Building record MCC4188 - Church of St Nicholas, Copt Hall Lane, Little Wigborough


C15 church.


Grid reference TL 9809 1453 (point)
Map sheet TL91SE
County ESSEX


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

A trench was dug by contractors in 2005 to investigate the cause of subsidence in the NW corner of the Nave. The 1.55m deep trench exposed intact stone foundations beneath the north and west return walls. At the junction with the tower, the stone foundation had been removed and replaced with C19 brickwork built during reconstruction works following the 1884 Essex Earthquake. No early floors, only modern tile flooring occupied the upper 0.25m. Beneath lay disturbed soil which extended to the natural.<1>

Four test pits were also dug to investigate the cause of subsidence in 2005. The investigations showed that the church was built with massive stone foundations over 1m in depth, above average for a church of this small size. Cracks could be seen in the foundations at the W. end of the nave and N. side of the chancel. The chancel and buttresses on the north side were provided with particularly wide and deep foundations of large squared blocks of Kentish ragstone. Various interpretations can be put forward for these foundations, including underpinning and cladding. The test pit to the S. exposed a layer of rubble possibly associated with a building predating the church. Foundations to the S. porch were revealed, which had been cut through post demolition by two burials. Several episodes of underpinning were exposed, some probably post-med. and others carried out after the 1884 earthquake.<2>

RCHME dates the church to the C15, based on the mouldings and window. It is built uniformly of Kentish Rag ashlar in small blocks. Ragstone was most commonly used in Essex churches during the C15, but masonary of this size and quality of dressing is unusual. However, there is no doubt that this masonary is C15 and not the later C19 reworking. As revealed in the investigotory hole <1> the foundations are made of courses of stone, mainly flint, and are medieval. A problem with the C15 build is the presence of five buttresses on the N. side, whilst there are only three on the S. side. Whilst it would be logical to date these as after the 1884 Earthquake they appear intergral to the church walls.

It can conjectured that the church is a complete rebuild in the C15, on the original site of a pre-existing church/graveyard. The roofs appear to date to the C17. A moulded string course at the top of the chancel walls is an anomalous feature that would fit better with a parapet and chamber or almost flat roof. It is almost certain that the chancel once had such a roof. The nave roof is a butt purlin (typically C17 in Essex) with 2 purlins and two collars. The lower collars once suspended a ceiling and from below it is difficult to assess the age of the principal rafters although they appear original. A brick repair to the buttress E. of the N. door may predate the earthquake. After the earthquake, the roofs were substantially replaced and the top of the N. wall of the nave has been rebuilt in brick, bonded in a cement mortar. This looks like a ring beam and was probably done when the roof was rebuilt. The C19 masonry is recognisable by the use of septaria and this occurs at the top of the tower, in the gables at W. end of Nave and E. wall of chancel. Investigations show that the tower arch was underpinned using brickwork. The W. part of the N. wall has moved out and become detached from the wall top. Reasons, beyond the underpinning of the tower which may have caused differential movement, are unclear. Other reasons should be taken into consideration - shrinkage clay subsoil,geological and/or archaeological features, tree roots, wall thickness and voids and a change in roof design.<3>

2005 Structural assessment by the Morton Partnership.<4>

Sources/Archives (4)

  • <1> Watching Brief Report: Crossan, Carl. 2005. A watching brief at St Nicholas' Church, Little Wigborough, Essex. CAT Report 308.
  • <2> Evaluation Report: Orr, Kate and Brooks, Howard. 2005. An archaeological evaluation at St Nicholas’ Church, Copt Hall Lane, Little Wigborough, Essex. CAT Report 350.
  • <3> DESC TEXT: Andrews, D.. 2005. Observations ancillary to the CAT excavation reports 2005.
  • <4> Historic Building Recording: The Morton Partnership Ltd. 2005. Structural Assessment to parts of St Nicholas Church, Little Wigborough, Essex.

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Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (4)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Nov 15 2019 8:17AM

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