West Mersea Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul

It was at a spot only three miles across the Backwater Estuary at Bradwell-on-Sea that St. Cedd founded his little monastery circa 654, built the historic St. Peter's Chapel out of the remains of the Roman fort of Othona, and from there he evangelised Essex, the kingdom of the East Saxons. It is probable that Cedd and his monks came across to establish the first church at West Mersea, also dedicated to St. Peter.
In the 10th century, the Saxon Ealdorman Aelfgar and his daughters, Aethelflaed (widow of King Edmund of England) and Aelffaed (widow of Ealdorman Brythnoth) by their wills, left properties in Mersea, Peldon and Fingringhoe to St. Peter's Church at Mersea, described as a 'Minster', i.e. a church serving the wider area.
By 1042 the Mersea estates had reverted to the Crown, and by charter of 1046 King Edward the Confessor granted them to the Abbey of St. Ouen at Rouen in Normandy. The Abbey founded a small Benedictine Priory here. The monks, no doubt using the Church and the Abbey, became Lords of the Manor.

The historic 11th century tower may well date from that time, and if so, it is Saxo-Norman. There is considerable use of Roman tiles and brick in it, from the Roman villa which stood near the site (of which pavements were found in the 18th century). Two small round-headed windows and the tower arch of that time remain. The belfry louvres and west window are later. The heavily beamed floors inside the tower have been dated as early as the tower itself with very early examples of joinery.
The nave and chancel were probably built in the 14th century and a south aisle added, later extended east in the 15th century to form a south chapel. Note the 15th century brickwork.
In 1415, King Henry V suppressed alien religious houses, including the Priory, and granted its properties of West Mersea, the Peet and Fingringhoe to Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury who endowed them on the College of Higham Ferrers, which he was founding at his birthplace. About this time the north porch was built or rebuilt, and the 14th century niche reset.
The timber roof of the chancel with arched and moulded trusses is early 16th century (Tudor).
In 1833, the south porch was rebuilt as a porch and vestry, the north wall of the nave heightened in brick, buttressed and embattled, and the flat Georgian ceiling formed. Also the south arcade was rebuilt in brick and plaster. A west gallery had been erected in 1812, but removed in 1882 with other changes.
A photo of the church circa 1898 shows two north chancel windows of three lights in pointed style, but early in the 20th century all the windows in the chancel were replaced with perpendicular style stone frames, including a new east window at a new level.
In 1925 the south aisle roof was rebuilt, the wall plaster all removed, and the niche for a piscina uncovered.
In 1971 a Church Hall was built adjoining the south vestry. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the choir stalls, pulpit and old painted pews were replaced, as thank offerings, in, attractive light wood. Colourful kneelers were worked by members of the congregation, with individual and local designs.
The pipe organ was updated in 2002 and 27 new digital stops added.
The new memorial window was installed in the south aisle in August 2005. This is to commemorate the Fishermen and Oystermen of Mersea Island.

This history is from a leaflet on West Mersea Parish Church by T.B. Millatt.

We have copies of West Mersea Church Gazette from 1899 - 1901 which give a fascinating insight into life at that time. See WMCG .


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.