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 about one in three churches in Essex and Suffolk is dedicated to St Mary.

In my area of north east Essex there are 5 adjacent parishes with churches dedicated to St Mary, Langham, Dedham, Ardleigh, Lawford and Mistley.

Using the figure of 1 in 3, I concluded that the probability of these adjacent churches having 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 with a church all dedicated to St Mary. Because it is difficult to be sure of parish boundaries 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.

A few years later the Victoria County History of that area of Essex was published and the author, Dr. Cooper, talks about “the very strange clutch of five adjacent churches in north east Essex which are all dedicated to St Mary.” That is the clutch named above.

I contacted Dr. Cooper and she was very interested as she has never seen anything like it. She thought it could be very significant. 

I know that in the distant past most churches were dedicated to St Mary but why, in 2020, is there this clutch which is so different from the rest of Essex and Suffolk? If anyone has an answer I would love to hear it.

Simon Gallup – 2020