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ID TXA00900 Article from Mersea Museum / T.B. Millatt (with later additions)

TitleThe Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, West Mersea. A Brief History.

It was at a spot only three miles across the Backwater Estuary at Bradwell-on-Sea that St. Cedd founded his little monastery circa 654, built the historic St. Peter's Chapel out of the remains of the Roman fort of Othona, and from there he evangelised Essex, the kingdom of the East Saxons. We feel it is probable that Cedd and his monks came across to establish the first church here at West Mersea, also dedicated to St. Peter.
Coming to the 10th century, the Saxon Ealdorman Aelfgar and his daughters, Aethelflaed (widow of King Edmund of England) and Aelffaed (widow of Ealdorman Brythnoth) by their wills, left properties in Mersea, Peldon and Fingringhoe to St. Peter's Church at Mersea, described as a 'Minster', i.e. a church serving the wider area. By 1042 the Mersea estates had reverted to the Crown, and by charter of 1046 King Edward the Confessor granted them to the Abbey of St. Ouen at Rouen in Normandy. The Abbey founded a small Benedictine Priory here. The monks, no doubt using the Church and the Abbey, became Lords of the Manor.
Our historic 11th century tower may well date from that time, and if so, it is Saxo-Norman. Note the considerable use of Roman tiles and brick in it, from the Roman villa which stood near the site (of which pavements were found in the 18th century). Two small round-headed windows and the tower arch of that time remain. The belfry louvres and west window are later. The heavily beamed floors inside the tower have been dated as early as the tower itself with very early examples of joinery.
The nave and chancel were probably built in the 14th century and a south aisle added, later extended east in the 15th century to form a south chapel. Note the 15th century brickwork.
In 1415, King Henry V suppressed alien religious houses, including the Priory, and granted its properties of West Mersea, the Peet and Fingringhoe to Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury who endowed them on the College of Higham Ferrers, which he was founding at his birthplace. About this time the north porch was built or rebuilt, and the 14th century niche reset.
The timber roof of the chancel with arched and moulded trusses is early 16th century (Tudor).
In 1833, the south porch was rebuilt as a porch and vestry, the north wall of the nave heightened in brick, buttressed and embattled, and the flat Georgian ceiling formed. Also the south arcade was rebuilt in brick and plaster. A west gallery had been erected in 1812, but removed in 1882 with other changes.
A photo of the church circa 1898 shows two north chancel windows of three lights in pointed style, but early in the 20th century all the windows in the chancel were replaced with perpendicular style stone frames, including a new east window at a new level.
In 1925 the south aisle roof was rebuilt, the wall plaster all removed, and the niche for a piscina uncovered.
In 1971 a Church Hall was built adjoining the south vestry. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the choir stalls, pulpit and old painted pews were replaced, as thank offerings, in, attractive light wood. Colourful kneelers were worked by members of the congregation, with individual and local designs.
The pipe organ was updated in 2002 and 27 new digital stops added.
The new memorial window was installed in the south aisle in August 2005. This is to commemorate the Fishermen and Oystermen of Mersea Island.

"History is all around us here Site of Roman villa - Saxon Minster Church - Benedictine Priory - Land Mark - Watch Tower - Place of Prayer, Preaching, Sacrament & Thanksgiving - Centre for the Worship, Witness and Work of the Church.
Resting place of the departed.

T. B. M.

Interesting features:
Fragment of late Saxon carving inserted near Vestry door.
Font - Purbeck marble octagonal bowl of 13thcentury.
Stone coffin lid of 13th Century in niche in sanctuary.
Roll of Rectors 1 Vicars dating back to 1349.
Painting on west wall - sacred monogram and rosettes; 15th century
Five bells by Thomas Gardiner in 1717, two recast since
Texts in 'Chippendale' cartouches above arches of the nave.
Fine Royal Arms of George IV, including Hanover; 1823,
Brass 'Eagle' lectern and fine candelabra; - dates uncertain.
Stained glass east window of the Resurrection, given in 1905
'Della Robbia' Lunette of 'Dead Christ with the Angels' circa 1907
Panel of 'The Annunciation' presented in 1955.
Chiming apparatus on bells installed for jubilee year 1936.
Choir Screen to commemorate the 54th Division (Territorial) 1914 - 1918 donated in 1937
Painting of St. Christopher (south aisle) presented in 1939
Lady Chapel, furnished with altar and ornaments in 1962
Vestry and Sunday School Hall built south of the church in 1971
Book of Remembrance and case donated in 1974
New pulpit, clergy & choir stalls, mid 70s, Tower Screen donated 1979. (Picture Panels from old pulpit at the back of the church.)
Memorial and Thank Offering pews donated 1980 - 1982
Mersea Smack weather vane installed on the Tower 1985
Statue of 'Peter the Fisherman' over the main entrance 1986
New treble bell cast and one recast (Whitechapel foundry) 1987
New Communion Table in chancel 1989.
Clock restored with new face 1990.
Mezzanine floor and staircase in Tower 1990.
Church Hall extended, new vestry & meeting room added 1992.
Extensive re-pointing of exterior Tower wall 1996.
Repairs to nave, north parapet and renewal of south aisle roof 1997.
Three manual organ console, replacing previous 2 manual pipe organ, now with digital and Ope stops, in 2002.
Memorial window installed in south aisle 2005

AuthorT.B. Millatt (with later additions)
KeywordsWest Mersea Church
Published11 October 2010
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 The Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, West Mersea.
 A brief history by T.B. Millatt.  IA003961
ImageID:   IA003961
Title: The Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, West Mersea.
A brief history by T.B. Millatt.
Source:Mersea Museum

This item is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection. The information is accurate as far as is known, but the Museum does not accept responsibility for errors.