In writing the biographical details that follow I am following in the footsteps of local historian, the late Tom Millatt who was responsible for the beautiful artwork above which hangs on the walls of St Stephens. It is Tom's research notebook that has given much of the detail that follows.
I have given short biographies of a selection of the Rectors from the long history of the church. All the rectors are listed with their dates of institution, degrees and patrons where known.
1241 Robert Presbiter de Wigeberia
1248 John Parson of Wyggeberwe
1291 Benedict Rector of Magna Wygeberwe
1352 Nicholas de Sutton
The nunnery, Barking Abbey, was patron of St Stephen's incumbents until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. A patron had the right to make presentation to the bishop of a suitable candidate to be the incumbent of the church; this was called the advowson. This right could descend to the patron's heirs and might be bought and sold just like any other property. In some cases a college might buy the advowsons of lucrative benefices to provide livings for its graduates.
Barking Abbey acquired all its Essex Manors before the Norman Conquest, and Great Wigborough was one of them, hence Abbess Hall (now Abbots Hall). A small number of priests probably owed their benefice to the fact that they were related to the abbesses of Barking. This is the case with Nicholas de Sutton. He was related to Katherine de Sutton, abbess between 1358 and 1376. In his will dated 14th November 1371 he left, among a large number of bequests, (including property in Colchester), 40 shillings
sorori mee de Barkyng [to my sister of Barking] and 12d each to the other members of the convent. He also left
20 shillings to my poor parishioners in Wygeberwe, 20 shillings to the parochial chaplain there and 10 shillings to his clerk.
[Registrum Simon de Sudburia Dioceses Londoniensis AD 1362 - 1375 Vol 38]
1372 William de Welton was the rector of Great Wigborough with the Chapel of Saltcote for only a few weeks. He was ordained deacon on 22nd May 1372 and priest 18th September 1372. He resigned in December 1372 and it is believed made an exchange with the next Wigborough incumbent Walter de Saltcote.
1372 Walter de Saltcote was incumbent at Horkesley Church before Great Wigborough. He was instituted at St Stephens on 18th December 1372
1377 Walter Webb instituted on 15th January 1377. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1384 William Hayward instituted in June 1384. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1391 Thomas Steyne instituted on 9th May 1391. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1392 Nicholas Harper instituted on 15th March 1392, died on 9th March 1409 and buried in the Chancel in St Stephens Church, Great Wigborough. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1410 Stephen Ingleset or Ingfet instituted on 30th June 1410. Patron: Barking Abbey.
Richard Butt Patron: Barking Abbey.
1441 Roger Martin M.A. instituted on 26th January 1441. Canon of St Pauls. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1461 Thomas Wilford instituted March 1461 Patron: Barking Abbey.
1464 William Lilly M.A. instituted on 20th November 1464. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1464 Thomas Wardall D.C.L. instituted on 17th September 1466. Canon of St Paul's and Exeter.
1472 Nicholas Lupit instituted 26th August 1472. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1475 John Smyth B.C.L. instituted 1st December 1475. Patron: Barking Abbey.
John Geve Patron: Barking Abbey.
1504 John Wynham B.D. instituted 9th October 1504. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1517 Henry Crosse instituted 22nd April 1517. He died on 29th October 1537 and requested he be buried in the Jesus Chapel of St Nicholas, Colchester. Patron: Barking Abbey.
1538 Thomas Turner This was to be the last time Barking Abbey acted as patron of Great Wigborough's living. In 1539, as part of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, this Abbey, founded in 666 A.D. was closed. All its belongings were taken, the nuns pensioned off, and the building demolished in 1540. The stone was taken to build the King's Manor of Dartford. Thomas Turner was instituted just a year before the closure of the Abbey.
In 1540 the patronage was given to Thomas Lord Cromwell by Henry VIII.
