Alterations to the parish church of Witham (St Nicholas / St Nicolas) from the 18th century onwards
By Janet Gyford, from local sources.
List of main sources of information
Bramston = ERO Acc A5404, three scrapbooks presented by Reverend Bramston to the parish, 1873.
Mary Bramston = “Witham Fifty Years Ago” by Mary Bramston (daughter of former vicar John Bramston, she was born c 1842), in the Parish Magazine, 1897.
Lucas = “Witham, Essex”, by Lieut-Col W J Lucas, in volume 4 of Transactions of Essex Archaeological Society, published 1895.
Fowler =The Church of St Nicholas, Witham, by R C Fowler, published 1911
RCHM = Report of Royal Commission on Historic Monuments, based on survey of 1914.
ERO = Essex Record Office, various documents as quoted.
Guildhall = Guildhall Library Manuscripts section, various documents as quoted.
I also suggest looking at the Rate book and the Vestry minutes 1833-1911, in ERO Accession A5605, Box 1.
“In the course of these works [of 1877] it became clear that originally the whole of the interior, including the stone pillars, was coloured vermilion powdered with black stars of five points. This had long been obliterated by repeated coats of Puritan whitewash, and is now effectually destroyed by the new facing of the walls and the carding of the stone work” (Lucas).
RCHM includes a plan of the church in 1914.
Email from Herts RO
From: Herts Direct <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, 7 Oct 2004 19:04:08 +0100
Dear Janet Gyford,
Re: Records for the diocese of St Albans
As you may be aware the diocese of St Albans was established by virtue of an Order in Council of 30 April 1877, whereby the whole of the counties of Essex and Hertfordshire were removed from the diocese of Rochester and formed into the new diocese. The diocese of Chelmsford was formed by an Order in Council of 21 January 1914 and documents relating to temporalities in Essex have been transferred to the Essex Record Office.
Email from Kent RO
Subject: Diocesan Records
Date: Mon, 11 Oct 2004 09:25:12 +0100
To: Janet Gyford
I have not been able to find we hold any faculties for Witham, I’m afraid.
The Muniment Books for the right period (at present uncatalogued) may show
entries, but I have not found any other relevant documents.
Centre for Kentish Studies
- “The height of the [original] rubble masonry was about the same as that of the Tower as now existing, but this was continued 24 feet higher by a structure of wood in which the Bells were hung. This structure having become delapidated was removed in 1743 and replaced in red bricks’ … [in 1877 it was found that] ‘one of the principal beams of the old frame bore the inscription, carved in relief, “John Hast framed me, 1743”. On other timbers were carved the names of “W Sands” and of “S Harris Churchwarden” and the initials “J W”, the two last with the same date added“ (1743) (Lucas).
? date. Some drawings of the elevations of the church in the Bramston scrapbooks show it with no stair turrets, i.e. not at the vestry and not at the tower. The drawings are stuck in near 1840s material, but could have been put there later (Bramston).
c 1844. “The west window and the beautiful tower arch were [still] bricked up and plastered over, and in front were two great galleries, the organ in the highest one. … The Sunday-school children sat in the lower gallery … “ (Mary Bramston).
- ‘Two western galleries were taken down – arch into belfry opened’ (Bramston) [this probably means into the tower]
- ‘When I was eight or nine years old, the church was “restored”; the belfry arch was opened and the present west window put in’” (Mary Bramston).
- “The Arch opening [from the tower] into the nave is very lofty. Previous to 1849 this was closed and two tiers of galleries existed in the nave. In that year these were taken down and the Arch opened out. Above this Arch is a window commanding a view of the Altar and whole interior of the Church …’ (Lucas).
- “Red top of tower removed, and tower restored – new framing of bells – 2 bells recast … New floors to Tower [et al.]. Church closed May 14 – reopened Dec 18 by Bp of St Albans. Total cost £2,100” (Bramston).
