (fn. 19)

The parishioner who in 1520 abused the rector in the pulpit, calling him a false, forsworn man, may have held Protestant views. (fn. 20) In 1541 neither the rector, Edward Torrell (1531-59), nor his curate recited the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and other prayers, and Torrell had once refused to return from Colchester to give a woman the last rites and to say evensong. By 1543 obits were not being kept. (fn. 21) Agnes George refused to attend mass in 1556, was imprisoned at Colchester and executed at Stratford. Her husband Richard, a labourer, was arrested in 1557. He escaped execution but his second wife, Christine, was also burnt. (fn. 22)

In 1589 the Ten Commandments were not set up in the church and in 1608 there was neither cloth nor cushion for the pulpit. (fn. 23) By 1633 the church needed a new communion table, a decent cloth for the table, and a hood for the rector. (fn. 24) Gregory Holland, instituted in 1613, was threatened with sequestration in 1644 as a royalist and conformist, and for ungodly behaviour. He was allowed to retain the living, but by 1651 had been forced to relinquish the greater part of his stipend to a curate, Robert Billio, chosen by his parishioners. (fn. 25) Billio (d. 1695) later established a nonconformist church at Braughing, Herts. (fn. 26) Holland had died or resigned by 1658 when Nathaniel Seaman, previously master of Colchester grammar school, was admitted to the rectory which he held until his death in 1679. (fn. 27)

The new bible and other books and the table of degrees of marriages needed in 1684 were still lacking in 1705. In 1684 the churchwardens were also admonished for not presenting those who neglected to send their children to catechism and in 1705 they were ordered to set up the Lord's Prayer, Creed, and Commandments in the chancel. (fn. 28) In 1723 the rector lived in the parsonage house and served no other church. There were two services on Sundays and Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year. Children were catechized every Sunday and Friday in summer and once a month in winter. The pattern of services was similar in the later 18th century. In 1766 there were said to be 40 communicants. (fn. 29)

The low attendance of 79 in the morning and 113 in the evening on census Sunday in 1851 was explained by the remoteness of the church from the village, but another reason for poor attendance may have been the growing popularity of Methodism. (fn. 30) Between 1838 and 1856 the churchwardens employed a man to keep order in the church, paying him a new pair of shoes each year. (fn. 31) In the later 19th century the rector's work was hampered by the small size and dilapi- dated condition of the church. (fn. 32)

In 1897 H. C. Corrance resigned the living on his conversion to Roman Catholicism. (fn. 33) His energetic successor A. J. Havard disagreed with some parishioners over the election of noncon- formists to the management of the church school, the election of churchwardens, and the delay in constructing a new church. (fn. 34) Nevertheless he served the parish for 47 years and was the driving force behind the building of the new church in 1903. (fn. 35) When that was consecrated in 1904 the old church became a chapel of ease used increasingly infrequently, until it was declared redundant in 1976. (fn. 36) C. K. Douglas, rector 1945-78, did much to foster community spirit among members of the rapidly expand- ing village. (fn. 37)

The medieval church of ST. MARY is built of rubble, which includes Roman tile and possibly 12th-century brick, with freestone dressings and has a chancel, a nave with south aisle and timber porch, and a weather boarded bell turret. Beneath it a timber building of indeterminate plan was replaced by a stone single cell church with apsidal end in the 11th century. Part of the north wall of that building survives as the east- ern end of the nave wall. The apsidal east end was extended and given a square termination late in the 13th century, and the south aisle was added in the early 14th century. At its west end it respected an already existing extension of the nave which encased a timber bell turret. The extension appears to have been subsequently rebuilt in stone, perhaps when other work, including the north windows in the nave and the nave roof were being replaced. The bell turret and south porch are 15th-century. The supports for a sanctus bell were uncovered in the south aisle roof in 1995. There is a 19th- century gallery. (fn. 38)

