The Parish Church of Brightlingsea stands a long way inland from the town centre. This is, perhaps, as much due to the tendency of the lower ground to flooding than any other reason, but it now feels very divorced from the community it serves – and indeed a second church stands in the town centre.
All Saints’ started life around 1250. A lot of the earliest surviving work reuses Roman bricks and there is an implication that there may have been a Roman building very close by. Certainly it would make sense for the Romans to have had a port in this area, so close to Colchester.
The tower, one of the best Essex has to offer and supremely dominant when approached from inland was built at the end of the 15th Century and is 97 feet high. It isn’t clear when the tower was completed, but the construction seems to have coincided with Brightlingsea joining the Cinque Port confederation (the only place outside of Kent and Sussex to do so) as a ‘Liberty’ of Sandwich, Kent. In 1518 a new vestry was added and around 1520 the North Chapel was constructed. It seems probable that all this activity culminated with the completion of the tower.
As Brightlingsea settled into its Cinque Port role it began to prosper and the size and richness of the Church reflected this. Throughout the Tudor period elaborate furnishings were provided for the inside, many of which are still surviving. The link with the Cinque Ports is still maintained as the Deputy of the Liberty is chosen each year on the first Monday in December at a ceremony at All Saints’ Church.
In 1814 the original roof and clerestory collapsed and have been replaced by a less interesting, more basic structure, but otherwise the Church has survived quite well from the Tudor period onwards and today is quite a surprise having driven through the increasingly empty and bleak countryside between Colchester and Brightlingsea.
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