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Featured Church: St Nicholas, The Square, Tillingham CM0 7TP

St Nicholas, The Square, TillinghamTillingham is one of the remotest villages in Essex, in the wilds of the Dengie peninsula between Burnham-on-Crouch and Bradwell-on-Sea - it might well be called Tillingham-on-Marsh. In the middle of the village is a large green (known as The Square) with attractive white-painted weatherboarded houses on three sides and, in the north-east corner, the parish church of St Nicholas. The present building can be dated back to the twelfth century: the walls of western half of the chancel, and the north side of the nave, are of that date, as is the north doorway, which was blocked up in the nineteenth century. But there has been a church here for very much longer than this, and in fact the history of Tillingham's church has earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Between 604 and 616, but probably in 608, the parish of Tillingham was granted by King Ethelbert of Kent to Mellitus, Bishop of London, to help finance his Monastery of St Paul. That monastery eventually became St Paul's Cathedral, and the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's are still the patrons of the living. This means that Tillingham has the longest single ownership of anywhere in the country. It also means Christians were worshipping here a good forty or fifty years before St Cedd landed at nearby Bradwell.

The church is built of typical Essex materials: septaria and flint rubble. The walls would all originally have been rendered, and this covering was reinstated on the south and east walls of the chancel in 2001. It may look odd to modern eyes, but it is what the original builders intended and it provides essential protection against the weather. The chancel was extended in the thirteenth century, and the lancet windows are characteristic of that date, although the actual stonework was renewed when the chancel was restored in 1855 by C.R. Ainslie. A south aisle was added in the fourteenth century; this was taken down in 1708 and rebuilt in 1864-6 by Frederic Chancellor, the Chelmsford architect who restored so many Essex churches. The south porch was added at the same time. In 1887-8 he returned to restore the fourteenth-century west tower, adding a new staircase turret, and in 1890-1 he replaced the nave and chancel roofs, and added the organ chamber and vestry on the north side of the chancel. Inside the chancel he introduced new steps up to the sanctuary at the east end and clad the walls with marble - quite a surprising thing to find in a village church.

Tillingham The Brass.The whole character of the interior in fact dates from Chancellor's restorations. The font is an original piece of Norman work, with a nice frieze of carved foliage round the rim, but nearly all the other fittings are nineteenth century, and make a good period piece. The benches are notable for their brass candle stands on poles dotted about the nave, and the nave is separated from the chancel by a wooden screen that provides a degree of mystery so absent in many churches. In the chancel, the original sedilia and piscina are present in the north wall, and behind the panelling is a real surprise: a small brass with the nicely detailed kneeling figure of Edward Wiot, who died in 1584. Frederick Drake of Exeter supplied stained glass for all the chancel windows in 1897, but the six side windows have seen been replaced with glass by the A.K. Nicholson Studios. There is good nineteenth-century stained glass in some of the other windows too.

If you wish to see the inside of St Nicholas's - and it is well worth the journey - you will need to pick your time carefully: it has been decided by the church authorities that it will be closed between December and March because it is too cold to use during the winter. The electrical wiring needs upgrading and the gas heaters in use at present are said to constitute a fire risk. Not everyone is happy with this decision, not least the bell-ringers, who don't seem to mind the cold; nor are some people happy about the decision, yet to be implemented, to remove the nave benches as part of a general reordering of the interior. If you delay a visit until next year, the church may well be looking very different.