In 1545 the chancel was dilapidated, and in 1607 the church had no tiling, paving, or glazing. (fn. 39) By 1684 and 1705 major structural repairs were required to the belfry and north wall, as well as new paving in the nave and chancel. (fn. 40) The west gallery on Tuscan columns with tri- glyph frieze was built in the early 19th century. Two dormer windows were inserted above the arcade. (fn. 41) The church was damp in the later 19th century and repairs were required to the tower, porch, and nave roof. (fn. 42) Plans made in 1866 for a thorough restoration and extension of the church were found to be impractable, presum- ably because of the cost, but urgent repairs were carried out in 1878. (fn. 43) After the consecration of a new church in 1904 the old church was main- tained, but by 1946 was only used in the summer months. (fn. 44) The redundant church was acquired in 1977 by the Redundant Churches Fund which restored the fabric. The building has since been used for concerts, exhibitions, and occasional services. (fn. 45)

A medieval grave slab survives in the south aisle. The font is 13th-century with a plain circular bowl, square pedestal, and 18th-century lid. The altar-rail has been reconstructed from portions of an 17th-century rail and the base of the lectern may be of similar date. The massive oak chest is of 15th- or 16th-century date and there are some early wooden hat-pegs. (fn. 46) The royal coat of arms of 1603 above the chancel arch was restored in 1986 and there is another coat of c. 1826 on the front of the west gallery. (fn. 47) The church was reseated with new pews in 1877, partly constructed from sections of earlier box-pews. (fn. 48)

In 1552 there were apparently three bells but only one was recorded after 1684. (fn. 49) That bell, apparently 15th-century by Henry Jordan, was cracked c. 1850 and was replaced in 1883 by one cast by John Warner and Sons of London. A new second bell, presented at the same time, had been removed to the new church by 1946. (fn. 50)

A site for a new church was set aside at the inclosure of the heath in 1865, but the money was not raised to build one until after 1898. The new church of ST. MARY erected in 1903 and 1904 in 13th-century style comprises a chancel, nave, and south aisle. The pulpit and font were given in 1904, the altar and lectern in 1913. (fn. 51) The church was restored sometime before 1955 by the architect F. T. Clater. (fn. 52) The plate includes an Elizabethan silver communion cup, a pewter flagon of c. 1772-80, and a silver plate presented by the incumbent in 1816. (fn. 53)

The churchyard at the old church was full by 1900 and one at the site of the new church was consecrated in 1902, despite the objections of the parish council, the medical officer of the rural district council, and many inhabitants. It was still in use in 1995. (fn. 54)


