History page

Attached is a piece on the hatchment we had restored in 2018.

Below is the full history of the church.

Wethersfield Church History.

Wethersfield takes its name from an old English personal name ‘Wethere’, probably the name of headman of a clan which settled here in the early Anglo Saxon’ period. It is first mentioned as a community in the Domesday Book which was compiled between 1086 and about 1120.

Wethersfield is a large parish, the Church being on high ground in the centre of the village. Wethersfield was a single manorial estate until it was divided into sub manors. Before the Norman Conquest in 1066 the Earl of Mercia owned most of the village but it was given to a Frenchman named Picot after the Conquest. It is likely that a Church was built here in the Earl’s time, and traces of what is considered to be an Anglo Saxon Church can be seen in the thickness of the wall in the North West corner of the nave. We can be reasonably certain that there has been a place of worship here for at least one thousand years. If only five burials took place each year during that time, some five thousand Wethersfield people lie within a few yards of this building.

The Parish Church is mainly C12 to early C15. Beginning as a smallish, ill lit, Anglo Saxon Church, probably just a nave and chancel, it was augmented about the year 1200 by a massive low rise tower stretching the full width of the nave. The tower survives largely intact from that time. Complete with its original window openings, doorway and door. The wall of the nave was later pierced to form an arcade, and a south aisle was constructed at the same time.

Around one hundred years later the same thing happened on the north side; and the south aisle was also lengthened. It is likely that the construction of the two aisles coincided with peaks in population growth. The chancel was rebuilt around 1340, a few years before the Black Death (1348) reduced the population by at least a third, perhaps as much as half. 

In around 1400 the south aisle was rebuilt and the south porch was added to it, fifty years later a porch was added to the north aisle of the Church. The nave was probably as dark as the chancel until a clerestory was added in the C16. Little further structural change occurred until 1750 when the north porch was rebuilt. Between 1872 and 1877 the Church was restored and an organ chamber and vestry were built on the south side of the Church. Ewan Christian, a nationally known Church architect oversaw the restoration.

The tower, at ground level has a feature that may be unique in Essex, this is the so called ‘Samson post’, a massive timber post, probably of the C17 which supports the floor above and the wooden frame of the spire. Such posts were more commonly used in the construction of wooden ships. The C14 north door is original.

There are eight bells in the tower, one dated 1623 is by Miles Graye of Colchester, who was known as the ‘Prince of Founders’. He was the first of three generations of founders all named Miles Graye who produced bells for nearly a century. When Miles died in 1649 he was, to use his own words, ‘crazed with age but of perfect mind and memory’.

The font used in the Church today is a Victorian replica of the disused 14C font now situated almost next to it. It was situated for many years in the south porch and was brought in to its present position as the south porch is now converted into the loo.

There are fragments of C14 glass collected in several windows in the Church. Some notable glass includes the badge of Anne Boleyn in the windows of the south aisle. The badge consists of a crowned falcon holding a sceptre.

In the chancel there is a C17 communion table. The rood screen is mainly C15 but has been much restored. There are two ‘sedilia’ (vicar’s seats) in the south wall of the Chancel and a double ‘picinae’ with two drains (stone wash bowls) they are well preserved and date from the C14.

The principle monument in the church is also in the chancel on the north side. It consists of an altar tomb with alabaster effigy of a man, probably Henry Wentworth, in plate armour, his feet resting on a unicorn (minus the horn) and the effigy of a woman (probably Elizabeth Howard, his first wife) in a long cloak and wearing a necklace of roses. The effigies still retain traces of their original colouring and gilding, but in addition to this they are covered with an extraordinary quantity of graffiti. 

Above the tomb, balanced on what appears to be the original iron bracket is a C16 helmet with a unicorn crest. Such helmets were made especially for funerals. Close to the Wentworth tomb are some high quality floor slabs which cover the graves of the Mott family who were generous benefactors to the poor of this parish in the C18.

Two Wethersfield "worthies" are commemorated in the church. The first is a Patrick Punty, born a Gaelic speaking Catholic in County Down, he transformed himself into Patrick Bronte, a Church of England clergyman who was curate here from 1806 to 1809. He was father of the Bronte sisters. The Bronte Society unveiled a plaque in his memory by the south door some years ago. The second worthy is Captain Charles Clerke, son of a Wethersfield farmer, who accompanied Captain James Cook on four expeditions. Having witnessed Captain Cook’s murder in Hawaii, Clerke took command of the expedition but died of TB on his way home to England.

St Mary’s is, like all our parish Churches, unique in its own right and reflects the care given to it today and for the last thousand years by the people of Wethersfield.

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