ID: EC66_04_A432 / Rev. James Allen

TitleThe Villages of Great and Little Wigborough by the Rev. James Allen
AbstractThe summer visitor on his way to Mersea Island from the direction of Maldon will pass through the villages of Great and Little Wigborough. He will see the signs indicating the village names, but he will fail to see a "village" as one usually understands the meaning of the word. The church is in one place with but two or three houses near it, and the rest of the village must be sought out.

In a directory of 1863, Great Wigborough is described as "a pleasant village on an eminence overlooking the salt marshes and the ocean". The parish comprises 2,599 acres of land excluding the "saltings", which are covered by tides at high water and adjoin the Salcott Creek.

Little Wigborough parish comprises 1,200 acres and lies south - west of Great Wigborough. The two benefices were united in 1878.

Morant states that the name Wigborough is derived from two Saxon words meaning "battle" and "fort" or "castle". P.H. Reaney, on the other hand, says the name is really "Wicga's Hill".

It is possible that there was a fort which provided protection against the marauding Danes and that a battle took place between them and the English. Near the Church is a tumulus which Morant surmised was the burial place after the battle.

The name of the parish occurs variously as "Wieghebera", "Wighberga", "Wigberwe" and "Wyke Byrh". The manor of Abbot`s or Abbess Hall is said to have taken its name either from the abbess of Barking or from the abbot of St. Osyth. The estate belonged to the "celeresse of the nunnery" and it eventually passed into the hands of the abbot of St. Osyth.

At the dissolution this manor was granted to Thomas Lord Cromwell, and after his fall from power it reverted to the Crown and helped to provide for the maintenance of the Princess Mary whom became Queen Mary Tudor.

The manor was granted to Charles Tuke and his heirs in the year 1545. Queen Elizabeth I in 1562 granted the manor of Great Wigborough, Salcott and Tollesbury to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, but because of his intention to marry Mary Queen of Scots, which was regarded as a conspiracy against Queen Elizabeth, he was arraigned and beheaded. His eldest son, Philip, Earl of Arundel, was restored by Act of Parliament in 1580, but the estates were once again confiscated. The second son of the Duke of Norfolk was granted the manor and advowson of Great Wigborough in 1594. He was later given the title of Baron Howard of Walden and in 1603 was created Earl of Suffolk.

Great Wigborough's other manor, that of Moulsham, takes its name from William de Moulsham, and the house, a medieval gem, lies in the hollow slightly north - east of the church. During the reign of Edward the Confessor both these manors were held by Alaric, a freeman, and at the time of Domesday Book were held by Hugh de St. Quentin. In the "feodary of the honor of Castle Hedingham" is a list of the lords of the manor of Moulsham. For about 200 years during the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries the family of Bullock owned this estate.

The oldest house
It is said that the oldest house in the parish is Hyde Farm, 220 yards west of the church. The house has traces of fifteenth - century work and some of its original timbers support the tiled roof. From a chimney there peers forth a gargoyle said to have been taken from Little Wigborough Church. The central hall was divided into two stories in the sixteenth century.

The parish church is dedicated to St. Stephen and is splendidly situated in a commanding position on top of a hill. From the tower may be obtained a panoramic view of Salcot Creek, the Blackwater estuary, Mersea Island and the open sea, not forgetting the local countryside with the Abberton reservoir in its midst and Peldon`s nobly standing Church.

Great Wigborough church is a building of rubble and flint and its architecture is of the Early English and Decorated styles.
Restorations have taken place from time to time, and after the earthquake of 1884 the tower had to be rebuilt, a Mansion House fund contributing £400 towards the cost. This earthquake, which was rather severe, caused much damage in the area between Mersea Island and Colchester. Extensive restoration began in 1890 and the chancel was rebuilt at a cost of £3,000, which came out of the pocket of the rector, Frederick Theobald. A new east window was added, together with a carved oak chancel screen and pulpit. The ancient font was restored, set up on steps and provided with an oak canopy. There are two bells; the smaller one, of thirty - six inches, has an inscription in Gothic lettering "Nomen Magdalene campana geret melodie", and the larger, thirty - eight inches, bears the inscription "Miles Graye made me 1622". It is presumed that during restoration some earlier memorials, including the arms of Patteshull and Bourchier dating from the fifteenth century, disappeared.

Satirist rector
One interesting incumbent was Stephen Gosson, who died in 1623. He was in turn poet, actor, dramatist, satirist and preacher. He was a scholar of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1572. After taking his degree in 1576 he went to London and became noted for his ``penning of pastorals`` as well as for his Elizabethan plays. After three years of writing Gosson developed Puritan ideas and wrote against the theatre. He published in 1579 his School of Abuse, an invective against "poets, pipers, players and suchlike caterpillars of a commonwealth". He dedicated this diatribe to Sir Philip Sidney and it provoked much controversy. Gosson was at this time tutor in a gentleman's family in the country. About 1582 he became ordained and was appointed lecturer at Stepney and St. Martin`s, Ludgate. He became vicar of Sandridge, Hertfordshire, in 1586 and rector of Great Wigborough in 1592. From 1600 till his death in 1623 he was vicar of St.Botolph's, Bishopsgate, where he was buried. He left twenty - five shillings to the poor of Stepney.

Picture frame from Zeppelin
On the west wall of Great Wigborough church is a picture from made of materials taken from a German Zeppelin of World War I. The frame contains a printed account of the Zeppelin (one of the largest ever made) which came down near Little Wigborough on September 24, 1916.

The account tells how the crew, one of whose members had worked in Colchester before the war, gave themselves up to the local policeman. He in turn handed them over to a sergeant of the Metropolitan Police who happened to be in the area in mufti.

Eventually s Colchester police sergeant escorted the airmen to West Mersea, where they were taken care of by the military. About 250,000 people came to see the wreckage of the giant airship and £74 was collected from sightseers for the Red Cross and other charities. Silver watches were presented to the rector of Peldon and the local police in recognition of their services. A portion of the aluminium rigging still rests in the tower of the church. This wreck of the Zeppelin caused no little stir in the normally quiet countryside of Great and Little Wigborough.

One can sarcely wonder at a contributor to Punch in 1934 writing idyllically of what he calls the "Wigwigs" "Great and Little WigWig; they are a noble twain". They are still as peaceful as ever they were, except perhaps for the traffic which hurries through to the sea in summer time.

From Essex Countryside magazine April 1966, pages 432 to 433, transcribed August 2022 by Joe Vince.

Little Wigborough Church from the south

AuthorRev. James Allen
PublishedApril 1966
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 The villages of Great and Little Wigborough, by Rev. James Allen.
 Essex Countryside April 1966 - page 432  EC66_04_432
ImageID:   EC66_04_432
Title: The villages of Great and Little Wigborough, by Rev. James Allen.
Essex Countryside April 1966 - page 432
Date:April 1966
Source:Mersea Museum
 The villages of Great and Little Wigborough, by Rev. James Allen.
 Essex Countryside April 1966 page 433  EC66_04_433
ImageID:   EC66_04_433
Title: The villages of Great and Little Wigborough, by Rev. James Allen.
Essex Countryside April 1966 page 433
Date:April 1966
Source:Mersea Museum