St Mary's Church East Bergholt

The mystery involves East Bergholt so therefore Flatford too. Some years ago I noticed the large number of local churches dedicated to St Mary and decided to work out if this was significant. 

  • I looked through Pevsner’s The Buildings of England for villages which just have a single church. I discovered that one in three churches in Essex and Suffolk is dedicated to St Mary.
  • I consulted the author. Dr Cooper who as part of the Victoria County History talks about “the very strange clutch of five adjacent churches in north east Essex which are all dedicated to St Mary.” By that she means Langham, Dedham, Ardleigh, Mistley and Lawford.
  • I concluded that (using the figure of 1 in 3) the probability of these adjacent churches being given the same name just by chance is 1 in 81.

However, the mystery deepens if one adds the churches on the Suffolk side of the Stour, including East Bergholt, Stratford St Mary, Higham and Brantham all of whose churches are named St Mary.  I found I could draw a line around at least 13 villages all dedicated to St Mary. Because it is difficult to be sure of parish boundaries on maps and I think the true figure is well over 13. Assuming that it is only 13, the probability of them all being named St Mary merely by chance is 3 to the power of 12 which is about one in a million. Statistics would say that certainly did not happen by chance.

 I live in Langham which is one of the Essex churches named St Mary mentioned above. Langham is close to Flatford –  two miles as the crow flies but a quite a bit further by modern roads. I know that in the distant past most churches were dedicated to St Mary but why, in 2020, is there this clutch? I have spoken to Dr Cooper and she has not seen anything like this. If anyone has an answer I would love to hear it.

                                                                                    Simon Gallup – 2020