Monthly Archives: September 2017

Thurrock Churches in FoEC Study Day

After St Cedd converted the people of Thurrock and the rest of Essex to Christianity, there was one further relapse into Paganism, but eventually the church secured a dominant place in Anglo-Saxon society. By the eve of the Norman invasion – on the day on which King Edward was alive and dead in the evocative Domesday phrase – large amounts of Thurrock were owned by the church. In some cases ownership was by monasteries, particularly Barking Abbey and in other cases it was by senior churchmen such as the Bishop of London.
However, although the church dominated society, there were no parishes. Churches were widespread, but most local churches in Thurrock were the private property of landowners. A document known as Geþyncðo recorded that owning a church was one of the characteristics that distinguished the social standing of a thegn. These estate churches were originally used by the landowner and his family but gradually extended to others that lived and worked on the estate. It is these estates that in due course evolved into parishes.
In 1066, there were probably churches in at least ten of the 17 parishes wholly within the present Thurrock Unitary Authority (see Panorama 48). These churches would have been close to the thegn’s home – the manor house. The evidence for these pre-Domesday churches can be documentary, archaeological or architectural. One clear example of Anglo-Saxon architecture is found in Corringham church.
St Mary’s church is on Church Lane, a short distance from Corringham Hall, which was the manor house for the main Corringham manor. There is architectural evidence that Corringham church was originally built by the Saxons. On the south side of the chancel, there are a number of courses of stonework laid in a herringbone pattern which is characteristic of Saxon masonry. The tower is 11th century, and was previously regarded as probably early Norman rather than Saxon. However, recent work has suggested that it is indeed Saxon. St Mary’s Corringham is one of the churches that will feature in an autumn study day organised by the Friends of Essex Churches on 7th October. Dr Christopher Starr will be talking about the churches at Fobbing, Horndon and North Ockendon as well as St Mary’s.

From the 7th to the 20th century

TLHS recently announced that as part of its HLF funded project, it will be working with Blatella Films. Blatella will produce a number of short videos that promote Thurrock’s heritage. The subject of one of these videos will be Margaret Jones who directed the Mucking excavation between 1965 and 1968. At the time, this excavation was the largest ever undertaken in Europe and uncovered an Anglo-Saxon settlement and two associated cemeteries. The graves dated from the 5th to the 7th century, but appeared to stop around AD 650.

One possible reason that these pagan cemeteries went out of use at this time may be the missionary activities of St Cedd. Bede’s History of the English Church records that Cedd built two churches in Essex – one at Bradwell (which survives) and one just down the road from Mucking, at Tilbury on the banks of the Thames.

The newly Christianised Anglo-Saxons may have decided to abandon their pagan cemetery and establish a Christian cemetery close to Cedd’s newly built church. We don’t know the location of Cedd’s Tilbury church, but it may have been on the site of the present East Tilbury parish church.

Although separated by thirteen hundred years, both Margaret Jones and St Cedd made important contributions to Thurrock’s heritage. Neither currently has a Thurrock heritage plaque; perhaps they should have.