1552 Robert Certin was instituted on 11th January 1552. Patron: William Burlet
1556 Edward Popley B.C.L. was ordained in 1524 and became Rector of Creeksea Essex (1524 - 1551). He also became Rector of Wickham Bishops (1538 - 1554) and Tolleshunt Knights from 10th December 1550 (until 1554). Some time before 21st July 1554 he was deprived of his incumbencies on account of the fact he was married. At this time, Catholic Queen Mary I had come to the throne and any clergymen who had married under Protestant rule were removed from their churches. Popley, giving up his wife and doing penance as required, was reconciled to the Catholic church, and took the incumbency of Mistley cum Manningtree on 25th January 1554/1555 only months after being deprived of Wickham Bishops and Tolleshunt Knights. He was subsequently instituted at Great Wigborough on 26th January 1556, his patrons being Queen Mary and her husband, Philip. Mary died in 1558 and the country, under Elizabeth I, went back to Protestant rule. After 1559, Popley also took over Wickham Bishops again and died some time before April 1560. His will describes him as being of Great Wigborough.
1560 Richard Pedder was instituted on 30th March 1560. Patron: Elizabeth I
1560 Ralph Wimbesley was instituted on 20th July 1560. Patron: Elizabeth I
In 1562 the Manor was granted to Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolk on whose arraignment and execution in 1572 the estate was confiscated. In 1597, during the Reverend Gosson's incumbency the estate and advowson was restored to Norfolk's second son, Thomas, Baron Howard of Walden, created Earl of Suffolk in 1603.
1584 George Maskall M.A. Instituted on 27th October 1584. Patron: John Hamond
1591 Stephen Gosson B.A. Poet, satirist & playwright
Born in Kent in 1554 he was a scholar of Corpus Christi, Oxford in 1572 but after four years left, not having completed his degree.
Gosson went to London and in his early twenties gained a reputation for his admirable penning of pastorals (none of these poems
survive). In 1577 he wrote the comedy play, Captain Mario and moral play Praise at Parting and in 1579, a tragedy,
Catiline's Conspiracies, again none of these survive although there is evidence that they were put on stage at the time.
After three years of great literary activity, Gosson seems to have experienced a sudden and violent conversion. He denounced
theatre-going as immoral and corrupting and attacked all plays, poetry and music that did not present moral lessons and promote
virtuous actions. He left the dramatic world and turned his pen against plays, poets and actors. He published his
School of Abuse in 1579, an invective against poets, pipers, players, jesters and such like caterpillars of a commonwealth,
dedicating it to Sir Philip Sidney. The courtier and poet, Sidney took exception to being connected with this work and it is believed
it stimulated Sidney to write his Defence of Poetry, considered one of the most important contributions to British literary theory during the Renaissance. Gosson's work prompted a lengthy pamphlet war between many of the literary figures of the time over the nature of the English theatre.
He was to describe Elizabethan theatre as a general market of bawdry and denounced the presence of women in theatre audiences,
he also criticised the custom of having male actors dressing as women to play female roles.
Gosson, by now tutor in a gentlemen's family in the country, followed up The School of Abuse with The Ephemerides of
Phialo, a didactic prose romance, his Apologie of the School of Abuse appeared in 1579, and Players confuted in five
actions in 1581.
In the early 1580s, he left his tutorship (it is believed his employer was wearied with his invectives against the theatre!) and was ordained in 1584. He became a lecturer at Stepney and St. Martin's, Ludgate, in 1586, the vicar of St Albans Church, Sandridge, Herts, and in 1591 Rector of Great Wigborough, his patron was Queen Elizabeth I. Although expressing Puritan views he did during his incumbencies conform with the practices of the Church of England.
During his time at Great Wigborough, the coarse satiric poem Pleasant Quippes for Upstart New-fangled Gentlewomen written in
1595 was attributed to him.
In 1600 he exchanged Great Wigborough for St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, with Arthur Bright who had been at St. Botolph's since 1590.
