Remains of St Mary the Virgin's Church


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019880

Date first listed: 09-May-2001


Ordnance survey map of Remains of St Mary the Virgin's Church
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Colchester (District Authority)

Parish: Virley

National Grid Reference: TL 94989 13795


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A parish church is a building, usually of roughly rectangular outline and containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate to its use for Christian worship by a secular community, whose members gather in it on Sundays and on the occasion of religious festivals. Children are initiated into the Christian religion at the church's font and the dead are buried in its churchyard. Parish churches were designed for congregational worship and are generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provides accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which is the main domain of the priest and contains the principal altar. Either or both parts are sometimes provided with aisles, giving additional accommodation or spaces for additional altars. Most parish churches also possess towers, generally at the west end, but central towers at the crossing of nave and chancel are not uncommon and some churches have a free-standing or irregularly sited tower. Many parish churches also possess transepts at the crossing of chancel and nave, and south or north porches are also common. The main periods of parish church foundation were in the 10th to 11th and 19th centuries. Most medieval churches were rebuilt and modified on a number of occasions and hence the visible fabric of the church will be of several different dates, with in some cases little fabric of the first church being still easily visible. Parish churches are found throughout England. Their distribution reflects the density of population at the time they were founded. In regions of dispersed settlement parishes were often large and churches less numerous. The densest clusters of parish churches were found in thriving medieval towns. A survey of 1625 reported the existence of nearly 9000 parish churches in England. New churches built in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries increased numbers to around 18,000 of which 17,000 remain in ecclesiastical use. Parish churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of life for their parishioners. They provide important insights into medieval and later population levels or economic cycles, religious activity, artistic endeavour and technical achievement. A significant number of surviving examples are identified to be nationally important.

The surviving fabric of St Mary the Virgin's Church illustrates its demise from a medieval church with full parochial status to little more than a ruin by the 19th century. Although services were still held at St Mary's well into the middle of the 19th century, the fabric was allowed to deteriorate without any of the major restoration work often undertaken during this period. As a consequence rare early features such as the rounded chancel arch and the pegtiles have survived. The arch is an important survival from the original building, as most narrow chancel arches were removed or replaced with larger ones. The 13th century pegtiles, in particular those capping the putlog holes (each measuring some 18cm by 28cm), are some of the earliest known of this size. Beneath the surviving fabric, elements of the 13th to 15th century church may survive below ground; they will contain archaeological information relating to the sequence of rebuilding as well as environmental evidence for the landscape in which they were constructed. The surrounding graveyard will also contain further archaeological evidence relating to the history of the church.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the buried and upstanding remains of St Mary the Virgin's Church, situated on low-lying land some 120m to the west of Salcott Channel. The remains of the church are a Listed Building Grade II. The church ruins are within the parish of Virley located in the garden of the rectory, next to Virley Hall. A scatter of farms and cottages surround the church, but Salcott to the south on the other side of the creek is the nearest village. The monument includes a roofless nave and slightly narrower chancel. The west wall of the nave no longer survives above ground; however, its foundations lie between the surviving nave walls and a grave located some 3.5m to the west. The original church comprising a nave and chancel dates to the 13th century, its walls built primarily of Roman tile and brick, septaria, pegtile, flint and Kentish Ragstone. The principal surviving features of this original construction are the narrow chancel arch and the buttresses at regular intervals which have two weathering tables with imported Caen stone dressings. The chancel arch (of Reigate stone), is rounded, rather narrow, and has octagonal responds with moulded capitals. The church underwent various modifications during the 14th and 15th centuries. The surviving windows were all inserted into the walls of the church during this period. The window in the north wall of the nave is probably 14th century. It has a head of Reigate stone, jambs of Caen stone and would originally have had two pointed lights in a two-centred head, as would the less well-preserved window in the south wall. The windows in the chancel are clearly of a different date to those in the nave; they are thought to date to the 15th century, each having two lights with tracery in a four centred head. In and around the standing structure of the church is a great deal of loose stonework. Several of the stone fragments are recognisable as window heads, mullions and sills; some are early Perpendicular in style and may be dated to the late 14th century. Before the final abandonment of the church at the end of the 19th century, several efforts were made to repair the fabric, the most obvious of these being the brick buttresses on the north wall and south east corner of the nave. Documentary sources refer to the Verli family holding the parish during the late 13th century; an 18th century description of the church noted that there were no coats of arms or monuments in the church apart from those of the Atte Lee family, lords of the manor in the 14th century. Descriptions of the church written in the 18th and 19th centuries record that the church had a tower which had collapsed by the 18th century and was superceded by a timber enclosure containing a bell. A 19th century novel of marshland life in Essex (Mehalah - a story of the salt marshes by S Baring-Gould) gives a graphic description of a rustic wedding held there and the church seems to have been in an advanced state of decay by that time. The last service was held in the church in 1879 when an Order in Council was issued uniting the parishes of Salcott and Virley. The famous Essex earthquake of 1884 split the walls of the church and the roof collapsed. In 1893 a faculty was issued making Salcott the parish church.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 32438

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Baring-Gould, S, Mehalah: A Story of the Salt Marshes, (1880), p182
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, (1922), p225
The Morton Partnership Ltd., , Brief Structural Assessment of the Ruins of Virley Church, Essex, (1999)
Chancellor, F, 'Essex Review' in Essex churches X. St. Mary, Salcott Wigborough...., , Vol. 3, (1894), p167-78
Rodwell, WJ, 'CBA Research Report No.19' in Historic Churches a wasting asset, (1977), p122
Colchester Archaeological Archive Rep, Rayner, N et al, Survey of Virley Church, Salcott-cum-Virley, (1999)
Colchester, DOE, List of Buildings of Special Architectural and Historic Interest, (1982)
Essex Record Office Documents D/CF 32/7, (1893)
Holman, Essex Record Office Document T/P 195/7, (1800)
Order in Council, Essex Record Office Documents D/P 413 1/1; D/CP c52, (1879)
Tyler, S, MPP Film , (2000)

End of official listing