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St George's Church History


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Early Worship in the Basin


Although our little village came into being in the 1790s with the building of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation it was to be more than thirty years before a place of worship was built. In those early years church worship entailed a walk or ride to St Andrew’s Church in Heybridge, within which parish the Basin lies, and it was in St Andrew’s that baptisms, weddings and funerals would have taken place.

Early registers did not show abode but a 1798 entry for the baptism of William, son of John Woodcraft, is likely to be that of a child of the Basin.  From 1813 onwards a search of St Andrew’s registers reveals entries for more early Basiners. There are sad entries to be found in the burial registers of young sailors who had died far from home.


The canal towpath was a more direct route than the road for walkers to Heybridge and, for some villagers their final journey, to the churchyard, or later to Heybridge cemetery, was made aboard a canal boat.



 By the 1830s the village had grown sufficiently to support a place of worship and a building was provided by John Sadd for a Bethel Chapel.  This chapel played an important role in village life.  A reading room was added, Band of Hope meetings were held and a well attended Sunday School operated. The chapel continued in use by the Congregational Church, later the URC until its last member in the village, Rene Chilcott, died in 2004.




From  1916 Church of England members were also holding services within the village instead of travelling to Heybridge.  At first these meetings took place in a room provided, for an annual rent of £4, by Samuel Purkiss, who ran a general stores and post office in the Basin.  There is no record of the number of worshippers who gathered in that room, but the earliest surviving records show that contributions to the collection, amounting to between two and three shillings each week, (as well as the £4 1s 6d profits from a jumble sale held in January 1918) were used to pay the rent and to cover expenses such as service books, coal, and a brush for the stove.

Early entries in this book were made by E Hume and F E Wakelin.  Ernest Hume, in 1911was living with his family at the Dairy, Heybridge Basin, where he was the Dairy Manager.  Mr Wakelin, probably Frederick Ernest Wakelin, was a member of a local farming family.

A payment of 6d a week, later rising to 9d was made to George Willis.   George was shown as a thirty year old carter for a timber merchant in the 1911 census, unmarried and living at home with his father Joseph.  Perhaps the payment was for duties preparing the meeting room?

 St George’s Church - from sergeants' mess to place of worship.                               


 During World War 1, fields on Gardener’s Farm at Goldhanger were used as a night landing ground by the Royal Naval Air Service.  In March 1916 Admiralty Air Department files record the handover of this ground to the Royal Flying Corps as an advanced landing ground.

Read about the history of the Goldhanger Flight Station on Goldhanger - Past website


37 Squadron RFC was formed  early in 1916 at Orfordness, in Suffolk, flying BE2s and BE12s.  In September 1916 it reformed as a Home Defence Squadron, its headquarters was established at Woodham Mortimer Grange and by 15th September flights were sent to three aerodromes: A flight to Rochford, B flight to Stow Maries, and C flight to Goldhanger, serving as an eastern line of defence for London, against raids by aeroplanes and airships.  C flight flew its first two patrols on March 1st 1917


In July 1917 Flight A moved from Rochford to Stow Maries and by 1918 the Squadron Headquarters had also moved there. Finally on February 20th 1919 C Flight left Goldhanger for Stow.  The buildings at Goldhanger were then surplus to requirement, and one of these, the sergeants’ mess, was purchased by Mr E E Bentall of The Towers, Heybridge who as owner of the engineering firm in Heybridge employed  many Basin menfolk.  



During the war Mr Bentall’s son had served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and on  1915, aged 18, Second Lieutenant Ernest Hammond Bentall was killed in action in France.  It was in memory of their son that Mr and Mrs Bentall had acquired the Sergeants’ mess, which he gave to Heybridge parish to be be re-erected and used as a mission church at the Basin.

The church was dedicated, to Saint George, by the Bishop of Colchester on 4th March 1920 and has remained in use ever since. It is of timber construction covered in plaster on the outside with a small bell tower as its only addition since its military use. Internally it is very simple with a small vestry at the west end. The seating consists of benches mostly manufactured by May & Butcher, a village firm, who were makers of, among other things, mangers.  The service notebook shows that in the first year a notice board and an organ were obtained and a belfry added.

A stained glass window depicting St George, its design attributed to Arthur Anselm Orr, was added.  The window includes the regimental badge of the King’s Royal Rifles. It is claimed that Mrs Bentall presented the maker of this window with a photograph of her son and that the face of St George is a likeness of him. The window bears the inscription, taken from 2 Tim 2:1-3, “Thou therefore, my son … endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” 


Once St George’s church was opened, a weekly Evensong service was held at 4pm, whilst on the second Sunday of the month there was also a service of Holy Communion at 9.30am, with an average of 5 communicants.  On February 11th 1923 there is the first record of a baptism taking place at St George’s, but the first funeral I can find recorded was not until 1971. Some entries in the service registers make fascinating reading. On several occasions services were cancelled due to bad weather and we have February 22nd 1948 ‘no service owing to heavy snow’ whilst on Easter Day April 17th 1949 for Evensong we have ‘No Service. No one present. Very Hot Weather’. In 1953 on February 1st there was no service due to floods. Perhaps the most interesting entry is for Easter Day 1956 (April 1st) ‘No Service. Clergy did not turn up’, maybe the date is appropriate? 

