The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Rise and Fall of Colchester's St Nicholas church

St Nicholas Church in Colchester was Saxon in origin, being built on the foundations of a large Roman-era building. It was enlarged and rebuilt during the fourteenth century, and at various times later.

In August 1770, during another restoration, the tower fell into the nave, almost destroying the building, but by 1721, services were once more held there, and a timber belfry was erected as a temporary measure. In the nineteenth century, it is obvious that not much had been done to repair the church, as an engraving from the 1830s shows. The timber belfry is still there, but the nave was still ruined.


However, in 1876, the full restoration of the church, under the supervision of Sir Gilbert Scot, was completed and the nearby church of St Runwald's was then demolished.

 One of the great lost sights of Colchester, from 1880. St Nicholas
Church, then newly restored with the old 'Frying Pan' clock
replaced in its old prominent position. In the distance is the old town hall
with horse-drawn cabs outside the great High Street hotels. The tram
system wouldn't come for another twenty years.

In seventy years time, in October 1954, the splendid church would be destroyed to make way for a CoOp. Store

The Church was somehow allowed to sold the church and the site to the Cooperative Society in October 1954, The new owners proceeded to demolish the building in such haste that they destroyed the roman and saxon archaeology, and few monuments or furnishings were recovered.
St Nicholas Church being demolished
In 1957, the new shop was opened, leaving just the southern part of the graveyard intact. The few local residents within the parish were horrified, and refused to enter the building, believing that the ground was still hallowed. Sadly, the revulsion of the Colchester residents, was insufficient to prevent the subsequent widespread demolition of the mediaeval heart of Colchester.
No adequate record was made before demolition. The archaeologist ruefully declared that it was  'staggering to discover just how little we really know about the church and its site. As far as can be ascertained, nothing approaching an adequate record was made of the church and its fittings before or during demolition'. Little is known about the earlier church beyond  the evidence of a  12th Century pillar piscina. However it must be earlier than the castle because it is aligned on the old roman course of the high street before it was changed to accomodate the outer bailey of the castle..


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