Coggeshall Abbey & St Nicholas' Chapel

There is little to see of Coggeshall's abbey save the gate-house chapel (more of which follows) but a walk along the Essex Way footpath which runs through the farmyard provides the visitor with a chance to see the 16th Century farmhouse and the remaining portions of the abbey outbuildings. No visible trace remains of the once great church of St Mary which belonged to the Cistercian order who worshipped and farmed the land at this site on the banks of the River Blackwater from the 12th Century until the Dissolution of the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII. The farm and the remaining abbey buildings are in private ownership.

 

River and Abbey house with monks' house on left, c1900

 

1989 view - little changed, apart from the trees

 

Above:
Restoration of the Abbot's lodging & Guest House

 

Left:
An aerial view of the abbey house and mill. The lines have been drawn to show the approximate location of the abbey church of St Mary based on photographs taken during a very dry summer by the photographic unit at Cambridge University.
     
On right:
The owner of the abbey gives a guided tour to a party from Waltham Abbey Historical Society.
(Pictures courtesy of Lawrence Greenall, WAHS)

 

For the full story of the abbey

The chapel of St. Nicholas is the latest and the most complete of the abbey buildings. It was built around 1220 and is a simple rectangular building (as were all Cistercian gatehouse chapels), but one thing makes this chapel unique and that is the use of locally made brick which is the earliest post-Roman brick in England. Especially uncommon is the use of moulded bricks and fine examples of this early work can be seen around the windows. These bricks (called tiles) were made in the abbey's own kilns at Tilkey, the name is a corruption of tile kiln, and have a distinctive almost black core. There is a selection of these moulded bricks on show in the museum.

 

Left: A pillar and window surround in St Nicholas' showing the moulded bricks

Following the Dissolution the chapel was used as a barn/cowshed and fell into serious disrepair, but in the late 1800s the chapel was restored and tiles replaced the thatched roof. A curate was appointed and St. Nicholas was used for services for the parishioners of Little Coggeshall.

 

The chapel prior to restoration in the 1890s

  Interior view, just post World War Two

When the parish church of St. Peter was hit and badly damaged by a bomb in September 1940, the tiny chapel served the spiritual needs of all Coggeshall's inhabitants for some time. The work of making St Peter's safe for use took about 18 months and the church was not completely restored until 1956. To this day, monthly services, as well as baptisms, weddings  and even funerals are held in this ancient place of worship. Unfortunately, St. Nicholas' chapel has to be kept locked.

Rector and Vicar: The Rev'd. Philip Banks
Tel: 01376 561234
Web: www.st-peter-ad-vincula.org.uk  Email: fr-philip@st-peter-ad-vincula.org.uk
 

The Christmas crib in St Nicholas' chapel in 1940 when the parish church of St Peter was unsafe for use.

 

A winter's day

Restoration work at St Nicholas', 1990s

Summer 2003

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