Building record MCC396 - St Martin's Church, West Stockwell Street, Colchester


12th century church of possible Anglo-Saxon foundation.


Grid reference Centred TL 99612 25344 (33m by 21m)
Map sheet TL92NE
1848 Parish ST MARTIN
County ESSEX


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

12th century church, of flint rubble construction with a tiled roof, with possible Anglo-Saxon foundation.

The church of St Martin, West Stockwell Street, comprises a chancel with modern north vestry, aisled nave of three bays, with south porch, and west tower. The walls are of flint rubble with Roman and later brick, and the roofs are tiled. By the 11th century the church was probably a cruciform building with chancel, nave with north aisle, and transepts. The surviving west tower, which includes much Roman brick and may have replaced a central tower, was added in the 12th century. The tower, however, was severely damaged during the English Civil War siege of Colchester (1648) and was never repaired (hence the tower is truncated). The chancel was rebuilt in the earlier 14th century, from which date a piscina and probable Easter sepulchre survive; its roof is supported by an open crown post truss on arch braces with posts running down to the floor. In the 14th or 15th century the nave, north aisle, and trancepts were rebuilt and a south aisle was added; a hagioscope in the north aisle and the rood-loft staircase at the south-east corner of the nave survived in 1987. On the site of the 19th century vestry there was a 14th century north chapel whose south door survived in 1987. A south porch was probably built in the late 14th century, but was rebuilt in the late 17th century.<1>

For other building summaries see RCHME (including photo) <2>, D of E <3>, Betteley & Pevsner. <4>

Rodwell and Rodwell suggested the possibilty of late Roman or early Anglo-Saxon origins for the Church, due to the presence of possible Anglo-Saxon burials and Roman pottery, including four complete vessels.<5> Rodwell also notes "the uppermost layers against the south side of the building were destroyed by construction of an open drain in the 19th century. The digging of this drain revealed a foundation offset, capped by two courses of Roman brick, a feature which in this district is often characteristic of Anglo-Saxon building construction'. <5> The source of Rodwell's information on possible Anglo-Saxon burials, found during grave digging in the 19th century, is not known. A late Roman church on the site is unlikely, however, due to the improbability of Roman inhumation taking place in side the town walls and also given the non-funerary nature of the pots.<9>

Colchester Archaeological Trust have undertaken minor excavations at St. Martin's Church.<6>

By the 17th century the parish had declined. In 1748 the historian Philip Morant wrote that it was in a ruinous condition and that no services were being held in, and that inhabitants of the parish were going to St Peter's. A considerable restoration took place during the late 19th century, during which the architect Giles Gilbert Scott revealed the wagon roof in the chancel. An ambitious plan of restoration was later prepared by Rev Ernest Geldart, but it was never realised. The church then became neglected again.<7>

The church was made redundant in 1957 and the redundant Church has been under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust since 1996 and is now used as an arts centre.

A Bale watercolour of St Martin's Church c.1906 is held by the Museum.<8>

The chancel roof has been tree-ring dated to AD 1353-89. Chancel roof: no details. Nave tie beam dated to 1357-62. Decorated panel from chancel ceiling after 1348. see (Tables of Tree-Ring Dated Buildings in England and Wales)

Three digital photographs of St Martin's Church, taken August 2016.<10>

Sources/Archives (10)

  • <1> Monograph: Cooper, Janet (Ed). 1994. Vol. IX, The Borough of Colchester, A History of the County of Essex. Volume IX. p.323.
  • <2> Monograph: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1922. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): Essex, (North-East). Volume III. No 5.
  • <3> LIST: Department of the Environment. 1971. List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest: Borough of Colchester (Essex). TL 9925 SE 5/222.
  • <4> Monograph: Bettley, James and Pevsner, Nikolaus. 2007. The buildings of England: Essex. pp.267-268.
  • <5> Monograph: Rodwell, Warwick J with Rodwell, KA. 1977. Historic Churches: a wasting asset. p.30.
  • <6> Unpublished document: Colchester Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1985-1995. Colchester Archaeological Trust Unpublished Archive. 7/91c.
  • <7> Monograph: Morant, Philip. 1748. History of Colchester (Wire's copy).
  • <8> COLLECTION / PARENT: Bale, J. E. (Major). 1837-1913. Bale Collection. COLEM 1967.69.43.
  • <9> Monograph: Gascoyne, Adrian and Radford, David. 2013. Colchester. Fortress of the War God. An Archaeological Assessment. p.160.
  • <10> Monograph: Bettley, James and Pevsner, Nikolaus. 2007. The buildings of England: Essex.

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Record last edited

May 28 2019 10:46AM

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