St Bartholomew's Church, Wickham Bishops
St Bartholomew's is Grade II listed and is a fine example of Victorian Gothic church architecture. The church was built in 1850 by Sarah Leigh in memory of her father, the Revd. Thomas Leigh who was Rector from 1803 to 1843. The church was designed by Ewin Christian and is built of Kentish Ragstone and Caen stone. It replaces the redundant St Peter's church to the west, over the disused railway line, now a stained glass designer's studio.
The spire is 120 feet high and is a local landmark visible from the A12, from the other side of Witham and from the River Blackwater. The church clock was presented to the parish by the daughters of Thomas Butler Dixon in 1911 in memory of their father. The clockwork mechanism is now operated by weights and an electric motor. Behind the church the Rector's Vestry was built in 1971 in memory of churchwarden, Colonel Charles Evitt and the Church Room (hall), designed by Geoffrey Vale FRIBA, which includes kitchen, toilets and generous link way with entrance was opened in November 1994. 5 cottages, 50 metres along the road, stand where the old church hall stood. The chancel and nave of the church were re-roofed in 2011.
The church interior was decorated in 1950 when most of the stained glass was removed to allow more light into the church. It was re-decorated again in 1981. Above the altar is the east window, erected in memory of a former Rector, Canon Alfred Snell. It is a particularly fine example of stained glass showing the nativity of our Lord. Behind the altar are six gloriously painted and gilded wooden panels depicting saints and angels. From the left these are an angel; then St Agatha with pincers which symbolises her torture; St Bartholomew with a knife to symbolise his death by flaying c44AD; St Boniface c680-755AD the Anglo-Saxon missionary Wynfrith later Archbishop of Mainz; St Alban the first martyr of England with a sword who was beheaded; and finally another angel.
The Lady Chapel has a relic of the old church of St Peter, a Piscina, beside the altar (a Piscina is a basin with drain for washing Communion vessels and disposing of ashes, after Ash Wed ashing). In the chancel beyond the solid brass lectern on the north wall is a copy of Botticelli's 'The Madonna of the Magnificat' and beneath is 'The Easter Sepulchre' which contains the brass plaque in memory of our founder, Sarah Leigh (an Easter Sepulchre represents Christ’s open tomb). The present organ was installed in 1895 and was extensively overhauled and improved in 1965 by gift of churchwarden J.D. Edwards. The oak casing was most skilfully carved by the Revd Ernest Geldart, Rector of Little Braxted from 1881 to 1900. The memorial tablet to Dora Todd on the organ casing records a dedication and length of service to our church that would be difficult to equal.
St Nicholas Church, Little Braxted
Wickham Bishops forms a United Benefice with the parish of Little Braxted. With only 170 people living in the parish it may well be one of the smallest parishes in the county. Little Braxted Church lies to the east side of the river Blackwater, a little over a mile directly east of Witham.
St Nicholas Church, built about 1120, is a small Norman structure, with a wooden belfry and two bells. An old Norman semi-circular Apse forms the chancel but the porch is of wood in the Tudor style. This delightful little church attracts many visitors from all over the world. Father Ernest Geldart who was priest there 1881-1900 extended, re-ordered and highly decorated the church. The visitor’s book shows that people from as far as Australia & South Africa have visited the church.
The church has a small faithful congregation who are committed to maintaining a Christian presence in the village, with a special focus of preserving this very special building for generations to come. Seating a capacity of about 50, at a squeeze, the church is full at the Christmas Eve Midnight Service, when the church is lit by over 100 candles.
Little Braxted can be visited during daylight hours. If the church is locked there is a note on the door to indicate from where the key may be obtained.