ID: GWG_CHC / Tony Millatt

TitleThe Parish Church of St Stephen Great Wigborough. A history
AbstractThe Parish Church of St Stephen, Great Wigborough.

Beautifully situated on the top of a hill at the highest point of the parish, the tower of the church is a landmark for many miles around. The large manor (Abbots (Abbess) Hall belonged to the important nunnery of Barking from at Least the Norman Conquest (1066) until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, and with that went the patronage of the parish church, so we can assume that there was a church here from at least early Norman times. There are records of clergy here back to the 13th century. There was also from early times a chapel at Salcot-Wigborough (now Salcott Parish Church) for the convenience of that hamlet at a distance from the main parish and across the creek, but annexed to the parish church of Great Wigborough. Virley was a separate parish with its own church.

The present church of St Stephen, of septaria and rubble with tilled roofs, owing to rebuilding and restoration has no features earlier than the 14th century. The nave and chancel were built late in the 14th century, but the chancel has been completely rebuilt. Late in the 15th Century a west tower was added, also a south porch, but both have been rebuilt following the extensive damage done by the N.E. Essex Earthquake in 1884. The nave thus remains the only part of the original building, but the windows are mostly modern work. The now blocked north doorway is of late 14th century date; the south doorway is of mid 15th century date. In the northeast corner behind the pulpit is the late 14th century staircase which led to the rood-loft above the chancel screen in pre-Reformation days. The is some reused 15th century material in both tower and porch.

The severe local earthquake in 1884 which did much damage in the area between Colchester and Mersea Island, badly shook the church, dislodging pinnacles from the tower, causing serious cracks, and making the whole building unsafe. The tower had to be rebuilt, the money raised by public subscription and help from the Mansion House Fund; the foundation stone was laid by Mrs Watson on Sept 4th 1885. In 1890 the chancel was entirely rebuilt and the nave restored at a cost of £3,000 by the generosity of the rector - the Revd. Frederick Theobald. In 1895 a new vestry was built on the south side, and in 1903 the south porch restored.

2020/21 refurbishment took place as part of the "Meeting Place for the Community Project". The floor in the nave was raised by about 6 inches to allow level access through the porch. The font was moved from the back of the nave to front of the nave on the south side.

A brief chronology

12th Century. Stone Ornament in splay of south doorway
13th Century. First Recorded Rector. Robert 1241.
14th Century. Nave and former chancel built. North Doorway (now blocked) & Rood Loft Staircase.
1372 Inquisition re Salcott Chapel
15th Century. South Porch and former W. Tower Built. Font. Bell by John Danyell. South Doorway. Door to Tower staircase Niche.
16th Century. The Reformation. Elizabethan Communion Cup & Cover. Paren Marriage Register from 1560: Burials from 1570.
Barking Abbey dissolved.
1555 Wigborough Martyrs John Simson and John Ardley [or Ardeley]
17th Century. Brass to Henry Bullock, 1609. Baptism Register 1602. Floor slabs to Richard Wiseman 1616: Anne Marke, 1621: & Henry Bullock 1628.
18th Century. Morant, 1768, records:- The Church is of one pace with chancel leaded. In a tower of stone are two bells. It stands on the top of a hill - extensive prospect &c.
19th Century. 1884 earthquake damaged the church. 1885 tower rebuilt. 1890 chancel rebuilt. 1895 vestry added. 1898 pulpit.
1854 Church School built.
20th Century. 1903 S. Porch restored.
24 September 1916 Zeppelin L33 brought down in Little Wigborough.
1919 new organ installed, payed for by Norah Forbes as a thanks offering for the ending of the war.
1929 new lectern.
1963 redecoration and installation of electric light.

Read More:
Rectors of St Stephen's
Reverend Llewellyn Christopher Watson Bullock
Great Wigborough War Memorial
Ann Marke memorial in St Stephen's Church
The Bells of St Stephen Great Wigborough
The New Tower of Great Wigborough Church
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments 1922 report
Great Expectations in Great Wigborough churchyard
Church Briefs - Great Wigborough
Church Terriers - Great & Little Wigborough
Parish Records - Burial in Wool

St Stephen's Great Wigborough - a Meeting Place for the Community

Sources
The paragraphs describing the church were used in a leaflet produced by Rev. Edward Lendon in the 1980s, with research by T.B. Millatt.
The chronology is from a display board produced by T.B. Millatt, now saved in the Church Tower.

