Abbess Roding: Nonconformity

Pages 195-196

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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The Congregational church at Abbess Roding, once an important nonconformist centre for this part of Essex, originated about 1698 through the labours of the Revd. Samuel Pomfret, minister of the Presbyterian church in Gravel Lane, Houndsditch. (fn. 1) He is said to have visited Rookwood Hall for the benefit of his health and to have obtained from his hosts the use of a former malt house at the hall. This was used for worship until a church was built. According to local tradition this first meeting-place was part of a barn which still exists at Rookwood Hall (see above). This is probably correct. Pomfret's friends at the hall were probably the Capels, who were certainly living there in 1698 and perhaps for a few years after. Until the end of the 18th century the church continued to be known as that of Rookwood Hall. (fn. 2) It was at first Presbyterian, but became Congregational during the ministry of John Cook (1743- 78). The first minister ordained to the church was Daniel Wilcox (1703-6). His successor, Lauchlan Ross, ministered with success from 1706 to 1740. In 1716 the congregation was estimated at 500, of whom 59 were county voters and 19 were 'gentlemen'. (fn. 3) If these figures are correct this was one of the strongest nonconformist churches in Essex. Ross also had licensed preaching rooms in many neighbouring villages. In 1729-30 a new church was built on land given by Joseph Springham of Cockerells Farm (now Fairlands). Within 6 or 7 years £630 was raised towards the cost of the church. George Ross, who became minister in 1741, was said by a writer of about 1820 to have been imbued with the 'spirit of the very Pope himself', and his quarrels with the congregation terminated in 1743, when he was dismissed from his office. His successor John Cook was not very well educated but served faithfully. In 1745 Joseph Springham gave two freehold cottages to be used as the minister's house. (fn. 4) This intention, however, never seems to have been carried out. Although the cottages were beside the church the minister continued to live in the 'gentleman's end' of Cockerells Farm until 1786 when a house at Fyfield was bought as a manse during the pastorate of Thomas Eisdell (1784-9).

With these economic advantages the church was able to retain ministers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with only short vacancies, and some of them remained for many years. Eisdell's ministry came to an end as the result of a dispute with some of his congregation. His successor Joseph Corbishley, minister from 1790 to 1831, was an active evangelical. (fn. 5) In 1829 he reported that the congregation numbered 500. (fn. 6) In 1881 it was estimated at only 250; there were 75 church members, 75 pupils in the Sunday school, and 10 teachers. (fn. 7) The decline in numbers probably resulted from the foundation of other Congregational churches in the neighbourhood. In 1848 it was stated that the two cottages beside the church had been 'converted into a respectable public house for the accommodation of the congregation, most of whom come from a considerable distance'. (fn. 8) By 1881 there were new Congregational churches at Norton Mandeville, Moreton, and Thrushes Bush (in High Laver) (qq.v.). At Abbess Roding the contraction of the catchment area of the church was perhaps reflected by the sale (1852) of the Fyfield manse after the building of a new one in Abbess Roding. (fn. 9) The income from endowments was £18 in 1881, and that from other sources was about £92. The minister received a salary of £80. (fn. 10)

In 1884 J. E. Rattee became minister. He organized services at White Roding, Leaden Roding, and other neighbouring villages and persuaded the Essex Congregational Union to make a grant of £35 towards this work in 1885, when 24 new church members were reported. (fn. 11) By 1886 an iron church had been opened at Leaden Roding, and there was a mission room at White Roding, both under Rattee's supervision. He was also holding services at Aythorpe Roding and Margaret Roding. (fn. 12) A chapel was built at White Roding in 1888 at a cost of £262. (fn. 13) In 1890 the old church at Abbess Roding was dilapidated and services were being held in the schoolroom there. (fn. 14) In 1899 the old church was sold, together with the neighbouring Anchor House, for £1,000, (fn. 15) and the money made over to the church at White Roding, which was extended in 1901. The manse remained at Abbess Roding until 1948, when it was sold, and a new manse was built at White Roding. (fn. 16) Rattee left the district in 1904-5. He had been ill and a fund was raised to pay his debts before he left. (fn. 17)

The Abbess Roding church was demolished soon after 1899 and nothing now remains of it except the red-brick wall of the forecourt. It stood immediately to the west of the present Anchor House. An oil painting of the front, executed about 1876, hangs in the Congregational church, White Roding. It shows a two-story plastered building with rusticated quoins and a hipped tile roof. At each end of the front is a doorway with flanking pilasters supporting an entablature. The windows, of which there are four to the upper story, have semicircular heads and are divided by mullions and transomes (see plate facing p. 113). A photograph of the interior, also in the White Roding church, shows a gallery on three sides and on the fourth a high panelled pulpit set between two tall round-headed windows. To the west of the church stood the Sunday school. (fn. 18)

Anchor House, which appears to have become a public house in the 19th century (see above) retained its licence until about 1910. (fn. 19) The iron anchor which served as an inn sign still hangs above the entrance door. The building is timber-framed and roughcast and probably dates from the late 17th or early 18th century. To the west of it, near the site of the former church, are the remains of a moat.

The Old Manse, formerly known as Hill House, was built in 1851 to the design of the Revd. H. Stacey, then minister of the church. (fn. 20) It is a square doublefronted house of brown brick.


  • 1. Abbess Roding Congr. Church Bk. (now in Congr. Church, White Roding). Unless otherwise stated the following acct. is based on this book, which opens with a history of the church, started in 1820 and continued up to c. 1880.
  • 2. Monthly Mag. 1797, p. 204.
  • 3. Davids, Evang. Nonconf. in Essex, 450-2.
  • 4. Char. Com. files.
  • 5. Evang. Mag. 1797, 385; Davids, ibid.
  • 6. E.R.O., Q/CR 3/2.
  • 7. Essex Congr. Union Rep. 1881.
  • 8. White's Dir. Essex (1848). For this public house, called 'The Anchor', see below.
  • 9. Char. Com. files.
  • 10. Essex Congr. Union Rep. 1881.
  • 11. Ibid. 1885; Congr. Year Bk. 1884, 1885.
  • 12. Essex Congr. Union Rep. 1886.
  • 13. Ibid. 1898.
  • 14. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890).
  • 15. Deed of Conveyance, now at White Roding Congr. Church.
  • 16. Char. Com. files.
  • 17. Essex Congr. Union Reps. 1904, 1905.
  • 18. O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheet xlii.
  • 19. Inf. from the son of the present owner and grandson of the last licensee.
  • 20. Abbess Roding Congr. Church Bk.