  • 1. E.C.C., Four Ch. Excavations, 43; below, plate 1.
  • 2. Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 56; E.A.T. n.s. xviii. 122.
  • 3. Morant, Essex, ii. 231; Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 57; E.A.T. n.s. vi. 137; xx. 201; E.R.O., T/A 547/1.
  • 4. Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 57; Guildhall MS. 9531/13, ff. 288v.-89v.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/CP 2/39; ibid. T/A 547/1.
  • 6. Chelm. Dioc. Yr. Bk. (1946).
  • 7. Val. Norw. ed. W. E. Lunt, 347; Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 23; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i. 444.
  • 8. E.R.O., D/DMa M17, rot. 8; Guildhall MS. 9628, box 3; Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 309.
  • 9. Rep. Com. on Eccl. Rev. [67], pp. 636-7, H.C. (1835), xxii; Return of Tithes Commuted & Apportioned, H.L., p. 67 (1887) lxiv; E.R.O., D/CT 33; ibid. D/P 59/1/5; ibid. D/DOp B39/105/2.
  • 10. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 115; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1866); Glebe Lands Return, H.C. 307, p. 144 (1887), lxiv.
  • 11. Guildhall MS. 9628, box 3.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/P 59/1/5; White's Dir. Essex (1848), 115; Dept. of Env., Buildings List.
  • 13. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1902, 1906); West Bergholt Local Hist. Group, Walk Around West Bergholt, (2), p. 13; Wormell, Hist. Bergholt, 27; Chelm. Dioc. Yr. Bk. (1985-6, 1986-7).
  • 14. Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 56-7; E.A.T. n.s. vi. 137, 257; E.R.O., T/A 547/1; ibid. T/P 195/11.
  • 15. E.R. xlviii. 130-1; xlix. 76.
  • 16. E.A.T. n.s. vi. 257; E.R. xlix. 76.
  • 17. Cal. Pat. 1330-4, 282; 1405-8, 330; E.A.T. n.s. xiii. 78; E.H.R. xxix. 719.
  • 18. Reg. Sudbury, i. 231.
  • 19. E.R.O., D/DMa M3, rot. 10; D/DMa M16.
  • 20. Ibid. D/DMa M3, rot. 20.
  • 21. W. Hale, Precedents, 123; E.R. xv. 43; Alum. Cantab. to 1751.
  • 22. Davids, Nonconf. in Essex, 44-8, 54-5; J. E. Oxley, Reformation in Essex, 224, 228 n.
  • 23. E.R. xv. 46; E.A.T. n.s. xxiii. 339.
  • 24. E.R.O., D/ACV 5, f. 34v.
  • 25. Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 115, 121, 125, 309; Walker Revised, ed. A. G. Matthews, 155.
  • 26. Davids, Nonconf. in Essex, 512-15; Calamy Revised, ed. A. G. Matthews, 55; Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 363; Alum. Cantab. to 1751.
  • 27. Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 412; Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 57.
  • 28. E.R.O., D/ACV 9A, ff. 18v., 67v.; D/ACV 9B, p. 53; E.A.T. n.s. xxiii. 343.
  • 29. Guildhall MS. 25750/1; Lamb. Pal. Libr., Terrick papers 14.
  • 30. P.R.O., HO 129/8/205.
  • 31. E.R.O., D/P 59/5/1.
  • 32. Ibid. D/AZ 7/1, pp. 40-1.
  • 33. Ibid. T/P 181/2/5.
  • 34. Ibid. T/P 181/2/5; ibid. T/A 547/1.
  • 35. Wormell, Hist. Bergholt, 10-11.
  • 36. E.R.O., D/CC 55/1.
  • 37. Chelm. Dioc. Yr. Bk. (1978-9).
  • 38. cf. E.C.C., SMR 11741-7; Four Ch. Excavations, 50-7, 62-3; Pevsner, Essex, 415; R.C.H.M. Essex, iii. 227; C. Hewett, Eng. Hist. Carpentry, 27, 34, 289, 291; C. Hewett, Ch. Carpentry, 135.
  • 39. Oxley, Reformation in Essex, 147; E.R. xv. 45.
  • 40. E.R.O., D/ACV 9A, ff. 18v., 67v.; D/ACV 9B, p. 53.
  • 41. Four Ch. Excavations, 57; Pevsner, Essex, 415.
  • 42. E.R.O., D/AZ 7/1, pp. 40-1.
  • 43. Ibid. D/CF 25/1.
  • 44. Wormell, Hist. Bergholt, 5; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1906).
  • 45. Four Ch. Excavations, 43, 57; E.C.S. 1 Sept. 1978.
  • 46. W. Norman-Paul, Essex Fonts, 209; H. W. Lewer and J. C. Wall, Ch. Chests Essex, 219-20; R.C.H.M. Essex, iii. 227-8.
  • 47. West Bergholt Local Hist. Group, Walk Around West Bergholt (1), p. 10.
  • 48. E.R.O., D/P 59/5/1; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1878); West Bergholt Local Hist. Group, Bergholt in Living Memory, 4.
  • 49. Ch. Bells Essex, 178; Morant, Essex, ii. 230; Hist. Essex by Gent., vi. 224; E.R.O., D/ACV 9A, ff. 18v., 67v.
  • 50. E.R. ii. 231; Wormell, Hist. Bergholt, 5; E.R.O., D/AZ 7/1, p. 41.
  • 51. E.R.O., D/CC 55/1; ibid. T/P 181/2/5; E.R. xii. 111; xiii. 252; Wormell, Hist. Bergholt, 32; Bergholt in Living Memory, 19-20.
  • 52. E.R.O., D/CF 97/96; Colch. Expr. 7 Dec. 1972.
  • 53. E.A.T. n.s. xviii. 209 and plate facing p. 210; ibid. xvi. 164, 167; Ch. Plate Essex, 205-06; E.R.O., T/A 645; ibid. T/P 196/30.
  • 54. E.R.O., D/CC 53/1, 55/1; J. C. Thresh, Essex Water Supply, 68.