- “[The red brick top of the tower dating from 1743] was taken down in 1877 and the Bells hung in the chamber below, which is not suitable for want of sufficient height. Thus the sound bow of some is below the cills of the windows, which deadens the sound, and an opinion has been expressed that in the course of years it may have a prejudicial effect upon the stability of the walls; and whereas previously the Bells at their former height were heard at a distance of two or three miles, they can now  only be heard in the town in very still weather or when a north-east wind prevails’ .
‘The Bell Frames taken down [in 1877] were a fine specimen of the art of carpentering, and except in a few places in very substantial preservation. The Architect (the late Joseph Clarke) was desirous of retaining them, but they were found to be too large for the present Chamber into which the Bells were to be lowered on account of the diminished space owing to the increased thickness of the walls, and new frames were then substituted.’ (Lucas).
Plans and elevations of new tower (ERO D/C/F16/10).
- “Clock placed in Tower of Parish Church in 1887. The gift by legacy of Miss Bramston”(Bramston).
- “Outside the tower, on the north, is a modern newel staircase containing some of the steps taken from the stairs of the vestry and rood loft, which leads to the middle storey of the tower, from which the bells are rung’ (Fowler).
- “There was ‘a modern stair turret at the N E angle and a modern embattled parapet” and also “in the N wall [of the tower] is a large recess with jambs and two-centred arch of brick and probably connected with a former gallery’ [The George Armond door was not in this recess then, it was still the outer door to the south chapel] (RCHM)
- Drawing of church showing galleries (my copy from Maurice Smith, my M1474, JG).
- “Faculty obtained for building the South Gallery of the Church” (Bramston). “ERO T/A 366/1 is a calendar of faculties in Diocesan records – gives Guildhall MS 9532/9, gallery at Witham, in 1802”.
- Guildhall MS volume 9532/9, f.18769
According to the card index, the actual plans accompanying these papers do not survive.
“Faculty for erecting a gallery in Witham Church
… Bishop of London … to … Vicar, parishioners and inhabitants … Witham … Greeting. Whereas it hath been … set forth before … Vicar General … of our Consistorial and Episcopal Court of London on the part and behalf of Thomas Read and James Beadle churchwardens of … Witham that at a Vestry held … for the said parish on Wednesday the thirtieth day of June  … in pursuance of proper notice given in the said parish church …for the special purpose of taking into consideration the erecting a Gallery in the said Church of Witham the Minister and churchwardens … then informing the Vestry that for a considerable time past frequent complaints had been made by the parishioners of want of Seats in the Church by which many persons had been prevented attending divine worship it was resolved unanimously that it was become absolutely necessary to give immediately orders for the erecting of a gallery. That such gallery should be erected on the south side of the said church and that the plan then produced by James Beadel carpenter for the erecting of the said gallery of the dimensions of forty-two feet in length and eleven feet and a half in width to contain fifteen pews should be approved of and that it should be by him carried into immediate execution under the direction of the minister and churchwardens … church rate should be made to defray the expenses … copy of the said minutes … shewn to the said Surrogate and brought into and left in the Registry of our Court … we … ratify … Grant …to them our Leave, licence or Faculty …” 4 December 1802.
- Faculty obtained for building the North Gallery of the Church and Gallery erected at a cost of £198 10s’ (Bramston) (also in ERO D/P 30/6/3 and 4).
- Guildhall MS volume 9532/10, f.221
According to the card index the actual plans accompanying these papers do not survive
“Witham, faculty for erecting a gallery”.
Similar wording to 1802. Churchwardens now James Beadel and James Playle. Meeting held on Thursday 23 June 1814 ‘to consider “the erecting a Gallery … unanimously … that some additional accommodation is wanted … for the parishioners who resort to the Church or who would resort to the Church if they could be accommodated and that an estimate be made … cost … on north side … to correspond with that on the south side … and meeting Tuesday“ 26th July 1814 “resolved that Mr Harwood’s estimate be accepted and that he and James Beadel the younger be employed to erect the Gallery of the dimensions of 49 feet in length and 11 feet nine inches in width with three rows of pews … a copy of the minutes … and a plan … shown to the said surrogate … and left in the Registry of our said court … grant …” 15 November 1814.