Gosson remained at Bishopsgate for the rest of his life. His wife Elizabeth died on 2nd December 1615 aged 60, and was buried at St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate. His daughter Elizabeth, widow of Mr Paul Bassano, was buried at St. Botolph's, March 23rd, 1616 and Gosson himself died at Bishopsgate rectory in 1623, 13th February, leaving amongst his bequests 16/6 to the poor of Stepney.
The Great Wigborough baptism registers start from 1600, so there are no records of any baptisms of Gosson's family. The first leaf of marriages 1560 - 1598 and the first leaf and a half of the burials from 1570 were transcribed from the older registers by Gosson. The Marriage Register has the note:-
Steph. Gosson, rector. Edward Bullock & John Cox, churchwardens. Marriages sithence the first
yeare of the Queen's Maiestye her raygne. Videlicet [namely] Anno Domini 1558.
1600 Arthur Bright D.D. was a known Puritan and a popular City [London] preacher, who was collated to the rectory of St Botolph
Bishopsgate in 1590 by means of an unofficial exchange with the preceding incumbent. He was also Prebendary of St Paul's between
1590 and 1600 and Rector of St Martin Outwick, from 1591 to 1600. It would seem he did an exchange with his predecessor in Great Wigborough. Stephen Gosson moved to St Botolph at the same time as Bright arrived in Wigborough. He was instituted on 8th April 1600 and his patron was Lord Howard de Walden.
1617 Edward Scarlet M.A. B.D. was instituted on 14th March 1617 and presented to the living by patron, Thomas Howard, Earl of
Suffolk. Scarlett's bequests in his will of 1636 include unto the poore people of Mutch Wigborowe the sum of Fiftie shillings
and the same to his other parish of Little Canfield. However, he notes in a Memorandum at the end of the will this is to be reduced in
both cases to forty shillings, the remaining 20 shillings to be given as a dole to poore strangers which come to my burial.
1636 Francis Walsall D.D.
1639 John Alsop B.D. M.A. was Rector of Fordham, Essex from 1633 to 1646 and also Rector of Great Wigborough (1639 - 1644). He was presented to the living by Theophilus Howard, Earl of Suffolk, eldest son and heir of the previous patron and instituted on 15th October 1639. He was, at the same time, chaplain to William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. This was the time of the English Civil War (1642 - 1651), a series of battles and political machinations between Parliament and the King; Archbishop Laud was close advisor to Charles I. Covertly favouring Roman Catholic doctrines, Laud made extremely unpopular ecclesiastical reforms and was regarded by Puritan clerics and laymen as a formidable and dangerous opponent. As Parliament prevailed over the Royalists, Laud was subsequently deposed, sent to the Tower of London and executed in 1645. Presumably to avoid meeting the same fate, John Alsop fled to France in 1644 and died there two years later in 1646.
1645 John Tindall S.T.B.
The initials after his name stand for Bachelor of Sacred Theology which was a Roman Catholic ecclesiastical degree that ensured a solid knowledge of theology and a strong foundation in Catholic Doctrine. He was a native of Kent and matriculated at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge where he became a fellow in 1633. Taking holy orders he became domestic chaplain to Lord Howard of Escrack and tutor to his two sons. In 1637 he was Proctor of the University of Cambridge and gained his Bachelor of Divinity in 1639. In the light of the Civil War and prevailing of the Puritan movement this would possibly explain the brevity of his incumbency at Great Wigborough where he was instituted on 16th February 1645. In every likelihood, he was relieved of his parish and rectory. His patron was James Howard, Earl of Suffolk, eldest son of Theophilus.
Between 1655 and 1673 he was the Rector of the Parish of Bere Ferrers, Devon, where he died in 1673. Of his two sons, Matthew was a well-known theological writer; their name is also spelt Tyndal.
1647 Robert Bland M.A.
Robert Bland gained his degree in 1644 from Corpus Christi Cambridge and became Rector of Wigborough Magna with the Chappel of
Salcott appendant. Having been ordained during the Commonwealth he was instituted at Wigborough on 26th November 1647.
