Perseverance. It all started with a Sunday sermon at St Leonard’s Church in Lexden, Colchester a while ago and, from there, the theme grew on me.
Home, in Colchester, whenever I walk past Number 47, I give a grateful nod to my history. If I stroll on from there, through The Dutch Quarter, it’s all the better to reflect on my Flemish ancestors, religious refugees, who settled there in the sixteenth-century. They persevered, surviving persecution and forced migration, to make Colchester one of the leading cloth-producing towns in England, and give their ancestors an enduring bond with this place.
From time to time on my stroll, the door to St Martin’s church in the Dutch Quarter is ajar when I pass, with a large white sign sellotaped to it, saying, in clear, black font: OPEN. COME IN. Impolite not to, wouldn’t you say? By the way, there’s also a smaller, faded, sign on the gate prohibiting alcohol in the graveyard (it is in Essex, after all). I enjoy being the only visitor, when there is no attendant, so we (the building and I) can be alone together. For me, the perfect visit. My Flemish ancestors may well have worshipped there, though possibly spoilt for choice, as St Martin’s was one of eight churches in the town centre (of which six have survived to the present day) at the time.
An object lesson in perseverance, the building stands over a Roman street and aligns perfectly with a Saxon one. So, it may be late Saxon in origin, as it fits with that period’s replanning of the town. The Normans are easier to find here, they built the tower. The materials used also have their own story; flint rubble, Roman brick, Norman tile. Most of the structure we can see today took shape in the fourteenth-century. Later on, The English Civil War had Colchester under siege and, in 1648, the Norman tower was damaged (and never repaired). A history of the town written 300 years later, describes the building as in a ruinous condition and not fit for services.
Not until the late nineteenth-century was extensive restoration work carried out, when pre-Reformation wall paintings and wood carvings were discovered (including The Green Man, shown in my photograph). The very paint used to obscure those forbidden images (in line with then-new theological practice) had, thankfully,preserved them. However, for the next hundred years, the church remained neglected and little used, until 1996 when The Churches Conservation Trust took over its care. From time to time, theatre performances are held there, and from time to time, its door is open to the public. Through time, it perseveres.