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It would be impossible to miss the imposing and majestic edifice that is the Abbey Church
of Waltham Holy Cross and St Lawrence at Waltham Abbey. It has been said that it is
without an equal in the county of Essex. And the chronicles and legends that are
associated with this magnificent place are woven amongst the accounts that make up the
history of our own Island.
Back in the mists of time – and in the mysterious void we now refer to as the Dark Ages –
a humble Somerset blacksmith discovered a large flint cross bearing a likeness of Christ,
not far from the site of Glastonbury.
Upon the instruction of the Lord of the Manor, Tovi, the cross was loaded onto a wagon to be taken to one of the great religious centres at Canterbury or Winchester. But the oxen had other ideas and refused to move for any man, whatever his status. Eventually, Tovihad had enough and declared he was going back to his hunting lodge at Waltham, which he had been gifted by King Canute, for whom he was standard-bearer. At this, the cattle upped and proceeded to pull the wagon non-stop, 150 miles, until they reached north Essex whereupon Tovi immediately decided to build a church that would house and glorify his new religious artefact.
But this is not at all the beginning of the Abbey’s story.
Archaeological investigations in the late 20th Century revealed a much earlier origin of the site than had previously been believed – with possibly five distinct churches at the site, the earliest of which was a wooden structure built c.610 at the bidding of Sabert (The Good),King of the East Saxons and relative of the now internationally famous Prittlewell Prince.
After Sabert’s death in 617, his kingdom reverted to paganism and did not become Christian again until near the end of the 7th century, with the arrival of St Cedd who landed on the Essex coast at Bradwell.
Tovi’s church was the second structure at this site and it soon became a centre for
pilgrimage as people flocked to see the miraculous cross and to seek healing by praying
One of those was Harold Godwinson (later King Harold II), at that time Earl of Essex and East Anglia. Delighted by a miraculous cure for his earlier paralysis, he rebuilt the church – with a college - on a grander scale, and it was consecrated to the Holy Cross in 1060. He returned to the sanctuary in 1066 to pray on his way to meet William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings, and then returned again – but this time in body only – having received the infamous and fatal arrow in his eye. It is said he was carried there by the grieving Abbey monks – and his mistress! – to be laid at rest in the graveyard.
Daniel Defoe's 18th Century work “A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain” mentions Waltham Abbey where “the ruins of the abbey remain; and tho’ antiquity is not my proper business, I cou’d not but observe, that King Harold, slain in the great battle in Sussex against William the Conqueror, lies buried here; his body being begg’d by his mother, the Conqueror allow’d it to be carried hither; but no monument was, as I can find, built for him, only a flat grave-stone, on which was engraven, Harold Infoelix” (Harold the Unfortunate).
The new Norman conquerors, who strongly believed that great building works were
statements of great power, subsequently demolished Harold’s church and built one of their own – much of which can be seen today.
But in 1177, Henry II, as penitence for his role in the murder of the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Thomas Becket, re-founded Harold’s college as an Augustinian Priory and to
ratify the sincerity of the penance he raised his foundation to the status of an Abbey in
1184. There are still traces of an enormous eastward enlargement of the building, materials for which came from the Peak District, the Pennines, Gloucestershire and Kent. The completed abbey, which was now bigger than Winchester Cathedral and cost Henry over £1000, was finally re-dedicated on 30 September 1242, by the Bishop of Norwich.
In the following years, the abbey prospered, received thousands of pilgrims and was the last abbey to be dissolved during the Dissolution (probably because of Henry VIII’s fondness for the bountiful hunting grounds around Waltham and Epping), and although the King suggested Waltham as one of the new cathedrals for the Church of England, the proposal came to nothing. This was a disaster for the town which had relied upon the pilgrims for income and employment. The Cross itself now completely disappeared, the building fell into disrepair and the Norman tower collapsed. But one man who did very well out of it was the choirmaster Thomas Tallis (now considered one of England’s greatest composers), who was awarded 20 shillings in outstanding wages, 20 shillings "reward" and went on to become choir master at Canterbury Cathedral.
In 1859 the architect William Burges was appointed to undertake an extensive restoration of the site and to refurbish the interior, most of which we see today.
Of particular note to visitors are the supposed site of Harold’s tomb, and the stained glass which includes early work by the renowned Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones.
