History of St Osyth

St Osyth © Copyright The Francis Frith Collection 2005. http://www.frithphotos.com
Priory Gate, St Osyth, 1891
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection.

History of St Osyth >> White's Directory 1848

White's Directory of Essex 1848

ST. OSYTH, celebrated for the splendid remains of its Priory, is a large village, picturesquely seated on opposite acclivities, divided by a brook, which, after turning a mill wheel, falls into a navigable creek from Brightlingsea, about 2 miles from the sea, and the estuary of the Colne, 11 miles South East of Colchester, and 14 miles South West of Harwich.

Its parish is one of the three largest in the county, having 1677 souls, and 8433 acres of land, including many scattered farm houses, etc., and extending southward to St. Osyth Point, which juts into the ocean at the mouth of the river Colne, near St. Osyth Marsh, where there are three strong circular martello towers and a fort, now occupied by a detachment of the coast guard.

The land rises from the marshes, and on the creek, near the village, are two commodious wharfs, where vessels of large burthen receive and deliver their cargoes. A small creek runs between the point and the marshes.

The soil in the latter is heavy, but rich, and in the higher ground a light fertile loam, suitable for the growth of turnips, corn, garden seeds, flowers, etc., prevails.

W.F. Nassau, Esq., of St. Osyth Priory, is lord of the manor and impropriator of the tithes of the whole parish. He also owns about 6049 acres of the soil, including his park (300A.) and 2 heaths, containing about 60 acres; and the rest belongs to several smaller owners.

A fair for toys, pleasure etc., is held in the village on Holy Thursday.

The parish, anciently called Cice, or Chich, derives its present name from St. Osyth, daughter of Redoald, King of East Anglia, and virgin-wife to Sighere, a Christian King of the East Saxons. She was born at Quarendon, in Buckinghamshire, and, according to the monkish legends, made a vow of virginity at an early age, but was compelled by her father to marry.

The marriage, however, was never consummated; for, in the absence of her husband, she assumed the veil; and having afterwards obtained his consent to the fulfilment of her vow, she retired to Chich, and founded a Church and Nunnery. This establishment was plundered and destroyed by the Danes, under Inguar and Hubba; and the royal foundress herself beheaded near an ancient fountain.

Her remains were first intered before the door of her church, but afterwards removed to Aylesbury, where many miracles are fabled to have been wrought through her intercession. After the Danes had obtained regal domination in England, Chich St. Osyth was given by King Canute to Earl Godwin, the celebrated Earl of Kent, who granted it to Christ Church, Canterbury; yet at the time of the Domesday Survey, it belonged to the See of London.

St Osyth Priory
St Osyth Priory
print published 1834

About the year 1118, Richard de Belmeis, Bishop of London, established a Priory for Austin Canons, on the supposed site of the nunnery erected by St. Osyth, to whom, with St. Peter and St. Paul, the new foundation was dedicated. The possessions of this Priory were greatly increased by different benefactors; and at the period of the Dissolution, its revenues, according to Speed, were valued at £758.5s.8d. per annum.

A prior, an abbot, and eighteen canons were then supported on the foundation; and from it having two heads, it is called in some records an Abbey, and in others a Priory. Its site, and various manors belonging to it, were soon afterwards granted to Thomas Lord Cromwell, on whose attainder they reverted to the crown.

Edward the Sixth regranted Chich St. Osyth, and other manors, to Thomas Lord Darcy. Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the last Lord Darcy, married Sir Thomas Savage, afterwards Earl Rivers and Viscount Colchester, whose family continued possessors till the beginning of the eighteenth century, when these estates were bequeathed, by the Hon. Richard Savage, to Bessy, his natural daughter, who married Frederic Zuleistein de Nassau, Earl of Rochford.

The extensive and beautiful remains of the PRIORY, with extensive, modern erections, are now the seat of W.F. Nassau, Esq., of the family of the fourth Earl of Rochford, who died without issue, in 1781, and whose grandfather, by marriage, acquired the estate of the Lords Darcy of Chich.

The extensive quadrangle of the Priory is almost entire, but some of the buildings are of modern date, and others have been considerably altered. On the north side is the large and handsome mansion, built of red bricks, with stone dressings, in the modern style.

On one side of the quadrangle is a range of old buildings in the Tudor style, and having several sharp-pointed gables, and an octagonal observatory rising from the centre, and commanding a most extensive prospect of sea and land.

The old house was mostly built by Thomas Darcy, who resided here and was created Baron Darcy of Chich, in 1551. On the death of his grandson, the third lord, in 1639, the title became extinct, and the Priory became the seat of Earl Rivers, from whose family it passed, in the early part of the last century, to the Nassau family, who are descended from a natural grandson of the Prince of Orange.

The most interesting portion of the ancient buildings is the grand tower gateway, through which is the principal entrance, on the south side of the quadrangle, flanked by two towers, each like the centre of three lofty stories, embattled, and composed of flint and hewn stone. The front of this magnificent building is covered with rich tracery, niches, and other ornaments.

The offices and stables, which form the east and west sides of the court, have marks of great antiquity. To the east are three towers, one larger and loftier than the rest, and commanding extensive prospects. Among the ivy-mantled ruins in the garden is a pier, with a Latin inscription, expressing the pristine grandeur of the Priory, which is now enclosed in a beautiful Park of 300 acres of rising ground, between two creeks which unite at Brightlingsea, about two miles to the west.

church - exterior
St Peter and St Paul's Church, St Osyth.
© Copyright John Salmon contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The CHURCH, dedicated, like the Priory, to St. Osyth, St. Peter, and St. Paul, stands on the declivity south of the Park, and is a large and stately building, having a nave and lofty north and south aisles, a chancel, with a north aisle, or chapel, and a large square tower, containing six bells.

In the chancel are several defaced monuments, belonging to the Darcy family, and one of them in memory of Thomas Lord Darcy, who had several distinguished employments under Henry VIII. and Edward VI. Bishop Belmeis, the founder of the Priory, was interred in this church, in 1127, by desire of the canons.

The benefice is a donative, valued at only £100 per annum, in the patronage of W.F. Nassau, Esq., and incumbency of the Rev. F.A. Sterky, M.A., who has two small livings in Yorkshire. It is exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and the patron is also impropriator of the tithes, and owner of three-fourths of the parish.

A yearly rent-charge of £2.12s. for six poor widows is paid out of a field of 10A. in the farm of St. Clere's; and the poor parishioners have 5A. of land, let for £7.10s., and seven tenements occupied rent free, but the donors are unknown.

Back to History of St Osyth

my ancestors logo

My Ancestors.

Are your ancestors from St Osyth? Why not tell us their story: My St Osyth Ancestors.

Find your Ancestors in the Newspapers

Essex Standard Newspaper

Newspaper archives are now a very important source of information for researching your family tree.

Try our example search to help you discover if your ancestors are in the British Newspaper Archive.

Help me find my ancestors

St Osyth - Cary's New and Correct English Atlas, 1798

St Osyth - First Series Ordnance Survey Map 1805

This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth. Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-4.0

Looking for an unusual Christmas Present?

Why not buy a DNA kit for a family member?

Let them discover the story of their ancestors.

The kit is delivered to their door. Now discounted to £63 on Ancestry

Learn more at Ancestry DNA.

Looking for pictures to add to your family tree album?


Ebay is a good source of old images of Essex towns and villages. If you're looking for pictures to add to your family tree album, then try one of the auctions, or there are several 'Buy It Now' shops offering postcards which have been touched up and improved - so if you're unsure about bidding, try these. Link already formatted for Essex Postcards. Browse through or type the name of the location in the Ebay search box.