In 1647 the Earl of Suffolk sold the advowson with that of Salcott for £3,500 to John Aylett and Chaloner Chute, both lawyers, John Aylett then conveyed it to Sir Mark Guyon.
In a Parochial Inquisition of 1650 of Wigborrow magna it was recorded the Glebe was worth £50, the Tithe £100, the minister Robert Bland and the patrons the Earl of Suffolk and Dr Aylett
In 1648 Daniel Cardinale was ordered to be instituted and is returned as minister but there is no trace of it in the Bishop's or in the Parish Registers.
1669 John Chappell
One of The Reverend Robert Bland's daughters, Ariana, married John Chappell, Rector of Inworth, and after his father-in-law's death John was instituted to the Wigborough rectory on 15th April 1669. His patron was Robert Sayer.
1680 Nathaniel Dennison B.A.
This rector was responsible for restarting the burials register in 1681 after a hiatus since 1649. He was instituted on 12th
February 1680 and his patron was Sir Mark Guyon. He was buried in Great Wigborough on 16th March 1730 and in his will he asked to be
buried without pomp or ostentation. He also left 40 shillings to the poor of great wigborow. He served in Great Wigborough for 50 years.
1730 Lawrence Jackson B.D.
Prebendary of Lincoln was instituted to Great Wigborough on 25th April 1730. His patron was his father-in-law, the Reverend Humphrey Sydenham.
Lawrence Jackson had two parishes, he was vicar of Ardleigh and rector of Great Wigborough. In his will of 1772 he requested he be
buried in Ardleigh Church with a plain marble bearing the inscription inclosed in this will and filled with the wanted dates to be
placed within the North side of the Church next to the Chancel and near mine and my wife's Grave. This large memorial plaque can
still be seen to Elizabeth, wife of Lawrence Jackson, daughter of Humphrey Sydenham 1769 and Lawrence Jackson 1772.
He left £10 to the poor of each Parish. Amongst bequests to his family, servants, friends, charitable and religious foundations he left his music and a violin to a colleague and returned another violin to the Cambridge professor from whom it was loaned.
1772 Joseph Bennett LL.B.
1789 Edward Peter LLB Patron: Henry Bewes
1832 Godfrey Bird M.A. R.D. was incumbent for 47 years and buried at Great Wigborough. His patrons were Messrs Brewer and Fookes.
He lived in the handsome Rectory house (White's Trade Directory 1848) and was Rural Dean of Mersea.
There are stained glass windows in St Stephens in memory of The Reverend Bird who died 25th October, 1879, his wife, Sarah Jane, who died 6th January 1854, their eldest son Godfrey Herbert, who died 6th March 1847, their second son, Sherman Godfrey, in Canada on 27th January 1873 and their fourth daughter, Clara Mary who died on 3rd April 1869. We know from the parish registers that he and his wife also lost two infant children.
In P.A.F. Stephenson's Parish Registers of Great and Little Wigborough, she wrote
In 1895, the ancient font, having been restored, was placed under the Tower, raised on steps and surmounted by a handsome canopy with a suitable inscription signifying that the work was carried out to the Glory of God and in memory of the Reverend Godfrey Bird who was 47 years Rector of the Parish
The Reverend Godfrey Bird
1879 Frederick Watson M.A.
From this time the parishes of Great and Little Wigborough were united and the rectors who were to follow were responsible for both parish churches. Born in 1831 and educated at Cambridge University, Watson became Curate at the village of Aslacton in Norfolk from 1856 - 1859. He then became Rector of Salcott between 1859 and 1875, succeeding his father. He was instituted at Great and Little Wigborough in 1879 and served for seven years. During this time many houses in the parish and the church were badly damaged by the earthquake of 1884. It was on 4th September 1885 that the Reverend Watson's wife, Emily Ann, laid the foundation stone to commemorate the rebuilding of St Stephen's Tower. The rectory, although shaken, was not damaged.
