Monument record MCC406 - St Nicholas' Church, High Street, Colchester (demolished)


12th century or earlier origin, with Roman walls for foundations, demolished in 1955.


Grid reference Centred TL 99787 25197 (35m by 27m)
Map sheet TL92NE
County ESSEX


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

St Nicholas' Church was entirely rebuilt in the 14th century, became redundant in 1952 and was demolished in 1955 (to be replaced by the Co-op's departmental store, St Nicholas House). The church in its final form, before demolition, was the result of a major programme of rebuilding and extension, in the Victorian Gothic style, by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1875-6. Excavation after demolition showed the nave and chancel of the Medieval church had Roman walls for their foundations - part of a major public building.<1>

Church was described by RCHME as of mixed rubble with limestone dressings and tile and lead covered roof. It had been entirely rebuilt in the 19th century, when it comprised chancel, N vestry, crossing, probably N. & S. transepts, and nave with N and S aisles. There was also a S. chapel of uncertain date. According to Morant a tower fell late in the C17. As this ruined the chancel it probably stood over the crossing. The church was restored in the C18 and the tower built or rebuilt N. of the crossing. In 1875 the church was generally restored, chancel largely rebuilt, the S. aisle and transept chapel destroyed and a new church of much larger size added to the S of the old building. Features and fittings included: early C15 doorway and window in tower; 2 C15 bells; early- mid C13 bracket; slab with indent c1500 brought from St Runwald’s church; C15 niche in N. aisle; C14 niche in W wall, external; late C14 piscina in old chancel; C12 piscina in old chancel- loose, capital or pillar piscina; stoup or recess- date uncertain; C14 and C15 worked and moulded stones in churchyard N. and S. of church. <2>

Survey by Pevsner 'St Nicholas, High Street (Demolished in 1955. The plate is now in the Castle Museum and a tablet of c1500 in All Saints Church, Colchester) Essentially the work of Sir George Gilbert Scot, 1875-6 and a proud work, in this prominent position right in the centre of Colchester. Scott found a small and humble church and made it serve his more ambitious purposes. The ground floor, a N tower, is Perp; so are the N aisle (or chapel) W of it, and the present N aisle. Originally they formed nave and chancel. The date of these parts is C14, see the quatrefoil piers. Scott carried on, quite tactfully as usual, and without much personality or grit. REREDOS. By Temple Moore, c1925.-PULPIT and LECTERN, 1893 to Scott's design. ORGAN CASE. By Oldrid Scott.-PAINTINGS. Four Evangelists, Flemish, mid C17; Abraham and the Angels. By G.S. Marucelli, 1679 (?).-PLATE. Ornamented Cup 1569; Paten 1569; Elizabethan Cup with band of ornament; large cup on baluster stem and Paten probably of 1667; Paten on foot of 1708. <3>

Demolished 1955. No adequate record was made. Hull attempted to record information here; circumstances were hopeless. According to Rodwell, however, it is 'staggering to discover just how little we really know about the church and its site. As far as can be ascertained, nothing approaching an adequate record was made of the church and its fittings before or during demolition'.<4> Rodwell gives an attempt at a reconstructed plan (Fig. 11.4). RCHME is incorrect in certain aspects, e.g. in thinking that the tower was a crossing tower. In fact it was built over, or in the place of a N transept. Little is known about the earlier church. The C12 pillar piscina is the earliest surviving detail. The church's situation indicated that, like All Saints, it preceded the castle and the associated alteration in the course of the High Street. <4>

The excavation in 1955 found the Victorian church walls built on top of the Roman ones, with no indication of medieval walls. Finds included skeletons (some possibly Medieval) pottery, window glass, a coin of ?c1285, part of a capital or base of Purbeck marble (C13) <5>

Rescue excavations were undertaken by the Ministry of Works on the site of St Nicholas's Church following its demolition in 1955. Excavation work was carried out under the direction of M.R. Hull, Curator of the Castle Museum. His own words summarize the disaster: ‘. . . The mechanical excavator which
was used [by the contractors] to pull out the earth, together with foundations, tombs and coffins, just as they came, made a complete upheaval in which it was almost impossible to recognise even what one knew to be there, let alone discover something new’.<4> Hull had supposed that the first church had been built on foundations but as no medieval walls were found and the Victorian walls rested on the Roman work; it seems that the first church used upstanding Roman walls. ?by the contractors which caused considerable disruption to the understanding of the site. Three exploratory trenches were cut along the north side of the site, as close as could be got to the face of any Roman buildings. A total of 11 trenches were eventually explored. The trenches revealed remnants of the medieval church together with several Roman buildings and a street from Insula 29, and Roman buildings from Insula 30.<5><6>

Pencil drawing of St Nicholas Church.<7>
Lithograph print showing Ruins of St Nicholas Church from South West. <8>
Watercolour painting of St Nicholas Church.<9>
Watercolour of St Martin's Church.<10>
Watercolour painting of St Nicholas Church from Museum Street. Shows 19th century spire by Gilbert Scott, built 1878 demolished 1955.<11>
Lithograph print of ruins of St Nicholas Church form South East.<12>
Watercolour painting of St Nicholas Church looking South west. Shows ruin of church before restoration in 1878.<13>
Photographs taken in 1955 prior to the demolition are held in the local studies section of Colchester Library. They include a photograph of a 'Norman' font on display in the church also a monument to Amuel Great, Apothecary, d.1706.<14>

Sources/Archives (14)

  • <1> Index: Essex County Council. 1972. Colchester SMR (computer). SMR 12277-79.
  • <2> Monograph: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1922. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): Essex, (North-East). Volume III. No 7.
  • <3> Serial: Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Buildings of England: Essex. p.12.
  • <4> Monograph: Rodwell, Warwick J with Rodwell, KA. 1977. Historic Churches: a wasting asset. p31.
  • <5> Serial: The Essex Society for Archaeology and History. 1955. Vol. 25 (New Series) Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society. Vol. XXV. part III p301-28.
  • <6> Serial: Colchester Museums. 1962. Colchester Museum Reports 1934-1962. pp.14-18.
  • <7> COLLECTION / PARENT: Parish, Josiah. 1834-1882. Josiah Parish Collection. COLEM 1922.4204.5.
  • <8> COLLECTION / PARENT: Parish, Josiah. 1834-1882. Josiah Parish Collection. COLEM 1947.2284.1.
  • <9> Graphic material: Glover, John. St Nicholas, Colchester. COLEM 1985.29.
  • <10> COLLECTION / PARENT: Bale, J. E. (Major). 1837-1913. Bale Collection. COLEM 1967.69.43.
  • <11> COLLECTION / PARENT: Bale, J. E. (Major). 1837-1913. Bale Collection. COLEM 1967.69.59.
  • <12> COLLECTION / PARENT: Parish, Josiah. 1834-1882. Josiah Parish Collection. COLEM 1947.284.2.
  • <13> COLLECTION / PARENT: Bale, J. E. (Major). 1837-1913. Bale Collection. COLEM 1977.128.
  • <14> COLLECTION / PARENT: Various. Various. Colchester Library, Local Studies Library Photograph Collection. E COL 1. 726.5.

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Related Events/Activities (10)

Record last edited

Jul 2 2018 11:47AM

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