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All Saints



All Saints Brightlingsea
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Here is " A Brief Giude to All Saints Church Brightlingsea" which can be obtained from the Church, reproduced with kind permission.


              For the information given in this brief guide I am much indebted to the scholarly researches of Dr. E.P. Dickin, earlier this century, and to an earlier guide-book produced by the Rev'd. Charles Heard, a former Vicar, as well as to many conversations with those who love 'the 0ld Church'. The photographs have been specially taken by Mr. Donald Roper of the Brightlingsea Photographic Club, the line drawings are the work of Mr.Ralph Brand, until recently Church- warden and the text has been prepared for publication by Mrs.Jacqueline Bedwell. To them and to Mr.Norman Atkinson, who commented on the draft manuscript, I am most grateful for their help and encouragement.

Michael Swindlehurst, Vicar.

April 1982.





              The church is reached by the visitor well before he comes to the modern town. It stands at the high point of the parish where the ancient roads from Alresford and Thorrington meet and then continue to the town and modern waterfront. In all probability this is the ancient meeting place for the scattered agricultural community of the parish and the natural site for its church. Before the sea receded Alresford Creek provided a sheltered haven for the town and the meadow below All Saints is still called Church Dock.

              The present church dates from about 1250 but had several predecessors, stretching back to the coming of Christianity to Essex in 653. You can see St'. Cedd's minster at Bradwell from the town and it would not have been long before the Gospel was preached in this parish and some kind of worship centre established. The start of the present building seems to be linked with the appointment of the first recorded incumbent in 1237 and this was a time of general prosperity for England. The building consisted of the chancel and two thirds of the present nave, with two small chapels. A good deal of material from earlier buildings, especially Roman brick, was used. Immediately to the left of the south door as you come in you can see a roundheaded recess incorporating Roman brickwork.      This is possibly part of the earlier Norman church.

              The Fifteenth century saw a revival of England's wealth and here this was associated with the residence of the Beriffe family of wool merchants at Jacobo's Hall. The great tower, one of the finest in East Anglia, was built to the west of the church. When it had settled on its foundations it was joined to the church by the building of the two western bays of the nave which are in perpendicular style. The south chapel and porch were added. The vestry was built in 1518 and the north chapel, where the Beriffes are buried, enlarged at the same time. Finally, the north aisle was reconstructed. A common feature of these additions is the use of knapped flints on the exterior walls.

              The religious controversies which followed the completion of the church led to losses.   Plate and vestments were taken into the King's hands. Two of the four bells were taken away. Worse followed in the Civil War when the Puritans destroyed the statues and hacked away at the beautiful niches which are a feature of our church. We still have one headless figure which was recovered and may represent St. Nicholas. But the biggest change came with the collapse of the nave roof one Monday morning in 1814, bringing down all the clerestory windows which stood above the arches and brought light into the centre of the church. The churchwardens were allowed to make a national appeal and sold one of the remaining bells, but in the end could only afford the present wooden roof without restoring the clerestory.        

              During the Victorian period the church was completely refurnished and the small chancel arch replaced with the present one to give a better view of the sanctuary.

              In 1969 the condition of the fabric had deteriorated to the point where it seemed likely that the church would be made redundant and closed.    However, a body of 'Friends' was formed in the town to shoulder the responsibility of raising the funds needed to restore and maintain the church. As the result of their efforts new interest in the church has been aroused and so far the necessary funds have been found. The collecting boxes in the church are for this continuing work of restoration.


              This is 97 ft. high and there are 121 steps to the top from where a fine view may be obtained. The tower can be seen for seventeen miles from sea and has been an important landmark.      Indeed, Canon Pertwee, a former Vicar, used to climb to the top in stormy weather to raise a riding light on the flagstaff to guide fishing vessels home. The tower has four stages, the base being 10 ft. thick and ornamented with traceried panels and blank shields.    The great doors are the original of c.1500 and traces of decorative mouldings can be seen. The holes which can be seen are thought to be those of musket balls and may date from fighting in this area during the Civil War. The buttresses are at the diagonals and have a series of canepied niches which do not seem ever to have been filled with statues. The crenellated parapet is late 19th century. In 1884 the Essex earth- quake hurled one pinnacle through the roof of the nave and this now stands in the church.

              Inside, the 15th century font has, since the last century, been under the tower.    The octagonal bowl has a quatrefoil on each face enclosing a rose, and traces of colour and gilding can be seen. Above is a gallery from which musicians would have accompanied the services in earlier times. The ceiling has some fine woodwork. Above is the ringing room which used to be the place where the Free- men of the town met to elect the Cinque Port Deputy. This ceremony now takes place in the body of the church on the first Monday in December. In the bell-chamber we still have the bell frame and one of the mediaeval bells cast c.1400 and inscribed "Dulcis Sisto Melis Vocor Camparia Michaelis", (I am sweet as honey and am called the bell Michael). There is also a small 17th century bell. A trigonometrical point on the roof of the tower is used for the Ordinance Survey.