In 1898, the next incumbent, the Reverend Theobald, had a carved oak pulpit erected at a cost of £68 10s and placed under the ancient entrance to the rood-screen in memory of The Reverend Watson.
1886 Frederick Theobald M.A. served the Wigborough parishes for 39 years and he was buried at Great Wigborough. The following tribute to his generosity appears in P A F Stephenson's book of the Parish Registers of Great and Little Wigborough.
Since 1890 the whole Church has been handsomely restored and the chancel entirely rebuilt by the generosity of the present Rector, the Reverend Frederick Theobald at a cost of over £3000 out of his own pocket. The edifice had cracked in all directions owing to the long droughts and the earthquake. The following memorial have also been given: A beautiful East Window (by Hardman), presented by Mrs. Frederick Theobald in memory of her father, Charles Lestourgeon, Esq., of The Close, near Cambridge, who died 22nd February, 1891. A carved oak chancel screen with this inscription on the East side:
"a.m.d.g. et in piâmêm. Georgina Phillippae* uxoris Gordon Watson, praef quae ob. Dec 30 1887 a.d." and on the west side "Gloria tibi Domine."
*the Rector's sister, both the children of James Theobald Esq., of Hyde Abbey, Winchester, and Grays, Essex. The translation of this abbreviated inscription is as follows
to the greater glory of God and in loving memory Georgina Philippa, wife of the aforesaid Gordon Watson who died on December 30 1887
and on the west side Glory to you, O Lord
Theobald lost a son, Frederick George, in WW1 commemorated in a window and on the War Memorial in St Stephen's Church
1925 Llewellyn Christopher Watson Bullock B.A.
Born at the family seat of Faulkbourne Hall, Witham, the Reverend Bullock (1866 -1936) was an assistant master at Rugby School
(1902 - 1925) and between 1925 and 1933 rector of Great and Little Wigborough. This represented a fitting return to the parish where his family, a branch of the Bullocks of Arborfield, had come in the sixteenth century to Moulsham Manor and remained for the next two centuries also acquiring through marriage the Manor of Abbots Hall, Great Wigborough.
His obituary described him as a man of singular charm, and one who subordinated outside interest to the administration of his
Parish. Essex Archaeological Society's Transactions XXII part 1 Page 155.
The Reverend Bullock had life-long interests in genealogy and heraldry, was a member of the Essex Archaeological Society and he wrote
the definitive history of his family, privately published in 1905, Memoirs of The Bullock Family AD 1166 - 1905. He was also
the author of In Lonely Walks (1916) a collection of verse, chiefly lyrical, suggested partly by the war,
Having retired to Colchester at the time of his death, his funeral was at St Mary at the Walls followed by interment at St. Stephen's, Great Wigborough.
The Reverend Llewellyn Christopher Watson Bullock
1933 Frederick Yates L. Th. Hon. C.F.
Frederick Yates was vicar of Wigborough from 1933 to 1950. During World War I he was a forces' chaplain and brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for his valuable services in that capacity, a position that was clearly of great pride to his family and remembered on his memorial plaque. He was army padre in Malta, Gibralter, Shanghai and Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and when he retired from the military in 1933 to come to Great Wigborough he held the rank of Major. He died February 1952 having just retired to Gosport. In 2001 his grandson sent to Wigborough a small brown suitcase (about 340 x 220 x 100mm) containing papers and photographs relating to his grandfather and the village. They are currently (2020) with Mersea Museum.
