Monument record MCC7546 - Remains of St Mary's Church, Birch


Remains of the medieval church built in the early 12th century, to the north of Birch Hall. The chancel and west tower are mid 14th century and the chancel arch c.1400.


Grid reference Centred TL 9501 2077 (24m by 12m) (FCE)
Map sheet TL92SE
County ESSEX


Type and Period (2)

Full Description

Remains of the medieval church built in the early C12, the chancel and west tower are mid C14 and the chancel arch c.1400. The upper part of the tower and the stair turret are C16. The church was ruined by 1768 (Morant).<1><2>

The nave of the church dates from the C12; a C12 window, blocked in window and probably C12 south doorway survive. The chancel and lower stages of the tower are of mid C14 date but the chancel arch, of which only the brick responds and moulded base of an attached shaft survive, was of c.1440. The upper part of the tower and stair turret date from the C16 and are of brick.<3> There are unexplained pilaster buttresses at the north-east and south-east corners - suggested that they may possibly be associated with the support of an original central tower which was removed when the present chancel was constructed. <4> C14 north doorway of nave with segmental arch. C15 rood loft staircase. Early C16 doorway to the stair turret. The C14 church has remains of an original east window. In the north wall are two mid C14 windows and there are the remains of two similar windows in the south wall between which is a C14 doorway. The west tower is of four stages, the lower two C14 and the upper two C16 of red brick. C14 brick tower arch. Early C16 windows to bell chamber in brick.<5> The lower stage of the tower is C14 built onto the C12 west wall of the nave.<6> The church was already in a state of disrepair in the early C17. The church stands in a prominent position, presumably in relationship to an earlier hall for there is no evidence of a village having existed around it.<7> Other ref.<8> Photos in Essex SMR.<9>

Site Assessment = With the exception of the tower which is complete except for the roof the walls stand to a height of 4-5m. The tower is partly overgrown with ivy and the churchyard is heavily overgrown with weeds and nettles.<3> The church is heavily overgrown and deteriorating rapidly. It has suffered several periods of ruin and repair since the early C17 and was made redundant by an act of parliament in 1816. A major structural study is needed of the above ground remains in conjunction with a carefully supervised programme of consolidation.<4>

Presumably, there is (the remains of) a churchyard surrounding the church, but this is unclear on the early maps.

The VCH records:
The ruined church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN, Little Birch, stands just north of the site of Birch Hall. The rubble-built nave, which has Roman brick dressings and pilaster but- tresses at the east angles, may be 11th-century in origin, although the windows are 12th- century and later. In the 14th century the chancel was rebuilt and the west tower added, the walling being of rubble and the tower arch of brick. About 1400 a brick chancel arch was inserted and a rood loft and stair added. In 1518 a parishioner left 3s. 4d. for repairs, and during the 16th century the upper part of the tower was rebuilt in brick and a brick stair turret added. (fn. 1) At the Reformation there were two bells.
John Eldred of Stanway, who lived at Little Birch, and Thomasin, widow of Sir John Swinnerton, restored the church about the 1630s. The church became ruinous again and before 1682 Eldred's monument was moved to Earls Colne. Nevertheless the church was reported to be in good repair in 1684, although by 1736 it was 'in a demolished state'. In 1768 there was no roof; only the tower, which was quite high, and the walls remained.<11>
'Birch: Churches', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, ed. Janet Cooper (London, 2001), pp. 50-53. British History Online [accessed 8 June 2016].

Sources/Archives (12)

  • --- AP: Wallis, S. 1993. SWC3-3.
  • <1> DESC TEXT: unknown. 1975. SMR.
  • <2> DESC TEXT: Morant, P. 1768. History and Antiquities of Essex. Vol 2, p.154.
  • <3> Scheduling record: Department of the Environment. 1986. DOE Scheduled Ancient Monuments. parts 5-8.
  • <4> Monograph: Rodwell, Warwick J with Rodwell, KA. 1977. Historic Churches: a wasting asset. p.97.
  • <5> DESC TEXT: Department of the Environment. 1982. List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest: Colchester Rural. p.19.
  • <6> DESC TEXT: RCHME. 1922. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex - Volume 3. Vol 3, pp.8-9.
  • <7> DESC TEXT: Davies, GMR and West, AR. 1982. The church of St Mary the Virgin, Little Birch. Vol 25, pp.30-33.
  • <8> DESC TEXT: Pevsner, N. 1954. The Buildings of England, Essex. p.75.
  • <9> Photograph: Couchman, C. 1975. TL92-026. 12 frames.
  • <10> Photograph: unknown. 1970-1993 c.. ECC Historic Buildings Photo Print Archive. 22 frames, 6/1993.
  • <11> Monograph: Cooper, Janet (Ed). 1994. Vol. IX, The Borough of Colchester, A History of the County of Essex. Volume IX. pp.50-53.

Finds (2)

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

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Record last edited

Jun 9 2016 3:46PM

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