Numbers of communicants have remained remarkably constant throughout the years. The first service of Holy Communion was on March 14th 1920 with 12 communicants and on Sunday January 8th 2006 we had 11. The average number currently is 12-15 with a packed church for Christmas and special services.

Over the years the little church has served the village well for children's parties and village meetings as well asSunday Services, Harvest Festivals, Baptisms, Funerals, even a blessing after a civil marriage, but had never been licensed for marriages. On Saturday 15th June 2008, the marriage of Joanne Clare Bill and Stephen Tyrrel Lacey took place at St George's Church by special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Reverend Sandra Manley officiating. This was the very first marriage to take place at St George's. In 2009 a licence was granted. St George's now has its own marriage register and two further marriages have since taken place.



A church can only function if it is used and this requires the involvement of dedicated people who are prepared to devote their time to keeping it alive Two such people were Francis and Donald May, father and son gentlemen farmers who took on the role of Deputy Churchwardens from the start,  through to the 1980s. Francis’ initials appear on the first page of the service register in which the first service is recorded as taking place on August 10th 1916 led by churchwarden E. Hume.  Francis continued until 1942 and was succeeded by Donald who held the post until 1985.The other families involved in the early days of the meeting room also maintained their connection with the church over the years. Cyril Willis acted as a church warden for a while, and Miss Willis was the organist in the 1920s and 30s until 1934 when Miss Purkiss took over this task.  Mr Hume served as Churchwarden from 1920 until 1927. 


In early days heating was provided by a coal fired stove and light by oil lamps.   The County of London Electric Supply Company appear in the church accounts for the first time in December 1936, supplying power for lighting. 

The 1938 accounts show that the coal burning stoves had caused a fire in the church . Even with a  Valor Oil Heater the services that winter must have been uncomfortably chilly.  In October 1938 a further £59 was spent on church repairs, though it is not known if these were connected to the fire damage.  Eventually in November 1941 the church was wired for electric stoves.  

It seems that over the years the wooden hut, erected on a marshy field, had begun to deteriorate.  In 1952 major work was undertaken to lift it and provide a stronger base.  The service book records that the church was closed for repairs from mid-July to mid-October.  The work involved 33 and a half man hours for both brick layers and carpenters, and with roofing and redecoration, cost a total of £166 5s 0d

March 1981 saw a steel cross affixed to the belfry and a large oak cross to the wall beside the south door.

In 2000 a stained glass window, in memory of Joan McCreadie of Jacob’s Farm, a long standing member of the congregation, was designed and made by Andrew Fawcett. At present this window is in storage as the old wooden window frames were rotten and had to be replaced with double glazed units. It is hoped to bring it back into the church soon.


In 2004 the URC Chapel finally closed its doors when the last member, Mrs Rene Chilcott who was also church secretary and organist, died. At a special event in early December 2004 the memorial plaque commemorating those who fought in the Great War, and the lectern which carries the names of the three who did not return, were presented to St George’s by Rev Don McCalister the URC minister for Maldon.



St George’s is a place of worship and a meeting place for Basin folk, which (apart from a 3 month closure for major repairs in 1952) has been in continuous use for the past 90 years.  Generations of villagers have worshipped there; their baptisms and their funerals have taken place there.  They may have attended Christmas parties or dance classes there in the past, or in recent times come to cast their vote in elections, or make their voice heard at a village meeting.  The first marriage in the church took place by special licence in 2008 and the church has since been licensed for marriages with its own register.  


Further use of the building by the community has long been hampered by a lack of kitchen and toilets, or even running water.  In 2009 the FRIENDS OF ST GEORGE’S CHURCH were launched with the aims of raising funds to maintain and improve the fabric of St George’s Church, thus increasing its suitability for community use. At the well attended inaugural meeting proposals for an extension providing a kitchen, toilet and disabled access were well received and there was a lively discussion of possible uses of the building by villagers.

A crew from St George’s entered the 2009 Row 4a Reason event, with half of their sponsorship serving to launch the appeal fund, and since then villagers have enthusiastically joined in with fund raising events.


We were extremely grateful that the Row 4A Reason committee adopted Friends of St George’s Church as their cause for 2010, swelling the funds by well over £9000. 

Planning permission was obtained in 2011 to locate a demountable building to the south of the church building, housing a kitchen, toilets and a meeting room. Regular fund raising events have been held, generous grants have been received and in 2014 we were able to place the order for the building. 

The modular building  was delivered on September 3 2014. With white rendered walls to match the existing building,  the extension houses a small kitchen, two WCs, one with wheel chair access, and a meeting room.  The two buildings are linked by an entrance lobby with  a ramp for wheel chair access.


 After continued fund raising and work to fit out the kitchen and toilets and furnish the meeting room St George's Community Room was officially opened by Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, on June 30th 2015.
























© 2006 St. Andrew's PCC