The Reverend Yates 1934
1952 Arnold de Quincey B.A.
1963 Roland Hall (Priest in charge from 1961) Resigned in 1964 and went to the West Indies.
1964 Arthur Edward Brand Priest in Charge
The Reverend Arthur Edward and Mrs Brand
1970 Laurence Henry Lamprell B.A. was ordained in Durham in 1932 and spent seven years working as a missionary priest in Tanganyika (now known as Tanzania) where he looked after twenty widely scattered villages. Prior to coming to Great and Little Wigborough he had been Vicar of St Luke's in Gillingham (from 1945) and vicar of St Margaret's, Coventry (from 1967). He stayed at the Wigboroughs, living in the old rectory in Salcott Virley, for two years before retiring to Fordingbridge in Hampshire.
1972 John Carpenter M A studied at Cambridge and was previously a missionary in China before he took the incumbencies of Peldon and Great Wigborough.
The Reverend John Carpenter
1974 James Edward Seddon L. Th. studied at Durham and had been a missionary in Morocco then worked for the Bible Churchman's Missionary Society for 10 years. During his time in Peldon the parish was united with Great and Little Wigborough in July 1975. He brought music alive in his parishes, writing hymns and compiling hymn books including Hymns for Today's Church.
The Reverend Jim Seddon
1981 Edward Charles Lendon was a navigator for the RAF during the second world war and was subsequently ordained, serving
Dagenham and Galleywood before Peldon and the Wigboroughs. He became a canon of Chelmsford Cathedral. St Mary's Church, Peldon, has a memorial window in the south nave dedicated to him and his wife Mary after their deaths.
Canon E (Eddie) C Lendon
1990 Canon John Sinclair Short The Reverend Short was vicar of St Mary's Becontree (1970-1975), and New Malden, Coombe (1976 - 1990). He was Rural Dean of Kingston (1979 - 1984), Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral (1983 - 1990) and Priest in Charge at Peldon and the Wigboroughs (1990 - 1993). He died aged 80 in 2014. Canon Short was to be the last rector to live in Peldon's rectory and, upon his departure in 1993, Peldon and the Wigboroughs became part of Mersea's benefice and shared West Mersea's rector.
Canon John Short
1993 John Allen George Swallow BA moved to the West and East Mersea incumbency from South Weald where he saw the M25 being built through his parish. He was instituted as Rector of East and West Mersea on 2nd September 1981 and upon Canon Short's retirement he took on the Parishes of Peldon and Great and Little Wigborough before retiring to Bury St Edmunds. He died aged 83 and his funeral was held in St Edmundsbury Cathedral.
The Reverend John Swallow in 2004
1994 Robin Elphick Following his incumbency at Frinton-on-Sea, Robin Elphick was instituted as Priest in Charge of the benefice in November 1994. Having one rector for all five churches of the benefice involved making many changes in the patterns of worship for all. He and his wife retired to Norfolk.
Reverend Robin Elphick 1980 - with thanks to Clippesby Church, Norfolk
2003 Sam Norton grew up on a houseboat in Essex and before he joined the church was a Civil Servant in the Department of the Environment which fostered a deep interest in environmental matters. After leaving Mersea, he became Vicar of Partend and Viney Hill in Gloucestershire being instituted there in October 2018. With his Bishop's blessing, he stood as a candidate for the Brexit Party in the 2019 General election which, had he been successful, would have required he resign from his post in the church. Regularly writing for the local Mersea Courier he covered topical and political issues and his personal statement on his twitter account sums him up as a 'contentious priest'.
Reverend Sam Norton, West Mersea c2015
Since 2018 the benefice has been without an incumbent and services are taken by members of a team including retired clergymen, and lay preachers.
St Stephens Church, Great Wigborough
Wedding of Frederick Yates' daughter at Great Wigborough November 1941
Yates Family Photographs
Frederick George Theobald killed 26 Aug 1914
Clippesby Church www.clippesbychurchandcountryside.co.uk
Essex Archaeological Society
The Yates family
Rev Llewellyn Christopher Watson Bullock - Essex Archaeological Society Transactions XXII page 155
Parish Registers of Great & Little Wigborough by Mrs P.A.F. Stephenson
- the book is not available online, but a number of pages have been transcribed.