AuthorTony Millatt
SourceMersea Museum
IDGWG_CHC
Related Images:
 St Stephen, Great Wigborough. East Window
 The church was badly damaged in the 1884 earthquake. The chancel was rebuilt 1889-93 and a new stained glass by Hardman & Co. was put in the east window. It depicts from left to right; Edmund King of East Anglia receiving the Danish Chieftain Ragnar Logbrog, the Martyrdom of Kind Edmund, The Crucifixion, Alban receiving the Christian priest Amphibalus and the Martyrdom of Alban. 
 [ Chris Parkinson ]  CPK_GWG_001
ImageID:   CPK_GWG_001
Title: St Stephen, Great Wigborough. East Window
The church was badly damaged in the 1884 earthquake. The chancel was rebuilt 1889-93 and a new stained glass by Hardman & Co. was put in the east window. It depicts from left to right; Edmund King of East Anglia receiving the Danish Chieftain Ragnar Logbrog, the Martyrdom of Kind Edmund, The Crucifixion, Alban receiving the Christian priest Amphibalus and the Martyrdom of Alban.
[ Chris Parkinson ]
Date:25 January 2019
Source:Mersea Museum / Chris Parkinson
 St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough. South vestry.
</p><p>The glass is by Charles Clutterbuck and appears to have been made before the 1884 Earthquake. It is in the 13th century style, small picture panels against a foliated grisaille and a background of interwoven ivy leaves and branches. 
 The Vestry was built in 1895 so the window was moved here from elsewhere - there would have been a window where the entrance to the vestry is now.
</p><p>In Memory of Sarah Jane Bird, wife of Rev. Godfrey Bird of this Parish died 6th January 1854.  CPK_GWG_017
ImageID:   CPK_GWG_017
Title: St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough. South vestry.

The glass is by Charles Clutterbuck and appears to have been made before the 1884 Earthquake. It is in the 13th century style, small picture panels against a foliated grisaille and a background of interwoven ivy leaves and branches.
The Vestry was built in 1895 so the window was moved here from elsewhere - there would have been a window where the entrance to the vestry is now.

In Memory of Sarah Jane Bird, wife of Rev. Godfrey Bird of this Parish died 6th January 1854.

Date:25 January 2019
Source:Mersea Museum / Chris Parkinson
 Great Wigborough Church. Postcard by Hammond, Photo-Artist, Great Totham. Not posted.  CW5_111
ImageID:   CW5_111
Title: Great Wigborough Church. Postcard by Hammond, Photo-Artist, Great Totham. Not posted.
Date:c1911
Source:Mersea Museum / Carol Wyatt Collection
 Great Wigborough Parish Church - chancel and east window.  GWG_CHC_011
ImageID:   GWG_CHC_011
Title: Great Wigborough Parish Church - chancel and east window.
Date:9 November 2018
Source:Mersea Museum / Tony Millatt
 St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough  GWG_CHC_015
ImageID:   GWG_CHC_015
Title: St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough
Date:9 November 2018
Source:Mersea Museum / Tony Millatt
 St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough. Interior.  GWG_CHC_017
ImageID:   GWG_CHC_017
Title: St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough. Interior.
Date:9 November 2018
Source:Mersea Museum
 Great Wigborough Parish Church (St. Stephen) plan  GWG_CHC_031
ImageID:   GWG_CHC_031
Title: Great Wigborough Parish Church (St. Stephen) plan
Source:Mersea Museum
 The 1884 EARTHQUAKE Great Wigborough
 
Tuesday April 22nd at 9.10am.
</p><p>
Two of the corner pinnacles were thrown down from the church tower, one falling on to the nave and
damaging the roof: the other two pinnacles were loosened and had to be taken down. The
tower is also said to have been cracked on its south and west sides, and to have received an
inclination over towards the nave.
</p><p>
The Rectory was severely shaken, but received no serious injury. The Rev. F Watson states
that he heard a rumbling noise, and his clock was stopped at 9.17; some medicine bottles
were seen to jump about, and were then thrown down and broken, a large picture was
swung to and fro, and plaster was brought down from a ceiling. The sensation was
as being in a boat, and going up and down, backwards and forwards.
</p><p>
Chimneys were thrown down and roofs damaged at the surrounding farmhouses,
Moulsham's, Seaborough, and Brick House. The latter, a substantial two-storeyed
brick building occupied by Mr Charles Harvey, was much injured about the roof, the
chimneys having fallen down, and the upper part of the brickwork of the front of the
house just beneath the roof having been thrown down for a distance extending about half
the length of the building leaving the ends of the rafters exposed.
</p><p>
Among the houses reported to have been much damaged were Mr Blythe's, Mrs Cause's,
the Kings Head Inn (several chimneys levelled), and the Parochial Schools (chimney fell
through roof). Fortunately the children had not then assembled or serious injury would
probably have been occasioned. As evidence of the violence of the movement, the Rev. F
Watson states that a horse at work was taken off his legs and thrown to the ground. 
</p><p><b>
Rebuilding of Church Tower
</b></p><p>
On September 4th 1885, the foundation stone of the new tower was laid by Mrs Watson,
wife of the Revd. Frederick Watson - rector, using a silver-plated trowel, the gift of the
builder Mr Letch, and a carved mallet and level made out of oak of the old tower.
A short service was held conducted by the rector, with hymns led by the choir.
The Architect for the rebuilding was Mr Jospeh Clarke St. Albans Diocesan Architect.
The inscription on the foundation stone is as follows:-
 
THIS FOUNDATION STONE OF THE TOWER OF THE CHURCH OF ST. STEPHEN
 GREAT WIGBOROUGH, WAS LAID IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON,
 AND THE HOLY GHOST, BY EMILY ANN, WIFE OF THE REV. FREDERICK
 WATSON, MA RECTOR ON THE 4TH DAY OF SEPT 1885
</p><p>
Panel by T.B. Millatt c1960, originally hung in Great Wigborough Church.
 The Essex Society for Family History Monumental Inscriptions record for Great Wigborough records this as Reference C18 on north wall of tower. It is now in storage.  GWG_CHC_155
ImageID:   GWG_CHC_155
Title: The 1884 EARTHQUAKE Great Wigborough
Tuesday April 22nd at 9.10am.

