St Margaret’s Church is a different shape to most churches. The entrance is a barrel shape and the church it self is shaped rather like a pyramid. It was built by the people who live in the Parish in the 1970’s. The building work took several years.
Colchester has existed for about 2,000 years. It is built on top of a small hill which in early times made it ideal for trade and for defence.
The Saxons named the town Colchester, ‘the fortress on the Colne’.
This is the period of the legend of St. Helena who is supposed to have discovered the true Cross. She was the daughter of King Coel of Colchester (that ‘merry old soul’).
South of Colchester, extending from Rowhedge on the river Colne, westward through East and West Donyland, was the estate of Berechurch.
It was part of the lands belonging to St. John’s Abbey. These lands were farmed by the monks of the Abbey. It has been recorded that they harvested a third of all the corn needed for the town at that time.
From the earliest days they placed a small wooden church on the land in order that they would be able to worship God throughout the day without having to walk all the way back to St. John’s Abbey, thereby disrupting their work unnecessarily.
The name ‘Berechurch’ means ‘Church in the Cornfields’.
St. Michael and All Saints Church is a brick and stone building with an embattled West Tower.
The original foundation is 14th Century, but it was rebuilt in 1500 and again in 1872.
Berechurch Hall, the mansion of West Donyland, is first mentioned as being acquired by Sir Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII and Speaker of the House of Commons, after St. John’s Abbey was dissolved. Members of the family built the little family church, where many of them are buried.
It is recorded that in 1537 the Parish of Berechurch numbered 37 people.
Thomas Audley had a very dark side to his character. It is said that on his black marble gravestone, which is situated in another part of the county, it is written, ‘That the stone was no blacker nor harder than his heart’!
It is remarkable that the population map of Colchester has changed so little over the past 900 years.
Even now there is still no village belonging to Berechurch. The occasional development is just part of the road to Mersea Island, south of Colchester.
The post World War Two years saw a boom in building and the population of Colchester rapidly increased with the influx of people displaced from London.
New Estates sprang up to the South.
The Monkwick Estate was fully within the ancient parish of Berechurch, swelling the population to several thousand.
As part of the provision for the new community a dual purpose.
As the parish continued to grow, with further development at Birch Glenn and Cherry Tree (on the site of an old army camp), the congregation continued to expand and the 1950’s building was proving now to be too small.
A project to build a new church was started, under Revd. Christopher Sly, on land next to the present vicarage.
Much of the money for this work was raised locally. The church became known as the DIY church, as it was built almost entirely by church members, some of whom enrolled in brick-laying courses before the work began.
After 6 years construction the new building was opened in 1973, the existing dual use building becoming simply St. Margaret’s Hall.
The old St. Michael’s Church was now redundant and sold off, although old Audley Chapel is kept in it’s original state and can still be visited by arrangement in writing to Mr Roy Tricker, Churches Conservation Trust, 329 Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, IP3 9BU.
The population today is around 9,000. An huge increase on its original number.