Opening hours (Open seven days a week):
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday: 12 noon to 4 p.m.
(Opening hours are subject to additional services and recitals. To check contact the Parish
Office on 01992 767897 or email them at email@example.com)
s SCN recently reported, Colchester Castle’s sycamore tree, which has been growing from the top of the south east tower since 1815, had been shortlisted for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year 2019 Award.
It has now been announced that the sycamore, which the Mayor’s daughter planted to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, finished in silver position after being beaten to the top spot by the Allerton Oak in Liverpool.
Adam Cormack, Head of Campaigning, at the Woodland Trust said: “Taking second place in a national competition for the nation’s favourite tree is a real achievement.
“The Colchester Castle Sycamore is a really special tree growing in a very unusual location.
“The people of Essex can rightfully be proud that they’ve helped to put one of the nation’s most remarkable trees on the map”.
Award-winning horticulturalist David Domoney, who worked with the Trust on this year’s competition, said: “The entrants this year have been outstanding and illustrate perfectly the unique nature of our native trees”.
As runner up, the Colchester sycamore is eligible for a £500 Tree Care Award which will be spent on works to benefit the tree’s health or information and signage.
And the Winner Is......
Liverpool’s Allerton Oak is mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086. According to local legend, in
medieval times the local ‘Hundred Court’ would meet under the branches of the tree, as they lacked a
The tree features a very large crack formed in 1864 when the Lotty Sleigh, a ship carrying 11 tonnes
of gunpowder along the Mersey, exploded.
During World War Two, soldiers' families would send acorns and leaves from the oak - an emblem of
strength and endurance - to their loved ones to protect them.
Following the French Revolutionary Wars and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, imports
were restricted to the UK and grain prices rose steeply at the same time that London’s
growing population caused a surge in demand. This resulted in the construction of a number of windmills across the Essex area including Finchingfield, Orsett, Upminster and that at Rayleigh Mount – at 60 feet tall, the highest in the County.
Now a Grade II listed building, the six-storey tower mill was built in 1809 for local merchant Thomas Higgs. Following his bankruptcy in 1815, it passed into the Hart family at historic Woodham Mortimer. Despite the demand for them, windmills appear to have been of no
great financial benefit for the owners. The Harts sold the mill to George Britton in 1845 and the mill passed to his sons John and Samuel in 1869. The brothers spent £150 putting the mill into repair but went bankrupt in 1886. Thomas James Brown was the next miller, and the last to work the mill by wind.
The mill had two single Spring sails and two Common sails carried on a cast iron windshaft. t drove three pairs of millstones - implements which have been used since Neolithic and Upper Paleolithic times to grind grains, nuts, rhizomes and other vegetable food products for consumption.
To ensure that the mill could operate efficiently and function at up to 24 hours per day, the cap and sails were removed in 1909 and the mill was worked by a steam engine, then an oil engine and after that by an electric motor until at least 1937 after which it fell into disuse.
However, whilst as a Race we need to – and must - constantly innovate, invent and improve, as a Nation we retain a romantic attachment to our heritage and tradition – steam trains, Victorian bridges, cathedrals, stately homes the aviation industry and...... our windmills.
According to Robert Louis Stevenson, windmills ” put a spirit of romance into the tamest landscape”.
So in 1972 the cap-less, crenellated structure – which was being maintained as a museum by Rayleigh and District Antiquarian and Natural History Society - became the subject of a major appeal by Rayleigh Urban District Council to restore the much-loved mill as a landmark.
By the autumn of 1974 a new cap and sails had been made and fitted by millwrights John Lawn and Philip Barrett-Lennard.
In 2005, further restoration work, costing £340,000, was funded by the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership.
Rayleigh Windmill is now an award-winning tourist and educational attraction, containing a museum, an exhibition space and information about the ancient Norman site of Rayleigh Mount - first line of defence against invading armies marching on London and which also acted a means to control the local Saxons.
Visitor Information: -
The Windmill is located at Bellingham Lane, Rayleigh, Essex, SS6 7ED.
It is open 28 March 2020 – 30 September 2020 at the times listed below:-.
Wednesday 10:00am - 1:00pm
Saturday 1:00 - 4:00pm
Sunday 1:00 - 4:00pm
Entry is free of charge, a minimum £1 donation per person is encouraged.
