Colchester TL 99 25
Essex S of town centre, off St Botolph's St near Priory 
In use Contact: Rev'd P G Evans, The Vicarage, Priory Street, Colchester, Essex

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St Botolph's Church, Colchester

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Colchester Priory was granted a charter by William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, in C. 1100. It was the first House of the Augustinian Order in England, founded by two priests who served the Saxon Church. The Priory Church was about twice as long as the remaining portion and the recent excavations indicate a straight and not apsidal East end. The Main West doorway can still be seen with its five orders of typical Norman ornamentation. The monastic buildings were arranged in a square around an open cloister and the present Church stands on the site of the kitchens and refectory.

At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries the Priory suffered badly and in 1536 was largely demolished. Only the Church was left, which continued for another century to serve the parish, as well as the Mayor and Corporation, which used to attend 'on Sundays and other public occasions'. Further serious damage was suffered during the Civil War at the time of the Siege of Colchester in 1648 and for many years little attempt was made to repair it. By the nineteenth century the interior of the ruin was used as a burial ground.

The present Church was dedicated in 1837. It was built in the style of the old Norman building, with semicircular arches and Norman ornamentation. The interior is reminiscent of the Georgian City churches. The three East windows came from Flanders. Samuel Harsnett, Archbishop of York in 1628, was born in the parish and is commemorated in the South wall Window.

The Church was nearly destroyed by fire during the 1943 air raids. In the mid 1970's the cast iron rood screen and pulpit were removed from the chancel to give a more open aspect. More improvements followed later on that decade with the removal of the fixed pews and provision of chairs. During 1988 the raised daises, left after the pews were taken out, were removed and the nave leveled. 1990 saw a dividing partition installed at the West end to give a separate welcome area and limited hospitality facilities.

The Priory ruins and outside aspect of the church have also changed; most markedly with the demolition of the Britannia Engineering Works to the east of the site, which has enabled an archaeological dig and subsequent marking out of the original Saxon priory church. This has also opened up the vista at the East end of the site.

The above extract is based on an entry on this interesting web site


Updated 24 June 2007

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