People in the History of
St Nicholas


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Key People in the History of
the Parish Church of St Nicholas, Berden.

The people who have been involved with the church have made some unique and memorable contributions.


The Church is named after St Nicholas who was born during the 3rd century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic and soon after he dedicated his life to help those in need. He was made Bishop of Myra and was well known for his love of children.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned. After his release, he attended the Council of Nicaea in AD325 and agreed on a common creed that we still use in our service today.

He died on 6 December, AD343 and was buried in his cathedral. His bones were taken to Bari in Italy in the spring of 1087 and a crypt was built to house the relics. This soon became a place of pilgrimage and prayer and the anniversary of his death became a day of celebration.

Many stories and legends have been told about St Nicholas: he has of course, become most well-known as Santa Claus, but he is also the patron saint of children, marriageable maidens, bankers and victims of judicial mistakes!

England has more than 400 Anglican churches named after him and Berden Church became well known for celebrating his feast day with the Boy Bishop custom. This still continues in places such as Hereford and Canterbury Cathedrals and a handful of parish churches. More information on this can be found on Berden’ website or in the leaflet ‘Boy Bishops and May Queens in Berden : 1901 – 1966’.

It was St Cedd who led the conversion of the pagan East Saxons in the 7th century. Thereafter Christianity became the major religion in the area.

11th century

Godman - Lord of the Manor – 1066

The Domesday entry finds that Godman was Lord of the Manor during the reign of Edward the Confessor prior to 1066. Berden was a very small settlement, but it is quite reasonable to suggest that a wooden chapel may have been built on the present site of the church. St Nicholas was a popular saint with returning crusaders in the early 12th century and it is possible that it was named by the Lord of the Manor after the first crusade.

13th century

The Rochford’s – Lords of the Manor

The Rochfords, who became the lords of the manor, were instrumental in establishing a hospital in Berden and dedicating it to St John the Evangelist. A chapel of the same name was also built in Clavering and was known for a local miracle: the Miracle of the Ring.

The chancel was built first c.1270 when Sir Guy de Rochford was Lord of the Manor. It is recorded that in 1247 Guy de Rochford held extensive estates in Berden, including the manor, and over 600 acres of land, together with the advowson of the church. The first recorded rector was Anselm Golmin who was here between 1279 and 1292.

The Rochfords remained in Berden until 1340 when they had no more male heirs. The heads seen on the western wall of the chancel could well be members of the Rochford family.

14th century

Henry Saleman

The Chaplain at the time of the Black Death was Henry Saleman who came to Berden in 1333 and remained until 1362, possibly the victim of the second wave of the disease. St Nicholas’ Church would have been the setting for a lot of activity and many residents who stood in the nave would have wanted some reassurance from Saleman during his sermons. Latin masses would have been conducted on a frequent basis and burial space may have posed a problem. This may have been why the now demolished Cumber Hill, meaning ‘burial place’. was created. It is located in a field close to Easingwell Pond.

16th century

The Alderseys of Berden Hall

High on the south wall of the chancel is an alabaster monument to Thomas Aldersey of Berden Hall who died in 1598. Ann Thompson, Dame Mary Scott and Elizabeth (who became Lady Coventry) were sisters. Ann was the wife of Thomas Thompson and their initials are inscribed on the staircase of Berden Hall, dated 1594.

Ann died aged 31 due to an infection after giving birth, leaving behind 12 children. There is a brass on the floor of the chancel inscribed with her details. It is thought that the Alderseys were the first inhabitants of the present hall and supervised the building of it.

Elizabeth gave a silver chalice to the church and this became known as the Lady Coventry Cup. It was made in 1603 and is now stored in the Victoria & Albert Museum, along with a silver gilt paten made in Portugal in 1600 that is inscribed ‘Berden Parish 1768’. The cup was mentioned in the Berden’s Churchwardens’ accounts for 1708, whereby £1.14s.8d. was spent to repair the communion cup. The earliest records are an inventory drawn up by John Skeffyn in 1551 in which he mentions a ‘Chalice of silver delivered for ministry of Divine Service’.

To the left of the altar is a slab dedicated to Dame Mary Scott who died aged 89 in 1678. Her life covered some interesting times with events such as the Gunpowder Plot, the English Civil War, Cromwell, the Restoration, an outbreak of the Plague and the Great Fire of London.