Two of the corner pinnacles were thrown down from the church tower, one falling on to the nave and damaging the roof: the other two pinnacles were loosened and had to be taken down. The tower is also said to have been cracked on its south and west sides, and to have received an inclination over towards the nave.

The Rectory was severely shaken, but received no serious injury. The Rev. F Watson states that he heard a rumbling noise, and his clock was stopped at 9.17; some medicine bottles were seen to jump about, and were then thrown down and broken, a large picture was swung to and fro, and plaster was brought down from a ceiling. The sensation was "as being in a boat, and going up and down, backwards and forwards."

Chimneys were thrown down and roofs damaged at the surrounding farmhouses, Moulsham's, Seaborough, and Brick House. The latter, a substantial two-storeyed brick building occupied by Mr Charles Harvey, was much injured about the roof, the chimneys having fallen down, and the upper part of the brickwork of the front of the house just beneath the roof having been thrown down for a distance extending about half the length of the building leaving the ends of the rafters exposed.

Among the houses reported to have been much damaged were Mr Blythe's, Mrs Cause's, the Kings Head Inn (several chimneys levelled), and the Parochial Schools (chimney fell through roof). Fortunately the children had not then assembled or serious injury would probably have been occasioned. As evidence of the violence of the movement, the Rev. F Watson states that "a horse at work was taken off his legs and thrown to the ground."

Rebuilding of Church Tower

On September 4th 1885, the foundation stone of the new tower was laid by Mrs Watson, wife of the Revd. Frederick Watson - rector, using a silver-plated trowel, the gift of the builder Mr Letch, and a carved mallet and level made out of oak of the old tower. A short service was held conducted by the rector, with hymns led by the choir. The Architect for the rebuilding was Mr Jospeh Clarke St. Albans Diocesan Architect. The inscription on the foundation stone is as follows:-
"THIS FOUNDATION STONE OF THE TOWER OF THE CHURCH OF ST. STEPHEN
GREAT WIGBOROUGH, WAS LAID IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON,
AND THE HOLY GHOST, BY EMILY ANN, WIFE OF THE REV. FREDERICK
WATSON, MA RECTOR ON THE 4TH DAY OF SEPT 1885

Panel by T.B. Millatt c1960, originally hung in Great Wigborough Church.
The Essex Society for Family History Monumental Inscriptions record for Great Wigborough records this as Reference C18 on north wall of tower. It is now in storage.

Date:22 April 1884
Source:Mersea Museum / T.B. Millatt
 The ash tree at the bottom of Great Wigborough Rectory in 1944. Mersea in the distance.
 Hay is being gathered in the field below, Haycocks are being loaded on the cart - horse drawn. Many farms could not afford or did not want to use tractors at this time.
</p>  YTS_004_001
ImageID:   YTS_004_001
Title: The ash tree at the bottom of Great Wigborough Rectory in 1944. Mersea in the distance.
Hay is being gathered in the field below, Haycocks are being loaded on the cart - horse drawn. Many farms could not afford or did not want to use tractors at this time.

Source:Mersea Museum / Yates Family
 Great Wigborough group outside the Rectory.
 7th from left at the Back is Revd. Frederick Yates, Rector of the Wigboroughs.  YTS_004_021
ImageID:   YTS_004_021
Title: Great Wigborough group outside the Rectory.
7th from left at the Back is Revd. Frederick Yates, Rector of the Wigboroughs.
Date:c1940
Source:Mersea Museum / Yates Family
 Great Wigborough Church  YTS_004_087
ImageID:   YTS_004_087
Title: Great Wigborough Church
Date:c1940
Source:Mersea Museum / Yates Family
 Interior of St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough. Decorated for Harvest Festival ?  YTS_004_089
ImageID:   YTS_004_089
Title: Interior of St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough. Decorated for Harvest Festival ?
Date:c1940
Source:Mersea Museum / Yates Family
 Great Wigborough Church decorated for Harvest Festival. It is inside a Christmas Card from Rev. & Mrs Yates, perhaps dating from the 1940s. There is no electricity - an oil lamp can be seen on the wall on the left of the picture.  YTS_008_001_003
ImageID:   YTS_008_001_003
Title: Great Wigborough Church decorated for Harvest Festival. It is inside a Christmas Card from Rev. & Mrs Yates, perhaps dating from the 1940s. There is no electricity - an oil lamp can be seen on the wall on the left of the picture.
Source:Mersea Museum / Yates Family