Friday 23rd December 2016, it was a day that I remember well, it was the day that I retired after working over 46 years for Scrutton Bland the accountants. It meant no more early starts at work and no more dozing off at my desk when I was trying to prepare accounts. I had gone part time from the start of April 2016 so just did mornings 7am to 1pm, but early in that month, the bus that I use to catch to North Station each morning from King Harold Road to connect to a number 8 or 65 to my office at Highwoods was changed. It saw the number 15 service re-routed to Marks Tey, so for eight months, I walked into town each morning at around 530am and caught the 615 bus to work as I opened the office each day.
However now I was free !!!
I had already decided that I was not going to sit at home every day but to continue my walking and visiting of numerous places. When you don’t drive a car, you either catch a train, a bus or walk. About three years before I had tried to go and see every religious building in the Colchester area, now I was going to start to do it again and I would put this in print. I had in fact started my logging of churches a week before and will recount my various journeys in a minute. As I start my first report I have seen around 400 churches in a little over the year, these include cathedrals in Brentwood, Bury St Edmunds, Chelmsford, Ely, London (St Pauls), Norwich (two) and Rochester plus an Abbey at Wymondham. I have been as far North as Sheringham and Cromer, West to Cambridge, South to Dartford and Rochester and East to all the coastal towns in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.
St Mary's, Woodbridge
To date the biggest numbers of religious buildings seen were Colchester 82, Norwich 58 and Ipswich 30. And so my journey began on a very misty day in Woodbridge on Saturday 16th December 2016. I had a trip there before going to the football at Colchester United. On that day I saw four churches, the best that I find and normally always open is St Mary the Virgin on Market Hill. In here are some lovely stained glass windows. Next I went to St John’s on St John’s Hill, which I have managed to get in on couple occasions in the past. However one always opened on Saturday mornings is the Methodist in Grundisburgh Road, which has an open house for coffee, tea, biscuits and cakes. Having arrived in Woodbridge early, I had planned to go to the very pretty church in Melton.
St Mary's Church, Woodbridge, stained glass windows
As my return train ticket to Melton had already been validated going to Woodbridge, I could not use it to travel to Melton so I decided to do the one mile walk there. Normally when I go there the church is empty but being a Saturday and near Christmas, the church was busy with ladies doing the flowers.
Forward seven days and now retired, I was off on Christmas Eve and I managed to get in and take photos inside the church of All Saints at Wakes Colne. This is near the Chapel Viaduct and the surviving church dates from the 12th century. Christmas Day and I was at my nearby church of St Cedd’s in Iceni Way for the 10am service, a building that has been there on the estate for around sixty years now.
With my football match away on Boxing Day, I had a busy morning of walking as I set off for the town centre. First to be seen was the New Church in Maldon Road which was built in 1924 with an expansion done in 1967. Further along I went up Ireton Road where the church building is shared by two church followings. Just before the Maldon Road roundabout there is a Chapel on the left and if you cross the road, you can see some old church ruins in front of the Police Station. Opposite the station is the Salvation Army citadel. Now I have made town and as I once measured in a car, I had already walked 1.8 miles.
Heading down Head Street, at the top right on North Hill is St Peter’s. Records suggest that this was remodeled in 1758 and was Georgian with further work around 1895-96. I then cut through the road towards the Mercury Theatre and there was the Society of Friends building in Church Street which dated back to the middle of the 17th century and near to this was St Mary at the Walls which was close to Balkerne Hill. This was built against the Roman walls and records show this goes back to 1206.
Going back now to the town and shops area, at the top of Trinity Street is Holy Trinity, which has for some time been used as a café. Parts of its tower date back to 1020. Also in the road is the Christian Scientist church, but this looked now to have closed down. I now headed down Eld Lane and it was the Baptist church. This was built in 1834 on the site of the first purpose-built Baptist church.
Retracing my steps and opposite Boots the Chemist is Lion Walk URC. Notes found suggested that it could be dated back to the 1640’s. However with the development of the shopping area close by, a newer part was added to the area that already existed. One of the busiest road in the town for religious buildings is Priory Street. As I left St Botolphs Street, on the corner are the priory ruins and soon on the road can be seen the Islamic Centre.
Down a road to the right, Fennings Close is the Spiritulist Centre and a Jewish building. Back into Priory Street, there was I believe a Convent called the Sisters of Mercy and then St James the Less Catholic church.
Turning left, I was now heading up North Hill and it was St James the Great. One of our former curates became the vicar there. The Reverend Timothy Thompson who was my confirmation teacher back in 1965 and on one occasion he fund raised by sitting up on the church roof I believe. The oldest part of this building dated back to the 12th century. As my journey continued around the town, I now had reached St Botolph’s church. This has had a very big influence on my life. My parents were married there on 2nd January 1943, one of the various churches my mother went to in her life and also the one where I was confirmed on 10th June 1965. There was also a connection with my school as the organist there was Colin Nicholson who was my music teacher at the Colchester Grammar School. The current church building was dedicated in 1837 and was built in the style of the old Norman one, with semicircular arches and Norman ormentation and was designed by William Mason of Ipswich. The church was nearly destroyed by 1943 in the air raids in World War 2 and had its own team of fire watchers which dealt with several incendary bombs.
St Botolph's, Colchester
I now continued onto the Southway and there was St Giles. This was originally built on part of St John’s Abbey cemetry around 1150 and contains work from every century since. It was made redundant in 1956 and then used as a St John Ambulance depot until 1975 when it was made into a Masonic Community Centre.
After seeing the Abbey Gate in St John’s Green which related to the Benedictine Abbey of St John the Baptist founded in 1096. All that really remains now are the gatehouse on the Green. A church that was no longer there was the Strict Baptist church which use to be in Stanwell Street. This was demolished in 1971 to make way for the inner ring road. This chapel dated back to around 1811-12. Some of the Baptist following had gone there and between 1957-71 it was used by the Elim Penticostals. My journey for the day was coming to a close nearly as the next two buildings I saw were the Abbeyfield Church in Abbeygate Street and DNA Networks which was in Whitewell Road, which is tucked between the Southway and St John’s Street.
If what I have written has been appealing maybe I will be asked to write again as I have many more churches to feature. In the photos that I have included – these were in order – St Mary the Virgin, Market Hill, Woodbridge; St Andrews in Melton; Holy Trinity, Trinity Street, Colchester and St Botolph’s, St Botolph’s Street, Colchester.