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Aldham church is first mentioned c.1145, when Thiel of Aldham, who held one of the manors, gave half the tithes from his land to Colne priory in Earls Colne, the other half being reserved for the rector of Aldham church. Tithes, an annual tenth of the produce from land, were paid to the rector of a church as his living. It is possible that the church existed many years before this.
The right of presentation of rectors to the benefice was held in 1316 by William Goldington as patron; he also held one of the manors in Aldham. He then gave the rights of patronage as endowment of a chantry for daily prayers for his soul and all Christian souls, in a Hertfordshire parish, Stanstead St. Margaret, where he also held the patronage; chaplains were to undertake this service. The patronage of both churches was to be held by the bishop of London, in whose diocese Essex then lay; he appointed a vicar to Aldham. Until then there had been successive rectors of whom some names are known from 1289 and regularly from 1320. A vicar received only the lesser tithes for his support; the rector's share then went to the chantry, but in 1474 the bishop appointed a rector, and rectors have always been appointed since then.
Successive bishops of the diocese remained as patrons until, in 1874, patronage of the Aldham benefice was exchanged for that of Chelmsford parish church. Lay patrons then held the patronage until by 1934 it was in the hands of the Martyrs' Memorial Trust who remain the patrons, on whose behalf it is administered by the Church Pastoral Aid Society (patrons of Marks Tey church).
The church stood north of Church House Farm in the west of Aldham; its dedication is not known. The modern dedication to St. Margaret and St. Catherine dates only from the last years of the 19th century and is probably derived from inscriptions on the two remaining bells, which themselves date from c.1400 and the early 16th century, respectively.
The church had a chapel on the north side, dedicated to St. Anne and probably added when the church was enlarged in the 14th century; the chapel may have been built by James at Lee, a local landowner. It became ruinous and was demolished before the mid 18th century. The south aisle was probably built by the Tey family, who owned the manor of Aldham Hall. In 1524 there was a Trinity guild.
At the Reformation several of the clergy vestments were sold, in compliance with instructions; one of the bells and some candlesticks were also sold. As in other parishes, a Bible was purchased and also a pulpit and a communion table in place of the altar. The window glass was replaced and the church whitewashed. Some of the money from the sales was given to the poor of the parish.
In the reign of the pro-Roman Catholic Mary Tudor the rector was deprived of the living because he had married during the relaxation of the ban on married clergy under Edward VI. In 1557 a former rector bequeathed ornaments for the altar. In 1560 his brother, then rector, and also a supporter of the old religion, was deprived because he would not conform to Elizabeth I's Act of Uniformity. A later rector, in 1586, did not wish to use the Book of Common Prayer because of his puritan beliefs.
During the Civil Wars the rector, Daniel Falconer, supported the royalist cause and Archbishop Laud's church policy and was ejected by the puritans, to be succeeded by their appointees.
Several 18th century rectors held Aldham with one of the Colchester benefices and employed curates. Philip Morant, the historian of Essex, who was rector 1745-1770, also held the living of St. Mary at the Walls in Colchester, where he lived, though he frequently visited Aldham and preached there. His successor served Aldham for almost fifty years but lived at Marks Tey in the rectory house because the Aldham parsonage was small and in poor condition
Hugh C. Jones, rector 1823-1840, was also Archdeacon of Essex and vicar of West Ham. He built a parish school for Aldham and a new rectory house. He and his curate founded the Aldham and United Parishes Insurance Society in 1826, a contributory insurance system which was designed for the many agricultural labourers in this and nearby parishes; it continued until 1951.
His successor, Charles Bannatyne, rector 1840-1882, built the Bannatyne almshouses opposite the present church and arranged for the removal and rebuilding of the church on its present site, largely at his own expense, in 1854.
The old church was by then in a very poor condition; centuries of burials had left the churchyard higher than the brick floor of the church, so that the floor was damp and the walls green with slime from lack of adequate ventilation. The walls were supported by large brick buttresses; inside, wooden posts had replaced the remains of the old stone pillars between the nave and the south aisle. There was a small bell turret and a singers' gallery at the west end.
In 1853 there was discussion as to whether the church could be repaired and there was some opposition to the proposal to move it to a more central site, though this was eventually agreed by a majority.
The old church was to be demolished and the materials re-used so far as practicable. The architect was Edward C. Hakewill, whose plans were modelled on the old church, enlarged. Most of the timber and the stone window frames were re-used, with some additions. To the chancel, nave and south aisle were added a vestry and a tower with spire. The roof materials were re-used but the timber of the chancel roof was obtained from elsewhere as it was larger than the old roof. The chancel arch, stone piers and all the flooring were new. Some remains of the old wooden panelling were used under the new pine pews. The 14th century south porch, with its Decorated style wooden tracery, was re-installed with a new flint and rubble base. The old doors were also re-used; they date from c.1300 (tower door - see picture) and the 14th and 15th centuries. The care with which features were copied from the old church extended to the replica of a staircase turret - probably originally leading to the roodloft - which stands in the corner formed by the meeting of the chancel and south aisle walls, with a replica doorway in the aisle. The south windows of the aisle were, however, replaced by three lancet windows. The 18th century communion rails were kept.
The old churchyard continued in use until c.1887; it was officially closed in 1965 and the tombstones were removed and placed along the south wall of the present churchyard. In 1966 Philip Morant's tombstone from the old church was placed against the south wall of the chancel.
The east window (by Thomas Ward) was installed in 1855 as a memorial to Morant; there is also a wall plate, erected by his son in law, in the north wall of the chancel. He is also commemorated in the village sign, erected opposite the church in 1994.
The church plate includes a cup and cover of 1730 and a paten of 1727. Earlier plate was stolen from the church at the Reformation. Other items were given by 20th century donors.
From 1951 the parish has been held jointly with Marks Tey, where the rector became incumbent of both parishes and as a consequence the rectory house was sold. The parishes have separate parochial church councils. From 1980 to 2000 the small parish of Little Tey was also held with Marks Tey and Aldham, until its return to Great Tey.
The parish registers of Aldham from 1559, with other parish records, may be seen in the Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT. (telephone 01245 244644). Microfiche copies are available in the Local Studies room in Colchester Public Libtrary.
Angela Green, July 2001 , revised July 2009
, revised July 2009
P.Morant: History and Antiquities of Essex. 1760-68 volume II
Victoria History of the County of Essex, volume X
E.E.Mason: A History of Aldham and its Churches, 2nd
Available in the church See also article in the
Available in the church See also article in theAldham Village Website.
Cecil A.Hewett: Church
R.Newcourt: Repertorium Parochiale Londoniense, 1708 volume II.