Please note, parking in the Mill Hall Car Park is FREE on Saturdays from 1pm and on Sundays
For further information and to organise a school or group trip, visit www.rochford.gov.uk.
or phone 01702 318120.
Although for us in this relatively peaceful era, the mighty River Thames represents trade
and commerce, wildlife and the environment, tourism and leisure, it has - since ancient
times - played a role of enormous strategic military importance and the evidence of this
can still be seen today in the remains of forts, abandoned military installations, disused
piers and in the relics of sunken wrecks and downed WW2 aircraft which lay quietly on the
In the 1860’s, during a period of political tension with the French, a fort was built at
Coalhouse Point, East Tilbury, to guard the lower Thames . It was equipped with some of
the most modern weapons and defences of that time. However, due to the lengthy
construction process caused by the marshy ground conditions, and the rapid pace of
artillery development across Europe, Coalhouse Fort was obsolete almost as soon as it was completed.
Henry VIII had originally ordered the construction of an artillery blockhouse in 1539 with a small permanent garrison in attendance, but by the 18th century it was in ruins. Although the Dutch fleet exposed the woeful weakness of the Thames defences (it was they who destroyed the tower of neighbouring St Catherine’s church at The Point), it was over 100 years until a new battery was constructed very close to St Catherine’s and named after a coal wharf which had once served the Tilbury area.
In the 1850’s Britain and France engaged in an arms race with increasingly accurate and
powerful weapons mounted on faster and more efficient iron warships. For the British, such weapons in the hands of the French posed a threat to the armaments works at Woolwich Arsenal, the shipyards at North Woolwich and the Purfleet military installations.
Prevailing military strategy demanded that Coalhouse Fort be re-fortified to such a degree
that a minefield could be installed under wartime conditions.
It was Colonel Charles George Gordon (he who subsequently and famously died in the Battle of Khartoum) who supervised the completion of the construction project in 1861 when he was Commander of the Royal Engineers and therefore in charge of the defences of one of Britain’s greatest rivers. It was completed at a cost £130,000.
During the First World War the Fort was manned by No. 2 Company, Royal Garrison
Artillery and the 2nd Company London Electrical Engineers who operated the electric
searchlights. A minefield was installed in the river with mechanically operated mines in the
shallower parts of the Thames and remotely detonated mines in the navigable channel. The
Fort also took on the role of an Examination Battery controlling the river traffic, checking
incoming vessels and an anti-aircraft battery was also established to provide defence
against Zeppelins and enemy bombers.
Following The War, defence cuts prevented the Fort from being upgraded although it
became an "emergency" battery during the anti-invasion preparations of the early Second
World War and was subsequently enhanced with two light anti-aircraft guns, a detached
concrete observation tower - to control the electrically detonated mines that had been laid
in the river - and a radar tower. Its role in the defence of the eastern approaches to London
resulted in it being bombed on several occasions.
By 1944 the threat of invasion had abated and Coalhouse Fort was handed over to the
Home Guard and a detachment of Wrens who operated a degaussing range.
The Fort was decommissioned in 1949 and, having served various civilian purposes in
between, was purchased by Thurrock Council in 1962 the same year as the buildings and
installations at The Point were collectively designated as a scheduled monument in
recognition of their status as "a remarkable group of defensive sites".
Since 1985, the site has been leased to the Coalhouse Fort Project, a heritage charity
operated by volunteers who have since then been undertaking the gradual restoration of
the Fort. Regular public open days are held which showcase the Fort and the various
historical items of military equipment which it retains.
The project, which has a High Commendation from the British Archaeological Awards,
featured in the BBC Restoration series and in the 2005 film Batman Begins in which it
“played the role” of a Bhutanese prison.
St Catherine’s Church stands on the site of the original chapel of St Cedd (Bishop to the East
Saxons), built in 654 AD and which stood below the present high tide level.
The original St Catherine’s tower having been destroyed by the Dutch, was replaced by a
stump tower, built by the First World War garrison of Coalhouse Fort, No.2 Company,
London Electrical Engineers and established in memory of their fallen comrades.
Opening hours and further information: -
To find out about the Fort, its open days, guided tours and special events visit
For information about the ancient church of St Catherine, East Tilbury visit