Tollesbury Church, Essex
Tollesbury is an attractive village on the Essex coast. The village itself is not on the water but a short road leads to the moorings and boatsheds. The village was called Tollesberia in the Domesday Book of 1086 but archaeology in the area has found Mesolithic artefacts and traces of a Neolithic long barrow. A Romano-British cemetery has also been discovered. The village is not far from the important Iron Age tribal centre of Colchester which the Romans later adapted into their first capital of Britain.
www.flickr.com/photos/barryslemmings/sets/72157629995618986/ to see the full set.
The manor house adjoins the church and belonged to the nunnery of St.Mary at Barking (Barking Abbey) so it is not surprising that the church is also dedicated to St.Mary. The church guidebook says that the earliest fabric has been dated to post-Conquest and was supposed to be Norman but some of it may be Anglo-Saxon work. The tower arch was rebuilt in the 14th century and the brick upper stage of the tower was added in the 16th century. The church was heavily restored in 1872 with the chancel being rebuilt and the present south porch replacing an earlier one. The north vestry was built in 1955.
The church fabric contains much Roman brick and tile in the archways and this implies that reports of a Romano-British villa or temple in the churchyard may be true. The quantity of Roman material came to light during the 1872 restoration which suggests that almost the whole 'Norman' period fabric may be recycled Roman material. Even flue tiles were found. These tiles are normally associated with hypercaust underfloor central heating and this supports a villa rather than a temple. A later assessment in a 1965 book on early English churches is that the church should be regarded as 'Saxo-Norman' in date. Saxon churches are not uncommon in the area with Bradwell church being nearby and that was built on the site of the former Roman fort there.
The south doorway is 'Perpendicular Gothic' in style but replaced an original Gothic arch of 'about 1480' which the Victorian restorers said was 'poor work'. Much of the surrounding material is Roman tile. The lowest stage of the tower is late 11th century while the inserted doorway appears to be Tudor. The upper levels are 15th century while the top floor is 16th century (as already mentioned). 10 bells are hung in the tower.
The wooden pulpit is made of chestnut and is part painted and gilded. The fine east window is the work of Charles Kempe and dates from 1902. The font is unusual and dates from 1718. It was paid-for by the town drunk John Norman who had wandered into the church one day and disturbed the service. The five pounds cost was to avoid criminal prosecution.