St Nicholas, Rawreth

A Brief History of the Early Years and of the Nineteenth Century.

It is not known for sure when a church was first established at Rawreth or how it came to be. During the thirteenth century some of the land there was held by the Wix Nunnery which was situated just south of the River Stour between Colchester and Harwich. The nunnery was established around 1130 during the reign of Henry I. The land the Wix Nunnery held at Rawreth, or at least part of it, was granted by Robert, son of Robert de Trindheye, and by Nicholas, son of Thomas de Ragerays. At the end of the thirteenth century during the eighth year of the reign of Edward I (1279-1280), Isabel Braham, the then Prioress of Wix, granted land at Rawreth to Gilbert Koleman of Rayleigh. However, I have not found any evidence to suggest that Wix Nunnery, or its associated Priory, were involved in the founding of a church at Rawreth.

In his volume 2 of the Repertorium & or an Ecclesiastical Parochial History of the Diocese of London (1710), the historian Richard Newcourt states that the church at Rawreth was in the Gift of the Priory and Convent of Prittlewell and that it remained so until the Suppresion. He lists the first five rectors as serving during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). The first rector on his list is Johannus de Thornhill, who it is stated in his notes had by license (1348) an arrangement to be exchanged with William de Sutton for Abbotsbury in the Diocese of Sarum. Thus William de Sutton succeeded Thornhill. Unfortunately the exact date of Thornhill’s appointment is not known. However, at the beginning of his involvement with the French wars in 1337 Edward III confiscated all the goods and possessions of those places associated with the Cluniac order of which Prittlewell Priory was one. Thus Edward III became patron. It is therefore reasonable to conclude Newcourt’s list begins in 1337. This implies Johannus de Thornhill, or at least Rawreth Church, was with Prittlewell Priory before that date. King Edward’s involvement in the French wars ceased in 1361 and goods and properties were once more mainly under the control of the Cluniac order. This is supported by John Wade being appointed to Rawreth by Prittlewell Priory in 1361 as is shown in Newcourt’s list:

Joh de Thornhill Edw III
Will de Sutton Edw III
Ric de Groundesburgh Edw III
Will Man Edw III
Rog de Bromley Edw III
Joh Wade 1361 Pri & Con Pritt

However, documents held at the National Archives mention a Richard de Standford as being a rector at Rawreth and his tenure, whenever that was exactly, predates Thornhill. It is therefore likely the church at Rawreth was in existence during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) and was probably established sometime during that period.

During the fourth year of the reign of Edward IV (1550-1551) and after the Dissolution, the advowson passed to Richard Farmer, but he did not present to the church. The incumbent at the time was Jacob Sumner who was appointed on 25 May 1548 by the Armiger, Antony Huse. This was by Virtue of a Grant of the next Turn by the Prior and Convent before the Dissolution, and Sumner remained in place until his death when he was succeeded by Richard Mason AB on 31 January 1576. Mason was appointed by Laurence and William Hollingworth, so they would appear to have obtained the advowson from Farmer, unless than acted on his behalf. After this appointment, apart from the mention of Johannes Man without any accompanying details, there is a gap in Newcourt’s data until the entry for William Able in 1667. However, John Jackson BD was at the church in 1624, Reginald Greene was there as a curate in 1628, Georgius Kindleton MA a preacher in 1631 and John Browning a rector in 1634. The aforementioned Johannes Man was actually at the church first as a preacher (1662) and then as a rector (1664). When Able succeeded Man on what appears to be the 11 March 1667 (Newcourt has 1666) the Patron of the church was Pembroke College, Cambridge. Newcourt states he does not know by what means Pembroke College received the advowson. However, the advowson was held by Thomas Andrewes (a Master of Trinity House) which then passed to his wife, Joanna. After her death in 1598 it was in the possession of their son Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) who then gave books and the advowson to the library at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Thus Pembroke College became the Patron of the church at Rawreth.

Lancelot Andrewes’ family occupied Chichester Hall at Rawreth where he would regularly visit. He was baptized at All Hallows-by-the-Tower in 1555. Lancelot was a Prelate to the Order of the Garter and Bishop of Winchester (1619-1626). He is also credited with overseeing the translation of the King James Bible, being personally credited with the translation of the first five books in the Old Testament (the Pentateuch). His tomb is at the church of St Saviour Southwark (Southwark Cathedral) and can be seen to the right of the Great Screen. Thus Rawreth has an association with one of the country’s most brilliant scholars and linguists in church history.