- “Two western galleries taken down – arch into belfry opened … Reopened Jan 26 1850” (Bramston)
- “[Left in place] were the galleries on each side of the nave and on the south side of the chancel” (Mary Bramston)
- “Gallery of chancel aisle St Nicolas church taken down” (Bramston).
- Faculty. “Removal of gallery and minor restoration work. 3 plans, showing new ground plan of church, elevations and sections of tower and nave. Joseph Clark, architect” (ERO D/C/F16/10).
- “North and south galleries taken down … [et al.] Church closed May 14 – reopened Dec 18 by Bp of St Albans. Total cost £2,100” (Bramston).
- “Church of St Nicolas closed with exception of chancel in order to have the roof repaired. Lead taken off and sold – new slated – new cross – ceiling removed – timbers of roof repaired and exposed (Bramston) … Reopened Jan 26 1850”.
- “New roof of oak and slate with stone coping and cross put on chancel with oak pannelling inside” (Bramston).
- “The old roof removed in 1851, was somewhat similar to the present one, but the oak panels were adorned with armorial bearings which no longer appear” (Lucas)
- “Wall at east end [of chancel] also refaced with rough stones” (Bramston).
1853-54. “South side of chancel aisle refaced with entire new stonework to buttresses, windows and battlements … South wall of south aisle of nave refaced with new stonework to buttresses, windows and to porch” (Bramston).
1853-54. [The fact that the porch is not bonded to the south wall], “prior to the reparation of the Porch, and the coating of rubble work of the south wall of the Church with rough stones about forty years [before 1895], was clearly perceptible’’ (Lucas)
- “… buttresses and plinth of [eastern end of north] aisle restored” (Bramston).
“The Porch was evidently added subsequently to the re-building of the Church as the walls are not bonded into the south wall of the fabric” (Lucas).
1853-54 [The fact that the porch is not bonded to the south wall], “prior to the reparation of the Porch, and the coating of rubble work of the south wall of the Church with rough stones about forty years [before 1895], was clearly perceptible’’ (Lucas)
? date. Some drawings of the elevations of the church in the Bramston scrapbook show it with no stair turrets, i.e. not at the vestry and not at the tower. They are stuck in near 1840s material but could have been put in later (Bramston)
- “Vestry restored and embattlements added in new Sacrarium &c &c. [et al.] Church closed May 14 – reopened Dec 18 by Bp of St Albans Total cost £2,100” (Bramston)
- “Filling in of old opening in north pier of chancel arch made by Rev Newman [d.1840] (Lucas)
? date. Fowler says that in the vestry the old arched roof and “the newel stair” was removed, “and a doorway cut through the turret [i.e. of the stair]”. Lucas also mentions this but just says it was “some years since” 1895, so Fowler may have just assumed it was in 1877, and this may not be correct (Fowler and Lucas)
- Muniment Book containing faculty for new organ and enlarging of vestry (Herts RO, DSA/15/10).
- “Outside the tower, on the north, is a modern newel staircase containing some of the steps taken from the stairs of the vestry and rood loft, which leads to the middle storey of the tower, from which the bells are rung” (Fowler).
- 1844. “New east window of stone. Reredos put up in chancel of St Nicolas church” (Bramston)
1853-54. “Windows [on south side of chancel] glazed with Powells glass … Windows [on south wall of south aisle of nave] glazed with Powells glass. New painted window in memory of W and S Sims”. (Bramston)
- “Windows in eastern end of north aisle restored and fitted with Powells glass”. (Bramston).
- “Windows in west end of north aisle restored” (Bramston)
- “Memorial window at east end of chancel by Hardman of Birmingham in memory of Mr and Mrs Walford and Mrs Kennedy put up by Col Kennedy” (Bramston).
- “2 windows in clerestory St Nicolas south side restored in new stone and filled with Powells Glass” (Bramston).
I haven’t noted this otherwise but there is:
Muniment Book containing faculty for restoration of ancient screen, 1890 (Herts RO, DSA1/15/5)
I haven’t noted this otherwise but there is:
Muniment Book containing faculty for cross and candlesticks, 1910 (Herts RO, DSA1/15/11)