Monument record MCC414 - St Giles' Church, Colchester


12th century origin, considerably altered. Closed 1953. Now Masonic Hall.


Grid reference Centred TL 99811 24817 (36m by 20m)
Map sheet TL92SE
1848 Parish ST GILES
County ESSEX


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

The Church of St Giles, redundant since 1952, used as an ambulance store and now the St Giles Masonic Centre.<11>

The parish church of St Giles was erected sometime between 1133 and 1165-71, of reused Roman building material, on made ground to the north of St John's Abbey church.<6><9><11> The church is outside the northern boundary of the abbey precinct. It was, however, originally located in the monastic cemetery. A charter of Bishop Gilbert of London (1165-71) confirms that St John's held all of St Giles's Church which was 'founded' in their cemetery (Cart St J A, 87). This implies the church post-dates the foundation of the abbey and that the church also belonged to it.<6>

C12 and later date. Generally believed to be a Norman foundation, closely associated with the Abbey (St John's).<1> The walls are mixed rubble with some septaria and brick; porch is mainly brick and the tower is timber-framed and weather boarded (post-medieval). Dressings are limestone and brick and the roofs are tiled, slate and lead-covered. Nave S wall was probably built in the C12. Chancel has one C13 window and may be of that date. A N aisle, now included in the nave, was built or rebuilt probably late in the C14. Early in the C16, the N chapel and S porch were added. The W tower is post Medieval. Early in the C19 the nave and aisle were thrown into one and the existing colonnades and galleries erected. Features and fittings include: C12 (blocked, Roman brick head), C13,C14, early C16 windows; early C16 doorway in chancel N wall; late C14 N doorway in nave N wall; early C16 roofs to N chapel and S porch; early C16 bracket in E wall of N chapel; late C14 door in N doorway; worked stones incorporated in W and E walls of churchyard, including parts of C12 wall arcade; length of C16 brick walling, W of tower.<2><3><4>

Closely associated with St John's Abbey, St Giles may have been founded between 1096 and mid 12th century for servants and tenants of the abbey. The proportions of the church indicate a C12 date. There may have been a W tower originally. Roman brick was extensively used in the Norman structure. Morant recorded that only part of the church was in use in 1748, for services, the rest in ruins. By this time the Medieval tower had been replaced by a slighter, wooden structure which is still extant.<5> In 1972 an E-W trench was dug for a heating duct along the length of the chancel. A N-S foundation was observed by the architect and represents the original chancel E. end which was square-ended rather than apsidal.<6> A 13th century window in the chancel S wall, E of the N-S foundations, suggests the chancel was rebuilt and extended in the 13th century. Excavation in the church in 1975 found the original nave N. wall which had been replaced with an arcade when the N aisle was added in the 14th century. Burials W. of the Norman nave imply that the Abbey cemetery had originally enclosed St Giles on all sides. This means that the precinct wall originally extended across the N side of the church, which was wholly inside the cemetery. The addition of the aisle in the 14th century was accompanied by the construction of a tower at the W end of the nave. The precinct wall was probably rebuilt further S., at this time, to connect with the aisle by the E end and the tower at the W. end. For documentary background to the church and St John's Abbey, see sources <6><7><8>.

An excavation was undertaken as a result of conversion of existing building to the Masonic Centre in 1975. This work involved lowering the nave by c.0.3m. Excavation was mainly limited to the depth of the new floor but deeper sections were obtained in a few places. Several phases of use and redevelopment were recorded. Eleven burials were recorded in the church.<9><10>

Bettley & Pevsner (2007) record, 'St John's Place. Closed 1953. Now Masonic Hall. Founded between 1133 and 1171, built in the monastic cemetery of St John's Abbey. One C12 window, blocked, survives in the S. wall to the W. of the porch; a blocked lancet, C13, in the S. wall of the chancel. N. aisle added in the C14, N. chapel c.1500. Also early C16 the brick S. porch and the W. tower, timber-framed and weather boarded, but the latter was probably rebuilt as part of extensive alterations by Joseph Parkins, 1819. This included remodelling the interior with W., N. and S. galleries beneath a flat ceiling, removing the distinction between the nave and N. aisle.' 1907 (Sir A. Blomfield & Son): chancel arch replaced, N. arcade restored, S. chapel or vestry and S. chancel arcade added, and the E. and N. walls refaced externally with flint and buttressed. - DOOR, N. doorway. C14 with rich tracery.<3>

Four digital photographs Church of St Giles, Colchester, taken in August 2016.<12>

Sources/Archives (12)

  • <1> Index: Essex County Council. 1972. Colchester SMR (computer). No 12423.
  • <2> Monograph: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1922. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): Essex, (North-East). Volume III. No 9.
  • <3> Monograph: Bettley, James and Pevsner, Nikolaus. 2007. The buildings of England: Essex. p.265.
  • <4> LIST: Department of the Environment. 1971. List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest: Borough of Colchester (Essex). TL 9924 NE 9/208.
  • <5> Monograph: Rodwell, Warwick J with Rodwell, KA. 1977. Historic Churches: a wasting asset. pp.35-36.
  • <6> Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1981. CAR 1: Aspects of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Colchester. 1. pp.40-46.
  • <7> Monograph: Moore, S. A.. 1897. Cartulariium Monasterii Sancti Johannis Baptiste de Colecestria. pp.213-22-.
  • <8> Monograph: Cooper, Janet (Ed). 1994. Vol. IX, The Borough of Colchester, A History of the County of Essex. Volume IX. pp.315-317.
  • <9> Serial: Crummy, Philip. 1993. CAR 9:Excavations of Roman and later cemeteries, churches and monastic sites in Colchester, 1971-8. 9. pp.221-230.
  • <10> Monograph: Crummy, Philip. 1981. CAR 1: Aspects of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Colchester. 1. p.41.
  • <11> Monograph: Gascoyne, Adrian and Radford, David. 2013. Colchester. Fortress of the War God. An Archaeological Assessment. pp.228-229.
  • <12> Photograph: Tipper, J.. 2016. Photographs of Church of St Giles, Colchester. Digital.

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Record last edited

Sep 19 2016 8:57AM

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