Henry Parker

There is also a memorial to Henry Parker who died in 1550. He was Henry VIII’s Chamberlain and was granted Berden Priory after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.

17th century

The Meade Family

Thomas Meade, son of Richard and his wife Thomasina, have worn stone memorials dated 1653 and 1666 respectively. His brother was the Rev. Joseph Meade who was born in 1586 at the Priory.

In 1602 Joseph was admitted to Christ Church in Cambridge and studied languages, botany, anatomy, astrology and theology. He preached without notes and wrote an influential book for its time called the ‘Clavis Apocalyptica’.

NB - Two years after Meade’s birth in 1588, England faced the Spanish Armada, but closer to home the curate of Berden, Ralph Bradley was facing a crisis of his own when he was brought before the local court for failing to use a ring in a marriage service. The punishment was not recorded.
19th century

John Rogers Pitman

The Rev. John Rogers Pitman was given a leave of absence by Charles James, Bishop of London on 31 December 1837 because of the small value of the living. He eventually left for St Barnabas’, Kensington. It seems to be an example of the hard times the church faced in this period.

Christopher Cooke

1851 is a well documented year for St Nicholas’ Church. Its vicar was Christopher Cooke who lived at the newly-built parsonage. It was built in 1847 by Christ’s Hospital, who became lords of the manor from 1860–1919. It cost £1,000 and was built in Turners Field. The house was sold in 1956 when the vicar moved to Manuden.

Reverend Cooke was served by Rebecca Worman and Elizabeth Bennington, who were both from Manuden. A survey was taken on 30 March 1851 and 59 people including 11 children attended. In the afternoon there were 63 including 10 children. The population of Berden was 418.

Reverend Nash

The Revd Nash was responsible for raising money and awareness for the school to be built, as he realised how few children could read and write. The vicarage was enlarged in 1856 but the Reverend Nash still had issues with the toilet arrangements. Typhoid had been a problem in his home and around the village.

Reverend Johnstone

In 1875, the Reverend Johnstone started a night school for boys over the age of 13. His accounts for two months read:

Stationery 8s 8d
Candles 5s
Candlesticks 2s 2d
Paid P Sibley for attendance 6d
Total Cost £1.1s.10d.

He also began a lending library with 184 books. Mr E. Roberts of Berden Hall supplied a large cupboard which is now in the Vestry. The organ also needed repair and this was to cost £30. Robert Seabrook and the Vicar contributed £23.2s.8d.
In a letter to Christ’s Hospital the Reverend Johnstone informs them that a trustee had died and therefore they had to pay a fine of £25 to the Lord of the Manor. This meant that the poor would be deprived of funds for two years. He also mentions that the stables and gates were rotten and that Mr Roberts of Berden Hall had sunk a well that the Reverend Johnstone feared would drain his own water supply. We do not have the reply.

The Reverend Johnstone comments in 1886 that his services continue to be interrupted by two or three people practising their trumpets!

NB - In the Parish notes for 1888 Edward Roberts and William Seabrook were the Churchwardens. Their duties included visiting the Raven and King’s Head before important services and persuading the regulars to attend. James Coyston was the Clerk and Sexton, Miss Roberts and Mrs Johnstone (Vicar’s Wife) were the organists. Sunday school was at 10 am and 2.15 pm.

20th century

Herbert Hudson 1898-1937

On the north wall of the nave is a tablet in memory of Rev. Herbert Hudson, dates 1898–1937, and a cross and staff that he made and which were used in the Boy Bishop ceremony that lasted from 1901 to 1937. The ceremony was reinstated briefly in 1955-56 and 1961-66. To find out more about the Boy Bishop Ceremony see or read the section ‘Boy Bishops and May Queens in Berden: 1901–1966’.

The Rev. Herbert Hudson made a huge impact on village life and his re-introduction of the miracle play made national headlines in the Daily Mirror in 1935.

The First World War was a time of great sadness for the Reverend Hudson. Just before hostilities broke out, he lost his wife Caroline. Her memorial is near the west gate and the Reverend Hudson would have passed this every day. At the end of the war, several of his Boy Bishops had been killed, one of whom, Ernest Knight has a grave near the west gate and is commemorated along with many others on the War Memorial. In C. I. Cherry’s book, she mentions an interview with Frank Harvey who was a friend of Ernest. The Reverend Hudson had taken them on a trip to London when they were boys to watch the St Paul’s Cathedral choir. He also took them sightseeing. Berden Choir boys were taken by trap to Bishop’s Stortford and then took the train to Southend. The Reverend Hudson was also known to award stamps at Sunday school, and on Good Friday he would take all the children to Battles Wood where they would collect primroses and wild daffodils. These would be pinned to the pulpit and the tacks can still be seen today.