The church tower, which stands today, is the one Bishop Andrews would have seen for it was erected in the fifteenth century, probably around 1450, as so many were. The church itself was rebuilt in 1823 at a cost of around £400 when John Calcutta White was rector. White was born at Colchester at the end of 1790 and he was appointed rector at Rawreth in 1821, replacing the deceased Reverend Dr John Willgress, who was also Reader at the Temple Church. He died at Eltham, Kent in his 81st year and was the son of John Willgress of Framlingham, Suffolk. White married, firstly, Sarah Pyne, the eldest daughter of Thomas Pyne of Boyce Hall, Benfleet. They were married at South Benfleet on 10 May 1825. She died in 1848 at the age of 48 during the same year the Reverend White qualified as a Magistrate at Chelmsford. A few years earlier, in 1842, White caused much controversy when he refused to bury the 4 month old child of a poor man because the infant had not been baptized and the parents were not Episcopalians. However, the proprietor of the copyhold estate on which stands the Congregational Chapel at Battlesbridge heard about the matter and arranged for the deceased to be buried on the small section of land fronting the chapel. The service was performed by Edward F. Bodley of Rochford.

On 22 May 1849 the Reverend White married again. His marriage to Lucy, the daughter of Joseph Pecke of Dover took place at St Nicholas, Rochester. White married, thirdly, Frances Ellen Smith at Rawreth. He died at the Rectory on 30 September 1872 and was buried at Rawreth on 5 October, alongside his second wife. The Reverend White was succeeded by the Reverend Kemp in 1873.

Godfrey George Kemp was born on 26 August 1845 at Belton, Rutland. He was educated at Grantham Grammar School and was later a scholar at Pembroke College where he obtained his BA (1869) and MA (1872) degrees. He was a Mathematical Master at Newark Grammar School. For the period 1870-1873 he was a curate at St Botolph Cambridge before taking up the living at Rawreth. He was later appointed Diocesan Inspector of Schools and was secretary to the Rural Dean. Godfrey married Harriett Anne (Nantie) Malim, the daughter of Frederic Malim, a Grantham solicitor, on 21 July 1874 at St Wulfram’s church, Grantham, Lincolnshire. St Wulfram’s church, incidentally, is the subject of a watercolour and graphite painting (c1797.) by Joseph Mallord WilliamTurner (c1797.)

On arrival at Rawreth the Reverend Kemp could see the church was in a dilapidated state and he began to take steps to put the matter right. When the financial situation allowed he asked the Reverend Ernest Geldhart of Little Braxted to draw up plans for the new church. The foundation stone was put in place on 6 December 1881 and the church reopened nearly twelve months later, on Tuesday 21 November 1882. The tower of the old church remained as did two columns of the south aisle. The work was carried out by J H Wray of Chelmsford (later Wray and Fuller) with an estimated cost of £2,500. The church was constructed of recycled red brick faced with Kentish ragstone. Bath stone, an oolitic limestone, was used for the stone dressings. There were only two stain glass windows (St George and St Alban) at the opening of the new church and these were supplied by Messrs Cox, Sons and Co of Southampton Street, Strand. They also supplied much of the new church furnishings. The chancel screen was made at Bruges in West Flanders, Belgium. The Reverend Geldhart, incidentally, later changed careers and became an architect full-time, a profession for which he was originally trained.

Unfortunately, the old foundations on which the church was built were inadequate for the purpose and cracks began to appear inside and outside the building. At the beginning of July 1893, and for a period of two days, a successful fete was held at Rawreth Church to raise funds for the necessary repairs.

The Reverend Kemp became ill in 1913 and took 3 months leave. On his return he continued his duties at Rawreth. On 15 December 1915, however, he died at the home of his sister-in-law in Southend. The funeral was held at Rawreth. The Reverend Godfrey George Kemp was succeeded in 1916 by Henry Iselin MA, previously of St George-in-the-East, East London.


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  • As stated above, there was an association with the Priory and Convent at Prittlewell, but Newcourt, who was the Proctor General of the Court of Arches and the principal registrar for the Diocese of London of which Rawreth and Prittlewell were a part, and who had easy access to historical documents, does not mention a nunnery. That does not necessarily mean one did not exist. The Wix Nunnery (founded during the reign of Henry I), which was of the Order of St Austin and dedicated to St Mary, held land at Rawreth, but I have not seen any evidence to indicate they were in anyway involved with the church. It is possible nuns were buried there when it was in the Gift of Prittlewell Priory, but without sight of a primary source indicating that was the case, it is not possible to say one way or the other.

    By David C Rayment (07/11/2023)
  • Is it true that nuns were also buried on site, as it was also a nunnery ?

    By Kel (27/10/2023)
  • How many Willeys were buried in the grounds and are there records of them?

    By Michale dude willey (17/12/2022)

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