|AN ESSEX PARISH - ITS HISTORY AND ROMANCE
From The East Anglian Daily Times. July 20th 1938, transcribed by Anne Taylor
Even in a countryside flat and apparently uninteresting there is a picture for those with eyes to see and certainly in many respects Great Wigborough can be described as a singularly attractive in its own particular way. Here, of course, is none of the gentle beauty of spreading woodland and velvety turf. Rather, the scenery in this vicinity is of the virile type ever belonging to lands which sweep a little drearily towards river and sea. Instead of friendly copses and waving branches, marshy meadows stretch in an attitude of abandon, the haunt of wild fowl and seemingly deserted by man, and yet in their very bleakness these lowlands possess a fascination - the same kind of fascination which draws the explorer into places so utterly different from those he knows and loves in his own native home.
Not all Great Wigborough is flat, however, for from several parts of the village one gazes downward across marshes to the Blackwater estuary. But as a parish Great Wigborough is somewhat disappointing, lacking as it does the general features belonging to the majority of such places. Here, in fact, is nothing which can be described as a village street. Here is nothing centralised. True enough there is an inn much larger and more imposing than many of its kind and obviously of some importance in the life of the district, but which seems in some subtle manner to belong to a more prosperous past, of which indeed, it remains as a sturdy and stalwart bulwark. For the rest, Great Wigborough consists of a few cottages, and several scattered farmhouses, standing sentinel like amidst the countryside whose loneliness they share, and in whose few activities they play a leading part.
One of the most interesting parts of Great Wigborough is the vicinity of the church, which rather uncommonly is reared far from the hostelry and some distance off the main road. To reach the church in fact it is necessary to travel along a leafy and pleasant lane and eventually the church and rectory are revealed amidst tall and sheltering trees which virtually protect these buildings from the salt-tanged winds which on occasions blow none too kindly from the coast and beyond.
Like several houses of worship in the district the church of St Stephen at Great Wigborough suffered severely in the earthquake of 1884 and partly through this and partly through the depredations of age, extensive renovation amounting in some cases to actual rebuilding, has occurred, including the reconstruction of the tower and chancel. Because of this the church which consists of chancel and nave, South Porch and Western tower, has a modern appearance in part, but even so it retains various items more in keeping with a structure which came into being over fiver hundred years ago.
Among these ancient survivals must be mentioned the stoup once used for holy water, which remains in the wall against the South entrance, and another exists near the opposite footway. Or, perhaps it is advisable to say where the doorway was originally for actually this has been filled in, and beneath its arch has been affixed Great Wigborough's tribute to the men of the village who fought and died in the war.
Incidentally, the horrors of this were brought very near to Great Wigborough, for it was in the neighbouring village of Little Wigborough that a Zeppelin was brought down in 1916 and as a matter of interest a piece of this is preserved in St Stephen's Church.
The fifteenth century font here is somewhat uncommon through part of its carving, for although on six of its eight sides are the representations of two Tudor roses and four shields, the two remaining depictions are those of hearts and feathers. And whilst of the subject of carving it is as well to notice the mutilated but still beautiful niche on the North wall of the nave, close to which, incidentally, is part of a brass commemorating Henry Bullock, who died in 1609, and whose family were connected with one of Great Wigborough's manors for some two centuries. Amongst other items are remains of the staircase formerly leading to the rood loft, whilst the nave roof, although modern, is exceptionally good. Now, however, it is time to deal with other matters, and a short distance from the church stands the interesting old residence known as Moulshams, whose very aspect suggests an England far removed from the present, and England quiet and serene and undisturbed.
Yes, this particular district was not always peaceable, for sloping gracefully from the place of worship to this ancient house is a meadow, which meadow retains traces of a tumulus, where traditions avers are buried those who died fighting in one of those battles of old when the Northern raiders ravished the Essex coast. And, certainly such a situation would provide an excellent position for Great Wigborough's defenders, for from this verdant eminence it is possible to see for miles across the marshes, and thus the garrison would possess a very real advantage over an enemy landing party which attempted to advance any distance inland.
Like the church, Moulshams suffered slightly during the earthquake, but its stout old timbers enabled it to withstand the shock far better than many newer habitations, although even so, through the catastrophe it leans somewhat and is rendered more picturesque in consequence. Exactly when Moulshams came into being it is difficult to say, but part of a moat is still in evidence and one of the rooms is beautifully panelled, whilst a door reveals that delicate and delighted carving known as linenfold.
It is possible that Moulshams - an imposing and many ways remarkable structure today - was originally somewhat
larger as it was certainly the mansion of a manor dating from the times of the Saxons. Afterwards it was held of the Mandevilles by several families until in the seventeenth century we find it in the possession of Sir John Peake, Lord Mayor of London in 1687. Through the marriage of Sir John's only daughter Margery to Sir John Shaw, we find an interesting link with that somewhat romantic figure, Charles the Second, for when Charles was an exile the father of Sir John Shaw assisted him with large sums of money - and this at a time when any chances of regaining the throne seemed a very remote possibility. In this case, moreover, we discover no example of that ingratitude which is alleged to be the fault of princes, for with the "Merry Monarch" safely restored he rewarded his faithful servant very generously for besides receiving a baronetcy he was made a collector of customs - a very profitable position indeed.
Unfortunately, space prevents further mention of Moulshams, as it is essential to discover something about Great Wigborough's other manor. This is, of course, Abbots Hall, or as it was sometimes known Abbess Hall, a name more applicable in view of the fact that it originally belonged to Barking Nunnery. Or so, at least, some authorities believe, but others aver that was held by the Priory of St Osyth.
At any rate, following the dissolution of such religious establishments it was granted by the eighth King Henry to the famous Thomas Cromwell, although after the disgrace of that erstwhile favourite it formed part of the estates allowed to the princess whose religious intolerance afterwards earned for her the fearsome name of "Bloody Mary". Following some changes, the manor of Abbots Hall was given by Queen Elizabeth to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and although on his execution it reverted to the Crown, it was restored in 1597 to his second son Thomas Baron Howard of Walden who some six years later was created Earl of Suffolk. From the grandson of this owner the manor was sold in 1647 and shortly afterwards passed into the hands of Sir Mark Guyon of Coggeshall. Through the marriage of Sir Mark's daughter, Rachel, to John Bullock, whose seat was Dynes Hall in Great Maplestead, it became the property of the latter, in whose hands it remained for some two hundred years.
The manor house of Abbots Hall is a very imposing building set in a position almost parklike through the green meadows which roll serenely to the fringe of its friendly garden. A mighty barn exists here - one of the largest in all Essex, and although not old, assists to dignify this mellowed and sturdy habitation, which has weathered the storms for years, for certainly some of it came into being as long ago as the 16th century, a fact to which its stalwart beams bear silent witness. A pond in which ducks splash and disport themselves emphasises the rural aspect and from here one gazes across the lowlands to the coast.
The pond at Abbotts Hall