Historic church and its vicars brought to mind by restoration

By Susan Yates - Nub News contributor

4th Feb 2024 | Local History

South Ockendon’s parish church of St Nicholas of Myra
South Ockendon’s parish church of St Nicholas of Myra

In her latest occasional feature Susan Yates, the chair of Thurrock Local History Society, puts the spotlight on a local landmark.


I was surprised when recently I drove through South Ockendon village and saw that St Nicholas Church was undergoing restoration work on its tower.

South Ockendon's parish church of St Nicholas of Myra is Grade I listed.

The church is Norman and round towered and lies on the old village green close to the Royal Oak Inn which was built in the 15th century as a private house.

There are 126 round towered churches in Norfolk, 42 in Suffolk, but only six in Essex of which St. Nicholas is one. The other five round towered churches in Essex are at Bardfield Saling, Broomfield, Gt. Leighs, Pentlow and Lamarsh.

South Ockendon parish church is named after the 4th century Turkish Bishop Nicholas of Myra patron saint of children, Russia, sailors, merchants, scholars and travellers. He is also associated closely with Santa Claus.

The oldest part of the church is 12th century being the North Doorway and the Porch. The bottom part of the round tower is 13th century but the top level is Victorian. The North Aisle and West doorway are 15th century. The roof is tiled. The South arcade and clerestory are 19th century. The 15th century North aisle has 19th century windows. The 15th century north chapel has two original windows.

The vestry is also 19th century. The church was very heavily restored in 1866 at the instigation of then Rector Henry Eve. Like most Essex churches it is built of flint which is why when I go up north and see their religious buildings made of red sand stone they do not look like churches to me. Most churches are constructed of the local building materials which makes sense.

The church is well known for its Saltonstall Chapel containing the Saltonstall Elizabethan monument, of variegated marble, where Sir Richard Saltonstall is interred. It shows him with his wife and 15 children, six sons and nine daughters.

Sir Richard Saltonstall was Lord Mayor of London in 1597. In the floor of the chapel is a unique military funeral brass to Sir Ingram de Bruyn Lord of the Manor of Bruyns (South Ockendon Hall) and patron of the church who died in 1400. Another unusual feature of the church is the hour glass located on the pulpit.

St Nicholas's has had its share of well-known rectors.

One such with a fabulous name was Offspring Blackall (1654-1716). He was rector from 1689 until 1707 and was chaplain to William III.

Of more interest I think is the Rev James Adams vicar of Grays and rector of South Ockendon from 1771 to 1785 when he died. He left specific instructions in his will requesting he be buried at St Nicholas's under a tree in the church yard by the south side of the church.

In 1865 the south aisle was added to the church this meant Adams' grave was now inside the church and the black marble slab which he had requested be placed over his grave was laid level with the floor of the aisle. It reads:-

"Here rest the remains of The Reverend James Adams whose life devoted to the duties of his profession was marked with every Christian virtue Humane, Charitable, Instructive, Pious showing his flock the road to that State of bliss allotted to the Righteous Supported during a painful lingering illness by faith. In his Redeemers's Mercy he was released 19th March 1785 in the 54th year of his age."

James Adams was also a local landowner and the eldest surviving son of James and Mary Adams of New Jenkins. The estate became his in 1765. That is another story.

As the keen historians among you may know Thurrock Council are proposing to relocate the Local History Museum and Library from the Thameside to the Old Council Offices.

Why not go online via this link and fill in the survey.

Read all about another notable vicar in this report on Susan's presentation to Thurrock Local History Society: https://thurrock.nub.news/news/local-history/the-amazing-story-of-rev-john-newton-219550


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