              Built at the start of the 16th century, beyond the small doorway of 1250, the porch arch has alternating Tudor fluerons and diadems, with shields, mostly blank, though one has a symbol of the Trinity and another is defaced. Above is a fine canopied niche. The spandrels have shields, one with the keys of St. Peter,  the other with the crossed swords of St. Paul.    There is flushwork in the base and also in the battlements.


              The piers on the left as you enter are of particular interest because the two halves are separated by 250 years, marking the beginning and the end of the building of the present nave.

               Around the walls is a series of memorial tiles commemorating all those who have lost their lives at sea since 1872 when Arthur Pertwee became Vicar and instituted the custom.      The tiles bear witness to the serious losses suffered by this seafaring community in the late 19th century. Similar memorials are found on the continent but the tiles are a unique memorial in this country.

               William Beriffe and his wife Joan, are buried in the centre aisle with handsome brasses of the period. Margaret Beriffe and Mary Beriffe are similarly commemorated in the north aisle, the latter with her four sons and one daughter holding her skirts.

                The pews are provided with a colourful series of tapestry kneelers, representing the life and history of the town, a visible reminder that this is the community's church.

                The painted glass in the north aisle showing St. Paul, is Flemish glass of the 16th century. Somehow this panel became separated from the rest of the window, which is to be seen at Ely Cathedral, where apart from the book and part of the sword, their St. Paul is a later restoration.    The arms of the Cinque Ports in another window is a reminder that Brightlingsea is the only part of that ancient connection north of the Thames. The town is a limb of Sandwich, and the Freemen meet annually in the church to admit new Freemen and to elect a Deputy who is responsible to the Mayor of Sandwich for the good conduct of the inhabitants and the payment of dues.


                This is dominated by the monument to Nicholas Magens who is buried under a fine leger slab in front of the altar.      A German merchant who made his home in London, Magens was a founding father of Lloyd's marine insurance.   He bought the estates here a year before his death. The monument in the rococo style was executed in marble by Nicolas Read, a pupil of Roubiliac and erected in 1779.     The central globe shows California as an island on the west coast of America. The angel of the Ressurection stands to the left holding a record of Magens' life and this is balanced by a huge cornucopia and finely carved anchor to the right. The stained glass of the east window is Victorian but of good quality.  The reredos with its figures of St. Nicholas and St. Luke is a modern memOrial to a local doctor. To the right the 16th century doorway and sturdy door give access to the vestry.


                The Organ was placed in this ancient south chapel during the last century. The piscina can be seen on the south wall. A canopied niche which once flanked the altar still has traces of the inscription which originally said "Ora pro animibus Johannis Mors et Dionisiac uxoris ejus et pro animibus (omnis) fidelium."


                Enlarged by the Beriffe family c.1520, the chapel contains the following brasses:

1. William Beriffe of Jacobes, 1578, Deputy.

2. John Beriffe, 1496, with Margaret, Amy and Margaret,   his wives, showing also his merchant's mark.

3. Alice Beriffe, 1536, and her daughter, 'Margaret. This is a palimpsest; a much older brass of two clergy has been reused by turning the figures over and inscribing the new likenesses on the back.

4. John Beriffe, 1521, with Mary and Alice his wives.

                In the floor beneath the blocked 13th century arch is a coffin-lid which was once used as an altar. It has an incised foliated cross and five consecration crosses. The badly hacked niches in the east wall still carry traces of colour. To the right can be seen the blocked shape of a lancet window which originally lit the chancel. In one of the partially blocked windows on the north side can be seen fragments of 16th century glass. The large hatchment is that of Magens Dorrien Magens, the last of his family to own the estates. He died in 1848 and the hatchment is a particularly fine example of tempera painting on canvas. The smaller hatchment is of inferior quality and relates to his wife, the granddaughter of an Earl of Talbot, who prodeceased him in 1829.

                The chapel has been completely refurnished for worship in recent years. The modern glass in the east window, by Caroline Swash, represents Mary's contribution as the Mother of Jesus together with symbols which have come to be associated with her. The statue of the celestial Mary by John Doubleday is carved in walnut.


                This extends to about five acres. The wide variety of trees to be found is mainly due to the enthusiasm of John Bateman, formerly of Hall Farm and a benefactor of the parish. The lych-gate is a memorial to his friend, Canon Pertwee, Vicar for 45 years, who devoted himself to the welfare of his people and who now lies buried in the churchyard.     The flat tomb of the Dodds near the gate has an interesting inscription. Also buried in the churchyard is Lord Tennyson's younger brother, Horatio. There are fine views over the Alresford Creek to the more distant River Colne.



               'The Friends' came into existence in 1969, when the fabric of All Saints' was in so bad a condition that the closure of the church seemed imminent. Since then the Friends have raised over 20,000 pounds. The fabric of All Saints' has been saved from further decay and a start has been made on the longer term work of restoration.    The Friends represent everyone in the local community and beyond who want to see this beautiful old church retained and continue in use for worship. If you would like to contribute to the funds, become a regular member, or receive further information,   please contact the Friends of All Saints, c/o the Vicarage or 61, Tower Street, Brightlingsea.

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