My Local Church – St Andrews Church, Shoeburyness and the Commonwealth War Graves

St Andrews church lies five minutes from where I used to live as a child. A small but beautiful 12th century Norman church surrounded by gravestones in a quiet spot. It is a grade 2 listed building.

Thought to be linked with the local parish fishing activities due to it being named after the patron saint of fishing[1] the church was the focus for the small south Shoebury rural community. It cannot be seen now but then the church was originally built it overlooked the Thames estuary and marshes and could be seen from the water. Unfortunately now housing stands, separating the church from the sea and the view.

The church itself was linked to Prittlewell priory being a cell of the priory, which itself was an outreach of the Priory of Cluny in France (see the Clunic Monks of Prittlewell and after post). The building itself dates from around 11-1140 AD and is very basic in design with a chancel and nave. It has the typical architectural styles found within Norman architecture such as massive walls with rounded arches. The building is made of Kentish ragstone.

The church has been alterered over time with a tower added in the 14th century made of flint rubble and ragstone. Along the top is a brick parapet design, which was added in the 18th century. The current windows, perpendicular in style (pointed arches) were added in the 15th century, replacing the Norman style windows, which would have been smaller. A wooden porch would have also been added at this time. There used to be a gallery within the church and the stairs which led to this still exist today but the gallery was most likely removed during the reformation.

In the tower, there is only one bell. Originally, there were three but two were blown down in 1749 and damaged. It was decided that they be sold off and the money went into the church repair and to make it look more beautiful.

One claim to fame that is related to St Andrews church is that of one of its former Rectors – Arthur Dent. Dent was born in 1553 and was Rector at South Shoebury. He was well connected to the Puritans of the age and followed their beliefs in the way of the Church. He was also a prolific writer and wrote a religious pamphlet called a plain mans Pathway to Heaven, which became very popular reaching its 63rd edition within 60 years. Dent wanted to help people in their christian lives and make people aware of Jesus and to follow his teachers, therefore making them able to be welcomed on heaven on their death. He would actually get in trouble with his bishop however as he refused to wear the surplice and omitting the sign of the cross in baptism. In addition, he put his name to a petition sent to the lord of the council by 27 ministers of Essex who refused to agree to the declaration that there is nothing contained in the Book of Common Prayer contrary to the Word of God. Dent would die of a fever in 1607.

However, that was not the end of his influence on the Christian world. One of those many people who read his pamphlet was a man named John Bunyan. By reading Dents work it encouraged Bunyan to follow Christ himself and to author a devotional book – Pilgrims Progress. This book min turn influenced generations of Christians. One of the stained glass windows within St Andrews Church has scenes from the story of Pilgrims Progress and can be seen today. Other windows depict Christ ‘the good shepard’, Christ the Light of the World’ and Christ ‘the Bread of Life’.

Around the church lies the peaceful churchyard with many people being laid the rest there over its long history. The earliest burial with a head stone if a man named Mr Alexander Baker who was buried in 1745 and lies near the south porch with a skull and crossbones on his headstone. There also lies in the ground many of the soldiers and their families who lived and worked on the Royal Artilleries garrison. In addition to 66 graves of men who were killed during and after the First World War and were from the parish of Shoebury. They include soldiers, sailors and airmen and are maintained and looked after by the Commonwealth Graves commission.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was set up in 1915 and came into existence by the determination and vision of a man named Sir Fabian Ware (image below right). Ware was neither a solider – he was too old as 45 years, nor was he a politician. However, he was a commander of a mobile unit in the British Red Cross and saw the horrors of the war and how for many of its casualties they would have no final resting place, at least a lasting one for their loved ones to visit after the war.

He did not waste any time and got his unit to stat caring for those graves that already existed and that they could find. In 1915, their hard work was recognised officially by the War Office and was brought into the British Army as the Graves Registration Commission. By 1917, Royal Charter established the Imperial War Graves Commission with the Prince of Wales, who had encouraged the project serving as President and Ware being its Vice-Chairman.

As soon as the war ended with the Armistice and land for cemeteries and memorials were guaranteed Ware and his team got to work. Their task was no small job, they now had to start recording the details of all those who had perished in the conflict. By the end of 1918, they already had 587,000 graves, which had been identified, and a further 559,000 as having no known grave.

The men who were chosen to design the cemeteries and memorials were the best of the time, these men were Sir Edwin Lutyens (one of his most famous pieces is the cenotaph in Whitehall), Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Reginald Blomfield. The Commissions principles are that all graves should be in similar format – a name should be on each headstone, all headstones to be uniform and with no distinction of military rank, race or creed. Each headstone contains the national emblem or regimental badge, rank, name, unit, date of birth and age of each casualty above an appropriate religious symbol. The lettering it in uppercase was designed by MacDonald and most of the time made out of Portland stone. The dimensions of the headstones are 76 cm tall, 38cm wide and 76cm thick.

In the Second World War Sir Winston Churchill requested that the Commission extended their remit for those civilians who died as the hand of enemy action and so a roll of honour was created to remember 676,000 civilians who had perished.

The war graves commissions have cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories. They have made it so that there was now an organisation and structure in place to that those who have fallen will always be remembered. They are one of the largest horticultural organisations, employing over 850 people as stonemasons and gardeners.  Their work to help remember the fallen will continue. For more information on their work and how you can help please visit http://www.cwgc.org.

“Lest we forget”

Sources:

Anon (nd) Arthur Dent. Available at: http://digitalpuritan.net/arthur-dent/ [Accessed 24/09/2018]

Anon (nd) Welcome to St Andrew’s Historic Church: a fine example of a 12th Century Norman Church. Avlible at: https://www.southshoebury.org/historic/ [Accessed 13/05/2018]

Anon (2017) Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_War_Graves_Commission [Accessed 22/09/2018]

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (2018) about us. Available at: https://www.cwgc.org/about-us[Accessed 21/02/108]

The History Press (2018) The Commonwealth war Graves; a centenary of commutation. Available at: https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/the-commonwealth-war-graves-commission-a-centenary-of-commemoration/ [Accessed 23/09/2018]


[1] Saint Andrew was a disciple of Jesus whose occupation was a fisherman, along with his brother Peter. He was crucified in the early years of the Christian church.

All photos of the church taken by Laura Adkins

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