The Remains of Coggeshall Abbey (4)
By G F Beaumont, F.S.A.
An extract from Transactions ‘n.s.’ Volume 15 part 1. This volume is available exclusively to members in digitized format. To subscribe use the ‘Contact Form’ on this site.
St Nicholas Chapel
This building is first referred to in the will of John Newman, who was chaplain of the chapel of Pattiswick. The will is dated the 26th September, 1464, and by it the testator gave to abbot William his new missal, according to the Sarum use, to remain forever in the chapel of St. Nicholas or the monastery for the secular chaplains for their use at Mass; and we have another pre-surrender reference to the chapel in the will of Stephen Queram, of Little Coggeshall, dated the 22nd July, 1508, who thereby gave a cow, (which in pre-reformation days was a very common bequest) to the church of St. Nicholas.
This chapel is not referred to in the surrender of the abbey, nor in the grant to Seymour, not in the exchange with the king; but there are two barns mentioned in the Minister's Accounts of 33 Henry VIII., one as the barn called the "Tithe Barn," and the other as the "Barn Stane," situate near the highway from Coggeshall to Kelvedon, both of them being let to Leonard Smith by deed dated 28th March, 29 Henry VIII., from Michaelmas then last past, for 80 years, at a rent of 10l. per annum. These two barns and the tithes of Great and Little Coggeshall were granted by Queen Elizabeth on the 4th November, in the 33rd year of her reign, to John Welles and Hercules Wytham; and they appear again in the conveyance from Welles and Wytham to Richard Benyan on 8th January, 34 Elizabeth. Richard Benyan died 17th November, 7 James I., leaving Richard his son and heir aged 4 years and 6 months. The son, by his will dated 13th May, 1659, gave to Henry, his eldest son, the barn and ground in the abbey lane, and his tithes of land in Little Coggeshall, and the tithes of the lands which belonged to the abbey lying in Great Coggeshall.
Strutt (A.D. 1775) has a sketch and some account of this chapel in his Manners and Customs of the People of England. He says it "has the pointed arch, and was, in its first state, far from being an inelegant building, though very plain and void of ornament which was afterwards crowded in such superfluous excesses in the building of Gothic structures. The wall is composed of unhewn flints, pieces of brick and tilesheards over which the cement was neatly plaistered, both withinside and withoutside, and seems in all respects to have answered the purpose of a stone f acing. The four corners (on the outside of the building) were ornamented with bricks, many of which are evidently Roman. All the arches of the windows and the two supports down the middle of the large window are composed of bricks having the ornament necessary for the purpose handsomely cut out upon them. This ruin is full as perfect as the drawing, but it is much to be feared that it will not long remain so, for, being now turned into a barn, it will most likely soon be demolished."
The sketch shows the building without any roof, and the view is, apparently, of the north side as no doorway or barn entry is shown. It is not a very accurate drawing. Good illustrations of this interesting building, as adapted for farm purposes, will be found in Excursions in Essex (A.D. 1818), vol. i., p. 42, and in Wright's History of Essex, vol i., p. 367, the latter being dated 1833. The annexed illustration shews the state of the building in 1889.
The Rev. D. T. Powell, who visited Coggeshall in the early part of the nineteenth century, left, among his collections, an account of his visit to the abbey, and with regard to this chapel he says: "From hence [i.e., from the Abbey f arm] I came to a small original chapel of St. Nicholas, as it would seem. It is still called a chapel, says the quaker [the farm being then let to a member of the Society of Friends], now turned into a barn, which is very perfect, and of which I took a view: within the splays and muntings of the great window is painted, on the stucco, red arabesque flowers in a free, masterly manner. The east and west ends of this building have three long narrow lancet windows within a pointed arch; they are, however, filled up: the two sides have some small lancet windows in them: the one side has been partly broken away to make a large barn door."
This little building is, according to that eminent authority Sir W. St. John Hope, like that of Kirkstead in Lincolnshire, one of the very few surviving examples of the chapel outside the gates, which was a feature of every Cistercian abbey, where women and other persons who were not allowed within the gates could hear mass, etc. There are ruins of other examples, viz.: at Fountains, Rievaulx, Tintern and Furness; and the chapel at Tilty in this county is still standing and is used for service.
The plan of the building is extremely simple, being quadrilateral in shape, and having no aisles, transept or tower, though it may be it once had a turret. It corresponds in size with the chapel at Kirkstead, both being 43 feet long by 20 feet wide.
The building continued to be used as a barn until 1860, when, with the proceeds of the sale of a portion of the glebe land for the purpose of a school, it was, with an acre of land surrounding it, purchased by the vicar of Coggeshall, and the property now forms part of the possessions of the vicarage.
It is due to the late Rev. W. J. Dampier, the then vicar of Coggeshall, to mention that it was through his instrumentality that the building was rescued from agricultural uses, and the reader is referred to a paper by him, which was printed in the Transactions of the Society, for a record of the then existing state of the building and of the discoveries which were made during the partial restoration which took place about that time.
It was Mr. Dampier's intention to restore the building for service for the parishioners of Little Coggeshall, but money did not flow in as freely as it was hoped, with the result that little more was effected than the re-building of the wall which had been broken down for the barn entry, the insertion of the new stone doorway, the making good of the windows with bricks moulded for the purpose, and the repairing of the walls and the thatching of the roof. The building was never so far restored as to be fit for divine service.
It again fell into decay, and, in 1889, an appeal was issued for funds for its preservation, which resulted in a sum being raised sufficient to do all that was then necessary to preserve it as a ruin.
In 1896 the Rev. C. C. M ills, the then vicar, determined to restore the building for divine service. With a contribution of 550l. from the English Abbey Restoration Trust, and by the liberal gifts of himself, his personal friends and others, he raised 1,100l., which was expended under the direction of Messrs. Bodley & Garner, in the complete restoration of the chapel, and it was re-dedicated by the Bishop of the Diocese on the 6th December, 1897.
The chapel was without any independent endowment until 1910, when Mr. Charles Booton, who was connected with Coggeshall, died, having by his will left the reversion of his residuary estate, amounting to nearly 20,000l. after various life interests, for the maintenance of a priest for the chapel of St. Nicholas. One third of the fund, which was divided into twelve shares, has since fallen into possession.
 Proved at Lambeth, 28th October 1464: 6, Godyn
 Colchester Archdeaconry: 142, Clarke
 Vol I, p.103, plate xxvi
 They are, in fact, medieval; they measure 12 inches by 6 inches, and 1½ to 2 inches in thickness.
 They were, in fact, moulded.
 Add. MSS., 17.460, folio 67. He was born 1771 and buried 1841. Trans. E.A.S., vol. xiv., p.279.
 In a letter to the Times, 20th December 1904.
 Vol. iii. (o.s.), p.49