From seawards, the gaunt square tower of St. Edmunds stands stark
above the East Mersea skyline, a dominant and trusty seafarers' landmark.
But perhaps the best way to introduce oneself to this delightful country
church is to cycle from West Mersea or from the Strood across the centre
of the Island, each rise in the road bringing a little more of the tower
into view until,, beside East Mersea Village Shop, Church Lane
appropriately leads to the building itself.
And what a gem it turns out to be.
Like its sister, St. Peter's and Paul at West Mersea, it is difficult to
accurately date the church's foundation or the present building.
Suffice only that it too is ancient and parts of a moat remain which once
enclosed a good five acres including both the church and adjacent East Mersea Hall.
The building has had its fair share of ravages over the centuries, in
clear contrast to the loving care and attention accorded by today's
parishioners. Roundheads billeted there during the Civil War are thought
to have destroyed the rood-screen and stained glass windows.
Moreover, four of the five bells were stolen many years ago, only the
heavy tenor bell - dated 1492 - remaining. Legend has it that the
robbers made off with the bells by sea from a little quay at the foot
of Church Lane, but that the weight of their haul sank their boat
beneath them. Presumably somewhere under Blackwater's mud and silt
four bronze bells await rediscovery.
The tower housing the surviving bell was built in the 15th century and
is scaled from inside the building via an armoured door fitted with
no less than three substantial locks. A beacon was once maintained
atop the tower's little corner turret - a signal for local and national
emergencies - but this has long been removed, probably following damages
sustained during the 1884 earthquake. The three other tower corners
are adorned each by a stone gargoyle - one in the shape of a ram;
another a cow or calf; and the third weathered so much as to be almost
indistinguishable, but thought to resemble a fish. Crosses of flint
in the church's outer masonry indicate major repairs effected over the years.
St. Edmunds has no clock but just to the right of the main door can be
traced the remains of a 'mass-dial' scratched into the stonework
- a sundial which charted the times of services and, inside on the
pulpit, is an old iron hour-glass stand. In case the sermon was
dragging on, despite this advantageously placed reminder that folk
were becoming impatient, a small opening at the side of the pulpit
enabled the parish clerk of years gone by to prod the preacher with a
stick when the occasion demanded.
On the side of the churchyard nearest the Hall is the unusual grave of
15 years old Sarah Wrench who died in 1848 at a time when body-stealing
was possible. To this day Sarah rests in peace, protected by an
impressive iron cage.
Another interesting reminder of those long-since departed this world
is provided by a plaque marking the burial place of Maudlyn Outred
who died in 1572, the wife of the then rector, who marked her passing
with some verse inscribed and legible to this day.
The most famous of East Mersea's clerics, however, was the hymn and novel writer Rev. Sabine Baring Gould 1870-1881. He was author of over 100 books
including the novel "Mehalah" set locally.
He wrote "Onward Christian Soldiers" and is reputed to have composed
"Now the day is over" to fit the five chimes of West Mersea Church.
St. Edmunds is an attractive English country church - a tranquil haven
admidst the bustle of an East Mersea caravanning summer and, bearing in
mind the small population of that part of the Island, a credit to
the local community.
This history is based on an article in Mersea Island Society Mistral magazine, 1985, author unknown.