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St Mary, Frinton on Sea, Essex


Frinton is an entirely late 19th/early 20th Century creation. At the time of the 1851 census, when many rural East Anglian settlements reached their population peak, it had just 29 people. Today, it is a town of nearly 6,000. Frinton has a deserved reputation for being prim and proper. The houses and shops are trim, the streets are wide, the pavements tidy. It is all very white. It feels like being in Belgium or Holland. It also has a reputation, along with Tunbridge Wells in Kent, of being the archetypal Tory town, although in fact the Clacton constituency, in which it sits, was held by Labour from 1997 to 2005, and is likely to go to UKIP at the by-election next month. Looking around at Frinton, though, I couldn't help thinking that people here would still be voting Tory.


There is hardly anything old in Frinton, except for one extraordinary survival. This is the delightful little medieval parish church near to the sea front. It is the smallest working medieval church in Essex. Neighbouring Walton's was washed away in the 18th Century, but Frinton's has survived.


I had just come from the modern church of St Mary Magdalene in Old Road, where a large pompous man had told me in no uncertain terms that I couldn't see inside his church. So it was a pleasure to step inside to this little jewel of an interior with its windows by Edward Burne-Jones. The notice board announces, and the visitors book shows, that this church at least is open every day.


The church was derelict by the early 19th Century, and then considerably restored and augmented with extensions. However, when the new church was built in Old Street in the 1920s, St Mary had its extensions and some other Victorian additions removed, being effectively unrestored to its present state. It could probably do without the heavy Victorian furnishings in the nave, which create a sense of clutter and hem the font and piano against the south wall. The small windows to south and north are clear except for neat little roundels remembering various occasions in the present Queen's reign (this is Frinton, after all). Of the Burne-Jones windows to the east, and I am by no means a fan, it must be said that firstly, they are spectacular in such a tiny setting, and secondly, what can he have been thinking of when he designed that Annunciation for the Victorian public, at once threatening and erotic? Even today, how extraordinary it must be to sit in this tiny place of a Sunday and spend the service looking at it.

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Taken on September 13, 2014