East Mersea Parish Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr

From seawards, the gaunt square tower of St. Edmunds stands stark above the East Mersea skyline, a dominant and trusty seafarers' landmark. But perhaps the best way to introduce oneself to this delightful country church is to cycle from West Mersea or from the Strood across the centre of the Island, each rise in the road bringing a little more of the tower into view until,, beside East Mersea Village Shop, Church Lane appropriately leads to the building itself. And what a gem it turns out to be.

Like its sister, St. Peter's and Paul at West Mersea, it is difficult to accurately date the church's foundation or the present building. Suffice only that it too is ancient and parts of a moat remain which once enclosed a good five acres including both the church and adjacent East Mersea Hall.

The building has had its fair share of ravages over the centuries, in clear contrast to the loving care and attention accorded by today's parishioners. Roundheads billeted there during the Civil War are thought to have destroyed the rood-screen and stained glass windows. Moreover, four of the five bells were stolen many years ago, only the heavy tenor bell - dated 1492 - remaining. Legend has it that the robbers made off with the bells by sea from a little quay at the foot of Church Lane, but that the weight of their haul sank their boat beneath them. Presumably somewhere under Blackwater's mud and silt four bronze bells await rediscovery.

The tower housing the surviving bell was built in the 15th century and is scaled from inside the building via an armoured door fitted with no less than three substantial locks. A beacon was once maintained atop the tower's little corner turret - a signal for local and national emergencies - but this has long been removed, probably following damages sustained during the 1884 earthquake. The three other tower corners are adorned each by a stone gargoyle - one in the shape of a ram; another a cow or calf; and the third weathered so much as to be almost indistinguishable, but thought to resemble a fish. Crosses of flint in the church's outer masonry indicate major repairs effected over the years.

St. Edmunds has no clock but just to the right of the main door can be traced the remains of a 'mass-dial' scratched into the stonework - a sundial which charted the times of services and, inside on the pulpit, is an old iron hour-glass stand. In case the sermon was dragging on, despite this advantageously placed reminder that folk were becoming impatient, a small opening at the side of the pulpit enabled the parish clerk of years gone by to prod the preacher with a stick when the occasion demanded.

On the side of the churchyard nearest the Hall is the unusual grave of 15 years old Sarah Wrench who died in 1848 at a time when body-stealing was possible. To this day Sarah rests in peace, protected by an impressive iron cage.

Another interesting reminder of those long-since departed this world is provided by a plaque marking the burial place of Maudlyn Outred who died in 1572, the wife of the then rector, who marked her passing with some verse inscribed and legible to this day.

The most famous of East Mersea's clerics, however, was the hymn and novel writer Rev. Sabine Baring Gould 1870-1881. He was author of over 100 books including the novel "Mehalah" set locally. He wrote "Onward Christian Soldiers" and is reputed to have composed "Now the day is over" to fit the five chimes of West Mersea Church.

St. Edmunds is an attractive English country church - a tranquil haven admidst the bustle of an East Mersea caravanning summer and, bearing in mind the small population of that part of the Island, a credit to the local community.

This history is based on an article in Mersea Island Society Mistral magazine, 1985, author unknown.

Related Images

 East Mersea Church Interior 1912. The box pews were replaced with chairs in 1913. Photo from A Short History of the Parish Churches of East Mersea and West Mersea, by J.B. Bennett. 1977 impression. Photographer not known.  IA004145IA004145
East Mersea Church Interior 1912. The box pews were replaced with chairs in 1913. Photo from A Short History of the Parish Churches of East Mersea and West Mersea, by J.B. Bennett. 1977 impression. Photographer not known.
 East Mersea Parish Church.  MMC_P755_105MMC_P755_105
East Mersea Parish Church.
Source: Mersea Museum

This item is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection. The information is accurate as far as is known, but the Museum does not accept responsibility for errors.