Reverend Hudson also set up the Berden Fire Brigade and built the engine himself – however, it was reported to have been too big to get out of the garage so adjustments had to be made. Six men supported him and it was commended by the local fire brigade.

He also had the same churchwardens and grave-digger for most of his time here: they were Jack Turpin Senior, George Sibley and Fred Stone.

Maurice Ancell remembers with great affection his Magic Lantern shows during Lent in the Parish Room: once a shed in the vicarage, but now demolished. It was built using money collected by him and used for Sunday school parties, whist drives, the Fire Brigade HQ and storage for the Cricket Club. Lucy Nicholson was a great friend of his and helped to clean and maintain the room. She died in 1935 and her grave is next to the west gate.

The Reverend Hudson eventually remarried. She happened to be the school mistress, Miss Bonnett whom he had met during his weekly visits to the school. They became significant landowners in Berden and owned several properties. She helped him to deliver the Parish Magazine that he founded and which is still produced today.

His interests ranged from photography to astronomy - he built a stargazing hut in the vicarage garden. He was known to play the organ and lead the service and on some occasions rang three bells at once, two with his hands and one with a piece of string tied to his foot.

He retired and left Berden in 1937.

Rev McLaughlin 1938–43

Around the west facing chancel arch there used to be some text from the Bible that was written around it but removed between 1938 and 1943 when Patrick McLaughlin was the vicar.

‘The prayers of a righteous man availeth much’: James 5.
‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God’: Romans 8.

During the war the Reverend McLaughlin was often reprimanded for leaving the vicarage lights on during the blackout.

Wilfred Rees-Wright 1943-48

At the Harvest Thanksgiving Service on 27 September 1948, he records in the parish register: ‘On this day the Rev. W. Rees-Wright, M.Sc., PhD etc having been appointed Professor of Biology at St. Johns Nfld. officiated for the last time in this church, with great joy at leaving so sterile a portion of the Lord’s vineyard: vide Matthew 11.16ff.”

Christopher Temple Candler 1949-1954

At the Harvest Thanksgiving Service on the 19 September 1954, he records in the parish register: ‘This being the last Sunday of my ministry in Berden, I cannot leave without expressing my regret at going away from this parish with its delightful church. There is, of course, as in all parishes much work to be done, but there is no doubt that there is the promise of a rewarding harvest to any minister who will toil with patience and love amongst Christ’s sheep and lambs in this pasture’.

Colonel John Bury

On the south wall of the nave is a tablet in memory of Colonel John Bury who was Churchwarden between 1946 and 1967. He was known for turning up at 7 a.m on a Sunday and preparing the church for its service, along with driving the vicar over from Manuden. He also started the envelope fund that we still use today. He was born in 1896 and was educated at Eton, and then spent a year at Oxford. He served in France during the First World War and also in India and Egypt. He arrived in Berden in 1938 and organised the defences for East Anglia during the Second World War; he was duly promoted to Colonel and awarded the OBE. He moved to Berden Hall Lodge in 1956 and remained there until 1969. He helped to establish the Village Hall and inside hung many of the animals he had shot, including bears and tigers. He was an early chairman of the Village Hall Committee and formed the Berden Royal British Legion, becoming its first President and Poppy day Treasurer. He was Clerk to the Parish Council and President of the Working Men’s Club, along with being the first President of the reformed Berden Cricket Club after the Second World War. He ran the village library and had a real love for the Puckeridge Hunt.

For 15 years Colonel Bury sat on the Saffron Walden Rural District Council between 1949 and 1964, and was Deanery Representative at the Chelmsford Diocesan Conference. The Church gates also have a plaque to remember his contribution to the people of Berden and St Nicholas’ Church.


I would like to acknowledge here the excellent books written by Mrs C. I. Cherry (1980) and Maurice Ancell (1993) on which much research has been based. However any mistakes are entirely my own and corrections and additional information will be warmly received.

Mark Trapmore
Berden Local History Recorder